when David Webb, while manager of Southend United, returned home from a family friend’s New Year’s Eve party in the early 90s, his heart sank as it quickly dawned on him that he had been the victim of a burglary. Windows were ajar, bedroom drawers open. “The first thing Dad checked was the medals,” says his son Danny, now assistant manager at Chesterfield. David, a former defender, won the FA Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup with Chelsea but his silverware was stolen. “He put a brave face on but it was horrible for him. He was devastated. We were all devastated as a family.”
At least this is a harrowing episode with a heartwarming ending. A few days after the burglary David received a call from a small jewelers in Covent Garden. “The bloke said: ‘I’m just making sure these medals are supposed to be in my melting pot,’” Danny says. “So they got saved at the last minute. I wish I remembered the man’s name because I’d like to give him a shoutout because he did the right, honest thing. They’re safely in the bank somewhere. Chelsea would like to put them in their museum of hers but I think Dad wants to keep them to himself for the next few years.”
Down the years Danny has seen Chelsea’s 1970 FA Cup final triumph over Leeds at Old Trafford, courtesy of his father’s match-winning goal, several times. “He lets other people talk about it but he does n’t bring it up himself,” Webb says. “At the time Chelsea and Leeds absolutely hated each other. Refs have said if it was played now there would be 10 or 11 sendings-off. It was a different time but the passion of the game would be the same if you got a big final nowadays.”
For Danny, assistant to Paul Cook at high-flying National League side Chesterfield, the focus is on the third round of the competition. On Saturday they host West Bromwich Albion, 66 places above them in the pyramid, hoping to reach the fourth round for the first time since 2015. Webb and Gary Roberts, the former Chesterfield midfielder who returned to the club in April as first-team coach , visited the Hawthorns on Monday to take in West Brom’s win over Reading. On Thursday they studied the depth of Carlos Corberán’s squad. “It is great to go into a game as underdogs because in the league, along with Wrexham and Notts County, we’re usually the favourites,” says Webb of Chesterfield, who are third in the division having lost once since October. “This game will bring a pressure the lads can enjoy.”
West Brom are soaring after eight wins from nine matches since Corberán replaced Steve Bruce in November but Chesterfield, who beat League Two opposition in AFC Wimbledon and Northampton Town en route to this point, may quietly fancy another upset. They have come unstuck in the National League playoffs in the past two seasons but there is feelgood factor around the place. Saturday’s game will be a sellout at more than 9,000 but their average attendance this season is almost 7,000.
“We’re lucky every time we turn up on a match-day, there’s a buzz, even when you come out for the warmup there’s a good few thousand in the stadium,” Webb says. There will be a carnival atmosphere. But it’s not as if we’re going from 2,500 to 10,000 and the players are going to go: ‘Bleeding hell, what’s this?’”
Less than three years ago there were genuine fears for the club’s future. They finished 20th in 2019-20, a season abruptly ended by the pandemic, and narrowly escaped relegation decided by an unweighted points-per-game system; they stayed up by 0.08 points. A few months later the Chesterfield FC Community Trust, an independent charity affiliated to the club since 2009, took ownership of the Spireites, a nickname derived from the Church of St Mary and All Saints’ crooked spire. The bond between town and club is closer than ever. “Absolutely,” says Chesterfield’s longstanding chief executive, John Croot. “When the Trust took over the club, it was in a really dark place. Nobody quite knew where the club was going. It felt like the club was going into oblivion. It’s transformed.”
It is fair to say Croot has seen his fair share of highs and lows since his association with the club began in 1978 as a program seller at Saltergate, yards from his secondary school. “My spot was bottom of the center stand steps,” he recalls fondly. Croot joined as a director in 1987 and was in the boardroom for last season’s FA Cup tie at Chelsea. He was in with 25,000 Chesterfield fans for the club’s finest hour, when they played in the semi-finals of the Cup in 1997. “I remember tickets being delivered from Old Trafford – it was the hottest ticket in town – and when the courier got to our ground there was nobody there so they left them on the step,” Croot says.
That appearance on the big stage sent the club global. During the 1998 World Cup some Japan fans approached a group of Chesterfield supporters having spied the club crest and after reuniting at the 2002 World Cup held in South Korea and Japan the Tokyo Spireites were born. “I think they came over for five years before they saw us score,” Croot says, laughing. The Belgian Spireites, a group of about a dozen supporters, have tickets in the South Stand for Saturday’s game. It promises to be another special occasion on what has been anything but a dull journey.