Captain Peter Harper receiving the Club’s first silverware

Macclesfield’s Greatest Games Part IV

THE FIRST SENIOR RUGBY TROPHY

By Peter Harper

April 1982 saw Britain at the height of the Falklands War in the South Atlantic, but nearer to home, Macclesfield RUFC were looking to make history themselves as we took on favourites Winnington Park in the final of the Cheshire Plate.  Victory would mean the first ever Silverware for the 1st team in the Club`s 108 year history, the only previous success for the Club having been the Colts victory in the Cheshire Shield 6 years previously.

The road to the final began when we were beaten away at Alsager College in the first round of the Cheshire Cup.  Clubs losing in the first round of the Cup went into the Plate competition and as this was pre league rugby, the County Cup competitions were the only tangible trophies available to clubs and players, and Macclesfield were keen to get their name on the honours list for the first time.

Macclesfield were drawn against Moore in Round 1, running out convincing winners, followed up by wins over Old Instonians and Capenhurst before beating Wirral in the semi-final – all 3 matches being played away.

Back then, all Cup games were played on a Sunday with the team already having played the previous day, meaning 2 games in 2 days.  This sometimes made team selections difficult due to inevitable injuries, although both finalists had dispensation from Cheshire RFU to forgo the fixture the day before the final.

The season didn`t start too well, losing the first 4 games which prompted Coach Robin Pinder to resign his position.  Following talks with some senior players, Clive Kershaw was asked to take over as Coach. Although he was new to coaching, he had a great rugby pedigree.  Clive & I had played together in the Colts final 6 years earlier and he`d moved on to bigger and better things at Wilmslow (who were then a senior club).  A horrific knee injury brought Clive`s playing career to an untimely end and he was keen to take up the post with his previous club and work with some old mates again.

We had a good squad that season with plenty of depth in most positions, made up of youth and experience, and together with the benefit of all being local Macclesfield lads who socialised together, this created a great team spirit and having had a very successful season thus far.

Following Clive`s appointment, we went unbeaten for the remainder of the season, the only blip coming against a very `physical` Leigh team where we drew 9 – 9 (I seem to recall that during one prolonged punch up, which the referee chose to ignore, Leigh scored to snatch a draw).  I mentioned to Franky Barker in my recent Club Podcast, that rugby is far more physical now than back in the day; but although the players now, are much bigger, physically stronger, fitter and faster, back then the laws and interpretation were different.  Rarely did a game go by without a proper punch up or 3, and rucking – 1970`s All Black style was the norm.  Indeed, as a flanker, I clearly hadn`t done my job unless my back and shoulders were covered in stud marks, and stitches to the head were commonplace – but that was expected and seen as badges of honour.

During the season we`d beaten Winnington Park for the first time in living memory, with wins both home and away; we prepared for the final in a quietly confident mood. I recall following the last training session on the Thursday evening, Clive, Bill Roberts, big Nick Hynes and I went into town for a McDonalds, to chew over any final details.  We agreed we just needed to stick to the simple game plan we had successfully used all season – secure our own ball and deliver quality possession to our classy backs who had producedthe goods all season.

We had a solid pack with experience in the front row with John Robinson at tight head (who knew every trick in the book – and a few more besides!). Robbo was recently back at Priory Park after more than a decade of senior and representative rugby at Wilmslow, and he brought with him a very experienced hooker – John Webster or Webbers as we know him.  The front row was completed by Geoff Leach at Loosehead Prop, who, believe it or not had played the vast part of his playing career up until then as a scrum half!  Leachy was ahead of his time in being a mobile, ball playing prop – unheard of in the 80`s.  The engine room was made up by big Nick Hynes and the young, but athletic Neil Smedley; both scrummaged well and were a thorn in the opposition lineouts all season (no lifting then, jumpers had to jump!) and with Nick`s height and Smeds` athleticism, we had a potent weapon.

The back row comprised yours truly at Blindside, classy operator Chris Cox at 8 and another positional convert at Openside – Martin Barrett.  Martin was an accomplished loosehead prop, but had broken his neck the season before and so reverted to the backrow, proving to be a potent destructive force with his strength and physicality.

Craig Neild played 9, securing his position in the final after a season of sharing the shirt with Steve Cusick – 2 very similar players who were fully committed to the cause.  Fly half was my old mate Bill Roberts who had a boot like a siege gun and a side step to make Phil Bennett jealous (we`ll not mention his tackling).  The centre partnership for the latter part of the season had been Paul Keep (James & Jonathan’s dad) and Mark Hollinson, who unfortunately pulled a hamstring a week before the final.  We took a gamble in bringing in young Nigel Griffiths to partner Keepy – we needn`t have worried, Griff was an outstanding centre and had a great game in the final.

 The back 3 was made up of club stalwart Phil Adshead and Graham Jennion on the wings, with the classy and understated Dave Close at fullback.  Up to the final, Graham had scored 36 tries in the season so far – the vast majority made by Dave Close with a combination of his beautifully timed runs into the line and his perfectly delivered passes to Graham, the grateful recipient on the wing. 

The season after, Graham went to Sale where he played with distinction for a number of seasons, culminating in representative honours with the North of England.  His 37 try haul that season is still a club record at Macclesfield.  Sadly, we lost Closey a few years later, but his classy play at full back for the Club and that team in particular, will be remembered by all who saw him play.

The bench (only allowed to be used in case of serious injury) comprised 2 very versatile players in Mark Bannister, who covered every position from 9 to 15, with the forwards cover being provided by Charlie Mitten, a hooker who was equally at home at prop or in the backrow – strong as an Ox and hard as nails!

I must admit feeling a tad nervous when we arrived at Priory Park, as we were presented with a tie by Chairman Pete Ord. A nice touch you may think, but it certainly put the pressure-on, as it had `Cheshire Plate 1982` emblazoned on the front! As we had done 6 years earlier, for the Colts Cup, we decided on a hearty lunch, stopping at the Bulls Head in Mottram for a pre-match-meal, on the way to Pownall Park, the home of Wilmslow RUFC to take on a Winnington Park side intent on avenging the 2 defeats that season, and putting the upstart Macclesfield back in their place.

Physios back then were unheard of at Macc. but Robbo used his Wilmslow contacts to ensure we had a rubdown before kick-off by securing the services of Wilmslow`s physio Ken Miller for the day.  That was the start of Ken`s 30+ year association with Macclesfield and there are hundreds of Macclesfield players who have benefitted from Ken`s magic hands – to say nothing of those thumbs in the calf muscle!

I have to admit the game sort of passed me by in terms of what happened – other than the hairs on the back of my neck standing-on-end as I led the team down the steps and into our first ever final, and the sheer joy when the final whistle blew, knowing we`d made history.  The following match report gives mention of a victory over Heaton Moor – a senior club back then who deigned to give us a fixture that season.  The fortunes of the 2 clubs went in different directions after the 1980`s culminating in a Macclesfield Veterans team convincingly beating Heaton Moor 1st XV in a `pool game` early in the 2000`s.

BLUES TRIUMPH IN CHESHIRE PLATE

It was black and white in the Macc Express victorious winners over Winnington Park
It was black and white in the Macc Express victorious winners over Winnington Park

Victory in Sunday`s Cheshire Plate final against Winnington Park was the crowning glory to a fabulous season for Macclesfield RUFC.  It was a match that will go down in the club`s history books, if not for it`s sparkling rugby, then certainly for the fact that it was the first time Macclesfield have won this trophy.  The nearest they have come before was when they won through to the semi final in 1977.

A step down from the Cheshire Cup it may be, but nevertheless, a deserved victory and the crowning glory to the season for a team who have already proved their worth by beating sides like Heaton Moor.

Wilmslow`s Pownall Park provided a neutral ground for a memorable occasion which attracted a crowd estimated to be more than 800.

EARLY PRESSURE DOES THE TRICK

The Blues tore into Winnington Park from the outset and had a commanding 15 point lead before half time.

It was a lead which Winnington could do little to reduce despite a late comeback in the final quarter of the game.

Anxious errors punctuated the early exchanges but it was Macclesfield who settled down first.  A casual Winnington pass was anticipated by Phil Adshead who raced 30 yards before moving the ball to Keep who scored in the corner.

Winnington had not recovered from the shock of that score when scrum half Craig Neild spotted hesitancy in their defence and charged down an attempted clearance to score a fine opportunist try under the posts. Graham Jennion added the conversion points.

Winnington re-marshalled their forces but Macclesfield now had their tails up and it came as no surprise when a sudden back movement, superbly finished off by Jennion gave a well deserved third try.  Bill Roberts rammed the difficult conversion between the posts.

Chris Gleave, the Winnington captain, re-vitalised the sagging morale of his side and set a fine example by bulldozing over for a try which was converted by Greenwood.

The close of the first half brought no addition to the scoreline but there were ominous signs that Winnington were still in the hunt.

They began the second half winning ball effectively but often the totally committed Macclesfield pack spoiled their possession and forced Winnington into needless penalties. It was from one such infringement that Jennion rocked Winnington further with a superbly struck penalty.

Macclesfield continued to harass their opponents into errors and from a fee kick quickly taken by Neild, Jennion appeared to put the result beyond doubt with a delicately floated drop goal.

The crowd now began to sense that the Cheshire Plate was on it`s way to Macclesfield but they didn`t expect a tremendous fightback by Winnington in the final quarter.

The Macclesfield defence was stretched on three or four occasions and Winnington scored 2 further tries.  However, the Priory Park side, with a combination of tremendous tackling and the cool head of Dave Close, held out until the final whistle and Macclesfield recorded a famous and ultimately convincing victory.

The forwards, particularly Smedley and skipper Harper worked hard against formidable opponents while the backs always stuck manfully to their task.

Phil Adshead, frequently a thorn in Winnington`s side, had a fine match, but perhaps the Macclesfield players will long remember the confidence created by Dave Close who was in magnificent form at full back.

MACCLESFIELD 22 WINNINGTON PARK 14

Captain Peter Harper being carried aloft with the Cheshire Plate
Captain Peter Harper being carried aloft with the Cheshire Plate

The team were engulfed by Macclesfield supporters after the final whistle and following a good soak in the bath, we did our best to drink the Club dry.  The congratulations from the committee (my Dad was President at the time, which meant the win even more special) were aplenty and we were even let off having to pay our £2.50 match fees; although I still had to collect all the shirts, shorts and socks and take them to the launderette next day!

Needless to say, we celebrated long into the night ending up if I recall at Ming Yings Chinese – for those of you who don`t recall, Ming`s was opposite where Pizza Express is now and was the only restaurant open late at night – and the only one that would allow a load of drunken rugby players in!

Although we had won a trophy for the club, Cheshire RFU saw it fit that they shouldn`t award medals or trophies to the players, so we wore our ties with pride and were presented with trophies the next season, courtesy of the management at Macclesfield RUFC.

Many of that team are still around Priory Park, supporting the club and sometimes reminiscing about that hot day back in 1982.

 


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