Saturday 1 November – Macclesfield Town 0-1 Gills
If you needed one game to grimly illustrate that we are most categorically now in League Two this would be it. A modest but friendly ground in a modest but friendly town in the north west. It was cold, blustery and the game pretty dreadful in terms of quality and the atmosphere, well with a crowd of just 1,635 including 272 Gills scattered across an open terrace, it was non-existent. Still in these dark days you have to be a pragmatist and all we demanded from our long day out was a win. Fuck the pretty football, fuck the tippy-tappy bollocks of summer time dreaming of a push for the title on a wave of magnificent goals and crescendo of thrilling victories, we were simply chasing three point…
Now any regular away fan that travels by train might be aware that the main West Coast line has been totally fucked for the last ten years whilst they rebuild it. It is almost a decade since we travelled back from Burnley after Super Bob went “nap” at Turf Moor on a fast train from Preston to Euston without any delays, diversions or engineering works… the conga down to first class was a classic, but with Virgin on the cusp of finally putting everything back together again there have been some pretty serious disruptions this autumn and the weekend of the Macclesfield trip was so uncertain no cheap tickets were put on sale. With services subject to short term cancellations and changes plus being asked to pay £52 (or £44 if they ever sort their fucking website out) we thought sod that and opted for a slightly bonkers budget route via St Pancras, Derby and Stoke.
It meant an early start but we were in Macclesfield before one o’clock only to walk into a bit of a kafuffle between the rest of the regular train travellers and the staff in the ticket office at Macclesfield. They‘d come up with a cunning plan involving buying three sets of tickets for three separate legs of the same journey on the same train to get a good deal. All well and good except for some one of the six portions of tickets had gone missing in the system and despite Trainline’s assurances no fax had arrived at Macc authorising replacements with the result ten dischuffed Gills were being asked to pay again up front for the Macclesfield to Birmingham leg (£23 – ouch).
We left them to it, making ourselves at home in a cosy if old fashioned boozer nearby. It was then time to amble the twenty-five minutes down to Moss Rose although from the lack of other pedestrians or even traffic it was clear it was not going to be a bumper crowd. The Gills had only ever played there once before on a cruddy Tuesday night in 1999 when we lost 1-0 on a mud heap. This time we got to appreciate the full magisterial glory of the ground in daylight, gone is the temporary seating with tented roofs, replaced by an incredibly ugly stand down one side of the pitch and so to the pub on the corner (replaced by a hole in the ground) but the rest was pretty familiar, the uncovered away terrace being somewhat exposed to the elements on a bright but chilly afternoon.
The game began with a fair few eyebrows raised at the absence of Royce and the presence of Julian in goal but we needn’t have worried because the Macclesfield shooting was lamentable. With Mills out along with McCammon and Bentley and Richards in, it was a bit of a mish-mash of a team, the one big loss being Jackson who would most certainly have taken advantage of a less than slick home defence. The opening exchanges were somewhat muddled as both sides struggled to create any really coherent passages of play. To any neutral it would have been tedious and perhaps a bit funny to watch the scruffy scrap that unfolded, the only master of the ball being the regular gusts of Siberian nastiness although the home side did scuff one early chance wide. Really we just muddled along until the 18th minute when rather out of the blue the Gills scored. It was a simple if messy goal, a Nutter corner was slung into the danger zone and Miller stooped to get his head to it and direct into the net via a couple of touches from flailing defenders. After a slightly pregnant pause down the other end we realised we’d scored and jumped about a bit albeit feeling a little self conscious about making too much noise in such a hushed venue.
That was about if for the next twenty five minutes as we huffed and puffed and they lulled us into a coma of contentment resolutely refusing to threaten our goal. Then just before the break Weston went off, the out of favour Crofts came on and we wobbled alarmingly. Having expected to serenely reach half-time unscathed the Gills then had their hairiest three minutes of the entire game with the defence apparently afflicted by sleeping sickness as they wandered around like zombies singularly failing to manage to “clear the fucking thing!” with the result that Macclesfield were given free reign inside our penalty area and we were lucky to see their two most glaring chances clunk against the post and then get slammed narrowly over the bar.
We were darn lucky to be queuing for our half-time pies with the lead still intact. Having not kept a clean sheet away from home since Orient on January the 1st and kept only two since beating Southend in April 2006, or 5 since relegation from the Championship, or 6 since we drew 0-0 at Stoke to stay up in May 2004!!! – we weren’t going to take anything for granted. Macclesfield began the second period brightly but their shooting was at best wayward and at best erratically comical. Julian had little to do but with such a precarious lead it didn’t make for a relaxed mood on the away terrace.
With half an hour to go Barcham suddenly went on one of his trademark runs, on and on he slalomed like Forrest Gump on drugs, but his one man attempt to score goal of the season ended with his shot being deflected narrowly wide. The Gills could and should have made it 2-0 on 68 minutes but amid the confusion the initial attempt was blocked and agonizingly Miller was only able to prod the loose ball against the base of the post from close range from a prostrate position. At the other end Macclesfield continued to make opportunities and then blasted them wildly into the spare crowd -. Yeo being the worst offender.
With five minutes to go the game suddenly opened up, Macclesfield went for it leaving plenty of gaps at the back and the Gills really should have notched a second killer goal on the counter attack. Southall was cleverly set up by Mulligan but crashed his shot inches wide and then Miller had a great chance blocked on the line and finally Barcham got a bit excited and lashed the ball over from close range when a slightly more composed finish was required.
Still the final whistle brought only our second away win of the season, not a classic but who cares? We marched off back down the road to the station in search of beer with a skip in our step and three points tucked into our pockets. Then it was the long slog home via Stoke where our favourite pub has now closed and large numbers of riot police were required to usher (well bundle against their will actually) some rather evil looking “old school” Arsenal fans singing songs about “Georgie Best“, “Stella” and “turning yella’” onto the first available London train before the next one arrived which had United fans fresh from Old Trafford on it… We made good time via Derby (and a celebratory round of house doubles) until we got near Kettering where some sad soul had flung themselves under a train. It meant delays and the last train home to Canterbury and a 20 hour round trip for a scrappy 1-0 win but I‘ve finally got my head round life in League Two, if your expectations are low enough (scraping the bottom of the barrel) then anything, but anything is a bonus. The rest of the train regulars had a quicker but more stressful trip back to London with their train packed to the rafters they had to pay extra for the missing tickets and without reservations then pay a weekend supplement to sit in 1st class or, sit in the luggage rack or on the floor and witness Arsenal and United settling their drunken differences by beating the crap out of each other… happy days!
The locals at Macclesfield were invariably welcoming, they even wished us “all the best” after we’d won. The stewards were a cheery lot and the one at the front behind the goal got plenty of stick when the pie hut closed and he was given the leftovers which he devoured with no little gusto. He entered into the spirit of things with jokey banter – putting the rabble at Priestfield to shame.
The Happy Enough Binman