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Thursday, 9 September 2010

Macc For Good

Five years ago, Macclesfield drilled Stockport 6-0 at Moss Rose. They finished near the bottom of the league, despite contesting a playoff semi-final the season before. With the most recent Cheshire derby yielding a very different outcome – and Macc failing to finish much higher in all the seasons since – Kat Norris highlights the tribulations of supporting perennial underachievers.

It’s the 86th minute of the local derby and the ball slams into the back of your opposition’s net. The Silkmen fans go wild – it’s their SIXTH goal of the game against Stockport County, and for most, the best Christmas present ever.

That, my friends, was the Great Boxing Day Drubbing of 2005. Still fondly remembered, it must sound a myth to young Macc-goers and is certainly a far cry from what was witnessed at the Moss this Saturday just gone – a half-hearted side of Macclesfield players getting thumped by Stockport; losing 2-0 to a team hardly in the best of early-season form themselves.

Much has changed in five years. Looking back to that momentous Boxing Day, for a start, Brian Horton was in charge. It was a few months into a season in which Macc had been tipped for promotion. It followed a season where they had finished in the playoffs, despite many pundits predicting they would be the ones to drop out of the football league. Confident and competent players – Parkin, Swailes, Whitaker, Sandwith (debatable) and Morley (now I am having a laugh) – kept the team motivated and encouraged. The Stockport win was their ninth consecutive game without defeat. It was also the biggest home attendance all season.

It was actually shortly before this game that things had started to go seriously downhill for the Silkmen. Six days before Christmas 2005, Macc were found guilty of four breaches of FA rules relating to the construction of the Moss’s McAlpine Stand back in 2000-2002. Expecting a reasonable fine, two of these breaches were taken on the chin by the club, only to be fined a grand total of £300,000. Oh yeah – and a time limit of just six weeks to pay it.

For a League Two club with attendance averaging at around 2,000, it doesn’t take Einstein to work out that the worst case scenario – and yet a scarily possible one – was that the club could fold.

Not if the fans had anything to do with it. More than 250 gathered to discuss fund-raising ideas at the Moss Rose over Christmas, and within 10 days the club had raised £50,000.

The time limit extended and the fine under control, it was back to the football. When big Jon Parkin left for Hull, having scored nine goals in 15 matches since his return from injury, his loss was keenly felt. The rest of the 2005/2006 season never really recovered with Macc finishing 17th, and after failing to win any of their opening 12 games the following season, Brian Horton was relieved of his duties. Morale was low and Macc were even lower, rooted to the bottom of the league.
Paul Ince took charge and oversaw a nine-match unbeaten run which ultimately ensured the club’s survival. During the run, Macc had also drawn Chelsea in the Third Round of the FA Cup. The Silkmen were going to London, baby!

Going to London to lose 6-1, admittedly, but it is still talked about on the terraces today, most memorably John Murphy’s equaliser which took them level at 1-1 (fuck you, Lampard). Who knows what would have happened if poor goalkeeper Tommy Lee hadn’t been sent off. Most importantly, the 5,000 strong away support – for a club bottom of the professional league pyramid – was phenomenal. I was delighted, although a little judgmental of the 3,000 extra ‘fans’ we’d gained, who I knew would only be actively supporting for that one day, as the club laid on free coaches for the trip.

The 5,000 disappeared as quickly as they had materialised and the return of the Cheshire derby – attendance 3,683 – to the Moss last weekend reminded me of all that’s happened in a difficult few years. I could go into an in-depth report of the match – the fact that we struggled for possession for the first half of the match, the goals against us and the squandered penalty by Sinclair that could have brought us back in the game. But I won’t, because the one thing that stays with me is the lack of fan support. What happened to the days of singing until the end? ‘My old man said be a County fan’, anyone? What happened to the days of boos for the people who leave during the game, not for the team on the field? In a derby?

I realise as much as anyone that being stuck in a relegation dogfight every season is total balls. I realise that the novelty of punching above our weight has worn off; that the ‘magic of the football league’ has gone, but so have our chances of the playoffs (we’re pretty skint, you see). But these are very early days in the 2010/11 season. Are we cut adrift at the bottom? Are we hell. I am extremely proud of our football league status and would like to see it preserved, even if I don’t like the fact that this has to be our stated aim every season. Truth is, if we dropped into the Conference, we probably wouldn’t get back and that is the worst thought of all.

Most of us try to avoid the doom and gloom if we can. We’re not England in a knockout tournament. Rob Green hasn’t just ‘missed’ the ball, and Rooney (Wayne, not John) hasn’t slept with your Grandma. I don’t want to write my team off after five matches. I do wonder, though, how many other supporters from last week wished that instead of ‘keeping the faith’ as has been a Silkmen saying for so long, wished that they had kept their £14 instead. And how many more despondents will follow them before the next Cheshire derby rolls around.

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