Macclesfield Town: Plus ça Change

by | Oct 7, 2019

It’s only been a few weeks since one member of the EFL was expelled from the league whilst another hung by a thread before finally tying up its loose ends. It was a story that came to dominate media headlines, and the way in which it was presented, as an emotional tragedy which risks the cohesion of the community that the club in question represented, brought a lot of fine words about learning the lessons of the past and reforming in order to prevent anything like this from happening again from those in a position to do anything about it. ça change

A few weeks is all it has taken for nothing to be done by the EFL, and for the headlines to start again. The first “new” financial crisis of the 2019/20 season isn’t “new” at all, of course. Macclesfield Town have been out of their financial depth since their surprise National League title win two seasons ago, but last season managed to somehow cling onto their place in the Football League thanks, in no small part, to the managerial intervention of Sol Campbell. Campbell, who had been particularly vocal about the lack of opportunity that he had come across whilst trying to get a foothold on the managerial ladders, came up trumps at Macclesfield. Against a chaotic background and with one of the smallest wage budgets in the League to work with, his team scrambled its way to safety as Yeovil Town free-fell past them in a downward direction.

Familiar alarm bells, however, started to ring in the middle of August when Campbell left his position at Moss Rose. It turned out that tensions behind the scenes at the club had resurfaced pretty quickly after the elation of avoiding relegation had worn off. His departure was reported at the time as being “by mutual consent”, but this bland PR-speak said little about the truth behind the club’s summer.  Campbell himself, it was reported, hadn’t been paid for four months prior to his departure, whilst other concerns about the ability or desire of the clubs’s owners, Amar and Bashar Alkadhi, to fund the club to the level that Campbell might have expected for a professional club.

Such details as not being able to take players away on a mini pre-season camp and sometimes having to travel to matches on the day of the game might sound relatively inconsequential, but they all feed into a greater sense of Macclesfield Town being a club at which the usual trappings of professionalism are simply jettisoned if they become too expensive. Campbell, by all accounts, had thrown himself into the rustic nature of lower division football with considerable enthusiasm, but it’s not difficult to see how last season’s close shave with relegation could quickly start to feel like part of a cycle of struggle rather than the end of a chapter and the beginning of a new leaf.

His replacement, the former Ebbsfleet United manager Daryl McMahon, has found that the struggles at Moss Rose do indeed seem to be perpetual. Six former Macclesfield players issued a winding-up petition against the club in August which was later taken over by HM Revenue and Customs. The petition was adjourned on the 11th September and is due to be heard again on the 23rd October. It is the sixth time in six months that the club has found itself in court over unpaid debts, and at the end of last week it was confirmed that players and staff have again had to ask the EFL for help after they going unpaid.

This state of affairs is all the more noteworthy because of the time of year. Money coming into football clubs throughout a twelve month cycle do not tend to arrive equally, and August and September should really be time of year when all clubs should be on a reasonably stable financial footing, with season ticket money having come in and commercial money usually being paid throughout the summer months. The question is an entirely obvious one: if Macclesfield Town were in this pickle in August and with a history of leaving players unpaid, how were they ever going to get through the season without a repeat of last season’s failures? And some might add a supplementary question to this: Considering what happened to Bury just a few weeks ago, what was provided to the EFL to confirm that the club could continue within its structure as a going concern for the entirety of this season? Why on earth are they allowing clubs to start this season when they haven’t even paid their wages for last season?

On the pitch, at least Macclesfield’s start to the season has been as calamitous as it was last time around. At the time of writing, the team sits in sixteenth place in the League Two table and, whilst they’ve only won three of their first twelve league matches of the season, they’ve only lost four, so there’s little to indicate that the team is anywhere near being overwhelmed on the pitch at the moment, and Bury’s demise means only one relegation place at the end of this season, regardless of any other considerations. Macclesfield Town are currently nine places above bottom-placed Stevenage. On Friday, however, the public statement – which was signed by the  “Macclesfield Town players and staff” – laid bare the fact that surviving relegation at the end of last season has categorically not ended the cycle of financial incontinence which continues to threaten the club’s very existence:

We as players and staff at Macclesfield Town Football Club regret to inform that last season’s issues regarding payment of wages to ourselves and staff have reoccurred once again.

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 as there’s.

With not directly involving the EFL with last season’s non payment of wages, we are now pleading with EFL to help Macclesfield Town as a football club to not end up in the same position as what Bury Football Club have found themselves in.

As players and staff, we remain committed and professional to honour our contracts under these extremely difficult circumstances for ourselves and our families.

We’d like thank the fans for their continued support and backing this season so far.

It should be added, of course, that the players and staff of Macclesfield Town aren’t gilded millionaires upset at the fact that they’re running low on money to buy another ivory back-scratcher. These are ordinary working people with rent or mortgages and bills to pay. If Macclesfield Town can’t afford to pay their players in full and on time very month, they have no place even describing themselves as a “professional football club.” The rest of us, meanwhile, can only marvel at the fact that nothing seems to have been learned at this particular club. It appears clear that Macclesfield Town can only truly find their level once the current owners have gone from the club, but the likelihood of the EFL tightening its rules to ensure that those who work for their clubs seems as remote as ever.