In 1871, Chesterfield Football Club became a distinct entity from the Chesterfield Cricket Club, from which it was formed in the previous decade. Together, they took up the tenancy at the 'New Recreation Ground', Saltergate, located just 100 yards West of their previous home, and the ground was used for both sports for more than two decades. The site hosted its first game of football on 4 November 1871, with Rotherham providing the opposition in a 14-a-side match under Sheffield Rules. 11-a-side football was first played a few weeks later against the Sheffield F.A. team. A wooden pavilion was developed on the eastern side of the ground later in the 1870s but otherwise it remained simply an open field in this era. After the initial Chesterfield Football Club folded in 1881, a number of other local football teams used the pitch until the establishment of a second Chesterfield F.C. in 1884, later known as Chesterfield Town. The first recorded attendance, from Boxing Day 1889, put the crowd at 400 for a game against Sheffield Heeley Reserves. A small, uncovered grandstand with benched seating for around 400 was added early in the 1890s. With the football club steadily progressing toward employing its first semi-professional players, it was also able to take the cricket club's relocation in its stride during 1894, shouldering the full rent thereafter.
League football came to Saltergate in 1899 with Chesterfield Town's election to play in Division Two of the Football League. The club's step up necessitated remedial work on a pitch that sloped markedly from north to south, most notably the removal of a hill in the north west corner, the spoil from which was dumped at the Saltergate end. In addition, the grandstand was enlarged and roofed over, its capacity increasing to around 800 spectators. Fencing was erected on the Compton Street side to obscure the free view from adjacent back gardens (modest coverage later being added on this side). After a decade of financial struggle, other clubs who had invested in their stadia vied for an opening in the league and Chesterfield Town were voted out in 1909. In a bid to return, a running track was constructed around the perimeter, said to offer up to 10,000 fans a decent view, and a white picket fence was constructed around the pitch to replace the previous wire boundary. However, any ambitions proved short-lived. Faced with the abandonment of competitive football after the outbreak of the First World War the club was forced into voluntary liquidation in 1915. A new club with the same name was formed by a local restauranteur to play wartime football at Saltergate using locally based "guests" from Football League clubs. It was shut down by the FA for illegal payments in 1917. The following year saw no senior football in Chesterfield but Saltergate was used for local cup matches.
A fourth club - the present Chesterfield F.C. - was established in 1919 at the instigation of the local authority. A ground move to the Queen's Park Annexe also formed part of the vision, but did not progress after costings were received for a new stand. Thus the club continued to base itself at Saltergate as league football returned to the town in 1921.
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