Sitting in Bar Twenty-Seven one could be in the swankiest drinking establishment in Cheshire. The drinks are flowing, the noise is rising and the atmosphere is full of positivity and excitement. This is not a late evening do, however, rather it’s 2.30pm on a Saturday afternoon within the stands at Macclesfield FC’s Leasing.com stadium, and Robbie Savage is there too.
It’s half an hour until kickoff and Savage is looking forward to the afternoon ahead. The former Premier League midfielder, who’s a regular face on TV now as a pundit, is the club’s Director of Football and admits his hands have been full since this project arose last year.
That’s because Macclesfield FC are a new club, a phoenix club who have risen from the ashes of Macclesfield Town who were wound-up last summer.
A new beginning
Macc, as the locals call the club, had been around since 1874, won the FA trophy twice in 1970 and 1996, and even ventured into the Football League as recently as 2019. Crucially, though, it had been part of the fabric of the Cheshire town for generations. That was until last year when the club were expelled from the National League due to amassing debts over £500,000.
There had been murmurs of problems for a few years prior due to financial mismanagement by owner Amar Alkadhi. Players were not being paid on time, former Arsenal and England defender Sol Campbell, who was manager for a short spell in 2019, backed the winding-up bid claiming that he was owed £180,000 by the club, and the authorities had little option but to intervene.
A few takeover proposals arose but came to nothing and ultimately ended in the club ceasing in September 2020. Their Moss Rose stadium was put up for sale on the Rightmove property website, which was a sore sight for long-time supporters of the Silkmen who had lost their club, but it represented an opportunity for local businessman, and owner of nearby Stockport Town, Robert Smethurst.
Smethurst had the ambition of forming a phoenix club and immediately bringing professional football back to the town of Macclesfield. He brought in Savage as a member of the board and appointed Danny Whitaker as the inaugural manager of Macclesfield FC. Moss Rose was bought and sponsorship came from a car lease company. Since then, the work has been unrelenting.
Starting a club from scratch is no mean feat, and certainly not a straightforward process. Funds have to be raised, players have to be recruited and - first and foremost - support has to be garnered. In that regard, though, Macclesfield can be grateful that they have had it easier than others - they only have to look to the other side of Manchester where Bury AFC are struggling to make headway.
A sustainable club
But Smethurst and Savage are going about things the right way. They appointed Jonathan Smart, the chairman of the Silkmen’s Supporters Trust, to the board so that there was fan representation. The club raised enough money in the space of six months to afford a 4G pitch which was laid in the spring. The hope is that further finances will come from the renting out of the durable pitch for community use.
Furthermore, players have been attracted by the project, giving manager Whitaker, who racked up over 400 appearances for Macclesfield Town as a midfielder, sufficient options. A touch of class has also arrived in the form of the high-spec new club bar and restaurant which is open every day during the week and positions itself as the sports bar of the area.
Away from the beer and cocktails and on the pitch, Macclesfield registered for the North West Counties Football League Premier Division, which is the ninth level of the English football pyramid, and played their first competitive game on July 31, a 1-0 win over Burscough.
What’s more, seven days later, they defeated the same opponents 4-0 in the extra preliminary round of the FA Cup and featured a standout performance from winger Aaron Dwyer. These are small steps but significant ones all the same for Macclesfield.
Sitting with Savage for the FA Cup match against Burscough, it was evident how invested he is in this project a world away from the glitz and glamour of the Premier League. A resident of nearby Prestbury, the 46-year-old former Wales international is very hands on in the early stages of Macclesfield FC’s development.
He was on the pitch before kickoff overseeing the warm-ups, in the dressing room at half-time asking for more from the players after they had scored four in an impressive first-half, and on the sidelines applauding them off at the final whistle as they secured progression to the next round of the cup.
"This club has to be self-sufficient,” Savage says. “We want to facilitate the dreams of local boys and girls to play for Macclesfield. At the moment we don't even have an academy but Rob [Smethurst] sold me the dream. I know lots of managers and hopefully we can provide opportunities for young players.”
That first game was an emotional one for Smethurst, Savage and the supporters who admit that having such a high-profile name involved has boosted their belief that Macclesfield does have a future. The road is a long one and progression up the divisions will not be an easy one, but everything has to start somewhere.
‘Sustainability' is the buzzword around the club and that is what they are aiming for with the backing of the supporters and the use of a membership scheme. The recent hurt is still close to the surface but the aim is to rise above the troubles of the past few years and make take positive strides into the future.
”Football has given me so much,” says Savage somewhat philosophically, “if I have helped save this club, I will feel as if I have given something back. This is a football club that collapsed and has been resuscitated.
“But it’s more than that, it’s about being something at the centre of a community that can create local jobs, bring social interaction and providing renewed hope for a local economy of associated businesses who will benefit as a result - the suppliers of food, drinks, kit etc. And [this is] extremely important - the provision of a first-class sporting facility for local schools to use. If this was about money - rest assured, I wouldn’t have become involved.”