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FOOTBALL'S FRONT LINES

Macclesfield had Sol — but the club needs a soldier to survive

Football's Front Lines: "The feeling around the club is probably the worst I've ever seen."

 

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The glitz and the glamour of the Premier League returned last weekend, bringing with it an army of disgruntled Man United fans upset with their summer transfer outlay.

Just the £160m was spent on squad reinforcements as the crisis club plunged to new depths.

At the other end of the spectrum, one League Two club is currently using park benches in its dugouts.

One match last season was reportedly even abandoned because too many floodlight bulbs had gone out.

Welcome to Macclesfield Town.

Moss Rose

PA:Press Association
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Moss Rose

At a time when Bury are on the brink of extinction, Bolton are in administration, and Coventry are homeless, Macclesfield’s story fits an all too familiar theme.

As I write this, news has broken that the club’s winding-up petition has been adjourned until September 11th.

Kicking off the second season of our Football’s Front Lines campaign, I went to Moss Rose to hear the story of The Silkmen (a nickname shortened to simply ‘The Men’ for the purpose of some chants) from those who know it best.

We’re back

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We’re back

“The feeling around the club is probably the worst I’ve ever seen,” Jonathan Barton, Macclesfield fan of 23 years and founder of the SilkChat podcast, told me.

Spirits should be high after the club salvaged an improbable relegation escape last season.

They finished the campaign with just two defeats in their final ten games having been seven points adrift at one stage and staring into Non-League abyss.

But for the fans, the football itself is a welcome, if brief, distraction from a growing sense of neglect off the field.

Vociferous home support

PA:Empics Sport
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Vociferous home support

“We’re positive when the game comes around, said Matt Todd, a volunteer at Moss Rose. “But outside of the 90 minutes there is a sense that something needs to change.”

“I don’t feel like there is a plan for how to take the club forward or a structure in place off the field.”

In the space of 12 months, John Askey – manager and club legend of 34 years – and chairman Mark Blower both departed.

Askey’s immediate successor Mark Yates lasted just four months while a new chairman is yet to be appointed.

Mark Yates didn’t last long at the helm

PA:Press Association
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Mark Yates didn’t last long at the helm

It all means controversial owner Amar Alkadhi, persona non grata in these parts, has even more authority over the day-to-day proceedings.

Alkadhi is accused of taking money out of a club that doesn’t make any money in the first place.

The players – much like with their regional counterparts at Bury and Bolton – have been forced to strike after monthly salaries were paid late over three times last season.

Sol Campbell himself didn’t hold back after going two months without payment at the back end of the campaign, claiming the players even deliberated boycotting games.

Genius or fortunate?

Times Newspapers Ltd
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Genius or fortunate?

In a revealing tell-all interview with talkSPORT back in May, he said: “I started crying after we stayed up.

“This job has taken so much out of me, emotionally and physically.

“There was no structure and absolutely no foundations in place when I came in. Behind the scenes it was non-stop drama.

“I’ve almost been like a psychologist as well as a football manager. I’ve had to guide these players and inspire them, but get inside their brains as well.

“It was my responsibility – I had to do all that by myself.”

Alkadhi passed the fit-and-proper-person test

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Alkadhi passed the fit-and-proper-person test

There is a lot of finger pointing regarding the culprit for Macc’s current plight, but the vast majority have taken aim at Alkadhi.

Campbell had hoped to take the squad away this summer, but was denied the funding.

Then plans to re-seed the home pitch came later than hoped, resulting in a chaotic pre-season where all fixtures were either played away or behind closed doors.

Moss Rose itself is a proper Football League ground falling apart and any efforts to renovate have come at the expense of fan culture.

For example, the development of new dugouts meant sacrificing a terraced space previously occupied by some of the club’s most loyal supporters.

Elsewhere an on-site bar named after former player Richard Butcher – who tragically died in 2013 from a heart condition – was forced to close just three days before the start of the season after years of disrepair.

Moss Rose needs some TLC

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Moss Rose needs some TLC

Many saw its closure as the perfect metaphor for the crumbling relationship between ownership and fanbase.

“From my point of view, fans have been left with nothing but questions with no answers,” Jonathan added.

“Nobody believes anything the owner says, he would be a great poker player.

“Askey brought back the community spirit again but unfortunately he didn’t see eye-to-eye with the powers that be.

“The immediate future isn’t bright. We have no chairman, no one trusts the owner, we’ve lost our bar, many fans lost where they were able to stand for so many years.

“No one knows if we have any money or not, why players weren’t being paid while we were still signing new players.”

“I don’t think there has ever been a bigger disconnect.”

Even the pints were sad

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Even the pints were sad

Now for Campbell, who despite salvaging the club’s Football League status, remained a divisive character at Moss Rose up until the point he ‘mutually parted ways’ after the initial publication of this piece.

Askew is a undisputed club icon while Danny Whitaker – who took caretaker charge before Campbell’s arrival – is another untouchable local lad, so following in their footsteps was always going to be a challenge.

But many Macc fans questioned Campbell’s motives at the club and couldn’t comprehend his often bizarre social media activity.

John Askey took the club back into the Football League

Getty Images - Getty
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John Askey took the club back into the Football League

“I’ll be honest, after seeing how we were last season, I felt we stayed up in spite of Campbell,” Jonathan professed.

“We had no form last season, we stayed up purely because Yeovil and Notts County were worse than us.”

“I hope he can sustain the early season form but he certainly hasn’t done himself any favours with the fans.

“I think he could certainly work on his skills towards the fans – he didn’t even come over and clap after our final home game of last season.”

While some supporters would genuinely consider trading their place in the Football League for a manger with more local attachment, others were more sympathetic of Campbell’s predicament.

Sol’s appointment caused a real stir

Reuters
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Sol’s appointment caused a real stir

Ellie Thomason, another Macc fan who works for the BBC, believed Campbell made the best of an unenviable situation.

“Sol was brought in to keep us in the league, not be our friends,” she said.

“You can’t blame him. He’s on next to no money and is at the start of his managerial career.

“He kept us in the league which nobody thought would ever happen. He has enough to worry about sorting results on the pitch with all the off-field problems.

“I think we all know under the current owner the Football League journey won’t last forever.

“Anyone who who says they’d rather be in Non-League with a more personable manager should be careful what they wish for!”

Will their good form continue this season?

PA:Empics Sport
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Will their good form continue this season?

Campbell may have been an acquired taste but Alkadhi is undoubtedly public enemy number one.

What most wish for is an owner who gets them, someone who prides transparency and honesty — someone the fans would have besides them in the trenches.

“I don’t expect someone to come in and splash the money around,” Matt added.

“I just want the club to be self sufficient, I want someone who cares and I want the club to be organised.”

Given the current climate in the lower echelons of English football, even that might be too much to ask.

Macclesfield may have steadied the ship on the field, but off it disarray lurks around every corner.

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