Tis almost the season to be jolly, just not at Macclesfield Town. Thirty-five miles south of the shell of Bury FC and a splutter away from the riches of Manchester City and United, another swell of supporters feel they have been reduced to pawns, collateral damage as another rudderless club beset by off-field turbulence fumbles around in the dark, seemingly squeaking by week on week, trapped in a cycle of bad news. Be it unpaid wages, dates with the high court or the sobering stories of staff being unable to afford to fuel up cars to get to work and the Silkmen Supporters’ Trust (SST) setting up a hardship fund to help pay affected personnel, it is not a good look.
Players and non-playing staff have not been paid on time for the past 10 months, and a winding-up petition against the League Two club was adjourned for the seventh time in seven months on Wednesday. Cheshire police are reviewing a report in “relation to a financial matter”, which is understood to be alleged financial irregularities relating to pension contributions. Such is the mess, the owner, Amar Alkadhi, an Iraqi with business interests in the Middle East, notably oil, who acquired the club in 2003 alongside his brother Bashar, who resigned as a director six years ago, admits Macclesfield deserve to be punished by the EFL, who last week charged the club with misconduct for failing to pay their players on time, prompting an independent disciplinary panel; a points deduction is likely.
“We deserve to be sanctioned, because it [paying wages late] is not right,” Alkadhi tells the Guardian. “Of course I am worried [about possible EFL sanctions] but we hope that the mitigating circumstances will not make the sanctions huge because we feel we have done the utmost we can payment-wise and expenditure-wise, hiring the right people and speaking to the right authorities continuously. We have had complete transparency with all of the relevant authorities. We hope we do not get a big fine or a big punishment.”
Alkadhi says the reason for late payments is not a lack of funds but that a winding-up petition caused “banks to stop working” by freezing accounts. That explanation has not washed with staff. It was claimed by the club’s lawyers that the uncertainty of Brexit had also hindered cash flow. Alkadhi recognises supporters view such reasoning as “BS”. Asked on Wednesday whether the issue had been resolved, Alkadhi replied: “Today, both banks are working. Tomorrow, I don’t know – it’s literally been like that. It is no way to run any company. We tried to open a third bank account but because of all the negative publicity, the banks don’t want to know. I’m not blaming the bank. The bank problem is our fault because the bank problem came up because we had a winding-up order against us.”
Alkadhi, who communicates with supporters via WhatsApp and email, says he has apologised to the players in writing and personally. Asked whether Macclesfield’s employees can expect to be paid on time on Friday 29 November, Alkadhi says: “I hope so.”
Macclesfield have one of the smallest budgets in the Football League and among the lowest average gates. There is no chairman, no chief executive, no general manager, no commercial manager and no academy. Alkadhi, as the only stakeholder, the only director and the only board member, calls the shots but few are being fired. He lives in Ibiza and has not attended a game at Moss Rose this season. “I never wanted to be at the helm,” he says. “It’s a money-losing business so it does not serve me at all to spend time on getting things right here – it is much better to spend time on the companies that actually make money to subsidise the club, which I have been doing for 17 years.”
Apathetic supporters are fed up of the economic insecurity and austerity at the club. “People have agendas, people want me out, I understand,” Alkadhi says. “Every owner has an expiry date, whereby people want change.” The severity of the situation remains ambiguous but for players, staff and fans a bleak scenario has turned into an ordeal. For some players and staff, it has been hard to stump up rent or mortgage payments and others hold concerns over paying for childcare. Credit ratings have suffered and mental health has nosedived. Some suppliers have put the club on stop and Alkadhi acknowledges the stadium has fallen into disrepair.
A players’ strike this month resulted in a team of juniors losing to Kingstonian in the FA Cup, when ‘Amar Out’ placards were held aloft by both sets of supporters. Last week the EFL awarded £30,000 of prize money for participating in the Leasing.com Trophy to soothe pressures but in truth, the situation has been bleak for some time at a club haemorrhaging around £10,000 per week. Alkadhi acknowledges mistakes have been made – “when we went up [following promotion in 2018], we didn’t beef up our staff enough and we didn’t have a proper accounts [team]” – and says he has a ”very high-quality chairman” lined up for when the club is in a fitter state. “We want to clear all the mess before we throw him in and make him leave after six weeks,” he says. The accounts manager, Caroline Hall, is Alkadhi’s sister-in-law, and the kit man, Adam Smith, previously worked for Bury. As for Sol Campbell, the former manager who left in August, Alkadhi says his departure had nothing to do with unpaid wages.
Alkadhi met the entrepreneur Joe Sealey, a former West Ham trainee and son of the former Manchester United goalkeeper Les, and Sealey’s wife, Nicole, in London on Monday but he appears no closer to a sale. Asked whether he would still be the owner next week, Alkadhi replied: “Yes.” And next month? “No real buyer has come up. When I came to the club in 2003 I said I’m here for 10 years and 10 years only but no white knight has come through and we have had to carry on financing the club.”
The SST chairperson, Andy Worth, recently relinquished duties as the public address system announcer in protest at Alkadhi’s ownership. Another volunteer, Richard Pattrick, stepped away at the end of last season after 11 years of lending a hand. “I feel our club is at a real tipping point in our history,” says Worth. “We were founded in 1874. We have a real proud heritage and we are desperate not to lose it. It is absolutely heartbreaking.” The fear of having no club to support is palpable for many supporters. “People talk about Bolton or going the same way as Bury, but to me it is Hereford or Darlington, who went to the wall,” says Pattrick. “There is a poison pervading the club. We just all feel so impotent – that’s the main concern.”