When people ask what I was doing on the day that my beloved Silkmen won the 2017/18 National League, I will tell them the tale of how I worked until their 12:30 kick-off time, before running around Stafford looking for a place that would be willing to swap the West Brom vs Liverpool game over for me to watch our title-winning game at Eastleigh, then finally making my way over to Marston Road to celebrate in style by at least watching a live game at one of my old favourites. Here is that tale.
For the past couple of weeks it has been a waiting game to see when, or if, the Macc Town party would begin and we'd lift the trophy before the final day of the season. Although I've managed to get to quite a few Silkmen games lately, I knew that the 12:30 KO all the way down in Eastleigh would be a bridge too far for me to cross as a rare unavoidable Saturday shift at work arose, sweetened only by an early finish that at least gave me chance to try and find the game on the big screen somewhere. That somewhere happened to be Kenny's Sports Bar, not exactly the venue I'd hoped and prayed to see the victory take place. Surely enough, goals from Tyrone Marsh and Mitch Hancox did the trick and as I sat, alone, crying into my foot-long hot dog with delight, I knew that the day was not done yet and my eternal hunger for football meant that I'd have to get to a 3pm kick-off and so I made the short ride out of town to see how things were at Marston Road, home of Evo-Stik Premier side Stafford Rangers.
Today's visitors from South Yorkshire, Shaw Lane, are a side making their mark in the Evo-Stik Premier with a top six looking very likely from their first season at this level. Although they've had a controversial patch including a three point deduction for fielding an illegible player back in February, the campaign has been hugely successful for the Barnsley boys and with their first visit to Marston Road since the 2015/16 campaign in which Rangers and Shaw Lane fought to the death to decide the championship, the travelling away side would hope to take revenge against the eventual winners and the hosts for today's battle. Having already seen Shaw Lane sweep past one of the more established sides in Buxton back in August, I knew that their squad was physical and decent on the ball, so I decided to make my pre-match prediction a 2-2 draw- hoping that an up-and-down Rangers side would at least show up for this one. The mid-table side still have hopes of a top ten finish for the season but could equally finish as low as 19th, and with over 40 players used by Neil Kitching you can see why an ultimately frustrating season on all parts has seen the Rangers Manager decide to step down at the end of the season next weekend. As mentioned before, this would be third trip to Marston Road, having seen them romp to victory over Rugby Town at the end of 2015 and also lose by the odd goal to a youthful Bolton Wanderers side in the pre-season of 2016/17. I wouldn't say I've seen the best and the worst of Boro, but I've never come away feeling disappointed.
As I appeared in the clubhouse for a swift pint, I got a good vibe from the home supporters and it is nice that despite their hopes in the league not being met that they have something to look forward to, with that something being a big game on Tuesday night at the Bet 365 Stadium. Yes, Rangers have made it to the Staffs Senior Cup Final and they will face local rivals Hednesford Town, also mid-table in the Evo-Stik Prem, in what is bound to be a nice way to finish the season for both clubs. Always nice for any player at this level to step out on a Premier League pitch (for now!) and it could be a trophy to end Kitching's spell with Boro too. For now though, it would be a tough fight against the blue and red kitted opposition in front of 560 fans. The game began with Shaw Lane in the ascendance and with just a few minutes gone you sensed that the side still chasing a play-off spot were more up for it than their hosting opponents. As the ball was aimed towards a couple of pacey attackers for the visitors, young Boro keeper Riley Stephenson charged out and took an opposition player down in the box, giving a spot-kick away in the process. The Shaw Lane number 10, Damian Reeves, stepped-up and dispatched the 6th minute penalty which was met by near-silence as the half a dozen away fans jumped in the air. Rangers 0-1 Shaw Lane.
The attendance for today's game was the second highest in the division on the day, with only the 689 at Grantham Town's 0-2 home defeat to champions Altrincham trumping Stafford's, but with the attendance seeming to be 99.9% Rangers fans it was only fair that the hosts helped their opponents out. Mocking the leading side, the Staffordians piped up with "shall we clap your goal for you?" as the home side got the ball rolling for the second time. The first-half proceeded to be far from eventful as Shaw Lane carved out the odd half-chance- Olly Dyson went close in the 38th minute and Alex Byrne had a shot brilliantly cleared off the line. At the other end, David Norris struck over the Shaw Lane bar and Boro's captain also saw a last-gasped header go just over from a well-delivered free-kick. That late flurry of shots wasn't enough to keep the score at 0-1 going into the break though, meaning it was time to pop back in for a beer.
Standing out like a proverbial sore thumb in my blue Macc top I was asked on at least a dozen occasions about why I was there, but when I was approached by a very congratulatory Lincoln fan I ended up having a good natter with the gent about their recent triumphs and a mutual respect for coming down to Marston Road to cheer on the local team. In and amongst this a couple of old geezers shook my hand and reminded me of the "ding-dong battles" we'd had with Rangers in the 70's in the Northern Premier League and FA Trophy. Ahh, the good old days. With 15 minutes soon passed by, I sauntered back out to the delightfully sunny pitch side hoping to see a more fierce and passionate display from the home side. The opening 15 minutes, unfortunately, were largely unexciting until the hour-mark when Massiah McDonald (what a great name, by the way!) went in on goal, only to be denied by the linesman. With the light shining off the balding lino's head, I admittedly didn't see the flag and almost got a little excited at the chance of a hosts goal. It was coming though and from an unlikely source as Levi Reid, brother of former Silkmen and current Boro player Izak, made a delightful run from right-back and literally forced the issue himself. After turning one Shaw Lane man and then another, he gave it to Tyrell Waite who was then bundled down in the box and the Ref instantly ran over to point to the spot for the second time. Robert Thompson-Brown was the number 10 to step up this time and he ensured the same result as the first-half penalty, levelling the score up in the 64th minute. Rangers 1-1 Shaw Lane. The game was now set, but not for very long.
The Ducks knew that a win was crucial and within five minutes they got themselves back in front as a Byrne cross made its way to Reeves and the striker doubled his tally and the winner in the process. Rangers 1-2 Shaw Lane. The rest of the game was spent talking to another elder of the Rangers community and amongst debate about all things Boro, Silkmen and the Non-League, we watched as Daniel Vann almost headed an equaliser and as the game began to fall into the last five minutes there were to be a couple of final twists. In the 87th minute the Ref's whistle blew again as Osebi Abadaki, on as a Sub, went down in the box only to be given his second yellow card for simulation when he eventually got back to his feet. The ten men of Rangers saw six minutes added on and when a free-kick was given right at the death, the players squared up as tensions rose to a new high in what was now the 98th minute. The following kick led to a final strike on goal, but Eddie Wilczynski was equal to it and that was the final action.
As much as I'd have loved to have been at Ten Acres to see Macc seal the National League title, it was still nice to come out and support the Rangers in the sun. They didn't get the result they wanted, but with their Club Awards Night following this game and a Cup Final on Tuesday, it's not all bad being a Boro fan. For me, it'll be Friday when I'm back in action as I make my usual last-gasp efforts to seek out some new grounds. I'll be teaming up with Tom (Partizan Bristle) for a weekend of football, starting in Wrexham for Gresford Athletic against Caernarmon Town, before we see Macc lift the trophy at home to Dagenham and then we begin our CONIFA World Cup preparations as we head to Sandbach United's ground to see Ellan Vannin versus Panjab. We'll also be popping along to a Southern League West Play-Off game midweek too, so look out for that.
|For the third time, welcome back to Marston Road|
|COME ON YOU SILKMEN!|
|Always a decent crowd here, all ready for kick-off|
|Moments before the goal|
|To the bar!|
|Shaw Lane straight back on the attack|
|It wasn't Eastleigh, but it'll do|