A quarter of a century ago, Macclesfield Town lifted the GM Vauxhall Conference trophy for the first time and in doing so, arguably changed the narrative surrounding the club forevermore. In the second in a series of articles, we continue our look back at all the players who played their part in what was a remarkable achievement by featuring the reliable centre-back, Steve Payne.
As the 1994/95 season commenced, there was little doubt that The Silkmen were searching for a central defender to accompany skipper Neil Howarth.
In September 1994, we not only found the perfect side-kick for Neil - but also secured the services of someone who would go on to be one of the most illustrious defenders in our history.
His name of course, is Stephen Payne.
Steve progressed through the youth ranks at Huddersfield Town, before securing his first professional contract with The Terriors in July 1993.
He was well-regarded as an up-and-coming prospect and in September 1994, Sammy McIlroy lured him to the Moss Rose as part of a three-month loan deal.
Steve made his debut for the club on 17th September, during a one-all draw at newly-promoted Stevenage Borough.
He complimented the team perfectly and even from that first game, it was obvious that his partnership with Howarth had the potential to be a remarkable one.
Over the weeks and months that followed that partnership developed in a manner which exceeded all our expectations.
Steve proved himself to be an athletic and committed defender who feared no-one. Not only that, his ferocious strength in the tackle and exemplary heading ability quickly rendered him as a fans favourite and also one of the league's stand-out performers.
The nineteen-year-old would go on to make forty-seven appearances in all competitions for McIlroy's men during that historic season and hit the back of the net on one occasion.
That came on 10th December 1994 - when a rain-drenched Moss Rose welcomed Woking for a Vauxhall Conference fixture.
Yet it was no normal game, due to the fact that Sammy's team had previously registered nine consecutive league victories - with a tenth setting a Conference record.
Despite the conditions, Macc would make it a perfect ten with a 2 - 0 victory.
Payne opened the scoring in the 23rd minute with a clinical close-range strike and this was added to four minutes before the interval when Ian Monk converted an incredible solo effort.
It was no coincidence when Steve's loan move from Huddersfield was made permanent in December 1994, as he had already become a pivotal member of that very special side.
He went on to start every single league game from that point on and the consistency of his performances proved invaluable in our quest to lift the Vauxhall Conference title for the very first time.
In the years that followed, Steve played a fundamental role in our accession to the third tier of English football, in what proved to be a fairytale adventure under the former Manchester United and Northern Ireland midfielder.
He is still widely-regarded as one of the best central-defenders to have ever played here at the Moss Rose and his input into securing that memorable achievement twenty-five years ago will always be viewed with fondness by everyone here at Macclesfield Town.