TO say that eyebrows were raised when Andy Halls was appointed club captain of Macclesfield Town on July 8 2016 is something of an understatement.
Aged 24 and by no means one of the more senior players in the dressing room, the selection of right-back Halls came from left-field so to speak and was the subject of much doubt from the National League club’s supporters.
Flash forward nine months and the surprising decision made by manager John Askey has been vindicated by the Silkmen and Halls performances over the 2016-17 season.
Being an almost ever-present in a team that mounted a play-off push for the majority of the campaign as well as captaining a magnificent FA Cup win away at League One side Walsall, Halls has clearly taken the responsibility of leading the team in his stride.
Most impressively, Halls debut season as skipper will end with the Silkmen playing under the arch of Wembley Stadium in the FA Trophy final on May 21.
That game will mark Macclesfield’s first appearance at the National Stadium in 21 years and the defender has led his side out in every round bar one to help Macc book their spot in the world-famous arena.
We take a look at the story of the season at the Moss Rose as Halls’ Silkmen prepare for that trip to Wembley.
Doubt outweighed support
Macclesfield manager John Askey’s decision to make Halls the third youngest skipper in the National League during the 2016-17 season was the subject of much debate on the Silkmen fans forum with most of the commenters questioning Halls’ credentials to lead out their side.
“I think there’s better suited players to be honest” said one doubter.
“Halls is the weak link in our team” professed another.
Only one Silkmen fan, posting under the account name of ‘Kendo Nagasaki’ believed this was the correct move and he defended his man vehemently.
“I think this is an inspired appointment”, he began.
“He’s vocal, intelligent and he’s a quality right-back who had his best spell at the club when John Askey gave him more responsibility”.
Nagasaki, if that is his real name, was drowned out however by the general consensus of fans that Halls was a liability and the decision to make him Macclesfield captain would probably be reversed in the coming months, how wrong they were.
“The youngest captain I’ve played under by far”
At the heart of the Silkmen midfield lies Danny Whitaker.
The ex-Oldham and Port Vale man is in his 16th season as a professional footballer and Halls is the youngest captain he’s played under.
We caught up with ‘Whits’ for his thoughts on how he sees the role of captaincy in the dressing room.
“For me personally I’ve never been a fan of having a young captain unless he’s a really special talent then you make exceptions for that kind of player” he said.
“I’d always rather him be in his late twenties at least simply because I want to look at my captain and say he never has a bad game or he never gives the ball away, always makes the right decisions and he’s been there and done it”.
“He’s not a bad captain (Halls) to be honest, I’d say he’s still got a lot to learn, but he’s definitely going in the direction and could easily play at a higher level”.
“For him to choose me was special”
With the Silkmen’s regular season completed but the trip to Wembley on the horison, we spoke to ‘Hallsy’ himself and started by asking how he felt to be appointed club captain so early in his professional career.
“It was a great moment for me because I know the likes of Pilks (George Pilkington) and Whits (Danny Whitaker) would be the easier option for the manager but for him to choose me was special and one of the main factors in me re-signing so early” he declared.
“Although I was 24 at the time I felt I was one of the most vocal players in the squad and I feel it has given me a lot more responsibility this year which I’ve really enjoyed”.
In spite of being named the club captain, Halls admitted he isn’t afraid to call on some of the more experienced professionals in the dressing room for advice from time to time.
“I have spoken to Pilks and Whits a lot this year for their opinion on things and at times when I can use their experiences to help”, he acknowledged.
“People like these two guys don’t need to be club captain to have such an influence on others as they do.
“You just have to look at their performances over the season to realise what qualities they have”.
— Macclesfield Town (@thesilkmen) March 19, 2017
Two-time winners of the FA Trophy, Macclesfield will take on relegated York City at the Wembley showpiece and Halls was in no doubt as to where the day will rank in his football career to date.
“Leading the lads out will definitely be the highlight of my career since my debut at 16”, he said.
“It’s a huge occasion for everyone involved and being captain with the chance to lift the trophy for the club is a huge honour and one I’m looking forward to”.
“Leading the lads out with definitely be the highlight of my career”
Andy Halls on captaining Macclesfield Town at Wembley.
Finally we asked Andy about his goals in the future both as captain of Macclesfield Town and more broadly as a professional footballer.
“I don’t really set myself long-term goals because I know how easy football careers can change” he confessed.
“I like to set myself smaller targets to reach in the season, one this year was to play every game which was quickly discontinued with the red card at Sutton (in late August)!
“When I was made captain last summer I thought about being the captain in a Macclesfield side that’s promoted back to the Football League.
“It might not quite be the promotion but I was hoping for, but winning the FA Trophy at Wembley I’m sure will taste just as nice”.
And so on May 21 the town of Macclesfield will make its descent toward the arches of Wembley Stadium.
Andy Halls will lead his side out onto the hallowed turf, and if you’d said that to a Macclesfield Town fan at the start of the season, chances are they wouldn’t believe you, unless of course you were speaking to a certain Kendo-Nagasaki.