Sunday, 10 June 2018

Redux: Moss Rose

Macclesfield Town 2 Dagenham & Redbridge 0 
Saturday 28th April 2018, Conference Premier

Way back in the grim and distant past I visited the home of Macclesfield Town, Moss Rose, with my good friend Daz Knapton to watch Bristol Rovers play away in a high-stakes late season game. It was Rovers' first season out of the Football League in 94 years and the Silkmen's third season back in non-league after a fairly remarkable 15 season stay in the bottom two divisions. Although that day ended in a goalless draw it was Rovers who returned to the Football League at the first time of asking after winning the play-offs, while Macclesfield would have to settle for sixth place, one position outside the play-offs, in a season plagued by financial worries. In fact when Macclesfield came to Bristol that December they could only raise three substitutes for the bench. Fortunes continued to vary for the two sides in the two seasons that followed. Rovers famously gained back-to-back promotions back to their historical level in dramatic fashion while Macclesfield slipped to a 10th place finish. The season after heralded a trip to Wembley in the form of an FA Trophy final but even then the Cheshire side were undone by meaty magician himself: former Macclesfield forward Jon Parkin and his York City side.

This season though saw a massively improved and (relatively) financially stable Macclesfield Town. With club stalwarts like George Pilkington and Danny “The Dome” Whittaker being joined by a gaggle of exciting attacking players like Tyrone Marsh, Scott Wilson and a certain Nathan Blissett, the Silkmen had already won the league by a large margin by the time of this final home game. Despite having no money (“We’re going up with a fiver in the bank” has been a very popular terrace chant down the Moss this season) Macc managed to beat the much larger former league side Tranmere Rovers to that fabled single automatic spot. Last time I came to the Moss Rose, I decided that for such an important game I wanted to be in the away end. This turned out to be a mistake as it was a bit of a dump. I swore at the time that I’d be back one day and the promise of a promotion party and a chance to stalk Blissett was too much to pass up.

It was an early kick-off so we had to set off to Stoke train station first thing via a lift from Daz’s girlfriend Sophie, who has been an excellent facilitator for this kind of nonsense for a while now. Up the Sophie. There’s something magical about following a team like Macclesfield when they’ve done well and you’re passing through neighbouring towns in their colours. Because they have no rivalries to speak off, everyone’s just delighted for you and Daz was getting well-wishes and back slaps long before we got to Macclesfield itself. This and some irresponsibly early train beers had left us in a buoyant mood. Such a buoyant mood in fact that I decided I’d better acquire a match worn fluorescent pink goalkeeper strip from a few seasons ago from the Official Macclesfield Town Jumble Sale™ situated under the main stand. As tinpot as this absolutely is, it was also great fun and a good idea from the cash-strapped Silkmen. They had everything from old programmes to balls to substitute bibs (should you ever require one of those). Unfortunately they didn’t have any copies of Pro Evolution Soccer 2, which was remarkably still being advertised in the toilets some 16 (sixteen) years after it’s release.

I’m happy to confirm that the rest of the Moss Rose is indeed a lot nicer than what I had uncharitably named the Skip End on my last outing (real name the John Askey terrace, sorry John). Daz had got us seats in the Henshaws stand so we would be able to dive into the McIllroy Suite for a drink and a viewing of it’s apparently spectacularly gaudy carpets at half-time. Unfortunately this den of drugget delights would be closed to the rabble this afternoon due to a sold out dining section. It is a very modern looking all seated stand and much like the East Stand at Sixfields, the club almost destroyed itself building it. The small but hardy section of Dagenham and Redbridge supporters were stationed in the rightmost third of this stand, with the John Askey terrace being given over to smatterings of pay-on-the day Silkmen fans who drifted in throughout the first half.

The Main Stand is opposite and consists of a relatively small, raised, cantilever roofed seated stand which I’m sure has been there since time immemorial. This is wedged between a weird triangular barn and Butch’s Bar, so named after Richard Butcher who sadly died suddenly in 2011 while a Macclesfield player. There’s also a row of terracing in front of the stand that stretches the entire length of the pitch. The Star Lane End is the standard vocal fans section of the ground and consists of a covered terrace with a row of seats on the front which have been added recently, a bit like at Accrington Stanley. All-in-all I’d say that Macclesfield are using what little space they have to great effect. There were no long queues and nowhere felt cramped despite the bumper crowd, certainly not something you could say about the Memorial Stadium at present.

It was a relaxed but still fairly entertaining afternoon of football, with the Daggers rising to the occasion well. This might be something to do with wanting to give their travelling fans a good show on the last day of the season due to the very uncertain future the club faces. Keith Lowe bundled in a cross from Danny Whittaker (who will replace Jonjo Shelvey as the EFL’s baldest man after today) in the 44th minute but this was flagged for offside. Shwan Jalal did well to deny Michael Cheek’s header from close range early in the second half and Tyrone Marsh impressively managed to just miss the target with a low shot from the edge of the six yard box.

Dagenham had what looked like the opening goal on a plate in the 72nd minute as Luke Howell skipped over Jalal towards an open goal but some quick reactions and no small amount of luck, David Fitzpatrick managed to throw himself down on the goaline and snuff out the danger. Sadly for me Blissett was subbed in the 74th minute having not really had much input in proceedings but it was very much to Macclesfield’s benefit when Scott Wilson came on to replace him and decided to have an absolute barnstormer of a cameo. First Mitch Hancox squared the ball to Wilson at the edge of the six yard box for the shock sub to poke home, then Marsh sent in a cross from the right hand corner which the former Paulton man managed to direct towards goal with his heel, beating the flummoxed Mark Cousins.

They’re a quiet bunch at Macclesfield. The few spirited youngsters who invaded the pitch after the full-time whistle were subjected to an earful from the old timers behind us and an overzealous barmaid had many unsuccessful attempts at stopping a group of lads singing in the pub afterwards. It’s a small town and the select few who frequent the Moss Rose are an even smaller subsection of that. Even so, I was lucky to meet some lovely people and the celebrations carried on long into the evening, until I threw up on myself in the toilet. Viva Macclesfield!   

Every pub needs an industrial wood chipper in the corner. For rowdy patrons.

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