John McCormick writes: I was thinking of updating our “Relegation watch” this weekend, seeing as there’s no football on, but with a couple of days to go before the transfer window shuts it feels like it’s too early to complete the “before and after” picture. I could have given you my view of Deloitte’s Money Football League but in recent seasons that has been pushed into the summer and I like it there. So I’ve decided to do another of my occasional visits to clubs on this side of the Pennines, where there is plenty of food for thought.
My starting point is Morecambe, about to celebrate ten years in the Football League but with little else to be happy about.
Not long after the start of this season Diego Lemos, a Brazilian, bought the club through a County Durham business which he owned and installed a wealthy friend, Abdulrahman Al Hashemi, as co-chairman. Towards the end of October, when the club were struggling on the pitch and wages were owing (they were paid a week late), Mr Lemos stopped coming to games. Shortly after this Mr. Al Hashemi quit, apparently unhappy to find that he was unilaterally financing the club. Mr Lemos was nowhere to be found.
Another director, local businessman Nigel Adams, resigned from the board in December citing a lack of “sufficient financial information from the majority shareholder”. Shortly after this Mr Al Hashemi issued a statement saying he had been misled by Lemos and that he wished to work with the club in an attempt to rectify the situation.
At the start of this month a transfer embargo came into effect, since when various people expressed an interest in taking the club over (or maybe not). Meanwhile, Morecambe’s Supporters Trust, which has received substantial pledges of financial support, urged the club to work with them, although I’m not sure who they would have been talking to. I don’t think it was Mr. Lemos, although he resurfaced this week and made a statement to “the Bay”, which serves the local area.
The window cleaner tells me Morecambe’s players have not been paid recently and they are being forced to train in a local park. (Maybe he knows a thing or two but he also told me Liverpool were going to buy Jermain Defoe). You might get a better picture here. Whatever the truth I think this one will run.
Will it get as bad as affairs at Blackpool?
Possibly not. Morecambe have had expressions of interest from potential buyers (off and on). Blackpool don’t have even that and owner Karl Oyston has said he has no alternative to staying in control. The Blackpool Supporters’ Trust may disagree. They have continued their boycott of the club (gates are now tiny) and will hold a joint protest with Blackburn supporters before the two clubs play in the cup this weekend.
Blackburn fans are also unhappy with their owners, with good reason.
Blackburn have been relegated from the Premiership since being taken over in 2010. They have had more managers than us since then (I think), their crowds are plummeting and they’re fighting to avoid the drop to League One.
They’re even relying on Anthony Stokes and Danny Graham (who, it has to be said, has scored 11 goals in 20 games) plus the occasional appearance from Wes Brown. Here’s what the Telegraph had to say in October, when fans staged a walk-in, walk-out protest:
“It is six years ago … since Venky’s, an Indian poultry firm, took over Blackburn, ushering in an era of misery and turmoil which has earned them a place in English football’s ever-expanding hall of shame”.
Since then protests (including a suggestion that fans go to non-league Chorley, who have their own problems) have continued, but while chickens – live and plastic – have been seen the owners haven’t. Communication appears to have broken down and there doesn’t seem to be any resolution in sight. My season ticket holding son-in-law can’t see things getting any better and fears the worst. That said, I think he’ll be there tomorrow, which epitomises the dilemma facing fans. Do they boycott and risk doing more harm, or go and risk their presence being taken as a vote of confidence?
That’s enough of the heartbreak, let’s move on.
I’ve traditionally included Wigan Athletic and Bolton Wanderers in my travels round the North West, and who am I to break with tradition? Currently both clubs appear to be doing much better than in recent seasons, which does not mean they have no tribulations of their own.
Wigan, having made it back to the championship, are struggling to stay there but fans are looking forward to a derby with a difference this weekend, rather than into the abyss, and I think relations between fans, board and owners remain good.
Bolton have reached an agreement with Macron which means a winding up petition scheduled for February won’t be going ahead. A quick look at one of the fans’ forums suggest there are still issues but the chance of stability should help Bolton fight to get back up to the Championship. (They’re currently third, five points behind 2nd place with a game in hand and look well placed to ensure at least a playoff spot). Bolton play Charlton Athletic this weekend, so no matter how many Bolton fans think things could be better, there’ll be some looking at the opposition and thinking they could be worse.
Which is a timely point, I think, to remind readers that, Morecambe and Chorley excepted, all of the clubs above, whose great names reflect the history of English Football, have been in the Premiership. Any fans thinking it might be OK to go down and restructure or that we could do better under a new owner might like to reflect on these clubs and reconsider.
I could finish on that grim note but I’ll add a little more and, as I’ve done before, I’ll end with a mention of Everton.
It’s possible that their search for a new ground could be over. Liverpool’s waterfront is being developed in a £7billion scheme and Peel Holdings, owners of a substantial chunk of riverside real estate, not to mention Liverpool Airport and the Manchester Ship Canal, is keen to talk to the club and the City Council about a stadium in one of the disused docks. For those familiar with travel to Goodison via the soccerbus, it’s at Bramley Moore dock, which is within walking distance of Sandhills Station and not too far from the city centre.
And that’s me done for now. See you soon, when hopefully some of our older and newer* clubs will be doing better.
- Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers were founder members of the Football League. Morecambe were only founded in 1920, Wigan in 1932. They’re just bairns.