Sometimes a great goal isn’t beautiful. A tap-in from six yards might mean nothing to anyone except fans of the club of the player who scored it. The greatest goal I ever saw certainly wasn’t a screamer.
The 2002/2003 season wasn’t memorable for regulars at Macclesfield Town’s Moss Rose stadium. The Silkmen finished just above the relegation dogfight. Macclesfield Town vs Rochdale on the last day of the season was meaningless before it even kicked off. The only remarkable thing about the fixture was the final appearance of John Askey.
Every football club has loyal servants. John Askey was Mr Macclesfield Town. His brother and father had played for the club before him. I wasn’t even born when he made his debut in a Northern Premier League match in 1984.
For Askey’s testimonial in 1994 Manchester United sent a side of young unknowns like David Beckham and Gary Neville. He was a true veteran when the club won promotion to the Football League in 1997.
‘Sir John’ was a skillful, strong and intelligent forward who could pass better than most in the lower-league game. Off-field he was a true gent. That’s why they call him ‘Sir’.
In his early career Askey had stayed at Macclesfield when he could have played higher up the league pyramid. He became the creative force in the most successful side in the club’s history.
Not many players make their Football League debut aged 32, and go on to score 15 goals in a season aged 35, as Askey did in 1999/2000. With Sir John in the side, Macclesfield Town rose from the Northern Premier League to Division Two by 1998/1999, before settling in to Division Three for several years of mid-table anonymity.
The game against Rochdale was Askey’s farewell. He was Assistant Manager of the club, and hadn’t been in the playing squad since December. It was time to hang up his boots, aged 38, after more than 700 games.
He started on the bench. With 70 minutes played, Macclesfield were losing 2-1. Sir John came on. Nobody expected him to do much. His knees had gone, and he’d lost a few yards of pace.
If you were to write a script for what happened next, it would probably go something like this:
Two minutes to go. The Silkmen break forward. Matthew Tipton receives the ball in space in the the centre of Rochdale’s half, beats a man, and fires in a strong shot. Dale keeper Matthew Gilks parries it to his right. The ball trickles across the box.
Several hundred Macclesfield fans in the Star Lane end behind Gilks’s goal, myself included, follow the ball with their eyes as it rolls loose. There’s a euphoric moment when they realise that the Macclesfield player steaming towards the ball from the left channel is Sir John. He’s going to get to it first. He’s going to score.
And that’s exactly what happened. John Askey ran straight onto it, legs pumping frantically like he’d run all the way from 1984, and smacked it into the bottom left corner of the net. The Macc crowd went mental, and Sir John leaped straight into the Star Lane End to join the celebrations. Seconds before the final whistle Tipton hit a winner. The Silkmen won 3-2.
Sir John Askey is still at Macclesfield Town, managing the youth set-up. His last goal wasn’t pretty, but it was the most perfect moment I’ve yet seen on a football pitch. Goals like that are the reason people choose just one club to support over all the rest.