THE LONG READ | HAS A SEASON EVER STARTED LATER?

Macclesfield Town
Posted:Fri 02 Oct 2020

So have we ever started a season later? Well, it depends.

You won’t be surprised to learn that this is certainly the latest we’ve started a league season. Previously our latest start was in 1892, when we didn’t start our Combination League campaign until September 24th. It was worth the wait though, as we beat Chester City 3-0 at The Racecourse!

However, there have been seasons which have started later than this: it’s just that you have to go a long way back to find them. Before we first joined league competition in 1890 we were only playing competitive games in the FA and Welsh Cups, and it wasn’t unusual to start a campaign surprisingly late in the year.

Generally our first competitive games were in September or October in those days. The latest we kicked off a season was in 1880, when we had to wait until November 13th to kick off our Welsh Cup run with a 2-0 win in Mold. It should be pointed out that friendlies were given more importance in those early days of football; fans of football in the 1880s and 90s wouldn’t have agreed with our modern definition of a competitive game.

Once we joined league football, our schedules took on a more regular pattern. Every league campaign before the First World War began in September, and every season after the conflict started in August. The latest start we had in the Football League was in 1981 when we kicked off at home to QPR in the Second Division on August 29th. It was also Mel Sutton (below)’s first match as manager and it started well when Ian Edwards opened the scoring. However, we lost 3-1, earned just one point from our first five matches, and never recovered as we suffered a long, doomed struggle against relegation.

Mel Sutton
There is one more recent example of a campaign which started late, but like this year, it came about in extreme circumstances. After the Second World War there was no way the Football League would be able to immediately resume: VJ Day was in mid-August 1945, after all, so there was little time to attempt to reintroduce the infrastructure needed for competitive matches.

Many grounds had been destroyed or damaged by bombing; the Wartime Leagues had only been made possible through a relaxation of registration rules which would have to be negotiated and reinstated; and most devastatingly, many players and fans had been killed, wounded or were still on military service.

However, it was possible to get the FA Cup started so we began our 1945-6 campaign with a cup tie against Crewe Alexandra on 17th November. It was no ordinary tie, as the competition embraced an exceptional format to allow clubs to make as much money as possible. All ties were played over two legs, so we achieved a unique feat in our history: we lost in the FA Cup, but went on to go through to the next round!

We were defeated 2-1 at Gresty Road, but bounced back to win the second leg 3-0 in front of a bumper crowd of 8,551.

Better was to come in the Second Round, as we faced Shrewsbury Town in a local derby. We won 1-0 at Gay Meadow and sealed our place in the third round by drawing 1-1 at The Racecourse in front of 11,566 football-starved fans, the first five-figure crowd to watch a competitive game at The Racecourse since 15,700 saw us beat Chester 3-2 in October 1938.

The crowds kept growing as 14,109 were tempted to watch us play at home in the first leg of the Third Round. The opponents were illustrious: Blackpool were top of Division One when the war halted the 1939-40 season, and would reach three FA Cup finals between 1948 and 1953. They featured the legendary Stan Mortensen making his competitive debut for them: he would be their top scorer for the next nine seasons.

In miserable misty conditions, both sides struggled to cope with a wet pitch, but Blackpool took the lead after 12 minutes, Mortensen hit the net soon afterwards, and the visitors ended up winning 4-1. Wrexham were spirited, but the Lancashire Evening Post suggested that we “lacked the speed and polish of their opponents.”

The second leg found Blackpool in less ruthless mood. Their worst crowd of the season reflected a lacklustre first hour, and Wrexham were the better side, hitting the bar and missing an open goal. However, the first division side’s class showed through in the end, and Jock Dodds hit a hat trick as they claimed another 4-1 win.

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