Rodney Shaped Me As A Spireite

Phil Tooley


site dedicated to all things League One & TwoRodney Fern, who passed away aged just 69 on 16th January 2018 after a long battle with dementia, sadly an ever increasing disease linked to footballers. As I get older, ever more footballers I’ve seen play are passing away, but few hold a place in my heart like Rodney Fern and no one player has had more influence in shaping me as a Spireite.


I started going to home games regularly, initially with my sister Diane in 1972, her first hero was the long curly haired Scottish waif Sam Ferris whereas I didn’t really have an out and out favourite, preferring to focus on the team, though the likes of hard workers Ray McHale and Ernie Moss did most to win me over. But for a while I lacked a real hero. Sean O’Neill came in from Leeds United, I really liked him but the first ‘exotic’ signing in my supporting career came in 1975, one Rodney Fern. Crikey, he’d been on telly, in an FA Cup Final for Leicester City in their 1969 loss against Manchester City, one of the first live televised matches I recall watching. He was going to be the man; but he wasn’t.


Rodney had been at Luton Town, he cost Chesterfield £8000, a huge sum for us at the time, but his introduction into the team was somewhat lukewarm, indeed he was pretty awful, what a waste of money. And he was an old man, an assumption made by everyone as he was prematurely balding, 26 at the time he moved to Saltergate, but he looked at least ten years older! Played by manager Joe Shaw on the wing, he was overshadowed by penalty winner and taker supreme Malcolm Darling and another penalty king, Terry Shanahan.


But when Shanahan moved back to his native London with Millwall, Fern became his centre forward replacement, and the Rodney we began to love came out of the shadows and into the spotlight of the glamour position. In 12 post-Shanahan games at the end of 1975-76 he scored seven goals, including a brace in a come from 3-1 down to win 4-3 cracker against Grimsby Town. Oh Rodney Rodney had arrived, albeit a bit later than hoped for.


During that second half of 75-76, I’d started to venture to a few away games, none too far away, one of them a memorable 3-1 win at Hillsborough, Rodney scored but Darling got two, one an inevitable penalty, so at the start of 1976-77 I decided to venture a bit further. Our first away excursion was just down the road to Port Vale, a 1-1 draw, enough to tempt me to invest heavily to go on the supporters club coach to Portsmouth, my first long distance away trip. Pompey had just come down to Division Three and they had Ian St John as gaffer and featured famous players like ex-Liverpool full-back Chris Lawler, this was a big deal.


The journey down seemed to take an age. Branson’s coaches were speed limited even before speed limiters were invented and the driver was generally an old curmudgeon, Bob, who always wanted to stop at Leicester Forest Services on the M1, presumably because he got the best free food there as a coach driver. We’d stop there every south bound trip, even though it was only an hour into the journey!


Eventually we got to Portsmouth with plenty of time to kill and we may even have sneaked an underage pint of Brickwoods Better Ales in the process. Into the imposing but crumbling Fratton Park and the match began with 8700 souls hardly cramming the arena with home fans thinking they’d hit a new low, playing Chesterfield for the first time ever in their impressive League history.


I can’t remember many details about the match, but on 77 minutes, the unthinkable happened and Rodney scored the winner. The journey back was magical, no toilets on the bus and hours to hold anything in until we made Leicester! Rarely have so many pop bottles been filled with Lucozade that wasn’t Lucozade, but the spirit was akin to nothing I’d ever experienced in my sixteen years of life. I was a committed travelling Spireites and Rodney Fern was the hook. I didn’t miss another away game for six years; I still wonder what might have been had we had been tonked 3-0.


Rodney was voted Player of the Year for 76-77 for his 18 goals (ironically I voted for Sean O’Neill) and he’d firmly won his place in all Spireites; hearts, but for me, it was that goal at Fratton Park that made my association with Chesterfield Football Club so much more than a committed home fan and an occasional away fan.


In 1977 I joined the Supporters Club Committee and since then have always been a volunteer in some capacity or other including being a Club Director, Programme Editor, Fundraiser and General Factotum, a journey started because of a successful long journey one August Saturday in 1976.


It was a sad day when Rodney left for Rotherham United, where he enjoyed great success, initially under a former Spireite boss Jimmy McGuigan. I went to visit him when he kept the Ferrers Arms pub in Lount, near his birthplace of Measham in Leicestershire, an odd venture for him as he was naturally quite shy. That was some years ago and the last time I saw him.


He may have passed away, but he will never be forgotten in these parts for being a great footballer, a great guy and the man that shaped me as a Spireite. RIP Rodney Fern.



5 responses to “Rodney shaped me as a Spireite by Phil Tooley”

  1. Bill says:

    Great piece Phil, Rodney Fern was one of my first Spireite heroes. I remember being astonished when a mate at school told me me his age, we all thought he was much older. Another sad day for Spireites as we lose another club favourite.

  2. Ian Bradley says:

    Thank you for this lovely piece on Rod, he meant a lot to us Millers fans too. A great read mate.

  3. Phil Hall says:

    Great stuff Phil, and fitting for such a great bloke; sadly our paths never crossed but I always had great respect for Rod as a footballer and as a quiet, unassuming man. Like you, I was blinkered by his premature baldness and thought he was much older than he was; to realise now that he was less than nine years older than me brings everything into sharp focus, as does the fact that he had a long battle with dementia; echoes of another great number nine, Ernie Moss. As a Barnsley fan in the seventies I hated them both, but with age comes forgiveness and appreciation, and in these crazy days of multi-million pound contracts I feel grateful to have watched genuine footballers like Rodney Fern ply their trade. Sadly gone, but never forgotten.

  4. Mike Levers says:

    Great article Phil .

  5. Ollie Pardo says:

    I remember Rodney as a great Leicester City player, mainly with the fantasic Frank Large. Both were involved in the sensational 4-3 FA Cup 4th round replay win over Manchester City in 1968. The Citizens were 2-0 up and then Rodney scored before half time. Frank Large went on to score a hat trick despite having concussioin & a broken nose to give the Filberts a 4-3 victory. It was one of the best matches I have ever seen. In the next home match against Sheffield United, Rodney scored again and Frank picked him up, put him over his shoulder & carried him back to the half way line! I still think it was a grave mistake to let Frank Large go to Fulham in part exchange for the lazy Allan Clarke. I don’t think we would have been relegated that season if the Rodney-Frank combo had endured. City won 3-1 that day. We also named our first cat Rodney and he too was something of a chacter!

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