You know how the top team isn't necessarily always the best team in a division? Well, today was certainly one of those days. Following on from my morning match in Stoke, I had high expectations of continuing my Saturday by seeing one of the National League's candidates for the title and current leaders, Macclesfield Town, pick up an away victory on their first visit to Mill Farm in Wesham, a small village just a stone throw in-land from Blackpool. AFC Fylde are of course the recently famed side whom the Silkmen were visiting today and with big dreams of reaching the Football League by 2022, the Coasters side, including the league's top-scorer Danny Rowe, are on a rise that has rivalled and surpassed the likes of fellow North-Westerners FC United and Salford City, seeing them go from playing the likes of Atherton Laburnum Rovers and Squires Gate in the 2008-09 edition of the North West Counties League to being drawn against local big boys and former Premier League outfit Wigan Athletic in this year's FA Cup proper.
True enough that there have been some very charitable donations along the way and the investment in this club has been staggering, but nevertheless AFC Fylde have done very well and have made a sound structural progression that doesn't involve having your own TV series and using the names of Paul Scholes and Gary Neville to try and bring new fans in. Since opening Mill Farm a couple of seasons ago, the Coasters have continued their rise and last season their 109 haul- including an outstanding 47 in 42 for Rowe- saw them win the National League North by 6 points and secure them a debut season in the Non-League's highest division. The debut season has been decent too and although the first-timers have lingered in mid-table for the majority, they have pulled out some cracking results including a 5-2 victory over Tranmere Rovers on New Years Day.
As a Macc fan I have been enjoying a thrilling season so far and with Cheshire's finest being at the top of the pile since Christmas, having not lost a league game since the end of October, and with new recruits in the form of Adam Dugdale, Callum Evans and League One striker Nate Blissett surely the sky was the limit for the rest of the campaign- and with confidence high, I predicted a 3-1 away win. So with the scene set, I arrived at Mill Farm with 30 minutes to spare and headed straight into the away area to see where I'd be basing myself for the match- it is rare for me to choose to stand behind the goal, but I thought I'd give it a go and live out the real "away fan experience" as opposed to sitting near the corner flag with the older fans like I usually do. As I entered the ground from said corner, I was impressed by the fancy main stand directly to my left but my first thoughts when I stood admiring the West Stand was if we'd see the modern seating area filled- the average attendance this season has been a couple of hundred higher than the Silkmen's and I expected the home fans to bring vast support today against the leaders. Amongst the 200 or so travelling fans I made my way into the food and drink area under the main stand and I thought I'd sample an infamously fair priced Non-League pre-match beer as I awaited the sides entering the field... or not! In what was the most disgusting part of the trip, even more so than the result, I was absolutely flabbergasted by the near £5 a pint price placed on the pint of lager I was served- thankfully I'd brought a packed lunch, or I'd have had to take out a loan for lunch. In fairness, I suppose the extortionate prices may well be for visiting fans to stop them getting too drunk and when one fan smacked a burger out of his mate's hand and on to the floor I could kind of understand why this may be the case. As some of our fans became more animalistic, the security team became more annoyed- with the events culminating in the world's most angry looking steward standing away from the incident and solidly scowling at everybody whilst muttering under her breath.
Pre-match nonsense taken in, it was kick-off time and so I made my way over to the terracing ready to welcome the Silkmen boys. We'd decided to line-up with just one up front today and this had come as a bit of a surprise, with Nate Blissett's addition seemingly made to bolster our attacking options even though he started on the bench today. Perhaps he wasn't ready to play 90 minutes yet. Additionally, with the absence of an injured Jared Hodgkiss, we were playing our oldest defender, George Pilkington, at right-back and this also seemed to be a slightly tenuous decision by John Askey. Having said that, he's so often got our tactics spot on this season so I resisting questioning the choice until the game had started to play out. The 90's dance tracks died down on the tannoy system and the sides were read out, with the Fylde announcer calling out left-back David Fitzpatrick as the goalkeeper, and shortly after that we were up and running with the hosts kicking towards the South Terrace in the first-half. Both sides forged an early chance as Elliott Durrell hit well wide in the 2nd minute for Macc, before Jonny Smith tested Sam Ramsbottom right in front of me. This early chance for Fylde wasn't the last though and when the Coasters won a corner in the 6th minute they would soon see themselves celebrating the first of many goals as Lewis Montrose jumped highest in the 6-yard box and glanced the ball into the net ahead of a flailing Silkmen keeper. Fylde 1-0 Macc. Once the goal celebrations died down the Silkmen fans decided to get the noise levels going around the ground and in doing so they sparked a fairly lenghty exchange of humorous chants between the two sets of fans. Opening with "you're just a pub team with money, pub team with monnnney", we were then met by a response of "you're getting beat by a pub team, beat by a pubbbbb team", which raised a round of applause from the travelling brigade. Shortly after, we chimed in with "you know what you are, you know what you areeee. Pub team with money, you know what you are" which instantly turned into a home chorus of "top of the league, you're having a laugh!"
The match continued with Macc looking poor in every department. The passing from usually capable Danny Whitehead was being cut out on a too familiar basis, Tyrone Marsh looked lonely up front on his own and AFC Fylde continued to play some good football of their own to really take the game to Macc and when Jack Muldoon cut in from the left-hand side to unleash a near 30-yard curler towards goal, all that could be done was watch and admire as the ball rippled the back of the net from a brilliant goal. Fylde 2-0 Macc. Somehow the Silkmen looked shell-shocked and with less than a third of the game gone I started to wonder how many we'd concede, rather than if we could get back into it. Coasters captain Sam Finley was next to try a long-range drive and as he hit a pretty straight forward 20-yarder towards Ramsbottom, who'd been playing in place of a recently returned from suspension Shwan Jalal, the ball unfortunately bobbled out of the keeper's arms and desperately into the net in one of those moments where you wish for the ground to open up. Fylde 3-0 Macc. With 10 minutes to go until half-time, the Macc fans kept up the spirit by chanting "we're gonna win 4-3" as Fylde kept up their dominance and looked to grab yet another before the break. Even the introduction of a second forward in the shape of Scott Wilson for Macc didn't really alter things and just before half-time Smith would go through on goal, round a down and out Ramsbottom, before tapping home another goal in what had been the perfect half for the Lancashire side. Fylde 4-0 Macc. From my humble opinion, it seemed as though the Macc players had been too focused on keeping usual threat Danny Rowe out of the game, but in doing so had completely lost focus on the other attacking players in the side and at half-time I hoped that a change of tactic (and goalkeeper!) would spark some sort of second-half revival. If we could leave with a 4-2 defeat at this point I'd have been happy on my drive home to Staffordshire.
At 0-4 down, there's not much you can say positively about your team's display and after maintaining such a good run for the past few months I was one of many who was taking the opinion that it was always bound to happen at some point. When City lost to Liverpool the other weekend, I said the same thing. Regardless of this, I still couldn't hide my depressed face and feel of concern with still another 45 minutes left and so I popped back into the servery to grab another pint, which seemed to go down oh too well. Shortly after this I returned back out to the pitch and as I did so I noticed us making our second change of the day and as if to compound his day any more, it was the leaky keeper Ramsbottom who would be replaced by Iraqi veteran stopper Jalal. As the match kicked off for the sixth time already, the unusually noisy away support began the "we're gonna win 5-4" chants and I settled down in hope of a couple of goals for our troubles. With not a huge amount going on near our end, I started to think about the way clubs like Forest Green Rovers had developed and whether AFC Fylde would eclipse their efforts to become a League Two club. The clubs have a lot of similarities, with the main difference being the lack of vegan options here at Mill Farm. Back on the pitch and Jalal had already saved a couple of decent strikes and as Fylde continued to pepper the goal, it would eventually be down to cap'n Finley to add his side's fifth goal on the hour-mark. Fylde 5-0 Macc. The hosts just weren't letting up and even when the Silkmen had possession it didn't last for long, so it was understandable that when 36-year old temporary right-back had our first shot on goal, in the 68th minute, we got a little too excited that Jay Lynch had actually had his palms stung. The main bit of encouragement for me was in the last 20 minutes when new boy Nate Blissett took to the field and the 6 foot 5 inch target man seemed to at least show a bit of a change in the tone of the game as he gave Macc a bit of hope for things to come during his spell for the rest of the season. Unfortunately his efforts didn't help with the goals at the away end though, and AFC Fylde weren't done with scoring them neither as Andy Bond helped himself to a volley in the box in the final 10 minutes. Fylde 6-0 Macc. At the Ref's final blow of the whistle, Silkmen captain Danny Whitaker ran straight over to us in the away end to give a heartfelt apology and following that it was home time.
|I couldn't imagine Runcorn Linnets showing up here these days|
|And today's visitors could prove to be another big scalp|
|Genuine hatred, the staple diet for any away steward|
|With an early goal, it was the hosts that were having a laugh though|
|Away days, who'd bother?|
|Still top of the league, but it didn't feel like it on the drive home!|