Macclesfield Town have found themselves in hot water over their new stand. Mike Whalley reports

The News of the World didn’t foresee what a traumatic time lay ahead for Macclesfield Town when tipping them to win League Two at the start of the season. But then not even the most pessimistic fan foresaw the financial penalty that has threatened the club’s existence. 

Six days before Christmas, the Silkmen were found guilty of four breaches of Football Association rules relating to the construction of the McAlpine Stand at the Moss Rose between 2000 and 2002. The club were expecting some sort of fine, as they pleaded guilty to two charges. What they weren’t expecting was the size of the punishment – £300,000 in fines and compensation, which is more than 20 per cent of their annual turnover. Oh, and they had six weeks to pay. It’s a warning to any club applying for Football Foundation grant funding to carry out ground improvements – double-check the rules and stick to them.

Macclesfield made a gross error of judgment. The foundation’s rules forbid clubs to receive more than 80 per cent of the total funding for any construction project, but, helped by some creative accounting, the Silkmen’s grant ended up paying the entire cost of the stand.

The club have been ordered to pay £195,000 back to the Football Foundation, plus £62,000 in fines, as well as the FA’s costs, by January 31. If they don’t, Macc face insolvency. At the very least, that would mean going into administration and losing ten points, which would drop an already struggling team deep into relegation trouble. At worst, the club could fold.

Macc had already embarked on a series of cost-cutting measures in the months leading up to the FA hearing; long-serving chief executive Colin Garlick was made redundant last summer and popular assistant manager John Askey is one of several employees who have been given their notice. None the less, the size of the fine has knocked everyone sideways.

So what chance is there of survival for a club with an average attendance of under 2,000, the lowest in the League? Every chance, if the fans have their way. More than 250 attended a meeting at the Moss Rose just before Christmas to discuss fund-raising ideas. A bucket collection at the home derby with Stockport on Boxing Day brought in around £2,500 and the club managed to raise £50,000 in ten days.

The bulk of that money has come from club owners Amar and Bashar Alkadhi, two London-based Iraqi telecoms entrepreneurs who funded Macclesfield’s surprise charge to the play-offs last season. The brothers have committed £30,000 to the rescue fund, but will not clear the whole fine, arguing that they should not have to pay for offences committed before they joined the board.

Indeed, none of the club’s directors were on the board when Macc applied for grant funding six years ago. So who is to blame? An official club statement merely points to “the alleged mistakes of a previous regime”. Many fans have taken this to be a reference to building company boss Eddie Furlong, who was chairman during the McAlpine Stand’s construction. But Furlong, who left the board in 2002, denied any malpractice or culpability in a detailed statement released to the local press just before Christmas.

The tragedy of this affair is that it could have been avoided if the club had checked the funding rules properly, as everyone involved appears to have acted out of a genuine desire to move Macclesfield forward off the pitch.

And while some have questioned whether Macc benefited unfairly by spending grant money they should not have had, the FA’s decision not to impose a points deduction suggests they were satisfied that the cash was not channelled into team improvements.

Perversely, the FA’s punishment has spurred the club on. Fans are pulling together to find the money – with one supporter collaring chairman Rob Bickerton during a family meal in a restaurant to make a donation – while the players responded by chalking up the Silkmen’s record Football League victory, thumping Stockport 6-0.

If Macclesfield come through this crisis, they still face a long-term battle to sustain a League club on such low attendances. But although the Silkmen have not been able to live up to pre-season promotion prediction, right now it would feel just as good if there is still a professional club in the town next season.

From WSC 228 February 2006. What was happening this month

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