Oldham owner Abdallah Lemsagam, right, welcomes Paul Scholes to the club
SHARP END CLUBS IN CRISIS
Alarm bells have been ringing at Oldham over the increasingly erratic behaviour of their owner as managers and players come and go, fortunes decline further on the pitch and a rancorous dispute over Boundary Park rumbles on.
Since the Dubai-based Moroccan businessman Abdallah Lemsagam acquired the club in 2018, the Latics have had six managers (including, briefly, Paul Scholes), been relegated to League Two, signed a number of players on excessive wages and frozen out others. Lemsagam, who had worked as an agent in France, arrived two seasons ago amid a certain amount of optimism: the previous owner Simon Corney had finally found an apparently wealthy buyer after 15 years at the helm. However, that the source and scope of Lemsagam’s wealth remained unclear meant scepticism was also necessary.
An influx of players, many French, followed, the wage bill doubled, but problems with non-payment of players and tax bills came to light in the summer of 2018 after the team’s relegation. The arbitrary treatment of players also came to light. First-teamers Ousmane Fané, Craig Davies, Jack Byrne and Anthony Gerrard all left following “disciplinary actions”. Former striker Davies, who departed in 2018, said: “In the 14 years I’ve been a professional footballer I’ve never worked for someone that thinks it’s acceptable to treat his staff and players in such a bad way.”
Some of the problems are the legacy of the financial issues of the late Corney era, and there has been some improvement in the balance sheet (although the latest full accounts are yet to be published), but fans see echoes, in the lack of transparency and stopstart interference in team and management affairs, of Francesco Becchetti’s catastrophic tenure at Leyton Orient.
The situation is complicated further by the management of Boundary Park, which is
currently owned by Brassbank Ltd, a company run by Simon Blitz and Danny Gazal, who were part of Corney’s takeover in 2004 but left nine years ago. A group calling itself the Fan-Led Group has been seeking to acquire the ground and club, arousing the hostility of Lemsagam. It took over management of the hospitality facilities in the North Stand (the Oldham Events Centre) and is in negotiations with Brassbank about buying the whole ground and developing its surrounding areas with a view to reuniting club and stadium ownership. The club responded by moving hospitality areas to other parts of the ground under a local provider, the Quirky Catering Company. The club cited rising costs charged by the FLG, which responded by offering to negotiate. Claim and counter-claim have been traded with increasing acrimony.
Although Lemsagam claims to own 97 per cent of the club (the supporters’ trust owns the other three per cent), the FLG says it has been approached by a third party with an offer to sell it a percentage of shares. Unsurprisingly, gates are down and protests on the up. In August a new action group, Push The Boundary, was established to ratchet up pressure for change.
Macclesfield’s future remains in the balance after the latest winding-up order against the League Two club was adjourned last month, amid fan discontent and more complaints from players about non-payment of wages. It was their sixth appearance at the High Court in six months.
The club have struggled with the step back up to the Football League ever since their promotion in 2018, with players going unpaid towards the end of last season and the problems continuing into the current campaign. In the circumstances the departure of Sol Campbell from the manager’s post in August, having kept Macclesfield up against the odds last term, was no surprise; the former England defender had also reportedly gone four months without payment.
Players now want the authorities to step in and issued a statement last month saying: “We are now pleading with EFL to help Macclesfield Town as a football club to not end up in the same position as what Bury have found themselves in.”
Debts were thought to be £73,000 in May, when the first adjourned petition was initially brought, on behalf of six unpaid former players. HM Revenue & Customs took over the petition from the High Court in August and continues to pursue Macclesfield’s tax debts. With the club’s owners, Amar and Bashar Alkadhi, either unwilling or unable to adequately fund the club, fans, inevitably, are casting around for alternatives and some are boycotting club merchandise. The latest adjournment was granted on the back of the club’s claim that they were “waiting for some international payments”, citing Brexit having “some impact”.
Campbell’s latest managerial destination, meanwhile, is Southend, who themselves saw off their latest winding-up order only last month. He’s nothing if not resolute.
Scenes from Football History