Amar Out: The Alkadhis & Macclesfield Town
On November 14th, the Football League (EFL) charged Macclesfield Town with “misconduct” for “non-payment of wages” and “referred” the 145-year-old club “to a Disciplinary Commission for failure to pay its players on the applicable payment due dates.” This was “as a result of the information provided” by the club, although it has long-been “clear” from publicly-available information that the club has been run improperly. “Like other clubs before them, Macclesfield Town will survive,” David Conn wrote in the Guardian newspaper on 4th January… 2006. Because Macclesfield, the ‘Silkmen,’ have been here before.
The origins of the 2006 problems pre-dated the 2004 takeover by Iraqi Kurdish brothers Amar and Bashar Alkadhi. An FA disciplinary commission found Macclesfield guilty of improper conduct relating to a 2001 Football Stadia Improvement fund grant towards the costs of a new £1.5m stand at their Moss Rose stadium. And the club with the EFL’s smallest average home gates had to pay fines and compensation approaching £300,000 within weeks. However, in March, perhaps realising that they might get pennies-in-the-pound from an administration event, the FA extended the payment deadlines to December 2008.
Macclesfield said they would “emerge…stronger.” And in a 1st January 2009 article by the Guardian’s James Montague, Bashar said “we know what is going in, what is going out and where it’s headed. We are totally debt-free.” There were on-field reasons for this, though. Montague was previewing Macclesfield’s FA Cup third-round tie with Everton. And there was plentiful irony in players striking this month on FA Cup weekend as the Cup has regularly boosted Macclesfield’s finances.
Between 2002 and 2014, Macclesfield reached the third round six times and the fourth round once, with games including money-spinning visits to Chelsea, Bolton and Sheffield Wednesday. Yet finances remained parlous. Montague’s piece thus aged badly, although this wasn’t entirely his fault. Pieces about such games are invariably upbeat by desire and design. Hence the brothers being “beloved by their fans.” And Bashar suggesting that rich Middle Eastern benefactors should be “encouraged, not viewed with suspicion.”
The Alkadhis were not entirely “benefactors,” though. In 2006, then-chairman Rob Bickerton told Conn they were “genuine fans who support the club with interest-free loans,” but stressed that they wouldn’t “stump up £300,000 for breaches of rules before their time.” Montague “thought” they had invested “up to £4m.” But Bashar would “not mention any figures.” And Montague noted that “important as promotion is, the FA Cup is a godsend.”
Promotion’s importance was emphasised by Macclesfield’s 2012 relegation. By June 2013, the club was reportedly half-a-million in debt and administration loomed, despite four big FA Cup games in the previous 18 months. East Cheshire Council acquired the Moss Rose freehold for £285,000. But £90,000 more was needed by 30th June. Plans were afoot to make the club a “Community-Interest-Company” (CIC), with directors writing off all their loans. Amar would be one CIC director (Bashar resigned in October), alongside ex-club chair Mike Rance and ex-vice-chair Andy Scott.
Macclesfield’s needs continued, though. “£50,000” by 31st July and August. £150,000 by November. And in December, CIC plans were suspended, as these debts meant they were “unlikely to satisfy the regulator.” Another Cup run aided finances. But Macclesfield “missed out” on £144,000 for live coverage of the Sheffield Wednesday tie. And the money-spinning Hillsborough replay didn’t cover that shortfall.
Takeover talks began in January. Scott, a club “associate director,” reported “two or three tentative inquiries, one of which” (possibly his own) “looks quite promising.” Macclesfield “still owed some big creditors,” including HM Revenue and Customs, while players’ wages went unpaid at the season’s end. On 9th June, Scott and associate Mark Blower “satisfied the Conference” that their bid could “sustain the club.” But, on 11th June, Amar “elected” to pay all debts “to keep control.”
The protagonists’ public reaction was nauseatingly fawning. Scott insisted that “the most important thing is that the club is still alive and we need to be appreciative (of Amar for putting in) the funding to carry the club forward.” Amar told the Macclesfield Express: “Andy would have taken the club forward equally well. We’re still best friends.” And he insisted he hadn’t “had a change of heart. The Conference (told) me we had to have the takeover finished by (12th June) or we would be out of the league.”
However, this didn’t match Scott’s insistence that “we had the necessary funding” for a deal reportedly “waiting to be done.” And while Amar admitted “we overspent in the past,” and claimed the club was “over that” because “I’ve put in money personally to replace that money,” Mike Rance disputed Amar’s recall of his “errors of judgement over the last few years,” and, unsurprisingly, his recall of not controlling “unauthorised overspending by the volunteer chairman I put in charge”; Amar typically taking full responsibility AND none simultaneously.
Rance retorted: “The Alkadhis were very generous benefactors. But that came to an end in 2008. The financial support dried up, despite later promises to the contrary, and they relocated overseas. For the next three years we somehow made ends meet. Amar should recognise that without the enormous commitment of folk on the ground, when he became an absentee landlord, there would have been no club for the council to rescue last year or to fight for today.”
Although Rance’s assertion is backed by the limited financial data available, it isn’t clear what “money personally” Amar invested/loaned, as the club has “small company exemption” from issuing full accounts. The brothers got involved in March 2003 when they “ploughed £100,000 into the club” through £1 share purchases. This “secured” the club’s future “after a year of turmoil.” And, after being “a bit sceptical,” Macclesfield’s CEO Colin Garlick gushed that “once we met (them) we were very impressed. They are very nice guys and certainly not glory-hunters.”
By March 2004, they owned 49% of the club. And, after limits on individual 50%-plus shareholdings were scrapped, Amar became the “ultimate controlling party,” via “Ramy Limited,” a Guildford-based parent/holding company, which he 80% owned and whose only other director/employee was Bashar. That August, Amar told the Manchester Evening News they would invest “as much money as the club needs” and would “not get it into a poor state of financial health. We want to grow the club steadily and support whoever is leading the club.” But only debts/losses grew steadily.
The club’s 2004 accounts noted interest-free loans of £250,000 from Ramy. By 2007, Ramy had converted loans of £1.21m into shares. And in 2017 “long-term loans” of £1,841,425 were converted, “strengthening the net assets,” and Amar’s control, of the company; he became sole director in 2017 after the lower limit on directors was amended to…“not less than one.” The loans mattered. Macclesfield posted just one annual profit (2008) between 2004 and 2015, with cumulative losses of £3.73m, by which time Ramy “owed” Amar £3.72m. And financial problems intensified.
Macclesfield regained EFL status in 2018. But that January, a players’ group confronted club chairman Blower at Tytherington Golf Club demanding to know why their salaries were late. The club blamed “delayed receipt of budgeted monies from overseas” and said salaries would arrive on 5th February. Amar cited “technical issues with my bank,” which didn’t sound very technical: “A cash deficit was forecast,” so he agreed to transfer “new funds…to cover the shortfall.” But “put simply, I didn’t do my job properly.”
And last January, “some” salaries were late again and those affected sought help from the PFA union. “Two members of staff” were paid late, the club said, “and we are working hard to resolve this as soon as possible.” Nonetheless, February salaries were delayed, by issues “beyond the control of the club,” who could only “attempt to rectify most of those issues today and over the weekend.”
In March, Macclesfield completed their salary-delay hat-trick, which Amar addressed in an “open letter’ on the club website. “The most prominent” of “several factors” was “the postponement of the Exeter City match” on 12th March, which “clearly has a profound effect on a club of our size.” And he understated profoundly: “We should have been prepared for such an occurrence but we were not and that’s ultimately my fault.”
Everyone’s patience was wearing thin. Half of Amar’s “open letter” (the top half, natch) covered “anti-social behaviour by a minority of fans,” (i.e. fans protesting his self-confessed incompetence). And the letter ignored Macclesfield’s 20th March appearance in London’s High Court, to face a winding-up petition. They “settled some outstanding debts, agreed terms with another creditor” and were “given more time to settle their remaining bills.”
So, when April salaries were delayed, patience evaporated. Macclesfield avoided relegation on 4th May, after a home draw with Cambridge United. And the unpaid players issued a statement, endorsed by unpaid non-football staff, detailing their “extreme” disappointment and anger with how Macclesfield had “conducted itself throughout the last few months.”
It began plaintively: “As players we have not asked for, nor do we expect anything more than, our agreed salaries.” But they had “decided not to fulfil the Cambridge United fixture if we had not received our wages,” only relenting “due to the nature and importance of the game” and their sense of “duty to the loyal supporters who have continued to support us through good and bad.”
Their frustration leapt from a statement which was clearly from their own guts/hearts and not lawyers’ pens: “We have been told numerous times that we will be paid on a certain day to no prevail (sic)…and we have had numerous issues this season that we have had to put aside to focus on football. Now, we have no choice but to express our sincere concerns about when we will be expecting our April salary and how we will be paid throughout the off season.” Their concerns were soon substantiated.
The club announced that “outstanding monies” were “settled” after a 26th June High Court hearing. But they owed more than taxes alone. Egerton Youth Club, erstwhile Macclesfield training ground, returned them to court on 3rd July. And the day before, the players had posted an open letter which began: “Having exhausted all other options, we have been left with no alternative but to take action in order to gain payment of wages, for the last two months.” So, they took over Egerton’s winding-up petition.
After five consecutive late salary payments, players “still contracted” to Macclesfield had “no confidence” in being “paid on time, if at all.” They were “concerned” that club were signing new players while unable “to pay existing or former players what they are contractually owed.” And while re-thanking well-wishing supporters, their headline-grabbing finish was “well-wishes do not pay our mortgages or feed our children.”
The club responded dismally. They reported the petition “by six players…in relation to wage payments.” And while apologising “most sincerely to each one of them,” they “were disappointed” because some had “moved on to other clubs, whilst others did not appear for the club once.” And the EFL were “fully aware of our efforts to resolve the matter.”
The petition was settled on 14th August. And the club responded disgracefully, again. They said the petition was “thrown out.” The players, including Elliott Durrell who equalised against Cambridge, “decided to close down our 145-year-old club,” rather than “progress their concerns through the normal channels.” And they “did not fully appreciate the severity of their actions.”
These shameful, patronising claims were debunked by David Seligman, the players’ lawyer: “At no point did they want Macclesfield Town go out of existence, they just wanted what they were owed. They aren’t Premier League footballers, they are earning very modest salaries, living month-to-month, paying rent, for food, for their children, and they couldn’t afford it. I’m sure fans can sympathise. They probably can’t go three months without pay.”
Meanwhile, Macclesfield noted that “HMRC have taken over the petition” which, far from being “thrown out,” was “adjourned until 11th September.” And they claimed that “sufficient funds to clear this in full are available and the matter will be resolved before the hearing.” This was rubbish. The petition was re-adjourned until 23rd October, by which time, surprise, September salaries were late.
On October 3rd, Macclesfield’s unpaid said: “Saddened by the news of Bury and Bolton’s staff and players we feel the need to release this statement before we find ourselves in a similar situation.” They pleaded with the EFL “to help Macclesfield to not end up in the same position” as Bury. And, perhaps revealing new thoughts of strikes, they emphasised their commitment to “honouring our contracts.”
Macclesfield’s plight became national news, especially after ex-manager Sol Campbell said in a lengthy Times newspaper interview that he went months unpaid too. “I mentioned the problems to the owner, but it was to deaf ears or kicked into the long grass,” he revealed. “A deal has been thrashed out via lawyers, ‘amicably,’ rather than in court,” wrote interviewer Alyson Rudd, “but he does not know yet if Amar Alkadhi will adhere to it.
Back at the High Court on 23rd October, Macclesfield’s legal representative, barrister Niall McCulloch, claimed that “Brexit” was having “some impact” on the latest delay in the “international payments,” needed to facilitate salary payments. And he asked for (yet) more time to pay. Meanwhile, the BBC reported that two other creditors were claiming over £190,000 between them.
When October salaries were delayed, a players’ spokesman told Sky Sports News: “After contacting the EFL we once again feel extremely let down by them after they promised they’d look into it in more detail.” And he accused the EFL of not “realising how serious the matter was,” as “an email sent to them 15 days ago has had no response.”
A week later, the players struck and watched from the stands as a youth/loanee combination were hammered four-nil by Kingstonian in the FA Cup. When it was revealed that the players were uninsured and were advised “not to play or train,” even the EFL had to act. And on November 12th, the league announced an investigation “of further allegations by the players and the PFA” re “non-payment of wages.”
They claimed that they “secured” July and September salaries “through solidarity and basic award payments,” after “months” of “open and on-going dialogue” with the club, which hadn’t been “open” enough to include the victims. And they “understood” (absurdly late?) that “challenges with the banking process” had “delayed further payments”, a matter “the ownership of the Club must look to resolve at the earliest opportunity for the best interests of the players, staff, and supporters.” Two days later, formal disciplinary proceedings were announced.
On 13th November, desperate fans began organising a petition to remove Amar “as owner/majority shareholder.” This has attracted approximately 1,500 signatures and counting. Macclesfield “began the process of playing players and staff.” And, after the EFL released £30,000 to the club for fulfilling a Leasing.Com Trophy tie, enough October salaries were paid to avert further strikes.
November payday approaches, with no certainty over whether salaries do too. Elsewhere, HMRC’s winding-up petition has been adjourned again. Macclesfield say the £180,000 debt has been paid. HMRC says the payment hasn’t cleared. The case will be re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-considered on 4th December.
Hopes were briefly high that local businessman Joe Sealey would buy the club. But Amar stalled talks “amid a dispute over the provision of proof of funds.” And in an unexpectedly lengthy interview with the Guardian’s Ben Fisher, he all-but-said he was staying, as he was lining up a ”very high-quality chairman” for when Macclesfield is in a fitter state. “We want to clear all the mess before we throw him in and make him leave after six weeks,” he added (no women need apply, then?).
“No real buyer has come up. No white knight has come through,” he claimed, “and we have had to carry on financing the club.” Except HE hasn’t. Players and staff have reportedly reported him to Cheshire Police, claiming pension contributions deducted from salaries have not been paid into their pension schemes.
In January, the Silkmen Supporters Trust challenged Amar on financial accountability. He claimed “all financial data is publicly available” because “we publish our accounts and the parent company accounts publicly.” But both accounts are “abbreviated accounts” and “abbreviated” almost to the point of non-disclosure. And as “company law was changed a couple of years ago, so no AGM needs to be held,” Amar no longer holds them.
Given Macclesfield’s worsening position, this wilful shrinkage of scrutiny suits Amar just fine. And his persistent disregard for basics such as paying employees as contracted now far outweighs his and his brother’s early years of benefaction. Amar Alkadhi stands condemned as an unfit and improper football club owner. And the EFL stand condemned for their inability to see that LONG ago.
The Macclesfield supporters’ petition, “Amar Alkadhi to be removed as owner/majority shareholder of Macclesfield Town,” can be found here. At the time of writing, it’s just fifty signatures short of its target.
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