As good as it got

wsc301 Macclesfield were in financial disarray when they entered the Football League, but they still managed to win a second consecutive promotion, writes Michael Whalley

Just getting to the starting line was an achievement. One week before their first season in the Football League began, Macclesfield Town received a High Court writ from the creditors of their late chairman's business demanding more than £500,000. This is not generally how promotion seasons begin. Yet nine months later, Macc went up from Division Three at the first attempt. As cheesy as it might sound now, there were times during the 1997-98 season when it seemed as if the motto on Efe Sodje's bandana – "Against All Odds" – could have applied to the club.

Ian Plenderleith gets the feeling all the best goals have already been scored and all the best songs have already been written

When you hit middle age, it’s almost impossible not to fall into the trap of yearning for the days when things were different. Not necessarily better, just different. When nearly every house had just one telephone and one TV. When you played football in the same field every day with the other kids in the village using cowpats for goalposts (really). When a new album by the Jam was not just a new album by the Jam, but a significant event in your life that you looked forward to for weeks in advance. When a live football match on television was something very special that happened no more than a handful of times per year.

While the big clubs claim conspiracy, Matthew Barker believes that Verona don't receive enough credit for a famous title in the 1980s

The popular back story to Hellas Verona's one and only Championship win, in 1985, tends to focus on the introduction of a new public balloting system for the selection of referees. Claims had been repeatedly made that the bigger clubs would block the use of certain unfavoured match officials. Juventus had just won two controversial scudetti in a row. Surely, the argument goes, it was no coincidence that the one season when referee selection was kept in check, a smaller team were able to take the top prize?

With talk surrounding a Great Britain football team played down ahead of the 2012 Olympics, Neil Andrews looks into the history of a Great Britain team

In a little over 18 months time Team Great Britain will end a partly self-imposed exile of 40 years to begin their first quest for an Olympic football medal since the summer of 1972. However, far from being comprised of the best footballing talent available from every corner of the kingdom, the British team will be made up almost entirely from the England Under-21 side, with a couple of over-age players as permitted by the International Olympic Committee. Because despite sketchy reassurances from FIFA president Sepp Blatter, the associations of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have decided to swerve an invitation from Lord Coe to take part, in order to protect their status as independent nations.

Thirty years ago this month Mossley AFC went to Wembley. Drew Whitworth remembers the club's greatest day and the story of a once-formidable Northern Premier League side on a very personal level

Between Oldham and Stockport, where the huge Greater Manchester conurbation breaks against the rocks and moors of the Pennines, there lies Tameside. This metropolitan borough has no historical centre, being a collection of old mill towns of which few people have ever heard. In football terms it is a backwater, without representation above the Conference North.

Winning the Welsh Cup was an achievement but a run in Europe was how a now-defunct team from Llandudno Junction made history. Owen Amos remembers Borough FC's outing in the 1963 Cup-Winners Cup

The first Welsh club to win a European tie wasn’t Cardiff, Swansea or even Wrexham. It was Borough United, in the 1963-64 European Cup-Winners Cup. The Welsh Cup winners entered the Cup-Winners Cup every year, bar the first tournament, in 1960-61, when only ten teams entered. In 1961 Swansea Town (they became City in 1970) were beaten by East Germany’s Motor Jena. The year after Bangor City were beaten by Napoli, despite winning the first leg 2-0. Then came Borough.

Despite three play-off semi-final defeats on the trot, the early 1990s were heady times for Merseyside's third team. Karl Sturgeon recalls

“Tranmere,” Johnny King once said, “will never be able to compete with Liverpool and Everton. They’re big liners like the Queen Mary, but I see Tranmere like a deadly submarine.”

Nobody expected Walsall to scale the heights that they reached in 1998-99. Tom Lines remembers an amazing season

The winner of the 1999 LMA Manager of the Year award wasn’t a huge surprise. Alex Ferguson (the knighthood would follow a few months later) had just led Manchester United to an unprecedented treble, after all. What was remarkable was that Fergie was given a run for his money in the voting by an unassuming 51-year-old enjoying his first season as a manager. That Ray Graydon’s Walsall side had just finished runners-up in Division Two gave his status as the country’s second-best manager a certain symmetry. But given Fergie’s achievements, the fact that Graydon received any votes at all says much about the incredible job that he and his players did that season.

Leicester’s tussles with Atlético Madrid left fans simmering at injustice but, as Saul Pope recalls, these were heady days

Eleven years ago their fans would have never accepted it, but Leicester City’s UEFA Cup first round tie against Atlético Madrid in September 1997 will probably be as good as it gets. Leicester didn’t win the game, but for a time they were leading thanks to a player once described by the club fanzine The Fox as looking “knackered whenever he ran on to a football field”.

Jonathan Paxton recalls how an almost famous season for Stoke was ruined by manager and star player falling out

“All teams have their era,” my Grandad often tells me. “It’s just that Stoke’s came between 1939 and 1945.” Most biographies of Adolf Hitler focus on stronger crimes against humanity ahead of denying Stoke City their chance of winning silverware but few in the Potteries would argue that the club’s golden generation lost their best years to the war. In 1938-39 the team managed by former player Bob McGrory finished seventh playing some of the finest football in the country. Freddie Steele scored 26 goals at centre-forward, centre-half Neil Franklin was just out of the youth team and, on the right wing, the Potters had Hanley-born England superstar Stanley Matthews who made his debut aged 17 in 1932. Fans were rightly optimistic.

Sign up to the WSC Weekly Howl - a small portion of despair and enlightenment delivered to your inbox every Friday