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Chesterfield find their field of dreams

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Paul Fletcher | 06:53 UK time, Friday, 12 November 2010

Chesterfield chairman Barrie Hubbard realised 27 years ago that his club needed to move to a new ground.

It has taken a lot longer than he initially anticipated but, after several unsuccessful attempts to secure a new site, the Spireites finally left rickety old Saltergate in the summer after 139 years and moved into their brand new 10,379-capacity b2net Stadium.

At first glance, the move appears to have transformed the Derbyshire club, who currently top the League Two table with the best home record in the Football League. Only Crewe have left the new arena with a share of the spoils following a remarkable 5-5 draw.

But the impact extends far beyond what happens on the pitch. Just as Liverpool are desperate to increase revenue by leaving Anfield for a bigger stadium, so the Spireites are hoping to reap the rewards of their relocation to a modern facility.

Chesterfield's new b2net stadium.

The b2net Stadium has brought significant benefits to Chesterfield. Photo: Getty Images

"If you never visited Saltergate, then you missed out on a treat but we had to leave because we were losing money every year," said Hubbard, who is in his second spell as chairman at the club. He was not involved with the club during the infamous period when Darren Brown took the club to the brink of extinction.

In the end, as is the way in the modern game, it all boils down to money. At Saltergate, the club only generated income on the 40 or so days a year when they hosted games. Now they have year-round revenue streams.

"We do not have any corporate boxes as such but what we have done is build a conference and banqueting centre and fastened a ground on to it," said Hubbard.

More than 5,000 people are booked in to attend Christmas parties at the stadium during December, while the club also has a licence to hold weddings.

Chesterfield are not unique in moving to a new purpose-built ground. Of the teams in League One and League Two, Southampton, Colchester, MK Dons, Oxford, Burton and Shrewsbury have all done it in the last 10 years.

Colchester left Layer Road for the Weston Homes Community Stadium in 2008. They had 40 hospitality places at the old ground but now have 650 and serve an average of between 250 and 300 meals at each home game. They also have a range of rooms, boasting a capacity from 10 to 400, that have hosted comedy nights, bowls and sportsmans dinners, while the club will stage an amateur boxing event in January.

"The move has broadened our horizons," U's media manager matt Hudson told me. "Layer Road was not a place where we would be able to grow."

Colchester, whose ground cost £14.2m to build, have four charity partners that are able to hire stadium facilities at cost. Organisations such as the National Blood Service use it.

Work will soon start, too, on kitting out the east stand as a community-orientated facility. There will be a gym, restaurant, police station, classrooms and children's play area. There is a clear sense of pride in Hubbard's voice as he tells me all this.

"It has given the entire town a lift," he said. "It has given everyone a new lease of life."

It is a view shared by veteran striker Jack Lester, who has been at Chesterfield since 2007 and is desperate to mark his time at the club with a promotion.

"The people of Chesterfield are really proud of the new ground," said Lester, who scored the winner in the opening league fixture at the new ground. "We are quite a small club but the new ground can help us move on to the next stage."

The makers of The Damned United were looking for a ground as antiquated as the old Baseball Ground in Derby to film scenes from the film, which focused on Brian Clough's ill-fated 44-day reign as manager of Leeds United in 1974. They found it at Saltergate, which served as the Baseball Ground, Elland Road and, remarkably, the old Wembley at various points during the film.

Saltergate was a tight and compact stadium, often boasting a good atmosphere on match day, particularly midweek. Lester joked that it looked as though the last renovation at the old ground had taken place shortly after its construction in 1871.

Players often trained at Saltergate on Friday and would rush to the showers afterwards in the knowledge the hot water would soon run out. The squad would then make their way home to eat lunch. Now the players eat lunch together.

Lester says it means they spend more time as a group talking about forthcoming games and believes it has contributed to their good form. It is a small detail but important.

I asked Chesterfield fans on 606 what they thought about the move to the new ground. CSCFC summed up the difference when he said: "Saltergate - pick the dead spiders off the loo roll. B2net - clean, warm and comfortable."

Saltergate - the former home of Chesterfield.

Saltergate was in use from 1871 but the time had come for the club to move on. Photo: Getty Images.

At Saltergate, you were out on the street within seconds of leaving the ground. At the new ground, the concourse boasts bar and food kiosks, as well as flatscreen televisions.

Bransoj said: "It has changed my match-day experience completely. I used to leave the pub five minutes before the game and wander in as we kicked off. Now I'm there 45 minutes before, using the concourse facilities and putting the money back in the club."

But perhaps the most ringing endorsement for the new stadium comes in the form of increased attendances. The club have an identical home record to last season following their opening eight home fixtures, with seven wins and one draw. Yet the average crowd in 2010 is 6,244, in contrast with 3,593 a year ago.

Hubbard thought an acid test of the new ground's pulling power would be the recent midweek match against Accrington. Last season, the match, which the home team won 1-0, was played on a Saturday and watched by 3,104. This year, 6,034 passed through the turnstiles on a wet and miserable Tuesday to watch the Spireites thump their opponents 5-2. When I first spoke to Hubbard, he was busy helping out with the sale of tickets.

I get the impression Hubbard is a man with his feet firmly on the ground. Towards the end of our conversation, he sounded a note of caution. The cost of the ground has been financed privately, involving what Hubbard described as some "friendly loans" that have not yet been fully repaid. On the field, it will be many months remain before an excellent start to the season becomes real achievement.

Hubbard would not be drawn on the difference in match-day revenue since the move, at least not in terms of actual figures, but he did concede that it had at least doubled. He was also at pains to point out that outgoings had also increased by more than 100%.

But almost three decades after the chairman initially thought it was time to move, he might just have overseen Chesterfield's very own field of dreams.

You can follow me throughout the season at twitter.com/Paul__Fletcher

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    An excellent article there Paul, and one which is pertinent to my club, Stockport County.

    We don't own our ground, Edgeley Park, anymore, a fact that has hamstrung us financially, as we don't get any non-matchday revenues.

    Edgeley Park is a wonderful little stadium though and I know many don't want us to move away as it is a special place for us, but I feel we need to follow Chesterfields example and build a new ground.

    The only way we'll be able to acheive that though is with the help of Stockport Council. We simply don't have the money to build a stadium ourselves at the moment, yet both County and Sale Sharks need a new stadium, so it's up to the council to help us out, grant us some land and help us build a community stadium, one which both clubs can use, where the revenue streams are shared evenly between the clubs and one which the community as a whole can be proud of.

  • Comment number 2.

    I know it's necessary for many clubs to do this and some manage to piggy back their grounds on other developments or joint deals with supermarkets etc. However, despite the increase in revenue and non-matchday income, surely some clubs are saddled with immediate debt? Even if it is in the form of long term mortgage?

    Good luck to Chesterfield and the like, although a part of me mourns the fact that so many new grounds at the lower levels look the same and a bit souless.

  • Comment number 3.

    Nice article, good read!

  • Comment number 4.

    Favourite Journalist on here this chap.

    It's nice to see the lower league clubs taking a more refreshing attitude to getting people in to there grounds. Instead of taking the tired old line of
    "TV and the big clubs are ruining football.."
    This guy has gone:
    "You know what, if we make our ground a nice place to come, people will turn up." And so it has proved.

  • Comment number 5.

    What a cash cow the game has become. I sat and wondered, why when grounds were purpose built all those years ago, they didn't allow for room to include hospitality and concessions etc.

    Then it dawned on me, the local community got a huge share of the revenue. The pubs, the shops etc near by all benefit. This is sadly no longer the case with newly built stadiums.

    Everton miss out on a huge proportion of revenue due to Goodison not being fit for purpose. But all the local businesses must make a fortune.

    This begs the question? Do the clubs have the right to all this money as they are the people providing the attraction to the area, or should the communities be entitled to a share of this revenue?

    Using Goodison as an example, I dread to think what would happen to the area surrounding the ground should Everton move.

  • Comment number 6.

    Took my lad to his 1st ever game – it was the 5-5 draw with Crewe. Told him that every game would be an anti-climax from that point forwards.

    Echo the points made in the blog, the facilities for a small club are perfect. Great atmosphere and access to an from the stadium is spot-on. Can be back in card home in 15 minutes – Old Trafford takes a bit longer!

    The test will come when results start to slip, attendances will obviously fall back. The difficulty is knowing how far to stretch the club in terms of prospects and vision. Not having the ambition and limiting financial debt against risking more on facilities and team building for greater potential rewards. Nobody wants to do a Leeds and have growth that is not matched by performances but there is also no reason why the Championship is not a medium-term prospect.

    There is also the difficulty in an improving ‘smaller’ club that the key assets are in the shop window – already manager John Sheridan, as a former Owl, is attracting attention from Hillsborough, and top scorer Davies has apparently been watched by Sheffield United 3 times. I guess this is the catch 22 quandary; the better a club is playing the more attention they bring to themselves.

  • Comment number 7.

    Fantastic to see an article written about Chesterfield so thanks for that Paul.

    It will be impossible for me to ever forget Saltergate. Such a wonderfully bad ground. The wooden benches in the main stand and the open air toilets leading away from the Kop.

    I have to admit I've witnessed my fair share of poor games there. I've also witnessed some moments of pure magic. The second leg of the play off semi final against Mansfield springs to mind.

    My excitment of Darren Brown taken over turned to anger towards him after what he did. How could he rip off a small club?

    Really pleased that we're at a new stadium now. A long time coming but it looks fantastic. It will never replace Saltergate for me though. There's a lot to be said for character.

  • Comment number 8.

    Cracking article, brought a tear to my eye when the pic of the old ground popped up.

    I am yet to visit the new stadium as I no longer live in the area but will be getting to a game over the festive season.

    One thing that other clubs looking to make a similar move should note is that the new stadium wasn't placed out of town, it's no longer in the town centre but it's still within the community and has fairly good access to the transport links in the area.

    Come on you Spireites!!

  • Comment number 9.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 10.

    Great article as usual Paul. I think a couple of people responded to the very interesting comment re:attaching all these 'extra' facilities to the new grounds. The obvious plus side is that the football club returns to it's central role in the community whilst raising extra funds for itelf (hopefully they wont all go into players' pockets?) - but the negative side of putting local pubs, bars, reception halls, nurseries etc etc...out of business isn't fully appreciated.

    Tomefccam #5 made a superb point about the financial effect Everton moving out of Goodison will have on local businesses plus factor in the effect of building yet another massive Tesco superstore on the new stadium will have on the surrounding population of any new site. Further add any potential 'new Anfield' swallowing up local firms and the little man ends up struggling against corporate giants. There is a real social-economic arguement to be looked at..our high streets are already ghost towns.

  • Comment number 11.

    As an outsider (Forest fan), the visits we had to Saltergate were entertaining in the past, but I can only say that my visit to the B2Net (the 2-1 win against Southend), was a cracking experience. Its an easy ground to get to, and I was away within a fraction of the time it took to escape from other 'new build' stadia.

    The effect it can have on the community at large in Chesterfield and North Derbyshire can only be a good thing, and if Chesterfield manage to keep their excellent form up, and get promoted this season, then the effect that the new ground has had can be seen greatly.

    Its great to see such a down to earth club as Chesterfield getting such great publicity, and the Chesterfield fans I speak to don't seem to have a bad word to say about their Chairman, which is a rarity in any sport.

  • Comment number 12.

    Good article Paul, very good point made by tomefccam too though - are the 'self-sufficient' stadia of the modern era cut off from the community spirit of the locality in which they are placed?

  • Comment number 13.

    Interesting as ever Paul and some good points raised by the posters.
    My team, Bolton Wanderers, admitted recently that they lost touch with their fans over the past decade. Financial issues, essential top-flight survival and Gary Megson's reign all contributed. Owen Coyle has made a real effort to promote the family feeling and the club is working hard out in the community... We just need a another 'white hot' cup run now.
    http://scottssportsandsocial.blogspot.com/

  • Comment number 14.

    Excellent article and summarises they way the townsfolk are indeed feeling lifted by the new stadium, the whole match day experience is fantastic and the amount of families now attending proves this. I loved Saltergate but this place kills the old place hands down.

    MightyAndy_MUFC....

    Why tell your sone that "every game after the Crewe one would be an anti climax"? Ive seen better games since, way too early to judge that!!!

    Maybe it was exciting for a local 'neutral' who follows United? Never mind, when/if we gain promotion, our emotion and pride will be much larger and heartfelt than a 'local' United fan could ever feel, thats because the club is close to our heart and heritage and is part of us and our community, as opposed to clinging on to another a club from another part of the country.

    Id consider celebrating a club's success who are 60 miles up the road an anti climax!!!!

    That said, your additional support is always welcome!

  • Comment number 15.

    Excellent article and focus on a good honest 'local' club. A good insight in to the real world of professional football where there has to be a lot of work put in commercially to sustain a club.
    Great to see them doing so well on pitch as nothing obviously sells like success. I really hope Chesterfield get promotion - I have always liked John Sheridan and Tommy Wright so I wish them every success.
    Good luck Chesterfield.

  • Comment number 16.

    That's a really well researched and written piece Paul. As a Brighton fan I remember well the dark old days of Darren Brown at Chesterfield (or Cheaterfield as we then labelled them) and there are a lot of parallels to be drawn between both clubs and their respective struggles. Having read your article and some of the associated ones relating the the fraudulent Brown era at Chesterfield it is now, with hindsight, easy to see how the fans were hoodwinked and coerced into thinking Brown was the saviour of the club and the prospect of a better future. I recall a lot of animosity between Brighton and Chesterfield fans then and to a lesser degree in subsequent years. Chesterfield seem to have come through it all and are now properly managed on and off the field and with a good stadium. As a Brighton fan who held much of that resentment I am now happy to say I no longer do and wish Chesterfield and their fans every success and a bright future.

  • Comment number 17.

    Gavman...

    Very noble dear friend, thanks for the kind words. I must admit that at the time it was very frustrating to be labelled as 'Cheats', as we the fans, felt the most 'cheated'.

    Very dark and sour era at the club and one that we struggled to come through, but... here we are a decade or so on and things look rosier than ever.

    Good luck with your ground move too, look forward to visiting in the future I hope, certainly be more enjoyable than my last visit to the Withdean on a blustery midweek watching you lift the trophy we all thought at one point was coming our way!

  • Comment number 18.

    I think this is the way smaller clubs have to go to make money. Non matchday revenue can have a big impact on these smaller clubs and a new ground can only benefit the playing side of a club, helping to attract new players, sponsers and just lifting the players, management and most importantly the fans.

    Surely clubs can co-operate with local councils to help build something that will help the clubs and the local community as a whole.

  • Comment number 19.

    Good article, Paul, and well done and good luck to Chesterfield.

    As a Stokie, I remember a few visits to stand on Saltergate's uncovered away end (it always seemed to rain on us, no matter what time of year!) during our time down in English football's third tier. A proper old fashioned English football experience it was, but time's change and we all have to move on or suffer the consequences - it sounds like all at Chesterfield are doing a grand job of doing the former.

    It takes a while for a new ground to feel like home (as it did with us when we moved to the Britannia in 1997 from the dear old Victoria Ground, with all its memories), but a bit of success on the field, and the corollary of increased attendances, doesn't half help. We got that eventually, at long last, and it now sounds like Chesterfield may get some of the same and achieve promotion this season - good luck!

  • Comment number 20.

    just read your article by chance i booked tickets earlier to go to chesterfield tomorrow to see them play burton albion. first time there, am a notts fan but wanted to go to the new ground. cant wait now, we are doing the same at notts, getting extra revenue by encouraging fans to come to the ground earlier, having bands on after the game as well. it makes it a great atmosphere at the ground.

  • Comment number 21.

    blimey i didnt know derren brown had nearly wrecked a football club. what did he do? hypnotise the players into behaving like chickens every time they heard the refs whistle?

    must have been disasterous. funny though.

  • Comment number 22.

    visited there on the opening day of the season (vs barnet)

    nice stadium, reminded me of a smaller versin of the jjb or whatever its called these days.

    the meat and potato pies were fantastic, and what was left at the end of the game was sold for a quid. i didnt eat all the pies, but i did have a couple.

    i take other posters comments re football being a cash cow and having a big corporate aspect (which i b elive it does) but the cfc chariman seems grounded, and there is no grandiose talk of 'champions league in five years. just look at the number of clubs who have gone, or very nearly, gone to the wall in recent years - i dont like the money thing in football but i suppose things have to move with the times.

  • Comment number 23.

    forgot to mention to author - get yourself down to underhill and feature barnet sometime soon.

  • Comment number 24.

    i doubt that chesterfields success has got anything to do with the stadium. colchester turned layer road into a fortress at the peak of their success a few years back. conversely they struggled when they moved to the new ground, but that was because of the players and the management, not because of the setting.

    i miss layer road it was easier to get to and it was in the heart of the community. the new ground is the football equivalent of a soulless out of town shopping mall but they are trying to stay in touch with the fans, its just harder now

  • Comment number 25.

    Seems to me it's just the stadium taking business away from other businesses. All clubs can't do this or they'd be sharing the same pie again.

  • Comment number 26.

  • Comment number 27.

    A similar thing is happening in Rugby League. My hometown club Warrington Wolves moved from their old home to the 12000 seater haliwell janes stadium about 10 years ago. It has transformed the club and we are now fighting at the top of the table and won the challenge cup the last 2 years on the trot. The stadium is constantly in use with a nhs surgery on site. Heathcotes restraunt, club shop plus community facilities like classrooms. Good luck to anyone that can get the same thing done. Whatever the sport.

  • Comment number 28.

    The same thing is happening over here (Sweden). In recent years a few teams have moved to a new ground (Malmö to a v impressive stadium!) and others are in the process of doing so (Östers).

    It's a shame to lose the character of the old grounds. But the new grounds are definitely more comfortable - and even have roofing all the way around, which is a BIG improvement).

    Good article.

    And good luck to Chesterfield!



  • Comment number 29.

    good blog, paul

  • Comment number 30.

    Now then,

    Many thanks for all your comments - and sorry for not responding on Friday. I was out of the office and did not use a computer all day, which does not happen all that often these days.

    I wouldn't say that Barrie Hubbard was all that expansive with his answers (which isn't a bad thing) but it was obvious he cared deeply about Chesterfield.

    The idea behind the article was that it is not just the top clubs that need new stadiums to grow and prosper. I think it is just as important for a modest-sized outfit like Chesterfield.

    However, tomefccam (post 5) raises an interesting point about the impact a ground has on its surrounding community. Modern stadiums tend to be out of town and, thus, are divorced from the local community. I'm told that Chesterfield's new ground is on an old brownfield site and not too far from town. That could make a big difference.

  • Comment number 31.

    Many grounds lose their soul and atmosphere...Leicester City (my club being one) where fans want us back at Filbert Street.
    But like B2NET, the Walkers is the modern stadium that you need to raise revenue...without the Walkers, I dont think Leicester would have attracted King Power Investment or Sven for that matter.
    Also my local Team Nuneaton Town were in the same situation, the old Ground at Manor Park was good for 75 or so years but was falling into dispreair and with a main road, canal, back gardens at either side...couldnt redevelop it.
    So moved flung to the furtherst reaches of Nuneaton to an industrial estate to an all purpose stadium (which used to be owned by the Rugby Team), of course it lacks the atmsophere of Manor Park but it has helped Nuneaton despite the rebuilding of Nuneaton Town from the ashes of the debt crippled Nuneaton Borough, Liberty Way is like B2NET....modern facilities and all clubs need them.

  • Comment number 32.

    I read this with great interest as a Bristol City supporter, we are currently in a battle to get our new stadium built. I haven't enough time to go into all the issues we've had to get to the current stage as It has been 2 years to the day since plans were publicly released. But we have planning permission to build the new stadium half a mile from our current home Ashton gate on "green belt"(19 and a half years ago it was being used as a tip) this after the council agreed it was the only place it could realisticaly be built. We've now been told by an inspector that the whole 42 acres should be turned into a village green?! The biggest village green in Europe! The week after the club reported losses in the last financial year of nearly 12 million the importance of a new stadium has never been more clear. This is clear from the top to the bottom leagues.

  • Comment number 33.

    Me and My dad are doing the "92 Challenge" and are hoping to complete it by my 21st Birthday(I'm 18 in Febuarary). I've been to 49 football league grounds and I'll always remember Chesterfields ground becuase it was where me and my dad reached the halfway point. The facilites are some of the best I have encountered and unlike many new grounds in the premier league and lower leagues I have been to it had a cracking atmosphere and wasnt on some awful retail park miles outside of the town and was right in the centre. Chesterfield seem to play good attackive football and they looked good when I saw them beat Hereford 4-0 Good look to Chesterfield bigger horizons beckon I'm sure

  • Comment number 34.

    I first went to Saltergate in November, 1967. Chesterfield were playing South Shields in the FA Cup (won 2-0). It was a cold, grey, blustery day. That season I also saw them play Rochdale and later, in 1971, Sheffield United in a friendly. A lifetime later (emigration to Australia, marriage, kids, army, travel) I went again to Saltergate to watch Chesterfield v Gillingham (April, 2009). The ground had not changed one bit in the forty years since I'd last been there. Everything looked the same. There was not one new development. It was as though time had stood still. Magic!

  • Comment number 35.

    KISS OF DEATH ARTICLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 36.

    Great to see my team and its new success highlighted. Although I have lived in Canada for over 40 years, I was born in Staveley and made my first visit to Saltergate around 1952/3. As I grew up, I went to see "The Town" with my Grandpa, my Dad and my uncle. It was not until 2000 or so that I returned to the old ground, to find that nothing had changed! Time had stood still, and frankly, the place was more than dilapidated.
    Now I am looking forward to visiting the B2Net. I hope I might get a chance to say hello to Barry Hubbard and thank him for all he has done for this club. Don't rest, Barry, until that FA Cup is ours, as it should have been back in 1997 (I never forgave Referee Ellery!

  • Comment number 37.

    Excellent article, and nice to see something about lower-league clubs for a change, but as an Oxford fan I can promise that the move to a new stadium doesn't guarantee either instant success or increased revenue. Of course, it helps if the club owns its own ground rather than paying rent and maintenance charges to a company specifically set up for the purpose, especially when that company is owned by a former, rather than a current, chairman.

    Still, it's good to see Chesterfield doing well, but unfortunately I won't be able to see the new stadium for myself this Tuesday, when hopefully Oxford can do to Chesterfield what we did to Port Vale a few weeks back.

 

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