Morecambe: Many Questions, No Answers 

So … how many owners does Morecambe FC really need? 

There’s a bit of a dog fight going on over the bones of the club at the moment. No one seems to know exactly who holds the majority of its shares. 

Club Chairman (still), Peter McGuigan says he sold them to Brazilian Qatari resident, Diego Lemos who may or may not have paid for them via a holding company, G50, set up for him by Graham Burnard of County Durham. 

Burnard claims Lemos has not paid for that service and has resigned as Director of the company, so in fact he, Burnard, is the de facto owner of Morecambe by default. He went to court last Friday to try to prove it, but the case was adjourned till the end of March.

Meanwhile, one Joseph Cala has rocked up at the seaside club claiming he is the new owner through buying it from G50. He proceeded to make himself busy around the Globe until warned by the FL that there were certain processes needed before he could do that, such as the undertaking of the Owners and Directors test. 

Cala seems to like the seaside. He had plans to own Pompey back in 2012, until a proper administrator stepped in there. He claims he wants to float the Shrimps on the American Stock Exchange alongside Manchester United. He said something similar about Pompey. Must have something to do with all those underwater casinos he still hasn’t built.

Whilst these chaps are laying their claims, the wages have gone unpaid and confusion reigns. They were finally paid by Qatari Abdulraham Al-Hashemi, associate of Lemos, who joined the board in October 2016 at the same time as Lemos but resigned on 21 December due to the chaos that has ensued. Al-Hashemi also  claims a financial stake in G50. 

Lemos himself went missing for a considerable period and has only just resurfaced to tell his tale. It seems he has alerted the Action Fraud department to Burnard’s claims to be de facto owner.

Morecambe are losing club directors at the same rate that they are gaining putative owners. Along with Al-Hashemi, local director Nigel Adams left the board apparently frustrated by the inability to get a straight answer from anyone about the state of the club’s finances. 

On 16 February Mark Dixon had also had enough and resigned his position as general manager and director of the club. Ironically Dixon had been suspended in October for questioning the business ethics of Diego Lemos and his associates.

However, Peter McGuigan remains on the board. McGuigan was the owner of the majority shareholding in the club that was sold to Lemos in September last year and full owner of PMG Leisure Ltd, also said to have been sold to Lemos. McGuigan remains tactfully quiet in public at the moment.

Fans of Morecambe seem not to be flattered by the attention they are attracting. The Shrimps Trust, so new it is still awaiting its FCA accreditation, has stated:

‘Ours has also been a friendly community-centred club with no grand illusions about itself and we’ve gained respect across the football world for the fun we have and the friends we’ve made. Those now dragging our club through the courts and the mud are making a mockery of that reputation. They need to understand that they can’t take our loyalty to Morecambe FC for granted.’

You have to ask, why all this fuss over Morecambe? A club with an average home attendance last season of around 1,500. The 2015 accounts filed at Companies House show a turnover of £2,307,153 with a loss of £829,832 on the year, almost twice the losses shown in the 2014 accounts. The strategic report filed with those accounts states;

‘The company has traded at a loss during the year and has been reliant on the support of the directors in providing loans to maintain the cash flow of the business.’

There are 11 outstanding charges on the club, 7 of which are held by directors and ex-directors.

Morecambe does not own its ground but does hold a long term lease on the Globe Stadium’s footprint. That land is covenanted by the Morecambe council’s responsibility to the Christie Trust and can only be used ‘for the playing of association football.’

The Shrimps Trust has published the details of the land division at the Globe. What can be seen on the plan is land to the North of the stadium which is owned by PMG Leisure Ltd. PMG was owned by Morecambe Chair, Peter McGuigan. It contains the club’s 3G training pitches and community block. McGuigan says the company is now owned by Diego Lemos, having been sold to him in September as part of the deal for the club. PMG Leisure was put into administration on 20 December 2016. A check at Companies House shows two recent charges payable to Barclay’s Bank, dated February 2016, just one month before the club and PMG were put up for sale. 

So, we come to the question, given this parlous state of financial affairs, why so much interest in owning Morecambe FC who currently sit 15th in League 2?

Those claiming interest in the club have had football dealings in the past.  Joseph Cala has been documented on this site before, reporting the difficulties he had with Salernitana in Italy’s Serie C, which Cala owned for part of February 2012. The club suffered financial collapse after he failed to pay the wages and had his ownership revoked. 

Since then he has ventured back into Italian Football, managing to last a few weeks as owner of Calcio Leccio in 2013 after which he was demanding 100 thousand euros to leave the club. With Cala on this Italian adventure was Michael Williams who could be the same person advising him on his Morecambe bid. Mr Williams keeps up a useful stream of information about the proceedings on Twitter. Williams’ LinkedIn also shows that he has been employed in the football agency world. 

However, it would be interesting to know how Mr Cala intends to finance his deal, the well-known Cala Corporation currently shows as not trading, with stock quoted at $0,00 and has recently had its registration with the American Securities and Exchange Commission revoked (a regulatory organisation like the FCA) for not filing company details. The Commission’s report on Cala Corp for the year end 2013 shows the Company in default of court fines and legal liabilities to the tune of  $321,667. These were accrued when Cala Corp was taken to court by creditors. The Company has made no filing since that date. 

If Cala Corp intends to take control of Morecambe FC Ltd, the Football League might want to take a close look at its standing in America as part of their Owners and Directors Testing.

However, it still remains to be clarified as to whether Cala has actually bought Morecambe from G50. Before that can be done, the issue of who, within G50, actually has the power to sell their Morecambe FC shares has to be settled. 

Graham Burnard says there is not any immediate prospect of a sale of Morecambe shares. Conversely, Williams, on Twitter, claims that the heads of agreement were signed with Mr Cala and witnessed by Mr Burnard and Al-Hashemi and their lawyer Mr Brooke. Mr Cala, it seems, is not willing to walk away, despite inferences that the contract had been revoked. In a press release yesterday, posted on Twitter by his agent, Michael Di Stefano, Joseph Cala said he was seeking legal advice on the matter.

Burnard has had some experience of the difficulties of the football business, having been chair of beleaguered Northern League club, Bedlington Terriers in 2005. He left that club before they were liquidated in 2006. His sportswear company Logitog was the main sponsor of the club.

Lemos remains on the Morecambe board as things stand. He claims he has never resigned from G50, despite this being shown as the case at Companies House. He and Peter McGuigan both still show as directors of PMG Ltd. The administration of PMG seems to have been brought about by the non-payment of PMG Leisure’s creditors by Mr Lemos. Charge holders for PMG Leisure are Barclay’s and the Co-op Banks. Lemos claims he found ‘some things we were not expecting,’ once he had taken over the businesses.

Al-Hashemi joined Morecambe FC along with Lemos, and seems to have been the only member of the new cohort of owners prepared to part with any money in order to keep the club afloat.

Lemos and Al-Hashemi have been advised in this venture by Peter Harrison, the agent struck off by the FA in 2012 and bankrupted, due to a debt owed to Sam Allerdyce, after missing out on the Andy Carroll transfer to Liverpool. He was allegedly involved with the difficulties at Olympic Charleroi when the Belgian club became insolvent. He is well known as the agent who blew the whistle on the bung culture in the infamous 2006 Panorama programme.

At the time of writing, Morecambe fans have just been made aware of yet another name entering the ring, Geoff Hogg, a successful property business entrepreneur from Middlesbrough, has shown interest in taking the club over. Lemos is said to be keen on the deal, but nothing can be done to further it until the real current owner of the club is identified.

All-in-all an interesting circus seems to have taken up residence in Morecambe currently. Whether club will end up with a worthy custodian remains to be seen, but I don’t recommend the holding of breath.

Article based on data researched by Veqias, written by S J Maskell with additional input from John Lish. Veqias is a new project which aims to provide an information and analysis service for the football community. Veqias is a current participant in the Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme.