IT HAS not been a good season for Macclesfield Town and the future remains very uncertain for a club that ranks among the smallest in the Football League. Just 35 miles away, Bury provides a reminder of what can happen to a club that loses its way and becomes the victim of financial mismanagement and owner dissatisfaction.
If nothing goes according to plan, Macclesfield may yet go the same way as Bury, although the club’s current owner, Amar Nouri Alkadhi, claims he is having “superior negotiations” with a potential buyer. That may well be Joe Sealey, the son of the late Coventry and Manchester United goalkeeper Les Sealey. Some fans are sceptical that discussions are taking place at all.
Macclesfield have just appointed their third manager of the season, Mark Kennedy, who follows former England central defender Sol Campbell and Daryl McMahon. Campbell took on the job as his first management role in the game, but left just a week or so into the 2019-20 season and was owed £ 180,000 by the club. McMahon left recently, fed-up with the club’s precarious financial situation and attracted by a job with non-league Dagenham & Redbridge. Kennedy made all the right noises when he took over: “What we want to do is for fans to be going home every week with points on the board and a smile on their face from us doing it the right way,” he said.
The Silkmen have been making the wrong sort of headlines all season, their players going on strike, wages not being paid on time, a points deduction and a winding-up petition that has now been postponed 10 times. Their court appearance will go ahead on March 25 – or will it? The most worrying aspect may be that Macclesfield owe the taxman money, and that rarely ends happily. You have to sympathise with the long-suffering fans, who remain passionate, albeit in smaller numbers than in the past.
Unsurprisingly, there is something of a gloomy atmosphere around the club, indeed the town. “Everyone is unhappy at Macclesfield. They don’t like the owner and people think the club will probably go under or have to reform,” said the taxi driver that took me to the Moss Rose ground. There’s an ominous sight when you arrive at the stadium, hoardings for a demolition company and a building site in front of the ground.
What is the future for clubs like Macclesfield Town. Would non-league football be more suitable?
Apparently, some fans have stayed away from the Moss Rose in protest. Certainly their crowds this season suggest people are probably voting with their feet. Sub-2,000 attendances are frequent (current average just over 2,000) which must be a big cashflow problem for the club, even though they have one of the smallest wage bills in the Football League (2018-19 average of £ 750 per week per player).
This is Macclesfield’s second season since they won promotion back to the Football League in 2017-18. Their first spell in the league was between 1997 and 2012. In their debut campaign, they were averaging almost 3,000 at the Moss Rose, but by the time they went down, they had lost more than 20% of their audience.
With 50,000 people in Macclesfield, an average gate of 2,000 represents a reasonable 4% of the local population, but there are many distractions for football followers – the club is surrounded by competition for fan affection: Manchester (20 miles), Liverpool (44), Stoke (22), Sheffield (36) and Derby (40), are all within range. Their gates are more in keeping with a lower step in the football pyramid.
Forest Green Rovers were the visitors on January 25, a club that also ranks among the poorest supported in League Two. They have been receiving a lot of publicity over the ideological and substainable way they run their organisation. As the first Vegan club in Britain (probably the world), they are certainly tapping into the mood of the moment. They were top of League Two recently, but before arriving at the Moss Rose, they had won just twice in 10 games and dropped to 9th in the table.
For a long time, Forest Green looked like they would leave Cheshire with all three points. They took a first half lead through Carl Winchester’s 25-yard low drive on 18 minutes and were in control until they missed an early second half penalty from Josh March, an excellent save from goalkeeper Jonathan Mitchell, recently signed on loan from Derby County.
With 16 minutes to go, Macclesfield finally gave their fans something to cheer about, Joe Ironside shooting home with a tame effort through a crowded area. But there was a setback in the 80th minute when they lost Corey O’Keeffe to a red card after he executed the perfect “professional foul” when March raced towards goal. Macclesfield kept going and the game was won in spectacular fashion by a superb left-footed volley by Arthur Gnahoua from 30 yards. A 2-1 win for Macclesfield, a result that looked very improbable earlier in the afternoon.
There were just 1,600 people at the game which did make you wonder what the outlook is for small clubs like Macclesfield. Would they be better off as a non-league outfit – are the odds just too great for them to be successful at Football League level? With the exception of the 1997-98 season, their first in the league when they won promotion at the first attempt, life hasn’t exactly been a bed of roses at the Moss Rose. What would Macc regulars really like to see – a successful team playing at a slightly lower level or a life as a perennial Football League struggler that cannot compete financially with many of its peers? It’s a tough and unpopular question to ask, but equally, a hard one to answer with the head rather than the heart of a devotee. It’s clear that Macclesfield Town have a few battles to fight in the coming weeks and months, with the biggest challenge undoubtedly coming from the courtroom. Those that cherish English football’s 92-club structure will wish them well.