Macclesfield Town enjoyed a fairytale season, culminating in them winning the National League title, but it wouldn’t have been possible without the graft of veteran midfielder Danny Whitaker.
The 37-year-old talisman was a constant presence for the Silkmen, scoring eight goals in 45 appearances to steer the side to promotion.
And his hard work was rewarded at the National Game Awards in association with SCL, where he collected the Mark Harrod Player of the Year accolade at Stamford Bridge, as the achievements of another special year of non-league football were celebrated.
“It’s been a very special season,” he admitted on Wednesday night. “Just winning the league is special at the best of times, but to do it with my local club is just something incredible.
“The gaffer has put the team together to not just survive the league but to push for promotion, which we have achieved.”
To call it destiny seems appropriate; Whitaker turned professional with Macclesfield in 2001, making 200 appearances in five years before a move to Port Vale in 2006.
He spent two years with Vale before moving to Oldham Athletic in 2008 and then Chesterfield, with whom he won the League Two title in 2010-11.
But his return to Macclesfield Town in 2013 seemed inevitable, and helping them back to the Football League feels like he has completed a full circle.
“It was a sad day when we dropped out of the Football League. I wasn’t playing for the club at the time but it still hurt,” he said.
“When I came back, getting back was the aim and every season, I was just praying that I could play a part in helping the club do that.
“People say it’s never a good idea to come back but I knew it was the right decision.
“I’m a local lad and a fans’ favourite, and I got on well with the gaffer, so what we did this season just topped it off.
“For someone of my age, I shouldn’t be winning awards to be honest!
“This season has been one of those seasons I won’t forget – it’s fairytale stuff.”
SCL are one of the UK’s leading independent providers of education through sport for 16-18 year olds. SCL deliver Academy programmes across football, rugby and cricket, in partnership with more than 70 professional, private and grassroots sports clubs, foundations and community trusts. Find out more at www.wearescl.co.uk/education