D3D4 Chesterfield Correspondent Phil Tooley gives his initial thoughts on the appointment of Jack Lester
Former players returning to manage clubs is no rare thing, five of the top six longest serving gaffers previously played for the club they manage and the other has a name that closely resembles Arsenal!
But this is Jack; not Jack Lester, just Jack, any Spireite knows who you mean if you just say ‘Jack.’ In modern times, he’s not just been A player, he’s been THE player for Chesterfield; 92 goals in 219 appearances over a six season span, two titles and a Wembley JPT win represents plenty of success, but doesn’t indicate just why supporters felt (and still feel) so attached to the former Mariners, Blades & Forest man. He was seen by many as being Chesterfield FC at the time, the moniker Lesterfield was oft used, he was that influential.
Memorable hat-tricks, goals from nothing, goals in general – more than any in the current generation of players – made him what he is in these parts, so when his name was in the frame and then confirmed as the new man in the Proact Stadium, a buzz returned to the Town, a buzz last seen in 2015 when Paul Cook led the team to the League Two play-offs just a year after winning the League Two title.
Dean Saunders, Danny Wilson and Gary Caldwell tried but failed to re-energise the place but near relegation, relegation and a current disaster-drop-slot followed on from the edge of the promised land of the Championship.
Players went and new ones came in this summer but the poor results and often poorer performances continued, Caldwell went and Guy Branston took over in the interim but he didn’t seem to have the support of the players and after his first game, when Lester was firmly in the frame for the job, he publicly stated that Lester wasn’t the man for the job. NOT THE WISEST THING TO SAY IN CHESTERFIELD! He has now left the building.
Jack’s appointment was scheduled to be announced on Wednesday, then Thursday and, with nervous natives, eventually was confirmed at 2.30pm on Friday afternoon, soon after he’d taken training in the morning ahead of Saturday’s clash with Cheltenham Town.
No sooner than the appointment was confirmed, ticket sales for 24 hours later started to stir, having been minimal for the midweek defeat against Yeovil Town when the Proact witnessed the lowest ever League crowd in its seven year history. Queues formed at the ticket office, which had been given extended opening times for the day and on-line sales clicked on Director Ashley Carson’s fancy phone app which I was able to stare at.
Jack said during the press conference to ‘introduce’ him that he’d been working towards management since his playing days. Coaching at Notts and Forest began to shape his style, he led Forest U18’s to win their league title and he revealed that, when the Chesterfield job was previously available that, “I wasn’t ready then, but I’m ready now.” Words that are music to Spireites’ ears.
His determination was there for all to see during the press conference; he was not afraid to take shots at journalists who wanted to know his thoughts on the past, “Only the future matters,” summed up his views. He was quick to acknowledge the fact that he is seen as being Chesterfield’s own Special One, but was even quicker to say that such adoration was, “For me being a player,” signifying it counted for zip as a manager.
He recognised the team needs to be aggressive in its search for points and that his ways would take a while to become accepted by every player. In short, he said all of the right things but, as someone who’s seen several gaffers come and go, he said it in a way that showed not only that he believed it, but in a way that he believed he could deliver it. He said the right things but more importantly, he said them in the right way and you believed him.
Is it a risk for the club? Tell me a managerial appointment that isn’t a risk. Short term, it’s a cracking appointment, a positive vibe is certain for the next few months whatever the results and if it doesn’t work out in the short term, the fans will target people higher up the food chain than the manager; Jack will be exempt from pressure from the seating for longer than any other manager in the modern game.
Is it a risk for the manager? Not really. The club is (and the team is) at its lowest ebb since moving to The Proact, so if this season continues to nose dive, the foundation underpinning his efforts will be held out as the key underlying problem. His CV should not be ruined by this appointment, but it could be enhanced no end.
So we’re back to where we started. Jack’s Back!
And to confirm just what effect he’s had in these parts, here’s an article I penned on the eve of his last game for Chesterfield, against Exeter City in April 2013, six weeks after his previous start. He scored two, of course, in a 4-0 win and raised the roof fifteen minutes from time when he walked off the park for the last time in Chesterfield Blue, but tomorrow he’s back again, on the touchline, and the first mascot to lead his first team out is my granddaughter Philippa!
Come in Number 14, your time is up!
Striker Jack Lester has worn the No.14 shirt with immense pride and stunning success since Lee Richardson and, particularly, his assistant Alan Knill persuaded him to switch from Nottingham Forest to League Two at Saltergate based Chesterfield in the summer of 2007.
With a subsequent Spireites career record, ahead of him leading out the side at home to Exeter City in his swan song this afternoon, of 170+48 sub appearances and 92 goals, he’s been everything a modern football hero should be.
But why has the Sheffield man reached the pedestal based stature at the Spireites?
Here are 14 big reasons why:
1.From his second appearance, away at Sheffield United, Lester scored in six straight games with goals also against Stockport, Peterborough, Wycombe, Bury and, most importantly, in a 3-1 win at arch rivals Mansfield Town. He got 27 that season!
2.His hat-trick in the 4-2 win at Lincoln in November 2007. He and fellow front man Jamie Ward were sublime that night. Manager Lee Richardson said: “It wouldn’t have mattered who we were playing tonight, not even Chelsea would have been able to get the ball off us.” A total of 23 goals that season took his tally to 50 in his opening two seasons.
3.His part in the Droylsden FA Cup saga in 2008. Twice abandoned (fog & floodlight failure), Lester caused a pitch side scrap when, in passing back to the Bloods keeper after a throw from an injury stop, he chipped the ball in. Spireites allowed Droylsden to walk the ball home from the re-start. In the final leg of the epic, he was red carded on the way to Chesterfield losing 2-1. Spireites were reinstated when it was revealed brace bagger Sean Newton should have been suspended.
4.In Saltergate’s final game, at home to already promoted Bournemouth, Drew Talbot had inadvertently put the Cherries ahead with an own goal that looked like being the last goal at the 139 year old ground. Then, with 10 minutes left, Jack popped up to level and score what surely was the last ever goal at the old girl. However, deep into stoppage time, long servig Derek Niven scored to give Chesterfield the win and leave Lester, desperate for the honour, gutted!
5.January 2010 saw Jack’s knee start to give him some problems and he missed much of the rest of the season denying him the chance to be the first Chesterfield player to reach 20 goals in three consecutive seasons, a real disappointment for supporters and the player himself.
6.The then named B2Net Stadium’s first competitive match in August 2010 saw Barnet come to town but colleague Dwayne Mattis, on his debut, hadn’t read the script and he bagged the first competitive goal there. It didn’t take long though and, inevitably, Lester got in the act to make him a last and first game scorer at Spireites two homes.
7.One of the most remarkable matches of the modern era, in October 2010 at home to sublime footballing side Crewe Alexandra, saw the visitors 3-0 up in 13 minutes. Shell-shocked, Lester pulled one back but Crewe went to 4-1 after 26 minutes. With less than 20 minutes left, Lester again gave some hope of a miracle and soon after that it was 3-5 but a Danny Whitaker penalty on 89 and a last gasp goal from Craig Clay made it 5-5, a stunning live in the memory game.
8.On New Years’ Day 2011, with Mum and Dad in the B2Net, Lester grabbed a stunning hat-trick. A header set the game off before struggling Stockport equalised. However just after the hour mark Jack weaved his way through the County defence to score perhaps his greatest solo goal for the club. Five minutes later he completed his first home hat-trick to send the place wild, it was a ‘perfect’ one, a left footer, right footer and header.
9.In the 11 weeks after the County hat-trick, Lester scored just twice. Then the Sky TV cameras rolled in to capture the top of the table derby battled with Rotherham United. A full house saw Lester deliver his finest 90 minutes (technically 86 as he had to take the standing ovation) in blue. Dean Holden and Craig Davies opened the floodgates before Jack took over and bagged another perfect hat-trick in front of the nation. He milked the cameras for all his worth!
10.Two key games at the end of the Championship season of 2010-11 brought memories of differing emotions. He equalised against title rivals Bury on Easter Monday, leading to a home pitch invasion, generally joyous, but one youngster was caught on camera punching the Bury keeper and the visitors nicked a last gasp winner to put them in pole position for top spot. The final game of the season, at home to Gillingham, saw it 1-1 with 15 minutes left, Jack then scored the goal that all but ensured the title was Spireites.’ Deane Smalley added a third, but it was Lester’s goal that was the vital one.
11.September 2011 and Lester clashed with Orient keeper Lee Butcher. The striker broke his arm, very badly as it turned out, and he wasn’t able to start again until the week before Christmas. In his time out, the team slipped to the foot of League One and they were never able to recover and slumped to relegation.
12.On 30th January 2012, Spireites went to Oldham protecting a slender 2-1 first leg lead in the last four of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. Oldham had battered Chesterfield 5-2 in the league there a couple of months earlier and they again battered the visitors, but couldn’t score. Then right at the death, Lester took advantage of a defensive blunder to score and confirm his side’s visit to Wembley for the final.
13.Lester was given the armband for the JPT final at Wembley but, having had a perfectly good goal chalked off for an incorrect offside decision, he limped off with a groin injury, distraught. However two second half goals in the stunning sunshine meant the striker could collect the cup from the Royal Box to the delight of 20,000 Spireites.
14.Manager Paul Cook had a close up view of Lester as manager of Accrington Stanley in September this season. Stanley played the best visiting football seen at the new ground barring perhaps Crewe in the 5-5. However Chesterfield had Jack Lester. The final score saw Spireites win 4-3, Lester got two but had he been playing that night for Cook, Stanley would’ve won by a cricket score.
Thanks Jack, you’ll be missed!
BUT NOW, JACK’S BACK!