Welcome to the latest in a series of articles which will feature the many Silkmen Legends who have all helped to make the club what it is today. Whether they be a former player, official or supporter, they have all played their part in creating special memories which will last a lifetime.
In this edition we feature a man who was voted our PFA Fan’s Favourite and cult hero – accolades which do not really do the great man justice. After a glorious 19 year playing career with The Silkmen, he has pretty much done every job going since – Youth Team Manager, Coach, Assistant Manager, and now Manager. He is of course the ultimate Macclesfield Town Legend – Sir John Askey.
John started his career as a Youth team player at Port Vale – the club which his father Colin had notched up 200 appearances for. His time at Vale Park showed mixed degrees of success as despite winning the club’s Young Player of the Year award in 1982, he never made a first team appearance for The Valiants.
After a short spell at Milton United, John signed for The Silkmen in 1984 with his brother Bob. Macc were said to be thin on players at the time, and initially John was drafted in to full the void and bolster the ranks!
John made an instant impression and quickly became a fans favourite as a lightening fast winger who weighed in with his fair share of goals. He quickly established a frightening partnership with Steve Burr who also joined the club in 1984, creating one of the most feared pairings in non league football, which lasted until 1992 when Steve left for Hednesford Town.
John played an integral part in the treble winning side of 1986/87 and helped the club secure promotion to the GM Vauxhall Conference for the first time. The step up did not faze John or his Silkmen teammates in the least, and during that first season John started all bar one of the 42 leagues matches – scoring 10 times.
The following season, John added 11 goals to his tally, but this time only started 35 league matches. Yet the highlight of the season was undoubtedly reaching the FA Trophy Final at Wembley Stadium where Macc were beaten in extra time by Telford United thanks to a goal which Alan Zelem will never forget!
John was fast establishing himself as one of the country’s leading non league footballers at this time, and this was recognised by his inclusion in the presgious Middlesex Wanderers’ tour of Japan shortly after our Wembley disappointment.
Despite Football League interest, John remained loyal to The Silkmen and in 1994 he was deservedly rewarded with a testimonial match against a Manchester United XI. I remember walking down to the ground as a young boy, really looking forward to seeing the superstars from Old Trafford strut their stuff on the hallowed Moss Rose pitch.
As it was, I left feeling rather disappointed as I had never heard of any of the team which United put out – although I did manage to get John to sign my souvenir programme.
That programme was boxed away for many years until I came across it when sorting my loft out. Remembering how I felt that night, I glanced at the team sheet and those players who I had been so disappointed to see all those years ago jumped off the page and slapped me in the face. Beckham, Neville, Scholes and Butt to name just a few had played that night and although we did not realise it at the time, John’s testimonial was played against some of the finest players this country has ever seen.
After securing the Drinkwise Cup title in 1994, John was to help guide The Silkmen to the Vauxhall Conference title in 1995. Under the leadership of former Busby Babe Sammy McIlroy, Macc romped home to their first Conference title and set a league record of ten consecutive wins in the process. John weighed in with nine goals from thirty league appearances that season as another feared partnership was formed, this time with Phil Power. Promotion to the Football League that season was denied however due to ground regulations – something which 22 years later still seems exceptionally harsh.
The following season was a low point in Askey’s playing career after fracturing his leg during a pre-season friendly at Winsford United. John had to sit out of the whole campaign and that also meant that he was not part of the FA Trophy winning side which beat Northwich Victoria 3-1 at Wembley Stadium.
Yet he was to come back with a vengeance the following season as Macc finally secured their place in the Football League by winning the Conference title for the second time in three years. John missed just three league matches that season, scoring six times in the process.
But that was not the end of the fairytale as Macc secured back to back promotions by finishing second behind Notts County and going a whole season unbeaten at the Moss Rose. John was an almost ever present that season, weighing in with six priceless goals.
1998/9 season saw The Silkmen take their place in Nationwide League Division Two alongside the likes of Fulham, Wigan and Manchester City and it was not long before Sir John found his magic touch in front of goal. We were drawn to play the mighty Stoke City in the First Round of the League Cup. In those days these were two legged affairs and two late Askey strikes ensured that Macc went to the Brittania Stadium with a 3-1 lead after Steve Wood had opened the scoring after just two minutes.
Despite Macc suffering a 1-0 defeat in the Potteries, Macc progressed 3-2 on aggregate and claimed a major scalp in the process. With John’s father Colin still recognised as a Vale Legend, there was now doubt some celebrations in the Askey household that evening!
Although Sammy’s heroes were relegated that season, John remained as dedicated to the cause as ever – so much so that the following season he notched up a career best fifteen goals.
All good things must come to an end however and despite John’s legs still seemingly as youthful as they have ever been, he hung up his boots at the end of the 2002/3 season. The double Player of the Year award winner didn’t go quietly however – coming off the bench to equalise against Rochdale and set up yet another great Silkmen comeback in the process.
As soon as the ball hit the back of the net, Askey ran to his devoted fans in the Star Lane End, jumped over the barrier and celebrated in a way which befitted the great man – the fact that he got booked did not matter one bit and even the Referee had a smile on his face when he almost begrudgingly showed him the yellow card.
This was never going to be the end however, John was never going to say goodbye to the club who he had spent nearly two decades fighting tooth and nail for. He was appointed Assistant Manager to David Moss and remained with him until the likeable, fan friendly Manager was sadly dismissed in October 2003.
John was then handed the reigns in a move which no Macclesfield Town fan could complain with. With hindsight John’s accession in to the managerial hot seat came too soon and despite an encouraging start, results starting to dip and the club reluctantly brought in former Manchester City supremo Brian Horton.
John then held a number of roles such as Reserve Team Manager and Youth Team Manager, making a real name for himself by bringing talented young players through the ranks and in to the First Team.
After the sacking of another very likeable and prudent Manager Steve King, John took on the role of First Team Manager for a second time in April 2013. Despite off the field problems which severely limited the budget he was able to work with, John continued to bring in underrated players in to the club and turn them in to very shrewd acquisitions.
Last season John took us to Wembley Stadium once more, yet the FA Trophy winners medal which he yearns for to complete his collection sadly eluded him once more, as a late York City winner sent the famous trophy back to Bootham Crescent.
John has now notched up a staggering 33 year association with the club – something which is virtually unheard of at this level of football. He is understandably held in the greatest of esteem by players and fans alike – without John Askey, Macclesfield Town would not be the club that they are today.
Thank you John, for everything you have done, and continue to do for our club – often in difficult circumstances, but with the same friendly, personable demeanour which has further exemplified your place as one of the club’s true greats.
Not bad for a squad filler all those years ago was he?
We will be adding to this section of the site on a regular basis, so check back soon for the next Silkmen Legend feature!