Chesterfield's decision to ask supporters to fundraise money to pay for frost covers has caused controversy across the non-league community, with many asking is it right for clubs to ask fans to pay for necessities, whilst they spend big on players?

By Amos Murphy

Chesterfield show touch of class in standout FA Cup victory

Four touches. That’s all it took from Scott Loach’s cross-field pass from inside his own half, to Liam Mandeville rifling home Chesterfield’s opening goal during their stunning 2-0 victory over League Two Salford City.

Incisive, deadly and devastating. A move that perfectly encapsulated James Rowe’s explosive Chesterfield side. The Spireites went on to net another in the second half through James Kellerman, securing progression to the FA Cup Third Round for the first time since 2014/15.

Undoubtedly one of the stories of an otherwise pretty drab weekend of FA Cup action for non-league sides, Chesterfield’s reward for their division four scalp was a trip to European champions Chelsea in the Third Round.

For a club that has been starved of joy in the last five years, only the most cold-hearted of football Scrooges could begrudge Chesterfield this wonderful moment. But when they travel to West London in just over a month’s time, a frost-laden shadow will follow the National League club through the tunnel and onto the Stamford Bridge pitch.

Downwards Spire-ites leaves club in unhealthy position

Like many former Football League stalwarts turn non-league clubs, Chesterfield flirted with disaster in the early years as a National League side, finishing as low as 15th in their maiden fifth-tier campaign.

Unable to turn the tide during the 2019/20 season, things got worse for the club that had been competing in League One just three years earlier, narrowly escaping relegation into the National League North by virtue of a superior point per game record.

Failing to learn from their prior mistakes, a similarly poor start to the 2020/21 season saw the Spireites win only two of their opening nine matches, with the club as low as 22nd in the table following a mid-November defeat to Notts County.

Such shaky form saw Chesterfield sack John Pemberton as boss, while taking the radical approach to appoint Rowe from National League North side Gloucester City in the process. A risk no doubt, but a gamble it would appear they struck the jackpot with.

The then 37-year old arrived in Derbyshire with less than half a season’s worth of experience in management, having been in charge of Gloucester for little over 12 months. Granted, the work he had done with the Tigers spoke for itself, with Rowe leaving his former side top of the National League North.

Transforming the club’s fortunes almost immediately, Rowe lost just one of his first 11 Chesterfield matches in charge, before eventually guiding the club to a sixth-placed finish. It wasn’t to be for the Spireites in the playoffs, as they were beaten 3-2 in the quarter-finals by Notts County,

Questionable furlough tactics leave some scratching heads

However, much of Chesterfield’s success last season was overshadowed by the contentious decision to furlough certain players who were not in manager Rowe’s plans.

The likes of Luke Coddington, David Buchanan, Milan Butterfield and Scott Boden all received full salaries via the Government’s furlough programme, in a move that led to some believing the club had misused the scheme to ease a bludgeoning wage bill.

Leading to many followers of the National League being left surprised when Chesterfield brought in a number of big-name players at the backend of last season, following through to the beginning of the 2021/22 campaign.

Understandably, questions surrounding the source of Chesterfield’s funding came to light, with Chief Executive John Croot revealing to the We Are Sailing podcast, the club had taken out an insurance policy that would cover any loss of income brought about by Covid, namely the cancellation of a season.

Having had to win a High Court case to ensure the long-standing policy would be paid out, Chesterfield have since received monthly payouts, which in turn have helped the club secure six-figure sum signings like Kabongo Tshimanga, whilst sailing to the top of the National League.

Chesterfield spend big and bounce back in some style

After leaving their financial critics behind them, Chesterfield have started to make headlines for the right reasons this term, losing only one of their 17 league games so far, and of course, reaching the FA Cup Third Round.

Awarded over £100,000 in combined prize and television money for the Salford victory, their progression to this stage of the FA Cup has come as no shock to those who have followed the Spireites under Rowe, with the Ipswich-born boss having excelled during his 50 or so games in the dugout.

But despite their FA Cup date with destiny, the claims of financial misdemeanours are once again following Chesterfield’s every move, after the club started a fundraiser to raise money for frost covers needed this winter.

Unsurprisingly, the dissenting voices immediately pointed to the club’s transfer dealings, suggesting Chesterfield should’ve prioritised things like frost covers, before splurging the cash on top talents like Tshimanga.

On the other side of the ring, Spireites fans have argued that it shouldn’t matter what supporters choose to donate towards, especially given the club’s recent turbulent history. Whilst, the club insists the frost covers currently in use at the Technique Stadium have been there since the club relocated from Saltergate Recreation Ground in 2010/11.

A war on frost covers has ensued.

Ultimately, does it really matter?

Chesterfield, like other National League clubs, most probably used the tax-payer funded furlough scheme to their advantage, by off-loading players who were out of sorts, only to use the spare cash to dip in and out of the transfer market.

That move almost secured a return to the Football League, and despite disappointment last season, Chesterfield look an even better prospect this term, with promotion from the National League looking like a very achievable aim.

It’s easy to see why this latest plea for cash sits uncomfortably with rival fans, especially when Chesterfield argued the case they should be awarded more in government grants last season, on the ground they attract bigger attendances than most clubs in the division.

Yet, Chesterfield as a club boast an overriding sense of community within their fanbase and given their recent financial perils, it is also no surprise supporters have dug deep to contribute towards the frost cover fund.

With the National League the most competitive it has ever been, finding a way to gain an upper hand on fellow promotion hopefuls could prove the difference between success and failure, with the Spireites frost cover fundraising efforts having been received warmly by supporters so far.

Additionally, a quick scroll down the club's Twitter feed will reveal the club have also promoted numerous charitable fundraisers over the past few months, with a toy collection currently taking place for disadvantaged children.

Back on the pitch, it also serves to benefit opposing teams in the division, with covers helping to prevent any long journeys made by clubs, only for the match to be abandoned due to an unplayable pitch – with money tighter than ever for some clubs in the league, this is, without doubt, a positive and necessary move.

Granted, an FA Cup run has been known to secure the future of various non-league clubs for years to come, but that isn’t always the case for clubs competing at the top end of England’s most competitive and cutthroat division. Whilst the EFL drags its heels around the conversation of league reform, clubs at the top of the National League will continue to search for effective cost-cutting methods.

Ultimately, if supporters want to contribute out of their own pocket to the way their club is funded, so what? At least somebody is thinking about the frost covers.


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