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09th Jan 2020

Welcome to Macclesfield Town, another sorry tale of an English football club on the brink

Simon Lloyd

“We kick above our weight – we’re under no illusions about that. We don’t expect miracles…”

The floodlights at Moss Rose haven’t worked properly in years. The pitch – through no fault of the groundsman – is heavy and worn, more suited to Sunday league than Football League. But as far as visual metaphors go, few things at this tired, old ground sum up the current plight of Macclesfield Town quite like the small portacabin which was once home to the supporters’ bar.

Named after the late Richard Butcher, a popular midfielder who passed away in 2011 aged just 29, ‘Butch’s Bar’ was a place where many of Macclesfield’s loyal fanbase would meet for a match day pie and a pint. Over time, the weather took its toll on the building. Despite the efforts of supporters to patch up its roof with sheets of tarpaulin, the club finally announced the bar would close last summer. Its derelict shell remains, a monument of neglect.

“It might seem like a small thing to an outsider, but it epitomises everything that’s going on here, how frustrating it is for us as fans,” says Andy Worth, chairman of the Silkmen Supporters’ Trust. “Our most vocal support are in London Road at the Star Lane End. There’s nothing for them now. They can’t get a drink before a game. It’s like we’ve been forgotten and don’t matter.

Worth, speaking ahead of the club’s first home game of 2020 against Cambridge United, is fully aware that there are far bigger things to worry about here, as another sorry tale of a rudderless English football club drifting towards oblivion plays out. 

An hour’s drive from Gigg Lane and the corpse of Bury FC, the sense that a similar fate awaits the Silkmen grows among supporters. Just as it was for Bury in those frantic final months before their expulsion from the Football League, Macclesfield are caught in a dizzying downward spiral of postponed matches, High Court summons and docked points. Players and staff have grown used to receiving their wage packets late. Consequently, some have struggled to keep up mortgage payments, had visits from bailiffs and, in one case, had to rely on an emergency fund to pay for petrol needed to get to work. 

Parallels with Bury are inevitable, even if the circumstances surrounding the two stricken clubs are different. “I don’t think it’s the same as Bury,” says Jon Smart, another member of the Silkmen Supporters’ Trust. “Their situation was that they had a number of players earning big money to enable them to get back up the Football League. We have affordable players and operate on a small budget, yet we might end up going the same way.”

This is at the heart of the fans’ frustrations. Nobody seems able to provide a thorough explanation of how or why the club are in such a precarious financial position. After a seven-year absence, Macclesfield returned to the Football League in 2018, their promotion from the National League under John Askey achieved despite running on the smallest budget in the division. It was a miraculous achievement, one that Worth likens to Leicester City’s Premier League triumph in 2016. Now, despite the increased revenue that League Two status brings, surviving in the Football League – perhaps surviving altogether – has become a week-to-week struggle.

Amar Alkadhi, the club’s Iraqi owner, bought the club in 2003. Based in Ibiza, he hasn’t visited Moss Rose this season, yet has been willing to speak to members of the Supporters’ Trust on the phone. Though his openness may seem encouraging, there is no clear roadmap for Macclesfield to navigate their way out of crisis

“Alkadhi’s probably got his own ideas as to what happens next, but who knows what they are?” says Smart. “We lurch from one crisis to the next.”

Days before the game with Cambridge, Daryl McMahon resigned from his position as manager, the latest in a long line of setbacks. McMahon reportedly opted to step down due to frustration over a lack of resources, immediately joining National League side Dagenham & Redbridge.

In the High Court, Sol Campbell, the man McMahon succeeded last summer, has claimed around £180,000 in unpaid wages. The club are due back in the High Court later this month after a winding-up petition was adjourned for the ninth time in December.

Added to all this, the club’s threadbare squad have no training ground. Instead, they train on the Moss Rose pitch.

“Danny, our groundsman, works as hard as anyone here, but what is he supposed to do with the pitch?” Worth says. “He doesn’t have the resources to begin with and now they’re training on it, too. You cannot run a football club professionally in the way it’s being run. It’s just not right.”

As the club teeters on the brink, Worth and Smart are part of a devoted core of supporters determined to be more than just passive bystanders. When wages failed to arrive on time in November, they established a crisis fund, allowing staff and players to loan money to help pay their bills until their wages arrived.

“Three people have used it so far, none of the players, but it is open to them and they know it’s there if things continue in this way,” adds Smart. “We just wanted staff to have some kind of security, a fund that would help them if they were short for their mortgages or utility bills.”

Bucket collections have taken place before games with donation pages also being set up online. The generosity of supporters – of Macclesfield and other clubs – has also helped the Supporters’ Trust fund training sessions for the team at facilities at Manchester Metropolitan University. Days after their fixture with Plymouth was suspended over ground safety concerns, the Trust donated £3,000 towards acquiring the relevant safety certificates to enable to Boxing Day fixture with Grimsby to go ahead.

By the time of the game with Grimsby, Macclesfield had already been deducted six points by the EFL with a further four suspended for their failure to pay staff on time and not fulfilling their fixture with Crewe. Even without further sanctions, their depleted team is likely to face a stern challenge to remain in the Football League as the season progresses. Should more players depart during the transfer window, that task will become all the more arduous.

For now, there is no indication Alkadhi will be selling the club in the immediate future. Hopes that a widely reported deal would be finalised with Joe Sealey, a local businessman and the son of former Manchester United goalkeeper Les Sealey, appear to have faded. Despite the best efforts of supporters and staff alike, the relentless stream of bad news shows no sign of slowing. 

“Effectively, we’re more like a pub football side than a professional League Two side,” says Worth. “That’s such a shame because it is such a lovely club and there’s some fantastic people here. 

“We kick above our weight – we’re under no illusions about that. We don’t expect miracles, we just want our players paid on time, the ground invested in, a little money invested for us, the supporters. These are things you should expect as a Football League club.”