After a six-year exile in the National League which nearly saw the club go under, Macclesfield Town were back. Back at home, back in the Football League.
The stage was set for a hero to mark the occasion, somebody to deliver with a touch of goalkeeping brilliance or perhaps a dose of attacking panache.
Instead, the star turn at Moss Rose on Saturday was a Canada goose landing on the pitch midway through the second half. It flew on to the field, outwitting the club’s ground staff before being taken away to a smattering of boos.
That was as good as the entertainment got for the 2,589 crowd. They marketed this game as the Return of The Macc, in a nod to Mark Morrison’s 1996 No 1 hit, but their comeback was more flopper than chart-topper.
After seeing their side sweep all before them last season, those who turned up — and the week before at Swindon — are in unfamiliar territory, having seen two defeats.
Macclesfield romped to the National League title last term with 92 points — and just one home defeat — with one of the smallest budgets. There was a need to be prudent, and the same constraints exist this season.
Times were tough during their years in the National League. Some players weren’t paid on time, and at one point the club attempted to raise cash by offering a member of the public the chance to play for the first team in a competitive fixture.
All the successful applicant needed was to be fit, aged between 18 and 35 and with a spare £20,000 in their back pocket. The offer was later withdrawn after it attracted negative publicity.
One man who has been present throughout the peaks and troughs is Danny Whitaker. A former Manchester United trainee, the 37-year-old midfielder and joint assistant manager has been round the block enough times to know that the Silkmen must rely on heart and hard work rather than financial extravagance to stay up.
‘We kind of thought of ourselves as little fish in a big pond last season,’ he says. ‘It’s the same this time around. There are a lot of big teams in our division with lots of cash to spend. We’ve come up with confidence from winning the league so we hope, with the boys we’ve kept on, that will continue.’
Whitaker’s durability — he played the full 90 minutes on Saturday and is nicknamed Benjamin Button — is useful at offering an insight into how Macclesfield have turned their fortunes round to get back to the Football League.
‘When I came back six seasons ago, the club was in an absolute mess, heavily in debt,’ he says. ‘There are people behind the scenes who have worked miracles to keep us going at times.
‘A lot of the time it was up in the air when we’d get paid. Each month it would be late by a week, then it was two weeks. It was a struggle when you have to go out and play with that hanging over you.’
The challenges of adjusting to a new league, however, may be slightly self-inflicted. A summer overhaul has seen manager John Askey head to League One Shrewsbury, ending his 25-year association with the club as a player and latterly as manager.
Mark Yates is his replacement, while 14 new summer arrivals — with some featuring on Saturday — mean that it may take a while before the Macc are a well-oiled League Two machine.
‘We always knew it was going to be a tough step up,’ said Yates after Grimsby had dominated much of the first-half proceedings, taking the lead through Jordan Cook’s 30-yard effort. ‘I believe we can handle this division. But we didn’t prove that to our supporters.’
Despite being a goal down, all hope was not lost for the hosts when the Mariners’ Mitch Rose was dismissed in the second half for a wild challenge.
Macclesfield began to gain the upper hand and would have drawn level were it not for two goal-line clearances.
The interruption of the goose put paid to that. Play was stopped and it took two minutes of comical chasing, a lot of flapping and a pair of sidestepped groundsmen to get the winged invader off the field before the match could resume.
Once it had, Macclesfield’s impetus soon dissipated and in the 90th minute Grimsby’s Charles Vernam struck with the hammer blow.
‘I’ve got a decent squad, but at the minute one or two of them are not convincing,’ added Yates. ‘We over-achieved last year, we’ve got to over-achieve again this year to get where we want to get to.’
He will hope they can, if simply to ensure the Return of the Macc doesn’t descend into a wild goose chase for survival.