By Martin Bull
Like an old dog reaching the end of his life we knew the loss was going to happen but when the moment finally came it was still emotional.
Our own captain fantastic, Mark McChrystal, has sadly left the building.
Macca always unassumingly got on with business for Rovers, and never complained, even when times were getting tough and his 21 year old counterpart, Tom Parkes, was Captain. Ward’s excellent psychological experiment with Parksey worked, as the captaincy mellowed Tom’s card habit and improved his understanding of collective responsibility on the pitch, but once the experiment had proved itself the captaincy should have been transferred to the best leader on the pitch.
Darrell Clarke knew this and his first action as manager was to give the captaincy to Macca. Whilst the change couldn’t prevent the most shocking relegation in our history, sticking with it did ultimately lay the foundations of a double promotion.
It wasn’t all plain sailing though, as a poor start and the form of Neal Trotman kept Macca out of the Conference team until Trots’ unfortunate injury at AFC Telford United.
Macca came back in and what he lacked in pace he made up with positioning and experience, and despite not being a particularly big man himself, his expertise was man marking the sizeable strikers of the lower leagues. Just ask Jon Parkin, who spent two days living in his sweaty pocket during the Conference play-off games, and Adebayo ‘The Beast’ Akinfenwa, neither of whom scored against a Macca led Rovers.
When ensconced in the Conference I stop bothering to even tune in to ‘The Football League Show’, but something mysteriously drew me back one evening in January 2015, as if fate was willing me to witness the uproarious sight of ex-Rovers striker Matt Harrold donning a goalkeeping jersey for Crawley Town when Brian Jensen couldn’t continue.
The ginger ninja was apparently picked because he is somewhat lanky, rather than due to any previous experience, feline like cameos or scorpion kicks in training.
The fact that MK Dons put two past him to salvage a draw, and that 2-2 was considered worthy of a MOTM award for ‘the cat‘, put Macca’s clean sheet for Rovers against Wrexham a month previously, when Steve Mildenhall was injured after only 42 minutes, into startling perspective.
There can’t be many Rovers players who can boast a perfect record as a goalie and for their sole goal to be bagged at Ashton Gate!
Seeing a grown man hurriedly pulling on a padded jersey three sizes too big for him, then forget the gloves, whilst trying to look professional in a job he’s most probably never done before is one of the rare joys of being a football supporter, but one that had been getting rarer each year since the 1993/94 season, when three subs were first allowed and goalies regularly featured on benches.
What Rovers fan of a certain age can ever forget David Mehew temporarily going in goal at Trashton on New Years Day 1987 to replace Timmy Carter for about 15 minutes whilst he recovered from the battering of shots that had rained down on him from a dominant Robins side. Over 17,000 hung over souls could hardly believe their bleary eyes when a last minute sucker punch from Gary Smart won the game for the brave boys in blue.
Bob Bloomer, hardly blessed with the stature of a Nigel Martyn, deserves a special mention for going in goal when Brian Parkin was injured in January 1991, and when Mr.Glum was sent off against Brighton two months later it was Ian Alexander’s turn to go between the sticks. Jocky’s first touch was to miraculously save the resulting penalty from John Byrne, and no-one of course now remembers, nor cares, that we lost 3-1.
The emergency keeper moment summed up that for Macca being captain was more than just the right to wear an armband, it was a state of permanent existence which carried with it the responsibility of being a role model and a spokesman. Macca was the first player to front up after the Mansfield match and was also an admired figure in the dressing room.
The ultimate memory of Macca will surely be him falling to his knees at Wembley as Lee Mansell’s penalty went in. Everyone else ran to wildly celebrate with Manse but for the lonely Macca 30,000+ Gasheads singing ‘Goodnight Irene’ was a redemption song; he had led us back to the promised land.
Farewell Macca me old mucker. You’ll always be heartily welcomed back.