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Humble Confession of an Amateur Football Writer

If there is one thing I have learned about football writing it’s that you should never be shy about highlighting just how right you are. No matter that the huge “Messi to Cowdenbeath Shockah!” article you wrote predictably came to nothing or that the team you finally decided would win the title after months of flip-flopping between six rivals (hello Robbie Savage!) actually ended up outside the top four.. what ‘s important is that one-out-of-thousands transfer rumour pulled out of your rear end that actually came true or the fact that back on October the 15th you correctly predicted who would emerge as champions before you stacked your chips firmly elsewhere. Football writing, essentially, is all about throwing as much stuff at the wall as possible and then having a self-congratulatory backpat when some finally sticks. This, here, is me doing the opposite. Read the rest of this entry

John Askey Appointed New Silkmen Boss

The wait is over. Sixty two days after sacking Steve King the Macclesfield Town board have finally confirmed his replacement, with the announcement that club legends John Askey and Efe Sodje will take over the roles of manager and assistant manager respectively. It truly is a managerial “dream team” presuming your slumber is met with visions of a rather underwhelming job appointment.

Askey's previous spell in charge wasn't the best

Askey’s previous spell in charge wasn’t the best

In fairness it could have been worse. At the start of last month the media was convinced that Robbie Fowler would be the next boss at the Moss Rose – a gamble that seemed positively demented given that the last risk taken on putting someone unsuited in charge had failed and a calm hand to steady the ship seemed like the smart option. Fowler would have been anything but given his lack of experience and lack of knowledge of the English lower leagues. Indeed it was hard to see the interest in the former Liverpool striker as anything other than a way of drumming up some publicity and getting the Macclesfield Town name in the papers rather than being what was best for a club desperate to avoid a fate similar to neighbours Stockport (and we all know what a sterling success their appointment of a former Liverpool superstar was).

That’s not to say Askey is an entirely popular choice with all supporters or that the Macc board haven’t done damage in the way they have handled this scenario. It is clear from the amount of time it took to announce the appointment that John and Efe were not the first choice, especially so given the earlier flirting Jon Harris publicly did with Fowler.

Askey’s previous experience at the helm hardly does him many favours too – his original time in charge in 2003 saw him removed a little over five months later and with the Silkmen facing a relegation battle that subsequent boss Brian Horton managed to steer them clear of. His more recent spell as caretaker boss following the sacking of King saw him earn three points from a possible fifteen whilst conceding fourteen goals along the way. The sort of stats that hardly fill you with confidence.

In his favour he truly is a legend at Macclesfield due to a playing career than spanned three decades and saw him make almost seven hundred appearances. That alone will buy him time and hopefully keep even the most disgruntled fans from voicing their displeasure too loudly in what is likely to be a difficult season for the Cheshire side.

Also he knows the club inside out and his experience with the first team last season and subsequent relationship with them will be of benefit too. Despite the loss of certain players (the excellent midfield duo Wedgebury and Murtagh have departed for Football League clubs whilst striker Fairhurst has joined Lincoln) he still has the crux of a decent team here which, if he can keep it together and add a few faces along the way, should be able to hold their own in the Conference next season.

Efe Sodje in his trademark bandana while on duty for Nigeria

Efe Sodje in his trademark bandana while on duty for Nigeria

As for Efe Sodje, the cynical might think his inclusion is just a sweetener because the announcement of Askey alone wouldn’t have been exciting enough for fans who have waited impatiently for months for managerial news. That would be to do him a disservice. Sodje has been involved in the coaching side of the game since 2008 when he took on a player-coach role at Bury and his vast experience (including a World Cup appearance, lest we forget), combined with an affinity for a club who took him to their hearts following his role in their first experiences of the Football League back in 1997, could see him play an important role in how the Silkmen go forward from here.

What is clear is that stability is key to the future of Macclesfield Town football club and John Askey seems the man best suited to that task. No other manager would be tolerated by the supporters in delivering a mid-table position but, considering the tough job in escaping the division and the loss of parachute payments this year, that very well may be the best they can expect. I just hope they can accept that because otherwise another boss forced out could lead to the Conference North, the club going part time, and even possible extinction.

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

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

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