Return of the Macc
It’s been a long time since things were anything like normal. Football grounds have been empty for the vast majority of the last year and a half, with only a brief interlude last autumn when a very small number of fans were allowed into some non-league matches, but this weekend sees the return of crowds from the fifth tier of the non-league game down as those leagues kick off their seasons. And in the North West Counties League, a new club will be kicking off, trying to erase memories of the mismanagement which killed off its predecessor completely as it fell from the EFL back into the non-league game.
Macclesfield Town’s ascent to the Football League in the late 1990s was in its own way a strange sight to behold. This club felt like what a non-league football club should look like. They’d been the first ever champions of the Northern Premier League in 1969 and the first ever winners of the FA Trophy a year later, but they missed out on a place in the Alliance Premier League (now the National League) upon that league’s formation in 1979 because they were in the middle of a slump which saw them drop to the very bottom of the Northern Premier League.
It wasn’t until 1987 that they reached the GM Vauxhall Conference. They were harshly denied promotion after winning the Conference title in 1996 for ground grading reasons, even though just a couple of years earlier their Moss Rose ground had been hosting League football when Chester City ground-shared there while awaiting the completion of their all-new Deva Stadium. Undeterred, they won the league title again two years later, and this time the ground was ready. Macclesfield wasted no time by getting promoted straight into League One, but relegation back to League Two followed immediately and the club stayed there until relegation back into the Conference in 2012. Six years later, they were back as champions of the National League, but just over two years after this last title, on the 16th Sptember 2020, Macclesfield Town folded altogether over an unpaid tax debt of £188,000 and with total debts of almost £600,000, after repeated adjournments requested by the club led to nothing.
Macclesfield FC had been Town’s name until 1966, so it was no surprise that the new club formed took it too. Indeed, the whole formation came about very quickly. On the 13th October 2020, just four weeks after the winding up of the old club, the Official Receiver confirmed that the assets of Macclesfield Town had been sold to Macc Football Club Limited, owned by local businessman (and owner of 10th tier Stockport Town) Robert Smethurst, who owns a company called Pro Football Academy, a private youth academy with 41 sites around the country.
Smethurst hasn’t been shy with his money. A new artificial playing surface has been laid and the floodlights upgraded, with further improvements planned and others already started. Placed into the Premier Division of the North West Counties League, Danny Whitaker, who played more than 400 games for Town and who came out of contract to sign a year’s contract with them the day before they were liquidated, is their manager, and the team has experience elsewhere, too. Kieran Kennedy started his career at Motherwell, but also played for several English clubs, including AFC Fylde and… Macclesfield Town. Curtis Obeng made almost 100 appearances for Wrexham between 2009 and 2012, and has also played for Fleetwood Town, York City, Stevenage and Newport County.
Off the pitch, there seem to be no signs of discord. The Silkmen Trust, who had been exploring ways to save the club as it imploded at court, have swung behind the new club, and while the appointment of Robbie Savage as Director of Football might have been considered a bit of publicity and little more, he certainly seems to have been a lot more hands-on than many expected. Their placing at the fifth level of the non-league game may displease some. There are those who believe that phoenix clubs should be placed at the lowest available tier, and opposing clubs in the North West Counties League would be entitled to feel aggrieved by a club of this size landing in their division. There are no answers to these matters which will please everybody.
It is worth pointing out that, although the fate of Macclesfield Town was sealed during the pandemic, the timing wasn’t the cause of the club’s collapse. Macclesfield had been mismanaged for several years, a failure of senior management within the club and of oversight from the EFL. Insofar as the record books are concerned, the club is recorded as a non-league failure, but the last two years of this club’s existence were played out against a backdrop of red flags and warnings being sounded which largely seemed to go ignored.
But, while it’s a familiar trope to grumble about the EFL or the FA – and God knows there can be enough to gripe about, at times – perhaps it’s time for a little optimism, instead. There’s a crackle in the air, at the moment. Friendly matches are being welcomed with open arms by supporters who’ve been starved of live football for almost a year and a half. Macclesfield’s season league season starts in in four days with a home match against Burscough. The people of the town have a team to support this season, and that should be the most important thing of all, really.
They may well be bumps ahead in the roadmap of this season. We’re not as close to life returning to normal, as some people apparently believe they can force through will alone. The new football season, however, is a time for optimism. We haven’t seen our teams’ shortcomings up close and personal yet. We’ve forgotten about the annoying foghorn who always seems to be standing a few feet away from you, no matter where you are.
But we’ve also half-forgotten the thrill of drinking a pint of beer at one o’clock in the afternoon without the nagging concern that we should probably cut down on the daytime drinking. We have a vague recollection of that feeling of hope, dread and anticipation at it being ‘football day’. We’ve waited for this. The vast majority of us have obeyed the rules, and done what we could. A great many of us have lost loved ones, friends, and partners, but there are a good number of ordinary heroes out there, too, who’ve worked themselves to the bone and beyond for us. We deserve this new season, the feeling of a new day dawning that comes with the start of every new season. If we can’t wish everybody well at this time of the year, well, when can we?