On Sunday 25th March I went to Wembley Stadium to watch Chesterfield play Swindon Town in the Johnstones Paint Trophy final.
As soon as Chesterfield had reached the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy final, I knew that I had to go to see my side’s first trip to Wembley in my lifetime. Despite being a competition that many clubs don’t take seriously, it was the best chance of reaching the home of English football for lower division sides and the day out was certain to be fantastic whether the Spireites won or lost.
Me, my Dad Mark, his cousin Marcus, cameraman Andy and his son Michael all set off early and drove down to London before catching the Tube from Stanmore to Wembley Park. The view from the station was magnificent, with crowds of colourful supporters walking up Wembley Way towards the stadium in the distance. The atmosphere around the stadium was amazing with supporters of both sides singing and enjoying the day. I bought a match day programme and a scarf and we all walked around the stadium for a while before heading through the turnstiles and taking our seats.
The atmosphere inside the ground was even better than it had been walking around the ground earlier, with nearly 50,000 supporters all excited about the game ahead and hoping that their teams could lift the trophy for the first ever time.
Chesterfield have featured in every season of the competition under its various names, yet it was the first time they had reached the final, while Swindon had never won the competition either so there was guaranteed to be a new name on the trophy come full time.
The Spireites had played at Wembley twice before, both before the stadium was rebuilt, and had won once and lost once so their supporter knew both feelings of happiness and devastation at the ground with a 1-0 defeat to Cambridge in 1990 before beating Bury 2-0 in 1995. Meanwhile, the Robins had won all three of their matches at the Old Wembley but lost their most recent trip 1-0 in the League 1 play off final to Millwall.
Both managers are football legends and one of John Sheridan’s greatest moments came at Wembley, scoring the winner for Sheffield Wednesday in the 1991 League Cup final against Manchester United. Paolo Di Canio meanwhile, had never played at the stadium in his glorious career and was looking for glory at the ground in his first ever season of management.
Despite the fact that the Spireites were in a higher division, they came in to the game as underdogs and there was just one league place between the two teams with Swindon sitting pretty at the summit of League 2.
Many pundits seemed to think that the game was a foregone conclusion with Swindon in such a great run of form while Chesterfield were at the bottom of League 1 with just 7 league victories all season. However, some good recent results including a victory over high flying Sheffield Wednesday left me feeling quite confident ahead of the match.
The teams were lead out by the captains, Alan McCormack and Jack Lester, and they were greeted by great cheers from both sets of performances. The players lined up and sang the national anthem before shaking hands and getting ready for kick off.
Chesterfield got the game underway and began the stronger. Jack Lester had the first chance of the game with a near post header that was easily saved by Wes Foderingham in the Swindon net. It looked like Lester had opened the scoring after just 9 minutes when he fired in the rebound of Simon Ford’s shot off the woodwork. However, the linesman flagged for offside and the goal didn’t count, although the replays showed that the goal should have stood.
As the half went on, Swindon began to grow in to the game and create some good chances, the first of which saw Joe Devera’s header fly not far wide of the far post. Lee Holmes came close to opening the scoring with a curved effort from the edge of the area that went just over the crossbar.
Holmes came even closer to scoring when his shot deflected off the head of Josh Thompson and bounced off the arm of goalkeeper Tommy Lee who was lucky to knock the ball past the post,
Chesterfield remained organised and almost took the lead when Alex Mendy took on a couple of Swindon players and had a shot that flew just wide of the goal.
Unfortunately for the Spireites, Jack Lester went down injured and was forced to come off to be replaced by Craig Westcarr. At 36 years old it is unlikely that he will get another chance to play at Wembley Stadium so it was a huge shame and he was visibly disappointed.
The Robins continued to dominate much of the play towards the end of the first half and their best chance fell to Alan Connell who miss-hit his attempt at an acrobatic finish just yards from the goal.
Despite all these chances, the two teams went in at half time goalless and there was still all to play for in the second period.
It took less than two minutes of the second half for the deadlock to be broken. Jordan Bowery charged forward for the Spireites and after his shot was saved, the ball fell to Alex Mendy on the edge of the area. The Frenchman turned past a defender and crossed a low ball in front of goal which got turned in by Robins defender Oliver Risser. It was unfortunate for the defender but the Chesterfield fans didn’t care as they celebrated taking the lead, although many supporters hadn’t even got back to their seats as the ball hit the net!
With a new found belief, Chesterfield dominated the play and pushed to double their advantage. Soon after, a cross in to the box was punched away by Foderingham but on to Mendy who attempted an overhead kick that went over the crossbar.
Substitute Craig Westcarr was gifted the opportunity to almost guarantee victory when Alan McCormack slipped and left the striker through on goal. Westcarr had time to think about it and nerves appeared to get the better of him as his shot was quite a way off target.
As the full time whistle got nearer, Swindon began to pile pressure on the Chesterfield defence in hope of taking the game to extra time. The defenders held out well and Lee made a magnificent save to tip Alessandro Cibocchi’s header over the crossbar in the last few minutes.
With the Robins going all out for an equalising goal, they began to leave gaps at the back and this proved fatal for them in the last minute of stoppage time when Mark Randall played an excellent through ball to Westcarr, who made up for his earlier miss by slotting the ball home. The striker ran off celebrating while the fans went crazy, knowing that the result was now beyond doubt.
The full time whistle signalled the start of the celebrations for the Spireites, who finally had something to smile about after a long and difficult season. Chesterfield legend Jack Lester climbed up the steps and lifted the trophy in front of over 20,000 Chesterfield supporters who were filled with joy and elation at their clubs second trophy in two seasons.
The fans stayed for a long time after to celebrate the victory and the players did a lap of honour showing off the trophy and applauding the fans. After some time we headed off home, delighted with victory and a wonderful day all round. Witnessing my side win at Wembley Stadium was certainly one of my best ever moments as a football supporter.