Following on from the first part of our feature with Silkmen Legend Phil Gibbons, we take you back to the summer of 1993 when Peter Wragg had just left the club, and a rookie Northern Irishman ascended to the helm who would ultimately mastermind a fairytale rise through the leagues.
To be honest I don’t think that many players were that interested in Sammy McIlroy when he first came to the club, but a few weeks later they were lapping it up!
I think something just happened in training one day when Sammy changed something around,and everything just clicked in to place – we seemed to go on and on and on to successes which nobody would ever have dreamed of.
In that first season I remember that we finished seventh in the league and won the Drinkwise Cup – but I will tell you something, a lot of the fans didn’t drink wisely that night!
I remember that we went down to Yeovil, and it was unbelievable because it wasn’t a big competition and the game was already won as we had a 4 – 1 lead from the first leg.
It was a foregone conclusion more or less, yet we took six coaches all the way to Yeovil on a Tuesday night – it was unreal, but it was the first silverware that we had won for so many years”.
The following season, McIlroy’s Macclesfield Town astounded everyone, including themselves in many respects by winning the GM Vauxhall Conference.
Yet were cruelly denied their rightful promotion to the Football League due to archaic rules regarding ground development –
That was a tragedy it really was.
We were twenty one points clear at the top of the league at one stage and I know they took their foot off the pedal a bit, but we still won it by a healthy margin.
But we were on the verge of a great era, one which you could not believe was really happening to such a small club like Macc.
I don’t think you would see promotion being denied to a club like that nowadays, as grounds are more prepared today but it came as a bit of a shock at Macc.
Also of course, Chester had been playing on Macc’s ground in the Football League just a few years before, so yes it was unfair, very unfair”.
As we embarked on the 1995/96 season, the primary aim for players and supporters alike was to stick two fingers up to the Football League by winning consecutive Conference titles – which would have meant taking our rightful place in the promise land.
Yet Macc finished fourth that year, with Champions Stevenage Borough suffering the same fate as we had twelve months earlier.
The disappointment was diluted somewhat however by a second FA Trophy win under the twin towers against Cheshire rivals Northwich Victoria.
It was a bit of a disappointment because we were all going for the league that season, and I know that we won the FA Trophy but really it was all about getting promotion.
I remember hearing a few players during pre-season confirm that the league title was all that mattered to them, and everything was focused on winning that again.
I remember Tony Hemmings’ fantastic flying save against Chorley in the semi-final and a few nerves did kick in when the home side went one goal up, but thankfully Neil Sorvel scored right at the end to send us back to Wembley.
I really felt part of the club at that time, as on the morning of the Final I was on Sky Television with Helen Chamberlain being interviewed before the game, and after we had won the Trophy I went to the Town Hall on the Monday morning and sat with the lads celebrating there with the Mayor.
It seemed like we were at the Town Hall every year in those days!
It was wonderful, it really was. Moments you will never forget”.
The following season of course, McIlroy’s blue and white heroes finally did gain promotion to the Football League after last day drama at Kettering.
However Phil wasn’t too sure that they story would end that way –
I remember going to Kidderminster defending the FA Trophy and I made a very silly comment after we had got beat 3 – 0.
I said that I thought that the glory years were over, and that a new era was dawning at the club and they would struggle more than they had done over previous seasons.
How wrong was I!
What an unbelievable run we went on after that. I remember that we all went up to Halifax on the Tuesday night before the last game of the season and went 3 – 1 up – everyone was celebrating promotion.
Nine minutes later it was 3 – 3, and Sammy had to lift everyone up ready to go again the following Saturday at Kettering.
In a way, it worked out as a better occasion really, but we wouldn’t want to go through all that again!
To add insult to injury, I believe that the team coach broke down on the way back from Halifax that night and they had to push it down the M62!”.
Which moves us on to that historic day at Kettering on 3rd May 1997 – a match which was infused with pride, passion and a great deal of sadness too. It would prove to be one of the most potent representations of “Against All Odds” mentality that the footballing world had ever seen.
It was a very sad time when we lost Arthur Jones and the club could have gone under at that point, they really could so all credit to Alan Cash who held the club together during an extremely difficult time.
It just goes to show you that it is not always the team with the highest budget who wins, it is the team with the drive and determination to succeed – which those lads had in abundance.
I never thought that I would see Macc in the Football League, and I would argue that those fifteen years in there were a really big bonus.
A lot of the younger fans think that we should be a Football League club, but I always saw Macc as over achieving when they were in the League even though it was amazing what they did.
Overall, I see Macc as a successful non league team. The Football League years were great but it is getting harder and harder every year now, so I doubt we will see them again”.
The story would not end there however, as twelve months later Macc were celebrating back to back promotions which saw them ascend to the Nationwide League Division Two – alongside the illustrious names of Manchester City, Fulham, Stoke City and Wigan Athletic.
What a great season we had as our first in the Football League – nineteen home wins, four draws and no defeats.
I have great memories from that first day against Torquay, I think it was about 95 degrees that day!
Also the last home game against Chester, and the mass brawl at home to Lincoln – there are loads of memories from them days which will stay with me forever.
Memories which will never be repeated”.
Despite putting up one hell of a fight, Sammy Mac’s side were relegated back to the Third Division the following season, but they by no means disgraced themselves against some of the country’s footballing giants –
Every week was like a cup final, every match it was unbelievable.
I don’t think that you would ever enjoy a season as much as that one, even though we were relegated at the end of it.
The highlights for me were beating Burnley on the Moss, and also even though we lost the game the return match at Turf Moor was incredible to see.
It was absolutely brilliant to see so many travelling fans that Sunday lunchtime – just incredible.
Like everyone says, we were one decent striker away from staying in that league.
We had Richard Landon doing his best upfront, but we needed a quality striker on the level that we just hadn’t got.
But what we did have was an unbelievable midfield player in Steve Wood – the goals he came up with throughout his time at Macc were unbelievable. They are the things that I will never forget.
Woody had come from Chadderton to play against Manchester City at the age of 36, so he just enjoyed his football because he had nothing to lose at all – and that’s what made him such a good player”.
Following relegation, Sammy initially stuck with the club he had brought so much success to – until his beloved Northern Ireland came knocking on the door with an offer he could not refuse –
Sammy’s time came and I think that it came at the right time really.
Without a big influx of cash, he had taken the club as far as he could and I had no qualms about him leaving whatsoever.
After that we had a few managers who came and went, but they didn’t do too badly did they?
Eventually though it did start to deteriorate, and sadly we went in to another period of decline which ended with our relegation.
That was very sad to see, especially after all the work which had gone in to getting there years before – and to go out the way we did was really sad.
It was the way we went down which hurt, there was little funding to try and keep us up ,so it just wasn’t to be”.
Moving on to happier. more recent times, Phil then spoke about Sir John and whether he ever thought that he would lead his beloved Silkmen –
I have spoken to pretty much all John’s old team mates and they all say the same thing, and that is John would have been the last one they thought would go on to be Manager!
But credit to the lad, I always used to think that John had a good eye for a player and would have made a good scout or coach, but with the resources he has had you really can’t knock what he has done with the team”.
Despite the rollercoaster ride which comes with watching Macc so loyally over the years, Phil has provided the fans with just as many wonderful memories as any player to have donned the famous blue shirt has.
Initially working with the brilliant Supporters Club, Phil helped to organise so many incredible events at the club, which as fans we will forever be indebted to him for.
Alongside the likes of Carole Wood, Kenny Slater, Dave Bettaney, Andy Ridgeway and Michelle Slack, the vibrant Supporters Club moulded fans together so they became one big family.
As a kid I always used to look forward to their events so much, because not only were they very well run, they gave me and so many others a place of belonging and an identity that lasts to this day.
Looking back, words cannot express how thankful we all are for those days, and the people who made them possible – despite what was happening on the pitch.
A small group of people created memories which will last a lifetime with seemingly effortless ease, largely due to their infinitely warm and friendly character which rubbed off on everyone.
Phil epitomises everything which makes this club special, and he alone has provided so many people with so many fantastic memories over the years.
The Burry event which I talked about before was my first event, but after that the Supporters Club did all the Player of the Year events – we did New Years Eve events as well as lots of different social events too.
That Steve Burr event stood at the top of my list until about two or three years ago really, and then we held two reunion nights.
The first one was with the Wraggy era lads, and that all came about when I told Burry that I had been watching Macc for fifty years and said well what are you doing for it?
I said that I didn’t really know, just having a meal in the Suite or something, but Steve was having none of it and told me to get the boys back together.
So that is what I did, and honestly it was absolutely unbelievable.
The players were so thrilled to be back, you only had to look at their faces and you could see what the club meant to those boys.
It was a brilliant night, and to be honest I thought that we would never surpass it.
Whether we did or not is debatable when we had the reunion with Sammy, Gil and the lads, which again was a brilliant night.
It was like a continuation of the first event really because I still think that you have to give credit to Wraggy, because he built the foundations which Sammy and Gil carried on.
It is like one long story really.
For the last two years, I have had a great team of people helping me and backing me up.
Sean, Dean, Rob, Dan and Andy Worth – each and every one of them did exactly what I needed doing. I haven’t got the skills to do all what they did, but together we have made a great team up but I don’t think that we can surpass it now”.
Last summer, Phil received a richly deserved award from the FA prior to our Trophy Final match with York City –
That was a fantastic day, and the proudest individual moment of my lifetime.
To walk out on to that pitch at Wembley – just amazing.
I got a phone call off Mark Blower one day, and he said to me that the FA had contacted him wanting the names of two fans worthy of recognition.
I was humbled to be chosen alongside Barrie Darcey – there has been a lot of people who have done a great deal for Macc over the years, but maybe I was the one who had been around the longest!
It meant so much to me at the time, and it always will do.
We were given tickets for the Bobby Moore Lounge where all the player’s wives and families were, as well as a lot of familiar faces from the past and present.
I took Elfyn Edwards as my guest, he has always been one of my favourites – Burry was on holiday or else I would have taken him as well!
We had an absolutely wonderful day, but unfortunately the result was a bit disappointing so we just got drunk!
It was a day I will never forget”.
It is an absolute privilege to have spoken with Phil about the illustrious time he has spent following The Silkmen.
As all of us are, I am very humbled and proud to call this absolute icon a friend, and on behalf of all Macc fans past, present and future I would like to thank him for giving us so many memories which will last a lifetime.
As long as the turnstiles are still clicking at the Moss Rose, there will be nobody who will show as much passion, desire and loyalty as Phil has – not only to the club but to those who follow them also.
He is truly a Silkmen Legend.