The idea that was to become goalfood was germinated at Euro 2004, when friends Nick & Pete travelled to the tournament but were disappointed they couldn’t find any cool football-themed t-shirts to wear on the trip. They got their creative brains together, and in late 2005,, an online football t-shirt store, was launched. Initially aimed primarily at family & friends (and friends of friends), word of mouth soon did its job, so by World Cup 2006 goalfood was a fully fledged site which also boasted an excellent fanzine section.

Sales grew steadily, as did the number of designs in the catalogue, whilst the fanzine went from strength to strength. We were featured in journals as diverse as The Times, When Saturday Comes and Time Out New York. Alas it was always a hobby, and eventually real life got in the way, and after a swansong at the 2010 World Cup (with some natty designs and some seriously good features), things gradually wound down.

However, many fans long carried a candle for the site, so now we are delighted to revive the fanzine section under the editorial stewardship of Jack Gordon Brown.
Stay tuned for some top football (and now cricket) writing.

A number of our classic t shirt designs are still available – please click on the t-shirt link to see what you can get and how to purchase.

The year English talent started to flourish in franchises

The Indian Premier League is an easy competition to feel ambivalent towards. A key player in the T20 revolution since its inception in 2008, it has played its part in helping to resuscitate the sport. Yet as a tournament itself, it can irritate. On the superficial side, audiences have had to endure nonsense such as ‘Yes Bank Maximums’ and ‘Citi Moments of Success’, gimmicks trotted out by puppeteer commentators, the worst of whom has to be the superfluous Danny Morrison. 

Gushing is the default mode for all, perhaps out of fear more than choice. Harsha Bhogle — hardly known for rallying against the establishment — has had his IPL commentary contract cancelled in April of this year, with mild criticism the likely instigator. Of course, there has been little explanation as to why the decision was taken. Transparency isn’t the BBCI’s default mode. 

The BBCI — alongside the English and Australian Cricket boards — have shown themselves to be unstintingly greedy in recent years, and that air of superiority and untouchability seems to have rubbed off on the competition itself, with both the Chennai Super Kings and the Rajasthan Royals both suspended ahead of this year’s edition due to match fixing. The show goes on. 

Since the start of 2008, the show has gone on almost entirely devoid of English talent. For the rest of the world, that is an understandable irrelevance. For English Cricket fans, it jars a bit. Match fixing is a far greater issue, but part of the jealousy stems from seeing the likes of Chris Gayle and AB De Villiers strut their stuff, while as a nation we have almost uniformly steered clear. 

Things, thankfully, are starting to change. The IPL still overlaps with the start of the English summer, thus meaning it is not viable for all our stars to take part — namely Joe Root — but there has been a definite change in tack. Eoin Morgan and in particular Kevin Pietersen were previously treated as petty criminals for their yearning for the bright lights instead of a four-day game at Chester Le-Street in April. Not anymore. 

Andrew Strauss, a man who was at ruinous odds with Pietersen in the latter stages of his own career, has played a crucial role. The Director of Cricket has placed a lot of emphasis on white ball cricket since his induction, and the run to the final in the World T20 was justification for his approach. Encouraging county players to venture further afield will only help the rapid progression. 

Alex Hales had a short spell with the Mumbai Indians at the back end of last season, while David Willey and Adil Rashid starred in the Big Bash in the lead up to this year’s WT20. James Vince, Sam Billings and Ravi Bopara turned out in the inaugural Pakistan Super League. This time round in India, Jos Buttler, Sam Billings and Chris Jordan have featured for Mumbai, the Delhi Daredevils and Royal Challengers Bangalore respectively. 

Things haven’t exactly gone perfectly. Buttler has flitted in an out of form, largely reduced to cameos. Billings has played five games. Jordan only joined up with RCB as a replacement, and it took him until his fourth game  — where he took 4-11 against Gujarat Lions — to rediscover new-found ability to bowl at the death. Now he has, he will find himself lining up in the final. 

These England players aren’t novices — they are now part of one of the best limited overs squads in the world — but thrown into a situation like this it almost feels as if they are. Every standout performance from one of them feels like a validation: Our boys belong with the best. Adoration and worldwide recognition may follow.

On top of that, their participation will hopefully pile the pressure on ECB and the Counties for a solution to our own domestic T20 league, which currently survives rather than thrives. If the new breed can add their voices to the likes of Pietersen and Morgan, then something is likely to give. 

England’s solo T20 crown came in 2010, where the squad — ably led by Paul Collingwood — rode the crest of a Pietersen-inspired wave. Since then, the talent has been bubbling under the surface in the County game. However, it is 2016 that may well be remembered as the year we cracked it for good. The revolution must continue. 


The glorious paradox of Ben Stokes

Ben_Stokes 2

So often a key figure in England cricket’s latest resurrection, so often a symbol of the inconsistencies that still blight them, Ben Stokes has assumed a vital role under Paul Farbrace and Trevor Bayliss- and the ride looks set to continue this winter…

‘‘What England did with him is like telling Cristiano Ronaldo to play at right back…He could’ve won you the World Cup.’’ Paul Collingwood was not mincing his words when asked for his views on the omission of Ben Stokes from England’s World Cup squad. Stokes himself had been venting his own personal fury in a slightly different manner- bludgeoning 151 off 86 balls for England Lions against South Africa A, an innings including 15 sixes.

Fast forward a month and a Stokes-less England were being dumped out the tournament by the not quite so hopeless Bangladesh, ending the tournament as meekly as they had started it. Collingwood, and many others both in the media and the general public, had been vindicated. Stokes could, and maybe would have made a telling difference.

Trouble is, up until the World Cup, Stokes’ ODI performances hadn’t warranted inclusion. In the 24 games he had played before the squad announcement, he had averaged 15.66 with the bat. In the series preceding the announcement- against Sri Lanka- his bowling was the big concern as he sent down eight wicketless overs at an economy rate of 10.

The issue of him batting down the order was somewhat justified (he batted number 8 in his two innings against SL), but it is also worth remembering what an awful 2014 Stokes had with the bat overall. Earlier in the year the Durham all-rounder had broken his hand punching a locker during a tour of the Caribbean, a mark of intense frustration which pointed quite obviously to his run of low scores. In the summer that followed, Stokes was omitted from the England squad mid-series against India, having accumulated three ducks on the trot.

Hapless is a word that barely covers many of his performances for England during that period, so to say there was a genuine sense of mystification when he was left out of the World Cup simply highlights the paradox that is in Ben Stokes. Capable of everything, and yet capable of nothing.


After a successful summer for both individual and team, Stokes is now ensconced in the England set-up. It’s how it always should have been. Stokes has played every game this summer. He has looked altogether at home. England’s fastest centurion at Lord’s against New Zealand, following an almost run-a-ball 92 in the first innings. A match winner with the ball in the same game.

Later in the summer, with the Australians about, Stokes once again rose to the fore at crucial moments. Important runs in the first test, a dogged 87 at Lord’s amid collapse, and a spell of 6-36 at Trent Bridge to seal the Ashes deal. But in typical fashion, these telling moments have been interspersed by moments of nothingness. Three more ducks to add to the ever-increasing tally, accompanied by large spells of inconsequential bowling.

Stokes is now an Ashes winner, and deserves praise for his meaningful contributions. But had he ended up on the losing side, his capricious performances may have been preyed upon. Must be more consistent for a number six batsman, must be more consistent for a fourth seamer. This is the paradox of Ben Stokes.

Stokes’ ODI figures for the summer also exhibit his inconsistencies and promises in one. Batting at number five against Australia and NZ, Stokes averaged 29.1 in 10 innings, scoring one half-century. Across both series, he took 12 wickets at an average 31.91, going at 6.27 runs per over. He now averages 20.14 with the bat, with two half-centuries in 34 matches. He has 32 wickets in that time at an average of 34.24, at an economy of 6.22 per over.

They are not figures that would take a side to World Cup glory, especially the haunted bunch that Eoin Morgan inherited from Alistair Cook. Stokes’ latest performances might not even keep him in the one-day side. Taylor may have done enough to stay at three, yet Root has to and will find a way back into the line-up. With his bowling not all-important, Stokes may find himself out of the middle order.

As Yogi Berra once said, it would be be déjà vu all over again. Stokes may warm the bench. The problem is, it does feel a bit naïve, maybe even stupid, to drop him again. We’ve been here before, haven’t we? It feels a more of a risk to drop him than to play him. It isn’t necessarily a question of merit; it is a question of necessity. To miss out on one of those awe-inspiring knocks would be harrowing. This is the paradox of Ben Stokes.


This winter will prove a litmus test for this burgeoning England team, and few players will play as big a role as Stokes. As Telegraph columnist Jonathan Liew points out, winning the Ashes is still a milestone, but due to the regularity with which they are now played, it is not a ‘career-defining’ milestone. This England team must win on the road to become great. Only South Africa of the modern day sides has an impressive away record.

England hinted at greatness with wins over Australia and India, only for Pakistan to interject with a 3-0 win over Strauss’s men in the UAE in-between. Back to back wins over Pakistan and South Africa, on the back of an Ashes win, would be unexpected and stunning.

If they are to do so, you feel Stokes will have to be influential. Being influential does not necessarily mean being consistent, and given his career path so far, consistency may be a little too much to ask. It is up to the top five to provide as much stability as possible, and in turn it will be up to the frontline bowlers to shoulder regular wicket-taking responsibility. Stokes is there to sprinkle some belligerent magic on both facets. A hundred here, a five-wicket haul there. In short: match-winning performances.

The talent is there for consistent performances, but maybe we hope for them to come rather than expect them. Maybe Stokes isn’t set-up to be that way. Maybe he is set up to dominate individual matches as opposed to whole series.  Thing is, none of us are quite sure.

He might play a KP at Mumbai style innings to defeat Pakistan. He might nail the reverse swinging delivery and wreak havoc amongst the South African middle order. He might punch a locker, or a ball away from the stumps for that matter. The options are as infinite as they are spectacular.

The Ben Stokes paradox is set to continue. It should be embraced.

The impending international return of Mohammad Amir


Credit: AP

Credit: AP

A fall from grace can be a quick and somewhat startling affair, often consigning yesterday’s heroes to today’s scrapheap.

Take Milli Vanilli, the popular West German pop act, who suffered a spectacular fall from grace in 1990 when it was revealed that the band’s two ‘singers’, Robert Pilatus and Francis Morvan, actually had nothing to do with the records that had made them so famous in the first place. The pair had merely been recruited as frontmen, preferred to the ‘unmarketable’ vocalists who had recorded the album. Just days after a disastrous MTV performance lead to the revelation, the band had their Grammy stripped.

Sport has had its fair share of villains who have suffered equally irredeemable falls from grace. Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods are two modern examples who spring to mind. Like Milli Vanilli, both have failed to return to the top of their profession, professions that they once would have considered their own private fiefdom.

In August 2010, three Pakistani cricketers suffered their very own fall from grace, when they were found to have deliberately bowled no balls in exchange for dirty cash, during a test match against England– at Lord’s of all places. Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and an 18-year-old Mohammad Amir were the three shamed parties. All were banned for five years each, all received jail time.

Many of the cricket world will never forget that day at Lord’s, where the News of the World’s shocking expose collided with the end of a thrilling test match series (which England won 3-1). To this day, the story rightly serves as a warning to cricketers – and all three players were rightly harangued and shamed from all quarters.

Yet the story of the baby-faced Amir assumed an extra layer of tragedy, due to his fragile age and place in the Pakistani dressing-room hierarchy. Butt (then captain at the time) and Asif were both well-seasoned pro’s whose taciturn actions were not ambiguous, but with Amir it can be hard not to think he was badly manipulated, dragged through this regrettable ride through cricket’s Stygian underworld.

‘Please don’t let it be the kid,’ were the words of Sky’s Nasser Hussain on that day at Lord’s, reflecting the thoughts of cricket fans across the world. Amir had burst on to the international scene before he pulled the rug from out under his own feet. He had become the quickest bowler to reach 50 test match wickets (in 14 tests), and was ironically named man of the match at Lord’s for a brilliant 6fer, hours after the wildfire of scandal had engulfed the home of cricket. That was the end of his cricketing career for the near future. That was then.

This is now, and Amir is back. Although not on a world scale, the youngster has been reintroduced to the professional game, playing a string of T20 games in his homeland, with a fair degree of success. It seems highly probable that he will return to the national side at some juncture. His international ban ends this month. He would even be free to play against England, although he has not made the squad for next month’s series.

But is the cricketing world- fans and players alike- ready to accept Amir? Fans, especially those in England, may well decide to boo. It is their choice, and in a way it is fair. It was he that brought the game into such callous disrepute at Lord’s, and to some that act will never be forgiven. Many more fans will simply feel conflicted.

The player issue is perhaps even more pressing. How will he be treated in the Pakistan dressing room? Will he be treated like an outsider, a man who irrevocably let his country down? Or he will be treated as a new person, a man who has ultimately learnt and paid for his past crimes? Much will come down to the leadership fulcrum of the Pakistan team. The role of elder statesmen such as Misbah-ul-Haq (test captain), Shahid Afridi (ODI captain) and coach Waqar Younis will be crucial in the coming months, as reintegration talk becomes more pointed.

One thing that is beyond doubt is that Amir has served his time. A 5-year ban and a prison sentence was what the respective authorities deemed to be fair punishment, and that period has now come and gone. A look at other sports and it seems that Amir should be allowed to return to the international stage. Athletes from many different corners have returned after drugs bans, and football teams have often returned to the top after being punished for match-fixing.

Sport moves on, and second chances are usually granted. Cricket’s authorities must strive to tackle the ugly side of its game, which undoubtedly still looms large, but not at the expense of justice.

Another uncertainty about Amir’s return is the level of performance he can attain. His performances in T20 cricket appear solid enough on the surface, and on the evidence of restricted video footage, his action perhaps unsurprisingly hasn’t changed too much. A prolonged hiatus through the tender years of adolescence may have even reduced the chances of debilitating muscular injuries.

But international cricket is concentrated on fine margins, and it remains to be seen whether that extra yard of pace and the ability to control the swing so acutely remains. If Amir does return at the same level, it will be hard to contain that frisson of excitement every time he bounds to the crease in his trademark fashion, before releasing a thunderbolt with that rapid and beguiling left-arm.

It is five years since Amir took leave of the cricketing world that he had left such a vehement mark on in such a short space of time. Many will be pontificating over his return. But ponder this: is his return to the fold a bigger threat to the integrity of the game than the powers that be at the current big three? It was Giles Clarke who famously gave Amir that scornful look at Lord’s, but in the intervening period it is he and his cronies who have begun to systematically destroy the game.

This is the Mod-ern world

A look at how the FA is trying to improve provision for youngsters at grassroots level- and whether it can have the desired effect further down the line, which is ultimately producing a better national team and more players for the Premier League.

Part of my final major project at university. (Set out in the style of the Observer). 

Hoop dreams? A tricky route to stardom

Basketball is the second most popular played sport in the UK amongst 11-15 year olds in this country, but our international success is non-existent. Our professional league has no credible reputation either. I spoke to key figures in the game to see how the sport can progress.

Part of my final major project at university. (Set out in the style of the Observer). 

A Season With Verona- book review

A season with Verona


A Season with Verona makes you both laugh and despair about football.

It is a work of non-fiction, yet at times feels anything but that. The author Tim Parks is an English ex-pat living in Verona.

Parks commits to going to every Hellas Verona league game during the 2000-2001 season.  He sits on the fringes of the curva with his son Michele, he travels with the notorious Brigate Gialloblu hundreds of miles by coach, and he flies with the first team. It makes for an, eye-opening, and often jaw-dropping, read.

On a cramped coach on the first away trip to Bari, Black, Jewish and homosexual people are abused incessantly by the Gialloblu hardcore. The Juventus fans are taunted about the Heysel disaster. It makes for deeply unpleasant reading. The hardcore aren’t alone either. The curva make monkey grunts at black players. Club President Giambattista Pastorello even explains the difficulty of Verona signing a player from Cameroon. Parks certainly doesn’t shy away from describing the behaviour of the fans.

He also expands on other Italian issues through the medium of football. What better way to learn about the North v South divide than through a trip to Napoli on a Veronese supporters’ coach?

Politically-motivated corruption also appears to be rife. If you read the book at the time, you may have thought Parks’ grumblings about officiating favouritism towards the big six were exaggerated.  But after the Calciopoli (match fixing) scandal in 2006, which implicated Juventus, AC, Fiorentina, Reggina and Lazio, the writer’s impassioned fury now seems entirely justified and prescient.

The scope of the story is huge, but it ultimately fixates around Verona’s fortunes on the field. In that sense Parks strikes it lucky. The team are soon embroiled in a distressing relegation battle. The mood isn’t helped by the fact that their smaller city neighbours, Chievo Verona, could replace them in the top fight.

The season has everything. The emergence of young stars, last minute winners aplenty, a disproportionate amount of red cards and a gripping relegation fight that finishes in a spectacular manner.

But Parks doesn’t just describe the drama of the campaign like a detached reporter; he encapsulates the very essence of what it means to be a football fan. The genuine, unadulterated anger. The never-ending hours of exasperation, and most importantly, those rare moments of unbridled joy, the sense of unity and belonging.

Parks isn’t the only voice, a note from ‘The wall’ (the messageboard he frequents) is a feature at the start of each chapter, and we also here reports and views from many different figures throughout. But none perhaps sum up the pain of supporting a lowly club more than a disconsolate teenager at the end of chapter 30, as Verona slip to defeat in Naples:

‘‘My world is falling apart,’’ the boy beside me starts to curse rhythmically. He has his face in his hands. ‘‘Let it be over now. Let it be over. I don’t want to hear anybody talk about hope. I don’t want t hear anyone saying it’s not mathematical yet, that they still believe we can make it.

 ‘‘Let’s go into Serie B. It’s where we belong. Let’s not even try to get into Serie A again. It’s too painful. It’s too painful. Pastorello is a shit. The players are shits. They didn’t try. I’m not going to get a season ticket next year. I’m giving up football. Let’s stay in Serie B forever. It’s stupid expecting Verona to play in Serie A. All we do is go to games and suffer and suffer to no end. There’s no hope, that’s the truth. We’ve got to get used to there being no hope’’.

 Any regular match goer can surely sympathise with this anguished, miserable outlook.

A cut above the rest

Austrlia WC 





Watching the World Cup final yesterday morning, it almost felt as if the dominant, imperious Australian team that reigned supreme from the end of the 20th and start of the 21st century had never left us in the first place.

 It has pretty much been that way all throughout the tournament. Watching as an England fan, you waited for the veneer to slip, or maybe the moment when their natural confidence turned into a lackadaisical complacency. But the moment never came.

 Maybe it already happened. Australia got their bad game out of the way against New Zealand in the group stage, narrowly losing one of the matches of the tournament at Eden Park. Such a well-oiled machine wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. Not in one tournament.

 In the opening game in Australia, England were brushed aside by Clarke and co with ease, quite amusing ease. The rain then rescued Bangladesh. Sri Lanka suffered a similar fate to Morgan’s men.

 Aside from a scintillating spell of hostility from Wahab Riaz, Pakistan failed to provide an exemplary challenge in the quarter-finals. India, unbeaten India, MS Dhoni’s India, proved to be cannon fodder at the SCG in the semis.

New Zealand had played pretty similar cricket to Australia throughout the tournament. It involved brazen, snarling bowling and carefree, yet calculated batting. Maybe they were the ones to challenge this inexorable superiority. The simple, regrettable answer was no.

 Australia have found their level, and it is different to one that anyone else currently occupies. This has been a reversion back to the Australia that won three World Cups in a row from 1999-2007. The intensity simply doesn’t look like letting up.

 And who’s to say it will? Without wanting to sound reactive, this side has a chance to take 50-over cricket by the scruff of the neck for the long haul, like so many of their predecessors have done.

 Players will inevitably have to move on. Four that played yesterday were aged 33 over. Yet replacements seem so readily available that it scarcely seems to matter. Smith will captain the side in Clarke’s absence. He has led and will lead his teammates well.

 Smith is also batting in that serene, almost faultless zone that few players ever enter during their careers’ entirety. The former bits and bobs cricketer now looks infallible to the point where you wonder whether his form will ever decline again. It will invariably come to an end, but that point doesn’t seem close for now.

 Brad Haddin, at the age of 37, will surely follow Clarke. If so, his competitive edge will be missed, but his sneery sledging will not be. He will be seamlessly replaced by one of the plethora of wicket keepers at Australia’s disposal. Matthew Wade, Tim Paine, Peter Handscombe and Peter Neville could all make the grade. Tim Ludeman also impressed during the Big Bash.

 Mitchell Johnson has also hinted at a potential one-day retirement. His absence would be more keenly felt in the current set-up, but if there is one thing Australia don’t have a paucity of, it is young fast bowlers. Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood are fully settled in the team, with Starc picking up the man of the tournament gong.  James Faulkner, who bases his game round a deceitful array of slower balls, proved his worth by dismantling New Zealand’s middle order in yesterday’s final.

Young Pat Cummins has had to look on from the sidelines.  Mitchell Marsh took a five-for v England before promptly disappearing. Nathan Coulter-Nile, Sean Abbott, Kane Richardson and John Hastings didn’t make the squad. Others fantasise over such riches, Australia make them wait patiently in the wings.

 You get the idea. Australia will recover from their losses.

 They will still face stiff challenges. South Africa’s three stars, Dale Steyn, AB De Villiers and Hashim Amla, will all continue for the foreseeable future. Faf Du Plessis, David Miller and Imran Tahir have all showcased their ability at the highest level, and they will consider themselves unlucky not to have reached their first World cup final.

 New Zealand are currently sweating on the potential retirement of Brendon McCullum, and Daniel Vettori is bowing out after a wonderful career. The Black Caps though, with or without McCullum, would remain a formidable force. 

 India still perhaps have the most talented set of batsmen in the world. In the one-day game they have recovered from the loss of the stars that took them to the world title in 2011 admirably.  Australia were too good on home soil, but they will remain there or thereabouts, and significantly more comfortable on slower surfaces.

Sri Lanka face an uncertain future without their two benign batting fathers. Pakistan will also find life hard without the phlegmatic presence of Misbah ul-Haq. For England and West Indies, the outlook seems decidedly bleak for the time being.

 The point is though; none of these opponents look like they are about to drastically improve. India may have the potential to, but it is Australia that look like they may have the best chance of developing under Steve Smith in this format.

 This is after they have just walloped everyone out of site on the biggest stage of all. Australia have won four out of the last five World Cups. That authority doesn’t look like ending anytime soon. 

A strictly mutual love affair


(Photo credit: Macclesfield express)

There are many things a football fan in the modern day yearns for. A return to sensible ticket pricing, for a start. A serious discussion with the powers that be about safe standing would also be welcomed with alacrity. The prohibition of selfie sticks and half and half scarves would undoubtedly go down a treat. The list is endless.

 A small semblance of loyalty, from both players and managers alike, wouldn’t go amiss from time to time either. In the current climate where transience trumps longevity, it is becoming increasingly rare that supporters can relate to those that represent their club. The people they help to employ often don’t have the courtesy to stick around long enough for that to happen.

 At Macclesfield Town it is a different story. The Silkmen, like any other club in the land, aren’t without problems. In their case, the issues are chiefly financial. In May 2013, the club was thought to be in £500,000 worth of debt.

 Later that year, names such as Bryan Robson, Frank Sinclair and James Beattie turned out in a vital fundraising game for the club. In recent years, players and staff haven’t always been paid on time. All is still not well at Moss Rose. Financial problems cast a portentous shadow. Yet at least the club and the fans can rely on John Askey. They have been doing so for 31 years now.

 Askey has been at Macclesfield since Dario Grady has been at Crewe. He was playing at Moss Rose before Alex Ferguson had even been considered for the Manchester United job. The year Askey started playing for the Cheshire club was the year that now-Uefa president Michel Platini inspired France to European glory. It is therefore a gross understatement when he describes Macclesfield as a ‘‘big part of my life.’’

 ‘‘I feel as though Macclesfield is my football club. As a lad you support a team. I would say now, if I wasn’t managing or playing or whatever, then Macclesfield would be my club,’’ Askey says.

 ‘‘Over the years I’ve got to know, if not by name, by face, most of the people who come and watch Macclesfield so obviously people recognise I’m involved with Macclesfield, so I suppose I have become part of the fixtures and fittings, which is nice.’’

 Askey joined Macclesfield, who were in the Northern Premier League at the time, in 1984 alongside his brother Bob to fill a gap when the club were short of players. He arrived having not made a first team appearance for the club of his youth, Port Vale. Despite not making the grade at Vale, John’s ambition was to play league football.

The Silkmen reached the Conference in 1987, and after a few years of consolidation they won the title in 1994-95 season under former Manchester United midfielder Sammy McIlroy. However, the club was cruelly denied promotion to the Football League because Moss Rose did not meet league requirements of having a 6,000 capacity, including at least 1,000 seats by the deadline of December 31 1994.

 To Askey, it was a decision that ‘‘just didn’t make sense,’’ one governed by ‘‘politics’’ rather than facilities. For the many of the squad who dreamed of playing league football, the news would have been a hammer blow.

For Askey, the ruling presented a double-edged sword. His dream of playing in the football league had been temporarily put on hold, but he was able to keep his day job working in insurance.

‘‘It was a disappointment, but at the time it wasn’t a great disappointment for me because I had a good job, and going to the Football League I thought I might have to either pack my job in or pack Macclesfield in. So although I was disappointed for the club for myself it wasn’t too bad because it enabled me to do both,’’ says the 50-year-old.

 When Macclesfield did reach the promised Land in 1997, Askey continued to balance his work and football life for the first season back.

 ‘‘When you’ve got a family and you’re getting older you need security, so that’s why I carried on working as well. I was able to do the two and it didn’t stop me from being able to compete and do a job for the team. Again, it worked out really well for me.

 ‘‘In the team I think there was only me who did that so I was lucky that the manager allowed me to do it. But there aren’t many players. There’s no reason why not though. I think it does you good if it’s a certain type of job.  It keeps you mentally active. As long as it’s not a physical job, if you worked on a building site it would be difficult, but if the job’s not too manual and it doesn’t take too much of your time up then it is possible.’’

 It was a good time to be playing at Macclesfield, and the first season back in the Football League eclipsed everyone’s expectations. Under McIlroy the club went unbeaten at Moss Rose and finished third, gaining an unlikely promotion.

 Askey, who had spent his lengthy career in non-league football, was now facing the likes of Manchester City, Stoke City, Preston North End and Fulham. Although it lasted only a season, the striker from Stoke-on-Trent found success very sweet.

 ‘‘It was a fantastic time to be involved with the football club and it kept me going.The hardest thing in football is to keep your enthusiasm, but as I got older we got more successful and that enabled me to keep my enthusiasm. Instead of coming down the leagues as would normally happen when you get older, I was going up the leagues so it couldn’t of worked out better for me,’’ he says.

It is often said that no good thing lasts forever. Askey did his best to disprove that theory for as long as possible with a 19-year playing career, but in 2003 he finally hung up his threadbare boots. The next stage of his affiliation with Macclesfield beckoned.

 While playing, Askey had already taken the reserve team manager’s job, something that proved to be a rousing success. He led the team to the Alliance League trophy, competing against bigger names such as Hull and Stoke.

During this time he helped to invigorate the career of Rickie Lambert, who was without a club after being released from Blackpool. Askey spoke with Lambert and it was decided that he would best be deploying the future England man at centre forward rather than midfield.

 He was also assistant manager at this time, so when manager Dave Moss was sacked, Askey naturally stepped into his shoes. In his short period at the helm he felt he was helping the club ‘‘turn a corner.’’

 Ten players were replaced, with John Parkin (later sold for £300,000), Paul Horsley and Matt Carragher all arriving. Yet just as Askey began to feel ensconced in the role, he was replaced by Brian Horton and demoted back to assistant.

 ‘‘I don’t think the club or the owner really wanted me as manager so I was sacked, but still kept on as assistant to Brian Horton,’’ says Askey.

 ‘‘But with everything you have to learn from which I did and I have tried to pick up good things from all the managers that have come into the football club. Some things you think I wouldn’t do it that way. Good things you’d say I would do it that way. It has been a good learning curve.’’

 Fast-forward to the current day and Askey is back in the hot seat, seven managers and eleven years after he was rudely interrupted during his first spell. This time round, he has had ample time to exert his control.

 He has been in charge since the summer of 2013. Macclesfield are reaping the rewards for a touch of managerial stability. With seven games left they sit in third, four points off the coveted top spot. The play-offs at the very least seem a formality. Yet you can’t help but feel they are achieving spite of poor decisions at the top. Askey is adamant he wouldn’t have ever got the job again if the club could have avoided it.

 ‘‘It’s only circumstances (financial) that have meant I’ve got the job. I said before, because of the financial position of the football club, they couldn’t afford to bring anybody in, they couldn’t afford to sack me so it fell on my lap.

 ‘’Hopefully it has benefited the football club and myself and people realise now that they should have given me the job a long time ago.’’

 It isn’t hard not to sense a simmering undercurrent of discontentment. When asked about his working relationship with chairman Amar Alkadhi, Askey laughs and says, ‘‘fantastic. No comment on that.’’ The fans also remain apathetic to the current situation.

 ‘’I think people still don’t believe that we can do it. On Tuesday when we played Telford there was 1,200, which for a team that is going for promotion compared with the gates of a few years ago is not great.

 ‘‘There is still apathy about the town, but we believe we can change that and the only way to change people’s minds is to keep winning games and that is what spurs us on. Not just me but the players and the staff, to prove people wrong.’’

 There remains a steely sangfroid about Askey, despite all that has gone before and all that is still going on. They may have the lowest budget in the league, but promotion is now firmly within reach. He is open about what that could mean to the club.

 ‘’I think it’s worth about a million pounds if we go up. Obviously a million pounds to us would be like winning the lottery. Even today we’ve had to come and train here (the home ground) because we can’t train at the training ground because we’ve not paid the bill. So to get around a million pounds in would mean a great deal. The wage bill could probably increase double if we were to get up.’’

 Macclesfield’s money troubles appear even starker when you consider the town sits just twenty miles from Manchester, where City and United continue to spend with reckless abandon. Askey believes the Premier League clubs are trying to ‘‘wipe out’’ clubs such at Macclesfield, yet he insists he doesn’t think it will happen.

 ‘‘Each town has a football club and that is part of the town’s identity. If you are from Scunthorpe or if you are from Bury, you want to support those clubs. Most people do if they are into football. Not everybody wants to watch Manchester United and Manchester City.

 ‘‘I don’t think the people at the top get that. They don’t understand football. You can watch a good football game at the top level and you can watch a good football game on a Sunday morning. Sometimes it can depend on what the game means. It could be a cup final, it could be somebody trying to get promoted and it could be a relegation battle.

 ‘‘That’s what creates the tension and the atmosphere. I’ve watched fantastic games at the top level and I’ve watched fantastic games at the lower level so it doesn’t matter what game you watch, you never know what you’re going to get.’’

 There is no money coming in at Moss Rose. The club may be slightly over the worst of their financial problems, but it’s worth remembering that they were three days from being evicted from all leagues last summer. Some staff don’t get paid. Askey may only be able to take his chargers so far. Although his ardour for Macclesfield remains, he is realistic enough to realise it may not last forever.

 ‘‘I think everybody is ambitious and you’ve got to move on, especially as a manager. I think it’s different with other jobs but as a manager if you stand still too long then eventually you have to walk down to the job centre, so you’ve got to move on and be ambitious. Now it’s my only job as such, I’m looking to be ambitious.’’

For a man who has been tied to the same team for 31 years now, it seems like a preposterous thing to say. He can never leave. Can he? Maybe modern football has caught up with John Askey. Maybe he aspires to manage at a level Macclesfield can ever get to. Maybe, just maybe, he feels a tad under-appreciated.

 After all, he did slip into the job by default. Those who support the club revere their current boss. Do those in charge hold him in the same regard? They might not know it, but they need him more than ever.  



Reputations hanging in the balance at Villa Park

 Football - Tottenham Hotspur v West Ham United

There are plenty with a point to prove as the former Spurs man takes over from Paul Lambert…

You may already be aware, but Tim Sherwood does in fact hold the record for the highest win % of any Tottenham manager in the Premier League era. Higher than his predecessor, Andres Villas-Boas, by a whopping 5.4%. Higher than Martin Jol, too.

Sherwood also has a better PL win % at Tottenham than Harry Redknapp, the man who guided Spurs to the coveted fourth position in the league on two occasions.

But you probably knew that already. It was no secret.

From that statistical viewpoint, it might be fair to say that Sherwood could be considered a downright success as Tottenham boss. He won five of his first six Premier League games as manager, straight off the back of a 5-0 home defeat by Liverpool, which ended the short reign of Villas-Boas.

He even reinvigorated the erratic, disinterested Emanuel Adebayor, who had vanished during the tenure of AVB. Sherwood gave Harry Kane his first Premier League start. Another axiomatic success.

Yet despite all these compelling positives, it is hard to believe that Sherwood really changed Tottenham for the better. His brand of blood, sweat and tears football and his adherence to 4-4-2 didn’t damage the club, but it didn’t catapult it forward either.

AVB was sacked with Tottenham in seventh position and eight points off Arsenal at the top of the table. Tottenham, under Sherwood, finished the season one place higher in sixth, 10 points off Arsenal in fourth and 17 points of Manchester City in first.

There was never a sustained Champions League push, unlike many previous years. There were humiliating thrashings, too. A 5-1 defeat at home to City, a 4-0 away to defeat to Chelsea and a 4-0 mauling at Anfield.

Tottenham were beaten 2-0 at the Emirates in the third round of the cup. They were beaten at home by West Ham at home in the Quarter-finals of the League Cup, shortly after Sherwood was placed in charge. They were undone by Benfica in the last 16 of the Europa League.

The fortunes of Spurs didn’t take a drastic turn upwards.

This is not meant as a scathing personal attack on Sherwood himself, either. There were good wins during his reign too. It is worth pointing out he took the Spurs under 21’s to the final off the inaugural under-21 PL crown as Technical Director of the club.

He may turn out to be exactly what Villa need.

But Randy Lerner isn’t appointing a proven winner, or a proven loser for that matter. He is appointing a managerial rookie.

This is Tim Sherwood’s first sustained chance to prove his worth, and he could do with a few of his new players following suit.

Villa’s malaise has lasted too long now. It has lasted long enough for this to be their fourth relegation battle on the spin and perhaps the most perilous yet. 

It may be down to Randy Lerner’s lack of interest, his insistence on selling the club, but you sense there is more to the Villa Park conundrum than just that.

Villa haven’t exactly been afraid of spending money in recent times. Players such as Christian Benteke, Carlos Sanchez, Leandro Bacuna, Jores Okore, Libor Kozak, Ron Vlaar, Ashley Westwood and the forgotten Charles N’Zogbia have all cost substantial money.

Yet a sense of mediocrity has pervaded the club since the reign of Alex McLeish and continued under fellow Scot Lambert, with the empty blue seats painting their own story.

Both left with a win percentage under 30%, and Lambert’s team became so hopeless in front of goal towards the end that they basically gave up on the notion of scoring altogether.

But the fault can’t simply lie with McLeish and Lambert, as dour as their sides seemed to be. It has come to the point where many of Villa’s players either have to prove their worth, or risk ruining their careers once and for all.

Nathan Baker and Ciaran Clark are both young centre halves still learning their trade, but they must begin to eradicate their error-strewn ways.

Fabian Delph, Ashley Westwood and Tom Cleverly must all develop a method that allows them to contribute to Villa’s attacking play, whether it be a goal or an assist. Their collective failure to help Villa create something that isn’t a counter attack has weighed the team down heavily.

Tom Cleverly, exiled from Louis Van Gaal’s Manchester United, looks a lost soul in a struggling midfield, haunted by his ultimate failure at Old Trafford. His creative output has simply deteriorated.

Charles N’Zogbia, hampered by injuries and a lack of form, is still yet to shine at Villa Park since he joined in 2011. Andreas Weimann’s career has begun to stall, as has Leandro Bacuna’s.

 There won’t be many strikers envious of Benteke, whose indifferent form is intrinsically linked to Villa’s all-round lack of attacking threat. The Belgian may be hoping a good few months under Sherwood will help him escape the bowels of Villa Park.

Scott Sinclair, who barely played a minute under Manuel Pellegrini, has joined on loan and adds to the growing list of players looking to resurrect their careers under the new boss.

In his short time as manager, Tim Sherwood has generated a fair bit of debate. There are some who clearly take to his up and at ‘em style, believing he possesses the tools to become a worthy man manager, a man who can give under-performers the hunger to play again.

There are others who like to look beyond supercilious bravado, and the talk of win percentages.

The truth is; neither side really knows how good a manager Sherwood will be. A prolonged spell at Aston Villa, a club which has fallen on tough times, is the best way for us all to find out.

His own self-belief is the only thing not in doubt.