Further Miserable Macclesfield Machinations

by | Dec 7, 2019

“Smiles all round in today’s session as the lads prepare for their next fixtures.” So said the Twitter timeline of Macclesfield Town FC, “the Silkmen,” at 2.07pm on Tuesday.

However, it could have been a timeline from a parallel universe. For this was retweeted from the “MTFC Youth Development Squad” twitter account. And these “lads” were the only Macc lads preparing for next fixtures, as the first team’s refusal to train triggered another tumultuous Macclesfield week, which culminated in tomorrow’s home League Two fixture with Crewe Alexandra being, as Crewe’s website wrote, “cancelled off.”

Yep. Another month, another late salary payment. Another week, another Insolvency and Companies Court hearing (and another adjournment). Another day, another bullshit excuse from club owner Amar Alkadhi. Another home game, another round of player and staff strike action.

For the TENTH time, and the third consecutive month of this not-yet-half-season, Amar failed to perform the most basic employer duty, paying his employees on time. And this, Silkmen barrister Sam Hodge ‘explained’ at an Insolvency and Companies Court hearing on Wednesday, was due to problems moving “large sums” of money from “a director’s account in Spain” (Amar lives in Ibiza). Problems which Amar has been “working hard to resolve as soon as possible,” or minor variants thereof, for two years, while players and staff struggle to pay bills timeously, and/or cover the attendant costs.

It says something dismal about national football media priorities that so many headlines about this hearing were variants on “Campbell wants Macclesfield wound-up over £182,000 debt.” In October, ex-England defender Sol Campbell “revealed” how he went as unpaid as other staff before “mutually” consenting, in August, to leave the club he managed for nine months and narrowly kept from relegation into the pages of the Non-League Paper. So, when Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) led the petition to wind-up Macclesfield Town Football Club Limited, Campbell joined them.

The Times newspaper’s Alyson Rudd wrote that Campbell was “touching wood” over “his outstanding salary” after “a deal” was “thrashed out via lawyers, ‘amicably,’ rather than in court.” He didn’t then know if Amar would “adhere to it.” He knows now. Thus, he had to follow players and Egerton Youth Club (where Macc trained when they trained at all) to court in search of his money.

HMRC said Macclesfield owed a “very large,” unspecified, amount of tax, after their dispute over a previous tax bill payment was ‘solved’ when Hodge revealed what everybody ‘knew,’ that it had “bounced back.” In an early show of Christmas spirit, presiding Judge Catherine Addy adjourned the case for two weeks, the eighth such adjournment, to give Macc time to clear the debts (ho-ho-ho). But she wanted a detailed, written explanation if “banking transaction problems” continued.

And when problems moving even larger sums of money re-emerged on Monday (assuming Macc’s tax bill is smaller than a monthly salary bill for 80+ employees), the players demanded payment by 6pm, or they would down tools/boots for the second month running. The Sun’s Alan Nixon broke the non-payment story on Twitter at 11.53 and said the “PFA and EFL could do with helping out here.” Amar told the BBC “that arrangements for payments to players had been made.” And they reported that “a further update” was “expected” from the club that afternoon. Neither arrangements nor update appeared, to no-one’s surprise.

Back in parallel universes, Macc’s website seemed to acknowledge the striking players’ determination. “Jak: We’re digging in,” ran a Tuesday headline, over a picture of “frustrated figure” Jak McCourt. However, the article was about Saturday’s home draw with Bradford City (Macc have drawn all three league games since striking in November, with McCourt’s penalty on Saturday their only league goal). His reference to the players “all putting a shift in” was already out-of-date when the article appeared. And the headline came from his assurance that “we’re all digging in deep to pull in the right direction.”

The direction they were pulling in, when their money failed to appear on Wednesday evening, was more strike action. A statement “issued on behalf of” the players and staff professed to “inform the EFL and Crewe” that Saturday’s game “won’t be taking place despite growing reports that it is ‘business as usual’” because “business as usual” meant “salaries have not been paid for last month.”

The players revealed that they hadn’t trained “as a squad” for a week because “we have no training ground.” They added that the game was off as “the emotional and mental well-being of the players,” which they have long-cited as an issue, “is currently rock bottom.” And they hoped “that our own fans, who have been tremendous, Crewe Alexandra fans” (1,200 of whom have reportedly bought tickets) “and the whole of the football community can understand this decision with it being such an important month for us all on and off the pitch.”

Crewe’s formal response was limited to a promise to “keep our supporters updated,” But the Cheshire Live website’s Peter Morse offered some oddly well-informed-looking speculation about Crewe appealing for three points, as they “will not simply accept that the fixture will be postponed and then rearranged.” Crewe “would,” Morse ‘speculated,’ “make the case that squeezing the game in as an extra midweek date could cause a fixture pile-up and unfairly jeopardise their bid for promotion.” (Crewe are third with only TWENTY-SEVEN games left, so that’s not at all presumptuous).

They “would likely to point to the precedent set” when Bolton Wanderers’ unpaid players “refused” to play Brentford in April and “Brentford were awarded three points.” And club chiefs who “feel (League Two’s) integrity will be compromised if they are forced into a free weekend” might “point out that Macclesfield are due to be without key midfielder Jay Harris this weekend due to suspension, but he would likely be available for a rescheduled fixture.” Because, yes, that’s what this is ALL about.

The EFL response, on Thursday, showed an understanding that was still, at best, not entire (“pathetic” might spring to more cynical minds). They would “meet the players to discuss the current situation, amid ongoing concerns” which they’ve known of for months. They declared, with all the courage of Boris Johnson when faced with an Andrew Neill interview request, that there were clearly “challenges to be overcome.” And they claimed they had “significant sympathy for the players and employees.”

But the reference to Amar’s search for “a sustainable longer-term solution to the on-going issues” only highlighted the EFL’s inactivity while these issues have on-gone. They stressed that Macc were still obliged “to deliver on the commitments it has made in private and public to the current issues.” And if Macc didn’t deliver, they’d be “liable,” under EFL regulation 31.2, to compensate Crewe “for any expenses actually incurred.” But the extent of these expenses, and how a club that can’t pay salaries or tax can be expected to pay them, wasn’t addressed.

Macclesfield were referred to an Independent Disciplinary Commission under EFL Regulation 63.7, a week less than a month ago. for “failing to pay its players on the applicable payment due dates.” Yet, disciplinarian though all this sounded, it only exposed the EFL’s lack of enforcement will, strategy or ability. The Commission meets “later this month.” But would it be so delayed had EFL salaries themselves been so delayed so often? And action against Amar currently seems to be treated as not within their purview.

Crewe boss David Artell gave his club’s website a mystifying view. Perhaps mindful that Alex might possibly maybe want three points from them for the “cancelled off” game, he declared the EFL “not to blame.” He was “sure” people would point to “the EFL’s fit and proper test” but immediately said “anyone could pass that if they have the funds in place and no criminal record,” which is one of many reasons FOR such “pointing,” especially as Amar having funds in the WRONG place is the issue.

“The punishment should be more severe (and) a bigger deterrent,” Artell said. But, no, not the EFL’s fault. “Let’s not forget that he funded a promotion out of the National League and there was no major issue then about him being fit and proper,” he added, “forgetting” the “major” issue of staff salaries being delayed that January. The website reference to “Bashar Alkadhi” was not his fault. And Macc’s problems do part-lie “at the feet of one man and his mismanagement.” But absolving the EFL? More honest, surely, just to say “please, please, EFL, can we have three points, pretty please?”

As ever in these cases, the search for integrity has by-passed football ‘authorities’ and led directly to fans. Macc may have the EFL’s smallest average gate. But the fanbase’s passion and sense of right and wrong is undiminished by that fact .

On November 12th, the Silkmen Supporters Trust (SST) announced a “hardship fund” to help players and staff, to which they donated £3,000. Within ten days the fund, managed by SST chair Andy Worth and finance officer John Abbott, passed £10,000. And on Thursday, the “Save MTFC” twitter timeline included a separate plea to “those currently in financial troubles” to “reach out to us ASAP” as “there is crowdfunded money available WHICH YOU DO NOT HAVE TO PAY BACK” (their emphasis). There were, they said, “no catches, nothing hidden.” It was “just money which we wish to donate to you.”

It was statement-akimbo when the Crewe match postponement was confirmed. Macclesfield’s effort was clearly not drafted by Amar, whose “club statements” last season were often spiteful. Instead, it expressed “great sadness” at events and expressed “players and staff” hopes for fans’ “incredible support going forward” because “we need this now more than ever and appreciate it more than you will ever know.”

The EFL’s response, having met the players’ PFA reps, was…the same old s**t. Offering worthless, even if genuine, sympathy. Trumpeting what little they had done (“continuing to offer appropriate support to players via the PFA and to staff through our partnership with mental health charity Mind”) and promising verbosely to “continue to work on assisting in attempting to secure an appropriate resolution to the overall challenge facing the Club,” in an effort to mask how ineffective such “assisting in attempting” has been.

And the SST…let emotional rip. Reporting that the hardship fund had passed £11,000 and had already assisted “a number of staff,” they warned that “we may be helping significantly more staff in the near future” and urged “as many people as possible to continue providing funds.”

They said “an overwhelming majority” of fans backed the strike (Amar hasn’t even tried claiming otherwise), paying tribute to “the amazing playing and non-playing staff, who are obviously facing considerable hardship” while bearing “the human financial cost of this tragic situation.” And, unwittingly echoing Artell, they laid the blame “squarely at the feet” of Amar, questioning whether he “really cares” about Macc’s problems and citing a “rudderless and professionally unsustainable” outfit under Amar’s sole directorship.

But they reserved especial vitriol for the EFL: “We don’t understand their apparent impotence when facing a similar scenario to that which has stricken other north-west football clubs including Blackpool, Bolton and Bury. And still they do not appear to want to or be able to act against seemingly irresponsible owners of football clubs in a timely or efficient manner.”

Until this week, the supporters’ response to the crisis has been heartfelt but piecemeal. However, events have forced a greater protest co-ordination. Enough, as “Save MTFC’s” tagline says, is enough. Enough of Amar’s incompetence and excuses for same. And enough of the EFL looking but not being busy, boasting of “utilising central payments” more times than actually “utilising” them to cover a member club owner’s failure to meet contractual obligations, while punishing the club for every missed obligation.

Amar Alkadhi stands condemned for his stewardship of Macclesfield Town FC. But the EFL could, and should, have brought this crisis to this head MONTHS ago, and they stand condemned too.