Blog Archives

King Falls On His Sword

After the F.A. cup victory against Cardiff on the 6th of January this year a question was put to manager Steve King regarding the size of the achievement. During his answer he tellingly noted that “they’ve never been into the 4th round before” – oddly distancing himself from the club at a time when he had just made history for us and was entitled to truly feel part of Macclesfield Town. Was it an indication that he didn’t feel welcome or perhaps a sign that he wasn’t really committed to the club? If it was the former he could hardly be blamed. Since his shock arrival back in May of last year the supporters became split into two camps – those that begrudgingly accepted he was here now so we may as well get behind him and those who couldn’t wait for him to slip up so they could start the “King Out” chants. If it was the latter, however, then that would just confirm the suspicions that most fans already had about him.

King celebrates making the fourth round of the FA Cup

King celebrates making the fourth round of the FA Cup

The buzz word in football lately seems to be ‘project’. Every ambitious club must have a ‘project’. Zlatan Ibrahimovic recently attempted to seduce Wayne Rooney into getting on-board the PSG ‘project’ (the plan seemingly to throw lots of money at absolutely everything). Manchester City are living proof of how much success that sort of ‘project’ can be. Even Liverpool has one (with less money being balanced out with some “philosophies” and a series on Channel Five).

If Macclesfield Town decided on pursuing a ‘project’ following their relegation last year then it seemed to involve the following –

  • Employ a manager nobody really wants with a rather dubious background
  • Give him carte blanche in the transfer market to do pretty much as he chooses
  • Sit back and pray he can somehow get us promoted

In my debut piece for this site last year I spoke about the worries regarding the appointment of King and how events in his past made it justifiable to be wary of exactly what would happen. These worries were hardly assuaged when he underwent a major rebuilding process that involved dismantling almost the entire first team squad and rebuilding a new one from scratch (in the hours following his dismissal spurned players took to twitter with Ben Tomlinson announcing “..can’t really say I’m shocked” and Ross Draper ranting “Any1 who comes to a club and disregards all players out of contract through stubbornness, deserves what they get!”)Regardless of that, the season somehow started well for Macclesfield. While the manager the majority of fans had clamored for – former Silkmen legend Steve Burr – hung around the relegation places with Kidderminster, this new look Macc side stormed up the table whilst playing the brand of easy-on-the-eye football we had been promised. By September we were top of the league. After years and years lumbering around the bottom of league tables it felt like we’d never had it so good.

We wouldn’t for the rest of the season.

It may have been a case of too much too soon but the moment we hit the top spot we started to stutter. King struggled to attain a consistent spell of form from the team that would see us as serious automatic promotion challengers and gradually we fell away back down the league. A good run in the F.A. cup papered over some of the cracks and the attractive style of play made it difficult for dissenters to truly voice their opinions (“Sure we lost due to some cheap defensive errors but at least we are losing now with the ball on the deck rather than in the stands!”). The fans seemed divided and amidst this cauldron of discontent rumours began to take hold – about how much money the club had, about whether this season was promotion or bust, about whether King even bothered to show up to training and how late he arrived on match days.

steve-kingThe manager himself continued to tinker with his side in a way that suggested he didn’t have confidence in the very people he had signed. Players recently purchased were sent straight out elsewhere on loan (the sort of thing Chelsea or Manchester United do.. clubs who can afford that kind of thing). Players came in on loan. More players went out on loan (not just fringe players – former captain Nat Brown and first team player Tony Diagne were both sent to Lincoln earlier this year just prior to a crucial part of the campaign). Some came and left without even making a meaningful appearance. Even as late as March he was bringing new faces into the club as if still in search of that perfect combination that would somehow leapfrog all those sides who had since passed us by on their way up the league. The not-so-subtle message being sent out was that he didn’t know what he was doing. With the end of the season in sight we were still somehow within reach of the play-off places. Time for the manager to come into his own. Time to start grinding out some results.

A disappointing draw at home to Stockport last Saturday was followed by a further point gained away at Wrexham. It set up a must-win match at the Moss Rose against Grimsby – the side holding the final play-off position. The result at the final whistle was a 3-1 loss and realistically an end to any chance we had of returning to the football league at first ask. Shortly afterward it was announced Steve King had been terminated from his role as manager.

Two questions spring to mind – why and what now?

Why? Was King appointed under the condition that he simply had to achieve promotion? That nothing else was acceptable? If so then why remove him when, although entirely unlikely beyond any reasonable stretch of the imagination, Macclesfield still mathematically have a chance of getting into the play-offs? Why not wait until the hope of that being achieved is completely gone? More likely it is something behind the scenes that, along with a poor run of form, has triggered his sacking. Indeed a statement from chief executive Jon Harris that “..while I appreciate supporters are looking for answers we are unable to comment further at this time.” suggests something a little more sinister is afoot. If neither was an issue then the sacking seems harsh. Why appoint a man and allow him the chance to rebuild a side from the bottom up and then get rid of him before a single season has passed? Surely that sort of club regeneration needs time to reach fruition? What hope of ending a transitional period if constantly putting yourself in a state of transition?

As for the question of what now? In the short term club legend John Askey will take charge but his previous spell in the hot seat proved he is not a realistic long term solution.

Any hopes of snaring Steve Burr – the man supporters were desperate for at the end of last season – seem pretty much in vain with his current side top of the league and with a great chance of gaining promotion to the football league. Elsewhere the former Tranmere coach Eric Nixon used Twitter to garner support for his bid for the job (“Would love to manage that club! Great people, great fans, great history.” he tweeted, before spoiling it a little by claiming we have “still got a great chance of the playoffs” which suggests either his maths aren’t up to scratch or he is optimistic to the point of being delusional).

What is undeniable is that the next appointment is crucial. Whoever does come in will inherit a decent group of players but one that is very much in Steve King’s image (how many of those will actually want to stay now remains to be seen). We have to try to keep the core of this squad together. We can’t afford to gamble everything again. Not like last time. We need stability and someone who can put together a side that is capable of eventually leading us back into the football league. We need somebody with a long term plan and a desire to do well at the club. Betting everything on red is not the answer.

Let’s hope those in charge have learned from the lessons of this season. If not the result for Macclesfield Town could be disastrous.

Follow me on twitter: @FragileGang

The Harriers Are Flying High Again

They could be seen as the Cardiff City of non-league football; they either make the play offs or fall just short of making the cut into them and now this season they are sitting top of their league, or this season you may see them as being just as good as Barcelona or Manchester United as the Daily Mail recently showed the footballing world.

The town where they are based is more famous for producing carpets rather then their football. But, this season has seen the Worcestershire based club of Kidderminster Harriers making all the headlines coming out of the Midlands.

Steve Burr’s boys currently sit top of the Blue Square Premier, a feat which for the fans of Kidderminster feels remarkable but it is made even more so by the fact that the Harriers were rooted to the bottom of the table at the end of August with not even a single point to their name.

In fact their first win of the season came on 25th September when Kidderminster ran out 3-1 winners away at Cambridge, which saw them kick start their way up the league table.

They made it to just outside the play offs on the 22nd Decemeber when they trashed play off rivals Dartford 5-1 at Aggborough. The run up the table continued into the new year, only losing three times in 2013; once on New Year’s Day when they were beaten 1-0 at home by Hereford and away to Macclesfield before their next loss came in March, when they lost 2-0 at Gateshead.

The run they have had should surely makes them favourites to take the league, but the Harriers are victims of getting the games on while 2nd place Mansfield have two games in hand, which means the Stags are favourites for promotion. But surely Steve Burr’s men are in with a shout of the league title.

Anthony Malbon has been in fine form for Kiddie

Anthony Malbon has been in fine form for Kiddie

The Harriers have brought up a number of players from the lower leagues and they have starred for the Harriers – Anthony Malbon, Marvin Johnson, Ryan Rowe, Cheyeene Dunkley just some of the players who Burr has brought through into the Harriers first team after starting in Step Three.

But what has really helped the Harriers was in fact the sale of star play Jammile Matt in Janaury to league two side Fleetwood Town FC for a sum of £300,000, although the Harriers faithful thought that the sale of Jamma (as he is known) will probably hinder the club’s promotion bid. In fact it helped the Harriers.

The money they got for Jamma was helped to bring in on loan Greg Pearson from Grimsby and non-league predator Michael Gash who has been a star for Kidderminster as they attempt to make the step into the Football League.

With three games to go can the Harriers hold their nerves?

Hopefully for the long suffering Harriers faithful they can; they have seen the Harriers finish just outside the plays off in the last two seasons and the financial struggle in 2011. So It has not been all sunny skies at DY10 and I am sure they will be loving the season thus far.

My only worry for the Harriers is that if they fail to win the league and are cast into the play offs, they could do a Wrexham and fail to make it through to the Wembley showpiece final. However, with Wrexham there was a tinge of disappointment having challenged Fleetwood all the way to the title then to miss out.

At Aggborough yes the club will be disapointed not to go up but I am sure being in the play offs will be a bonus after the last few seasons they have had. But no one can deny that the Harriers do deserve their place in the Football League.

I have watched the Harriers a couple of times; the first time was away at Stockport County in October – the game was part of Non-league day and it was hard to say that the Harriers will be challenging at the top of the table as they sadly fell to a 1-0 loss, and although they were unlucky not to take a point that day it looked like it was going to be a long season for Steve Burr’s men. Fast forward to the visit of Tamworth to Aggborough and I was working in the press box for a website called Staffs Live, and the performance of the Harriers was not the same team that took on Stockport.

Although in some respect the Harriers 4-1 scoreline did flatter them the Lambs were unlucky not to come away with a point. Their finishing was clincial and you can see a massive turn around in fortune for the players.

From a personal point of view it would be really great for Kiddy to go up. I don’t think there is a club with a more friendly bunch of staff or fans then those at Aggborough and it will be great for them to reach the promise land of the Football League.

Follow Richard on twitter: @nonleaguerich

Is Steve King’s Dismissal One Of The Most Bizarre Sackings In Football?

It has to go down as one of the most bizarre managerial sackings of the season. With just 5 games to go of the Blue Square Premier season, Macclesfield Town FC have sacked boss Steve King following their 3-1 loss to Grimsby Town FC.

Steve King came in at Moss Lane in May 2012 following the departure of previous boss Brian Horton and the club falling out of the Football League. But despite not setting the league on fire, they have had a decent season and were topping the league at one point and even now they currently sit 8th in the table.

They are just twelve points behind 5th place Forest Green and could theoretically make the playoffs still, which makes this sacking even more bizarre. It would take some major luck for them to make it, but as we know in football stranger things have happened.

As Non-league Paper editor Sam Elliot pointed out on twitter that ‘he (Steve King) may not have been everybody’s cup of tea, but he was building a squad for the new season to have a go at promotion to the Football League.’

That squad included Matthew Barnes-Homer, Lance Cronin and John-Paul Kissock. Three highly profiled names that will be key to any club in the BSP.

Matthew Barnes-Homer scored the goals to beat Cardiff City 2-1 in the FA Cup as they reached the 4th round of the competition for the first time in their history (which was under King) and currently sits among the leading scorers of the league with 18 but Matthew is unfortunately ruled out for the rest of the season.

Lance is an established goalkeeper in the Conference Premier having played nearly 200 games at Ebbsfleet United before moving onto league sides Gillingham and Bristol Rovers before signing for the Moss Rose club. Lance is a key figure at the club.

While JP Kissock is the playmaker of the team, and was a big coup from Luton Town in the summer. The former Everton youngster joined Macc originally on loan from Luton before getting a permanent deal in the New Year. The press at Luton called him the non-league version of Lionel Messi due to his looks and his skills that are similar to the Barcelona player.

King (as mentioned above) took Macclesfield to the 4th round of the FA Cup where they were unlucky to bow out to Premier League side Wigan Athletic 1-0. But it seems that results and times like that do not really count for anything in the world of football and that a manager’s position is reviewed game by game, month by month.

Owners do not seem to have a look at the bigger picture and how the season has really gone for the club.

I am not a Macc fan, I have no connection to the club or know personally of any of their fans but I really do think that this season could be deemed a fairly successful season even if it doesn’t mean that ‘The Silkmen’ are going up.

But the main question for me that needs asking is why NOW?

With the season just a matter of weeks from completion why sack your manager now instead of waiting just a few weeks to end of the season. Ok so Macc haven’t won their last 4 games and could partly be the reason but changing now will not solve anything in all fairness.

Youth team boss John Askey will take charge till the end of the season he is unlikely to shove Macclesfield into the top 5 position that they need to enter the play offs. I don’t think that even someone with the skills of Sir Alex Ferguson will be able to produce a turn around like that so drastically.

Obviously we have got to wait until the dust settles where maybe something comes out before we can draw definitive answers to the sacking, but for me this has to be the most bizarre sacking.

Follow Richard on twitter: @nonleaguerich

An Unhappy Easter At Telford

Telford United’s stay in the Blue Square Bet Premier came to an end on Easter Saturday as a 3-0 defeat at the hands of fellow midlands side Nuneaton saw them slip back in the Blue Square North.

The season has been poor one for the Bucks from start to finish really, and not just on the pitch, but in the Dugouts too.

In February they parted company with boss Andy Stinton who had taken the Bucks into the promised land of the Blue Square Bet Premier and delivered them a mid-table finish in their debut season. But then following a winless run which stretched back to October when their last win was a 4-1 victory over Dartford which saw them go 8th  they have slipped down and down before parting with the boss.

In fact, Telford made Conference history by losing the most games on a consecutive run with 26 games without a win; the previous total was AP lemmington in the 81-82 season going from August to February without registering a win.

Respected manager Mark Cooper, who has Darlington and Kettering on his CV in Non-league football, was then handed the hot-seat at the New Bucks Head. However, just weeks later, he departed to become assistant boss of Swindon Town FC.

No one can deny him the chance to work in the football league but it left Telford looking for their third boss of the season- Graham Hyde was put in caretaker role but he also lasted weeks before leaving the Shropshire club after a 2-0 loss to Macclesfield.

The final (for now) manager of the season to take over is John Parash who is supported by goalkeeper Ryan Young (who has played over 300 games for Telford) and Phil Trainer (who scored the goal to promote Telford into the Blue Square Premier).

John did his best but sadly the end came when they lost to Nuneaton on the 31st March.

But what now for the Bucks?

Well they will be looking to end the season on a high with a couple of wins. On Easter Monday they drew 0-0 with promotion chasing Forest Green Rovers, which is an okay start with the pressure now off the Bucks.

The next step is to appoint a successor to take over the hot seat. I am sure John Parash will be considered but other names in contention include former England Midfielder Steve Hodge, former Hyde boss Gary Lowe and former Hinckley manager Dean Thomas.

Also the man whose team sent Telford down is in contention being Kevin Wilkins, boss at Nuneaton.

Then after that it will be a case of attempting to regain their status in the Blue Square Premier by going up in the Blue SQ North.

It will be tough. Although Chester have run away with the league this season, and are all set to win the division, teams like Halifax, Brackley, Boston and Guiseley FC are still in there, and it will be tough for the Bucks, but if they can keep hold of the likes of Ryan Young and Phil Trainer then they might have a chance of making a fast return to the Blue Square Premier.

Follow Rich on twitter: @nonleaguerich

Macclesfield Town vs Stockport County

In 1895 the American philosopher William James first used the word Multiverse – based on the idea that there could be multiple universes within which exists everything that possibly can exist. It’s not so difficult to imagine that within one of these universes Stockport County are the Premier League’s token unfashionable northern side and Edgeley Park has replaced The Brittania Stadium in that oft-repeated “but could player X perform on a wet Tuesday night at…” phrase.

They came close during the late 90’s when Gary Megson (no, really) almost guided them into the Championship (at the time sensibly named ‘Division One’) play-offs with a chance at cracking the big time before the 21st century rolled around and they gradually clambered down the football ladder like a particularly rubbish window cleaner. They now find themselves flirting with relegation once more and the unthinkable prospect of starting next season in the Conference North.

It’s harder to imagine a universe where Macclesfield Town are anything other than what they are now – a small non-league club not quite good enough to seriously harbor any thoughts of promotion but not anywhere near bad enough to be peering worriedly over their shoulder.

Sure there were those 15 years spent as a league club but aside from one freak promotion to the giddy heights of the third tier of English football most of that period was spent looking like a team punching above their weight and somehow getting away with it. They went into the latest game against near neighbours Stockport County with one eye still on the play-offs despite form that can be at best described as erratic.

Barely a year passes without one of the glossy football magazines producing something about ‘The World’s Worst Footballing Rivalries’ where their reporter gets the chance to go a bit Danny Dyer and get excited by the thought of angry foreign people waving flares around and stabbing each other. Macclesfield Town vs Stockport County would never feature in such an article and not just because nobody would be at all interested.

Despite the close proximity of the two towns it has never really been considered a proper ‘derby’ match because neither side can really muster up the required emotion to care about the other enough for it to matter. Fans of Macclesfield have traditionally reserved their hatred for Altrincham whilst for a long time Stockport fans probably considered Macclesfield as a tiny irrelevance and are most likely still struggling to come to terms with the fact they are (for now) at the same standard.

Going into the game both sides were desperate for the three points for different reasons. For the Silkmen it would be a step towards closing down the gap on Grimsby and making a go of sneaking into the last of the play-off spots. For Stockport it would be three points closer to safety and a second win for new boss Ian Bogie after the impressive victory over Newport. All the ingredients were there for a classic encounter. Sadly it didn’t quite work out that way.

Maybe the reverse fixture back in September is partially to blame? That night both teams served up a classic advertisement for football with a 3-4 scoreline during a breathlessly exciting game and so anything less of a repeat of that would surely be a disappointment.

Played under a crisp blue sky the first forty-five bumbled along without either side making much of a positive impression. Indeed the most interesting aspect of the half appeared to be that Macc boss Steve King was prowling his technical area in a pair of expensive looking shoes but with no socks. A fashion faux-pas for sure.

On the pitch it was Stockport, if anyone, who looked more likely to draw first blood whilst Macclesfield appeared toothless and lacking ideas in the final third. Mid-way through the half Amari Morgan-Smith, who had made his debut in the game at Edgeley Park, had the best chance for the Silkmen but fired straight at O’Donnell in the County goal. Elsewhere Jack Mackreth looked lively for the home side, as did full-backs Jackson and Braham-Barrett. For County the gumshoe-detective faced Jon Macken and partner Danny Whitehead went about their business in a quietly efficient manner.

In the second half Macclesfield seemed perkier and a flurry of decent chances eventually led to a deserved goal from Barnes-Homer. The otherwise disappointing Keiran Murtagh whipped in a free kick that was powerfully headed home by the Macc number nine for his 18th league strike of the campaign. With tails firmly up Macc could have extended their lead but failed to take advantage of their dominance and gradually County got back into the game culminating with an equaliser from Macken when the home defence fluffed their opportunities to clear the ball and allowed the former Manchester City man to fire home from inside the box. In the final twenty minutes the result could have swung either way with both sides spurning good chances to claim the local bragging rights and the final whistle was met with more a resigned murmur of discontent rather than any sort of venom or vitriol.

For both sides the solitary point is of little help. Macclesfield must now view their mid-week clash with Grimsby as a must-win fixture if their outside chance of promotion via the play-offs has any chance of becoming a reality. Stockport, on the other hand, will hope that Ebsfleet fail to pick up anything from their three games in hand with which they could considerably close the gap on the hatters and drag them right back into the relegation mire.

In a parallel universe somewhere County face Barcelona this week in an exciting Champions League semi-final (but can Messi perform on a wet Tuesday night in Stockport?). In reality they face Grimsby at home on Monday lunchtime when they could do the Silkmen a huge favour by taking points off the Mariners. Two days later Macc face Grimsby themselves at the Moss Rose. There are still a fair few twists and turns left in this season regardless of the quality of opposition. Stay tuned.

Follow Scott on twitter: @FragileGang

Silkmen Take Point Off Leaders

Scott Knowles reports from the first of the Conference Premier Groundhop that took place on Non League Day. Read the rest of this entry

Macc Back On Track

Guest blogger and Macclesfield Town fan Scott Knowles returns to write for Under The League. Read the rest of this entry

Strife For Silkmen

We are delighted to publish this guest blog from Macclesfield Town fan Scott Knowles. Scott used to write for the now disbanded football league blog The Seventy Two. Read the rest of this entry

Jon Shaw – The Key To Luton Going Up?

Luton Town have bolstered their attacking options already this summer, signing Scott Rendell and Jon Shaw, and it’s the latter who many are tipping to lead Luton Town back to the Football League after three playoff heartbreaks in row. Read the rest of this entry

Minstermen Face Their Biggest Week

Last Saturday’s FA Trophy success was just the start of a momentous week for York City. The Minstermen take on Luton Town in the Conference playoff final this weekend, with a place in the Football League up for grabs. Prior to that, though, they will find out whether their plans for a new community stadium have been approved. Both events are huge for the future of the club.

The 2-0 win over Newport County was City’s first Trophy success, having lost the 2008-09 final to Stevenage Borough. Goals from top scorer Matty Blair and Lanre Oyebanjo secured the win, and manager Gary Mills will be looking to 19 goal top scorer Blair delivering again in the playoff final. He has certainly proved himself to be a big game player, adding to his goals in both the Trophy and playoff semi finals with his headed goal against County.

Before the playoff final, though, comes the council’s decision regarding the stadium. The decision will be made on Thursday, May 17th, and there is no indication which way the sixteen councillors will vote. The plans are for a 6,000 capacity stadium, plus shopping centre and superstores. The club are desperate for the deal to go ahead so they can move out of the ancient Bootham Crescent ground, which has been their home since 1932. Unusually, planning officials have not given recommendations to the council on whether to accept or reject the proposals.

Clearly, this is a huge week for The Minstermen, and could go down as the greatest in the clubs’ history.