Chesterfield museum and art gallery www.chesterfield.gov.uk/museum
Chesterfield Parish Church crookedspire.org
Holmbrooke Valley Park www.holmebrookvalleypark.org.uk
Queens Park www.chesterfield.gov.uk
Sutton Scarsdale Hall www.english-heritage.org.uk
I have a soft spot for Chesterfield. During my many years as a smoker Chesterfield was my cancer-stick of choice.
It may have been the endorsements by Sugar Ray Robinson, Willie Mays, Bob Hope, Tyrone Power, Ronald Reagan, Rita Hayworth, Lucille Ball, Frank Sinatra and many more. It may have been the enticing promises of ‘No unpleasant after-taste’, ‘Cooler smoking’, ‘Man-size satisfaction’ and the astonishing assurance from the American medical fraternity – or, at least, that section of it represented by someone looking discouragingly like cub reporter Jimmy Olsen – that ‘Chesterfield is best for you’.
Or it may simply have been delight at the idea that someone in a distant marketing department thought Chesterfield was the epitome of glamour. Of all the brands competing for my addict’s mite, from the glittering yet cheap Embassy Gold to the vaguely patriotic Winston, this was the name that caught my eye and held my loyalty.
I don’t know whether Liggett & Myers still produce Chesterfields in packs of 20 (or, as I discovered in Australia, 30, where my daily consumption, attuned to a pack a day, effortlessly adjusted itself to a 50% increase in supply). If they do, the glamour of the modest Derbyshire town’s name will be offset today by a blank package embellished only by menacing warnings and pictures either of diseased body parts or a psychologically broken man trying to come to terms with erectile dysfunction. These anti-marketing devices would probably have increased my consumption as well. Anxiety is a powerful trigger where the committed smoker is concerned.
Besides, the packaging of the Chesterfields I smoked was risible. Its careful drawing of riverside minarets and domes suggested yashmaks, houris and the dripping head of John the Baptist. It stopped just short of camels. The general explanation for the name of the brand is that it has nothing to do with Derbyshire but derives from Chesterfield County, Virginia. Chesterfield County must have taken its name from somewhere not a million miles from the A61. It may have arrived in Virginia via an English milord (Philip Stanhope, 4th Earl of Chesterfield actually), but he would have traced the title back to Derbyshire.
When I couldn’t find Chesterfields – as happened occasionally, since Chesterfields were a lower-league, minority-interest cigarette – I fell back on Winstons, but only Camels in an emergency. In a Sheffield newsagent’s once I drew blanks with both Chesterfield and Winston and, with a sigh, asked for a box of matches and a copy of the Guardian. “Aye,” said the shopkeeper, “tha’ll get a good smoke off that.”
The other reason for Chesterfield’s continuing appeal to my sense of nostalgia is that the Recreation Ground, Chesterfield, was where I became an Oldham Athletic supporter. This was the form teenage rebellion took in me with the 60s still a recent memory. Having supported my dad’s club, West Bromwich Albion, I decided it was time I found one of my own.
A home-town club was a slightly complicated option: I was born in the north Manchester mill town of Middleton, close to Oldham but not far from Rochdale or Bury either, and one branch of the family came from the Bolton area. A couple of weeks short of my 20th birthday and after a process akin to holding auditions, I made the short journey from Sheffield to Chesterfield and watched a rather dreary 1-0 win for the home side.
It was the worst football match I had watched in some time and the Oldham team looked inept. But the crowd was great fun and the famously dry northern sense of humour was in evidence. Most important, perhaps, that Oldham team contained one or two obvious and authentic characters, especially a tricky winger called Alan Groves.
Groves was the kind of player who was never content merely to beat a full-back if he could humiliate him as well. Passing to the full-back and then taking the ball off him, stopping as if to tie his bootlaces, explaining to the crowd what he was about to do, all these were part of Groves’ stock in trade.
Around Oldham he apparently became a familiar sight in a flashy car, sporting an afro and working his way through 80 cigarettes a day. Beyond football, he had the distinction – rare in any footballer, much less a Third Division one – of having featured in the Observer’s Quotes of the Week. Groves had married a 16-year-old girl who promptly left school to become his homemaker. The local education authority insisted she should still have been at school. Groves apparently replied to the effect that he didn’t care if she knew the date of the Battle of Hastings as long as she had his dinner on the table when he got home. Her father (her father! It was another era, just 45 years ago) was eventually fined £5.
Groves’ own story ended sadly: a very fit player, he died of heart failure at the age of 29.
What to do in Chesterfield, then? Gawp at the crooked spire, of course, and look round the museum and gallery. There are lovely parks and, in Sutton Scarsdale Hall, a fine old country seat to admire. But beware: a visit to Chesterfield might change your life.
Chesterfield 1 Oldham Athletic 0
Recreation Ground, 16 March 1974