If you ask any Silkmen supporter whose name is synonymous with Macclesfield Town then they would probably mention Sammy McIlroy, Stevie Burr, Phil Power and Brian Fidler as givens.
Yet the other person they would mention would not be a former player or former Manager, but a lifelong fan whose dedication and passion is unrivalled by any supporter of any team throughout the land – he is of course, the legend that is Mr Philip Gibbons.
No words could every be written which would pay tribute to the great man in the way he so richly deserves, but we will do the best we can to profile such a club great.
One of my first memories of Phil actually came before I knew him, such is his infectious love of our club.
It must have been towards the end of the 1980’s when I was stood on the London Road End with my Grandad and saw a guy chatting to Stevie Burr and Alan Zelem as they came out to warm up that day.
I was starstruck because Alan was my childhood hero and Stevie Burr was well, Stevie Burr.
I asked my Grandad if he had a pen and as he unravelled his Trebor Extra Strong Mints wrapper from round it, I began to get nervous, really nervous.
Gingerly I walked across to the tunnel, which in those days was to the right of the Main Stand.
I could feel my legs going a bit wobbly, but just at the point that I contemplated bottling it Phil smiled at me and asked me if I had come for Burry’s autograph.
Well as a six or seven year old kid I didn’t really have the audacity to say that it was Alan’s I really wanted, but after signing my programme Burry past it over to Alan who duly signed it also,
I will never forget that day, and was in awe of the fan who had sorted me out with autographs from my heroes – that man was of course the one and only Phil Gibbons.
I am very privileged and honoured to be able to call Phil a good friend over the last twenty five years or so, and as such I wanted to find out a little more about his lifetime supporting The Silkmen –
So I started by asking Phil where it all started –
Well I was taken to the Moss by my Dad when I was eight years of age. Both my Dad and my Step Dad used to watch Macc and I tagged along with them and so it was one of the things which I picked up off my parents
My first ever game was back in 1964 – Macc 7 Ellesmere Port 1
I just got the buzz the buzz that day, and it’s still with me all these years later”
Phil then went on to discuss the first Macc teams he ever saw during the mid to late 1960s –
It was probably the best Macc team we ever had, although it is hard to judge because it was a different level of football in those days.
The Cheshire League had quite a few Football League teams put their Reserve sides in there, so how strong they were I really don’t know but Macc were always a very prominent team in the league.
They were always there or there about – I think that they won the Cheshire League the last three seasons which they were in it, and they won their first two seasons in the Northern Premier League – so they were always quite a successful team”.
One of the highlights from Phil’s early years supporting Macc was when the team took a trip down to Craven Cottage to face the illustrious Fulham in the FA Cup, back in January 1968.
Despite leading at half time, Macc eventually were beaten 4 – 2 in a match which generated much controversy.
Allegations were even made that comedian Tommy Trinder subbed the Referee a few quid at half time to make sure that Fulham were not on the wrong end of an embarrassing defeat!
These allegations were never proven, yet the match did prove to be one of Phil’s biggest regrets watching Macc –
That was a day that Macclesfield Town will never forget, but unfortunately I didn’t go.
I went to every game in the FA Cup that year, from the First Qualifying Round right up to the Third Round, but for some reason unbeknown to me I never went to Fulham.
It is the one thing I regret in all my time watching Macc”
The heartache of missing out on a major FA Cup scalp was remedied in part shortly after however, when The Silkmen became the inaugural winners of the FA Challenge Trophy in 1970.
Goals from Dave Lyon and Brian Fidler secured a 2 – 0 victory against Telford United at the hallowed twin towers, and it proved to be a memorable day out for Phil as he recalls –
That was fantastic. Seventeen thousand people from Macc went that day which was unbelievable as the town’s population was only forty thousand in those days.
It was a memorable day, and I don’t think that it will ever be repeated even if Macc won the Champions League!
I was a fourteen year old kid at the time and the players were my heroes – we didn’t know them on a personal level like we do today but it was just a great occasion.
I remember the day so well, as well as the following Sunday when they came back to Market Place on a bus with the trophy itself.
An estimated thirty thousand people were out on the streets welcoming the team back from Wembley, which was around seventy five percent of the town’s population!
Unbelievable it really was”.
Yet despite the Trophy victory, Macc were unfortunately not able to build on this and struggled to regain their previous successes in the years which followed –
After the Trophy Final, the club unfortunately went downhill rapidly.
I think it started in the 1971/72 season when players were all out of contract,and a lot of them got snapped up by Altrincham.
The club began to fall into rapid decline, so I have not got very good memories at all from the 1970’s.
We had lost so many good players – it was a difficult time for us all.
Money seemed to be a problem although we had the new main stand built from the Fulham cash, but we were going through Manager’s too quickly and the club was badly managed for a ten year period really.
A chap called Phil Staley came in and seemed to weather the storm a bit and then Brian Booth took over, bringing in the likes of Steve Burr to the club, so we started to look like we were back on the up.
Brian unfortunately suffered with ill health however, and had to step down just as he was getting the club going.
Wraggy came in, and the rest they say is history”.
On the subject of the great Peter Wragg, we asked Phil to recall his earliest impressions of him –
I remember three or four weeks before Wraggy came to the club, we played Hyde on the Moss and he got sent off – well the Macc fans really tore in to him.
And then of course he became our Manager!
Something which I didn’t know at the time was that there were two people who applied for the job – Wraggy was one, and the other one was Neil Warnock who was turned down!
I thought that we should give Peter a chance though, and it soon became apparent that he would be great for Macc.
I think that Elfyn Edwards was his first signing, and it wasn’t long after that John Askey was given a chance when we had an injury crisis and his brother Bob said that Peter should have a look at him.
John came in and scored on his first game on the Moss, he then went away for a few weeks only to come back and sign for us.
We all know what happened after that!”
With the club back on the up and Manager Peter Wragg assembling one of our greatest ever squads, we then asked Phil whether promotion to the Conference and subsequent treble winning season was in some ways expected?
No. Not at all.
We probably expected to be challenging up there, but nobody could have foreseen what would happen – that we would win three trophies.
We thought that we would have a good season, but nobody saw a treble coming at all no.
We completed the treble at Hyde – they had been unbeaten for about thirty matches on their plastic pitch, but Macc went their and took the ground over. I think that there were probably around two thousand Macc fans who travelled there that day, and the team duly obliged with a 3 – 1 win
Unbelievable day, it really was.
I actually took a picture of Steve Burr scoring at Hyde,and a few weeks later he asked me for a copy of it.
I had never really spoken to him before, but we became good friends and have been ever since.
Promotion to the Conference was secured and as Phil recalls, our initial aim was all about survival
Well we anticipated survival but as we entered the league I remember Alan Brocklehurst, who was the Chairman at the time as well as a great fella telling me that we were not ready for the Conference.
But they took it by storm, I think that we finished seventh in that first season which was a great finish, as well as an FA Cup run which saw us beat Carlisle and Rotherham on the Moss Rose.
I will never forget those games.
Following on from this Macc reached the FA Trophy Final in 1989, and got their via a semi final win over Dartford.
But as Phil recalls, it was by no means as joyful occasion as it should have been –
I was actually chatting to Elfyn Edwards about this when we played at Wembley last season.
We won 4 -1 that day and everyone was expecting there to be big celebrations, but the atmosphere was just numb as it was just coming through what had happened at Hillsborough.
We didn’t know everything at the time, but we knew that something really bad had happened, so it was very subdued in the bar after the game.
I was actually walking towards town about an hour after the game, and Elfyn stops to give me a lift.
He asked me where I was going, so I just said into town and he asked me to come and have a pint with him and the lads.
So I went in to the White Lion, and the landlord had a crate of champagne out!
Burry rang me the next morning to say that he had got back home around 4am and asked his wife to cook him bacon butties!
But we had a terrific night that night, it was brilliant.
We then moved on to speak about the Final, where an extra time goal was enough to break the Silkmen hearts, as Telford United ran out 1 – 0 winners –
My only criticism of that Final is that Wraggy and some of the players had really got it into their heads that we were actually playing at Wembley, and I think they forgot that once you have got there you still have to win the match.
They did not perform on the day at Wembley ,and my own feeling is that we got into the habit of losing in the weeks leading up to the game and they just couldn’t pick themselves up again.
It was a disappointing day really, they let themselves down a little bit as they were capable of playing much better than they did.
It was a poor game all round and I felt so sorry for goalkeeper Alan Zelem because the goal was one you will never see again – it was like a beach ball just bounced over his head!
About two minutes after that goal, Zelem made a world class save but nobody ever talks about that, they just remember the awful goal.
It just wasn’t our day
Shortly after, Phil became involved in organising his famous events at the Moss Rose through the Supporters Club – the first of which was the enviable task of Steve Burr’s testimonial –
Burry came up to me one day and asked me if I was going to do anything for him due to the fact that it was his testimonial year, and I thought well what can I do as I had never done anything like that before!
But I organised a raffle for him which brought in over £1000, we had a quiz night and a few other things and overall I manage to bring in over £1400 which in modern day terms is probably about £6000!
We had a night at the Cock and Pheasant, and I had warned the landlord that it would be a busy night because Steve was coming down.
I told him that Steve was a popular guy, and after the event the landlord came up to me and told me that he knew that they would be busy but it was like New Year’s Eve gone daft!
The problem we had is that on New Years Eve it is usually a man and a woman buying drinks, but that night it was just men buying pints and the landlord just couldn’t keep up with it!
Burry only said to me when we did the reunion a couple of years ago that he didn’t think that we would ever beat that night in the Cock and Pheasant.
It shows that it had stayed in his memory all these years and he still talks about it to this day”
At the end of the 1992/93 season Wraggy departed the Moss Rose after Macc avoided the drop on the last day of the season.
A Roy Green goal at Champions Wycombe Wanderers ultimately preserved our status, but sadly Peter’s time came to an end,
I remember some of the cup runs we had under Wraggy – they were fantastic times, as well as so many loyal players which he brought in.
They were a great bunch of lads on and off the pitch too.
My only criticism really was that I think that Wraggy was a bit too close to the players, and they stuck together for that one season too long – that is why we struggled.
I remember staying up at Wycombe and again, that is a day nobody will ever forget.
But Wraggy had done all that he could do. If he had have been given the opportunity to stay on then he could have built a new team of players who knows, but Peter’s teams will always live in my memory being really good sides which contained players who have remained loyal to the club to this day.
Part Two will be live tomorrow afternoon, only on www.starlaneend.com