Result: Macclesfield Town 3-2 Alfreton Town (FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round)
Venue: Moss Rose (Saturday 24th October 2015, 3pm)
Today, I was back on the road to Wembley and the continuing trail of the FA Cup Qualifying Rounds. My destination was in Cheshire and without drawing out the mystery any more than is required ( I think the answer is given away in the title), I was headed for Macclesfield and, more specifically Moss Rose, home of the Silkmen of Macclesfield Town.
Macc were playing host to Alfreton Town in the final qualifying round of the competition and therefore, the two were competing for a place in the First Round of the Cup itself. Unfortunately it was a rather damp, dreary, dull late morning as I set off into Manchester for the connecting train to Macclesfield. After a bit of a rush through town, I made the Northern stopping service in the nick of time and met up with regular accomplice Dan on the train. Exiting out of Piccadilly’s Platform 4, we set off through the Cheshire countryside and onwards to our terminus.
After being somewhat puzzled by a guy decked out I full Macc attire disembarking in Poynton, rather than the place of his supposed game of choice, we eventually rolled into the station and immediately discounted the dingy-looking Queens’ Hotel for the pub featuring a large Manchester United flag on its exterior. This pub was the Nags Head and also featured a worrying “Enter if you Dare” on the door. Bravely, we entered, but the place was as dead as the ghouls depicted on its Hallowe’en banner and we rushed down a quick half before heading down the road to the Treacle Tap, where I’d informed the newest blogger on the block and member of the BOBSC, Paul Rowan, we’d meet him on his arrival from Liverpool.
No sooner had Dan and I ordered and sat down with our drinks of Flensburger, I noticed a figure in the window of the cobblers opposite, which resembled more a priest than a shoemaker, fixing shoes unsurprisingly. After this small amusement, Paul rocked up through the rain and joined us in having the Dutch(?) beer. With the Treacle Tap seemingly more of a small bistro-style outlet, that just seems to also offer ales, we headed out after a short stop and onwards towards the ground where I remembered a pub was located around half-way up the road. Thus, we came upon The Macc. In we headed and were soon met with Clown Juice.
Before you become too alarmed about any perverted activity, Clown Juice is in fact a, rather strong, ale measuring at 7.5% and is, unsurprisingly, advertised in half-pints. But due to us having a match to see and roads to navigate, we plumped for the Spanish tipple Mahou instead, which I’d grown accustomed to while on holiday in Mallorca this summer. The Macc was definitely the best of the three bars we’d sampled, with a good atmosphere, selection of beers and a dark part of a wall with a Narnia sign painted on it at the rear. We decided to steer clear of this, as you never know what might happen if you go to close to the void.
Before long, we’d finished off in here and bid our goodbyes to the Macc and headed up to the Moss Rose, where we planned to visit Keith’s Bar, named in honour of the tragic Keith Alexander, Macc’s former manager. Sadly, this wasn’t in use today and therefore we were directed to the Corner Flag Bar on the far side of the Star Lane Terrace, where we’d paid £10 for a ticket to stand in for the game today. After heading through a strangely-placed crowd controlled gate, with all transits through controlled by a steward, we entered the bar and I got myself a Bulmers’ Orange cider whilst Paul stuck with a beer and Dan marvelled at his new purchase: a Macclesfield Town scarf.
After Paul and I pointed out that, due to the badge being hardly noticeable, you could fold the scarf up a little and take it to any side playing in white and blue and pretend to be a fan, Dan was less than impressed and proceeded to defend his scarf for all his worth.
Luckily, his argument was truncated by the approaching kick-off and we headed back outside and back through the gate to the Star Lane Terrace, which is the covered end and stands opposite the usual away end, which is an open terrace. The left-hand touchline features the new-build stand, complete with all corporate bits inside it and to the right is the old Main Stand, which is flanked by further open standing and is where the dressing rooms and dugouts are located around too. With this being the old bit, it leads nicely onto the history of the Silkmen…,
The first football club in Macclesfield was founded in the mid-19th century, playing rugby union rules until 1874, when the association football rules were adopted instead. During its earlier years, the club played in the Combination, Manchester League (won twice) and the Cheshire League (won twice pre-war) and was known by titles such as Macclesfield Football and Athletic Club, Hallifield FC & Macclesfield FC, before settling on Macclesfield Town FC upon resumption of football en masse after WWII. Town joined the Cheshire County League in 1946-’47, with the first silverware under its current name coming in the shape of the 1948 Cheshire League Cup.
This was built on throughout the ’50’s, with the Silkmen, the nickname deriving from the town’s famed Victorian trade, with four cups in four years being achieved (three Cheshire Cups and a league title), with this being their last success until 1961, when they won the Cheshire League for a fourth time. This began a period where the club won three further league titles and finished no lower than fifth over a 9-year stint. In 1968, the club became founder members of the Northern Premier League (NPL).
Instant success followed, with Macc winning the first two titles of the NPL and they won the inaugural FA Trophy in 1970 to add to the second title. But, success faded and the club finished bottom in 1979, but were spared by the creation of the Alliance League, the forerunner of the Conference, which saw the club remain in the NPL and be able to rebuild again through the ’80’s, eventually resulting in the club’s third NPL title in 1987, which resulted in promotion to the Conference. This was joined in the cabinet by the NPL Challenge Cup & President’s Cup as Town swept the floor.
After a mostly solid start to life in the Conference, including the ’94 Conference League Cup, the club won the 1995 Conference title under the guidance of Sammy McIlroy, but were denied promotion to Division 3 due to ground grading. Two seasons later, however, the club won their second Conference title and had upgraded the ground meaning promotion could take place now. Upon reaching the Football League, Macclesfield Town turned professional ahead of the ’97-’98 season.
Their first season saw instant success, with Macc finishing runners-up and thus achieving promotion to Division 2, going unbeaten all season. However, Division 2 was a bridge too far and the club immediately dropped back to Division 3 after one year. McIlroy left to take the Northern Ireland job, which meant a less than stable few years was to follow as the man at the helm changed a number of times.
After a recovery from a poor start to the season saw Macc eventually achieving a play-off place in 2005 & staving off relegation in 2007, tragedy struck in 2010 when manager Keith Alexander passed away after a game at Notts County. This was added to by the death of midfielder Richard Butcher who passed aged just 29 just 10 months later. Butcher’s 21 shirt has since been retired from use as a mark of respect. Last time I visited, the club still printed his name and number on the squad list, though this appears to have been discontinued now.
2012 saw Macc relegated back to the Conference after a terribly poor season, but the following year saw a high-point as Macc reached the FA Cup 4th Round for the first time. Last season, Macclesfield Town finished in 6th place, just missing out on the play-offs.
The teams entered the pitch with an impressive noise emanating from the small band of Alfreton fans situated in the far corner of the newer stand. But, unfortunately for them, their optimism took a big hit soon after the restart when their side were caught cold by the quick starting National League side, who marched into a two-goal lead. First, Kristian Dennis found himself one-on-one with the Alfreton ‘keeper, after being fed in by Danny Whittaker on his 300th appearance for the club, before Dennis confidently slid past GK Matt Duke into the bottom corner. He was soon joined on the scoresheet by Silkmen skipper Paul Turnbull, who planted a close range diving header into the net and seemed to have settled the game already. 2-0.
To their credit, back came Alfreton, and they put ever increasing pressure onto the Macc back-line, but without really testing the former Bournemouth man, Shwan Jalal, in the Macc goal. They were punished for lacking that edge, as Dennis converted his second from close range, just as I exited the facilities. At 3-0, you felt Alfreton may have crumbled, but no, they kept on pushing forward, spurred on by their vocal support and they got a goal their pressure deserved almost immediately after Dennis had found the net down the other end, Sam Jones smashing a half-volley past the helpless Jalal.
Paul had already been sent on a walk down the far end to use facilities, rather than those about 10-feet away by the steward enforcing this strange, pointless gate and wasn’t too impressed when, upon coming back out of the bar for the second half, he looked up at the sky to check the weather, only for the steward to say he “saw that craft look”. Now, I have no idea what constitutes a crafty look, but whatever it is, the steward must be an expert in it. It was rather rude, really, and even if it was in jest it shouldn’t be said.
Anyway, after discovering a new love for Lothian Thistle Hutchison Vale FC at half time, it was back onto the game at hand. I’d just finished off a decent, if pricey, Sausage Roll for £2.00, when Alfreton moved to within a goal of their hosts, Jordan Robertson heading in a high ball at the back post. This was the cue for celebrations in the Alfreton end, who even had police to keep an eye on them, with shirts off and a man in a large pink-orange coated getting very excited in the midst of the ranks
This spurred the reds on and they had further chances to grab an equaliser, but it was Macc who came closest to grabbing another goal, Lindon Meikle blasting over from a great position, but it mattered little in the grander scheme of things, as the Silkmen hung on to secure their place in the First Round of the FA Cup.
So, the game was over and we headed back to The Macc to watch the conclusion of South Africa vs New Zealand in the RWC Semi-Final, with the lure of the Clown Juice being too much to ignore. It also gave me the chance to ask a question I’d thought I’d never mutter “Can I have a try of your Clown Juice?”. We’d all decided hat this statement had to be said as we all thought it would be hilarious. Clearly, somewhere during the day, we’d all receded 12 years in age and headed back to the Primary School playground.
After watching the All Blacks conquer the Springboks, we headed back out into the fading light of the day and back to Macclesfield station, where we got onto the platform just as the train to Piccadilly was pulling in. Somewhere on the journey, Paul got up from his seat alongside me and headed to the loo, and came back wearing make-up, with long hair and fixing his mascara. No, he hadn’t done a Bruce, but had just had his seat taken by a woman and had to relocate to the rear. Phew!
Upon arrival in Piccadilly, Paul had decided he wanted to tick off another tap off his list, and so it was over to the Piccadilly Tap for the final stop of the day. I continued my usual “pick a beer on relation of its involvement in sport” and opted for a BitBurger, after its sponsorship of the Benetton F1 Team back in the day and we headed upstairs for a game of table football, which ended in a competitive 5-5 draw, with the blues and reds reflecting the sides from today’s game. I wasn’t too impressed with my table football-style Jalal, who was doing a headstand for one of the goals!
Soon after the completion of the enthralling contest, Dan left us and headed home, while Paul and I finished off our pints downstairs in the busier part of the Tap, setting the world to rights about most things, I’m sure. Before too long, though, it was time to head home and I bid farewell to Paul outside Piccadilly as he headed off on his way and I on mine. It sounds a lot more romantic than it was, I assure you!
And so brought to end another day watching football in a damp town in the North of England. You wouldn’t swap it for anything would you? I know I wouldn’t! Although doing the same in a warmer climate does sound appealing, now that you mention it….
Game: 8- Goals and a fair amount of action. Can’t complain.
Ground: 7- Nice mix of old & new and decent views behind the old stand.
Fans: 5- Not much going from the home end.
Programme: 7- A fair effort, but nothing to rave about.
Food: 5- Okay, not worth £2, though.
Value For Money: 8- £7 travel, £10 in, £3 programme, and about £20 extras. Pretty decent overall.