Sammy McIlroy and I took over at Macclesfield in May 1993; Macclesfield had just avoided relegation the season before on goal difference in what was then the Vauxhall Conference. Peter Wragg who was the manager of that team and had a successful spell before that season, leaving for Stalybridge Celtic at the end of the season, taking most of the team with him. The irony was, that Sammy applied for the job and was rejected in favour of Mike McKenzie who had a successful spell at Hyde United, Mike then decided not to take the job and it was offered to Sammy.
The first training session at Macclesfield was interesting, only four of the first team squad remained, Sammy said what will we do, I said “smile”, we can pick our own rather than having players who were someone else’s choice.
Started the season alarmingly, losing 1-5 away to Bath in the opening game of the season, albeit with a much-weakened team through injury. Strengthened, getting in players like Phil Power, Steve Wood, Neil Howarth, Steve Hitchen and Danny Adams, Martin McDonald, to add to Johnny Askey and Neil Sorvel who were already there. We bought Carl Alford from Witton Albion for £1,500; he scored twenty-one goals in that season. That season we finished as winners of the Bob Lord challenge trophy (League Cup) defeating Yeovil 4-1 on aggregate.
We also won the Staffordshire Senior cup for the first time in the club’s history, beating an unfortunate Wednesfield 14-1 on aggregate, with Darren Lyons scoring seven goals. We also managed to beat league team Hartlepool United 2-0 at home in the FA Cup before ultimately losing 2-1 away at Crewe Alex, finishing seventh in our first season.
Season 1994-1995 started better than the previous season, with an undefeated run of five games to start the season off. Kidderminster Harriers, Stevenage Borough, Bromsgrove Rovers, and Woking plus Dagenham and Redbridge being the strongest on paper. That season, we also set a new conference record with ten consecutive wins on the bounce, despite selling Carl Alford to Rushden and Diamonds for a substantial profit. We ended the season as Conference Champions but were denied access to the football league due to ground grading requirements not meeting the timescale, even though Chester City had played their football league games at the Moss Rose two seasons before. Also, picked up the JC Thomson shield again, defeating a good Woking side 3-2 after extra time. Signed the excellent goalkeeper Ryan Price from Birmingham City and bought Tony Hemmings from Wycombe Wanderers. Steve Payne an excellent young centre half came from Huddersfield Town.
Season 1995-1996 started with a good win against Woking, new signing Mark Coates scored in a 3-2 win. Paul Cavell would come from Dagenham and Redbridge starting the season very well scoring consistently as did Phil Power and Mark Coates. Though we performed well that season, we did show a little inconsistency, losing Cheshire Senior cup semi-final 3-2 on aggregate to Hyde United. Started in the FA Trophy with an unconvincing 1-0 win against Sudbury Town, defeated Halifax 7-0 in a league game and beating Gresley Rovers 2-0 away in the FA Trophy quarter-final, also beating Southport 6-5 on aggregate in the League Cup semi-final. We drew a strong Chorley team in the FA Trophy semi-final winning 3-1 at home in the first leg with Phil Power and Mark Coates scoring. The second leg was a real nail biter with Chorley perhaps deserving better, Cec Edey made an amazing goal-line clearance before Neil Sorvel settled the tie with a late goal in the eighty-fifth minute to take us to Wembley.
We finished fourth in the league that season, but few will forget our visit to Wembley and our 3-1 victory against my home town team Northwich Victoria who I had played for in the past. As an added interest, the German national side used the Moss Rose ground as their training camp for the Euro 96 tournament held in England.
We still had a strong squad for the 1996-1997 season despite quite a low budget by Conference standards. However, some things matter far more than football and in September 1996 our chairman the much-loved Arthur Jones took his own life, you can’t give much more to your club than that. Sammy and I were devastated, though as a group we rallied and had a wonderful season, the only regret was that Arthur could not share it with us. We went on to win the JC Thomson Trophy for a second-time defeating Stevenage Borough 2-1 after extra time. Managed to also win the Stafford senior cup, for the second time, beating Bilston in the final. More importantly we were crowned champions of the Conference for a second time and promoted to the Football League for the first time in the club’s history.
Our first Football League season 1997-98 started with a visit from Torquay United where we were fortunate enough to win 2-1 with goals from newly signed Efe Sodje and Richard Landon. We beat teams like Swansea City 3-1 at home, Hull City 2-0, Brighton & H 1-0 also defeated Cardiff City 2-1 away, eventually finishing in an amazing second position, promoted to League 1 despite having by far the lowest budget in the league, we were also the only team in senior professional football English and Scottish not to lose a game at home in that season. We also managed to win the JC Thomson shield for a third consecutive season beating Woking 3-1 and defeated Runcorn 1-0 to also to win the Cheshire Senior Cup.
Season 1998-1999 was a season of dreams for Macclesfield Town supporters; we open the season against Kevin Keegan’s star-studded Fulham, losing the game narrowly 1-0. Played Stoke City in the league cup, narrowly losing 3-2 on aggregate. Can you imagine Manchester City coming to Macclesfield Town for a league fixture, City were fortunate to win the game 1-0? The previous year I had told the board that unless we strengthened up front we might struggle in what would now be League1. We were given no money to purchase a striker and ended up losing thirteen games by the odd goal against teams of the calibre of Preston North End, Bournemouth, Blackpool, Fulham, Stoke City, Burnley who we beat 2-1, Coventry City and most amazing of all playing at Maine Road in front of 31,086 and losing a tight game there against Manchester City. Sadly, we were relegated that year, the first time in the club’s history.
Sammy McIlroy left in 2000 to become manager of Northern Ireland, he had been remarkably successful in difficult circumstances at Macclesfield and for my part, and he was a real pleasure to work with and remains a close friend. The season was a very up-and-down, we finished fourteenth out of twenty-four teams and Peter Davenport took over the manager’s role in January 2000. Another Cheshire Senior Cup win, defeating archrivals Altrincham 2-1 for Macclesfield’s twentieth success in the competition. Richie Barker scoring seventeen goals in the season which was a major feat. Peter Davenport was sacked in December 2000, and I took the team to Scunthorpe United as the manager on New Year’s Day of 2001, drawing the game 2-2. It felt strange when managing Macclesfield against my boyhood heroes of Blackpool and winning the game 2-1 at the Moss Rose, finishing the season quite pleasingly in mid-table. In April 2002, Rickie Lambert a player I had brought on trial from Blackpool and signed was sold for £300,000 to Stockport County. After nine years, I left Macclesfield for pastures new, Oldham Athletic, and have scouted since for Blackpool, Aston Villa, Sheffield United, Plymouth Argyle, Brighton and Hove Albion, Rangers and most recently for Blackburn Rovers.
I count myself very fortunate to have spent most of my life playing and working in the love of my life, football. Meeting many wonderful people over the course of my career, including Pele, Puskas, Stanley Matthews, Stanley Mortensen, Tom Finney, and Peter Doherty to name but a few, who will all be well-known to the older readers of this article.