My reaction upon being asked to contribute to the Mark Nisbet testimonial programme? Delighted.
My reaction upon being asked not to dwell on THAT team, season and career-defining goal from 1st May 2007, covered in detail elsewhere in the programme? Not so delighted!
Like another goal that is writ large in Magpies folklore – 'Royals rocked by Connor strike' – it is not so much the quality of the King's Lynn effort, nor the importance of the game, that makes it so special, more so that the scorer was such an unlikely source. Mark Nisbet – like Brian Connor before him – had many playing attributes, but a penchant for the spectacular wasn't one of them!
Nis made over 300 appearances for the club and so it was rather embarrassing that I struggled, initially, to think of many other stand out on-field moments. But then it was pointed out to me, by another Magpies fan, that the best defenders are often the ones you rarely notice. The same goes for captains. Rather sound positional play than having to rely on a last ditch tackle to prevent a goal. Rather leading by example than having to rely on fist-pumping histrionics to rally the troops.
That's not to say Nis didn't have his showy moments, both on-pitch (donning the gloves, following an injury to Billy Lumley, in a 1-1 draw at Thurrock in 2011/12) and off (a pink shirt and tie combo worn, as an injured spectator, when we beat Bromley in April 2013 to secure Conference South status for another year) but, more often than not, 'Nisbet won countless headers as time wound down' – as I wrote on the blog following an opening day win over Sutton United in 2014 – typified his work as a Maidenhead player.
He was good, though, very good. I remember a heated post-match debate in October 2008 with a Hampton & Richmond Borough employee (a steward or groundsman?) over who was the better centre half: Nisbet or Dean Wells, their captain. Wells would go on to be included in the Conference Premier Team of the Year 2013/14 (during his time with Braintree Town), command a five-figure transfer fee, and play nearly 100 games for Stevenage in League Two. I wouldn't have swapped him, however, for Nis. For a time, before injuries took their toll, our skipper was as good as you got in the Conference South.
And 'Nisbet the man' is seemingly as impressive as 'Nisbet the player'. Two examples:
Basingstoke Town, April 2008. Post-match beers in the sunshine following Fancy Dresslemania VIII. Magpie supporters were on tenterhooks waiting for news as to whether star striker Manny Williams would re-sign for next season, with financial negotiations ongoing. "I've already signed," Nisbet told us. "Signed before checking how much I'm going to get paid!" Now, this may or may not have been true. But the fact that it wasn't dismissed outright, by those who were there, says a lot.
Dartford, March 2011. An away day for the ages. The photo of us, stood in front of the Union flag that day, remains the Go Mad or Stop Caring avatar on twitter. A lamentable Magpies performance, though, which wasn't uncommon at the time; we lost 3-0 and were flattered by the scoreline. Only three players came over, at the end, to acknowledge the vociferous – and highly commended by Dartford – travelling support. Ashley Nicholls and Bobby Behzadi were two. The other, of course, was Mark Nisbet.
Things such as this explain why, when Nis decided to leave York Road in search of more playing time, he went with everyone's very best wishes … even allowing for the fact that he was joining Slough Town! They're lucky to have him. And not only because you-know-who play in the same division!