Cast your minds back to April 28th 2018, and under the tutelage of club legend ‘Sir’ John Askey, the Silkmen achieved a modern day footballing miracle in reaching the Football League on a minuscule budget whilst playing free flowing, attractive football. At the very least it equalled the achievements of the Foxes of Leicester City when they won the Premier League title in 2016, and indeed many (including yours truly) would argue that it surpassed it. Fast forward on six months and the club appears in turmoil on and off the pitch, but why is this the case and what is the cause of our seemingly dramatic decline?
The loss of the ultimate Silkmen icon in ‘Sir’ John Askey to Shrewsbury Town amidst strong rumours of irreconcilable differences with owner Amar AlKadhi & chairman Mark Blower was certainly not the start of a new era in the Football League that Silkmen fans dreamt of, although the appointment of (?) third choice manager Mark Yates who had apparently masterminded a minor miracle of his own at Solihull Moors when saving them from what appeared to be almost certain relegation from the National League, therefore appeared a good fit. There were of course the inevitable losses of key personnel from the team including George Pilkington, Danny Whitehead and Mitch Hancox, but Silkmen fans were buoyed by the fact that the vastly increased income from our elevation to the Football League (allegedly worth over a million pounds) would allow us to sign players who could fill the gaps by the loss of these quality players. However what we did see was the re-signing of Koby Arthur who was apparently not on the retained list and players such as Miles Welch-Heyes when we didn’t even have a manager in sit that caused some confusion. The name Elite Management kept raising it’s head, as players were signed who were either fringe players on loan from League One sides; players released by struggling league clubs in our division, or gambles on several youngsters quite a way down the football pyramid from us! In fairness to Macc however, several key players such as Elliot Durrell and Ryan Lloyd have been recovering from long term injuries and more recently the loss of club legend Danny Whitaker and promising midfielder Callum Evans to injury has compounded our problems in the crucial midfield area.
Mark Yates failed to win a game over ninety minutes during his disastrous time in charge, and was subsequently relieved of his duties following a tenure where he inexplicably left out key players such as Keith Lowe & Jared Hodgkiss from our Championship winning team, and where it was obvious to all of the Silkmen faithful that our recruitment of players since winning promotion (with the exception of hugely promising Ben Stephens) has proven to be nothing short of catastrophic in terms of the quality of replacement. How sad is it then we now look odds on for relegation in our first season back in the Football League and it is only the beginning of November? The immensely popular club legend that is Danny Whitaker has taken the helm alongside another club legend in Neil Howarth for the foreseeable future, and we subsequently saw our first victory against Carlisle United at home amidst scenes reminiscent of the joy at winning the National League title last year. Heavy defeats at home to Northampton Town and Bury since this time however, has acutely highlighted the lack of necessary quality in our squad, and what is now abundantly clear is that not even a combination of the very best mix of Sir Alex Ferguson, Pep Guardiola, Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino could do much with the current squad which is lower bottom half of the National League at the very best!!
Danny has been effectively been handed an almost impossible task but with another club legend in ‘Sir’ John we oversaw a miracle last season, why can’t we have another miracle performed by another club legend to effectively resurrect us from the dead? I can genuinely understand the calls of several of my fellow Silkmen fans for an experienced league manager, but IMHO if we are going to go down then let it be with a club legend who should shoulder NO BLAME whatever happens come the end of the season; and someone who was one of the inspirational figures behind the miraculous exploits of last season! Anybody who has seen Danny’s interviews will see the passion that he has for the club, and the pain that he shares with my Silkmen brethren and I about the current terrible situation. This thus provides a very strong indication to yours truly as to why we must give him a chance to resurrect our season, because I would much rather see us try to beat the odds with someone who genuinely loves the club, as opposed to a manager with league experience, but with little previous connections to the club, and with whom we might still get relegated anyway!
Before considering what appears to be going pear shaped at our beloved club, I am going to take this opportunity to heap praise on some worthy individuals. First of all our amazing army of volunteers who work so hard behind the scenes in such areas supporting ground maintenance and working in the ticket office and reception. There are then some fantastic members of staff such as Keith & Nicky Wilson, Danny Walker and Ged Coyne; Julie Briggs and Chris Edge; Caroline Hall, James Beckett and the guys from Football in the Community (FITC) and last but not least, our media man Bobby Trafford, who all put in untold hours to attempt to provide a quality service on behalf of our football club. Running even a small football club on a ‘skeleton crew’ of full time staff alongside those fantastic volunteers is likely to present significant challenges! Recent issues with ticketing and the current state of the floodlights has triggered widespread criticism from supporters who have seen ticket prices rise, but are struggling to reconcile this with the perceived lack of quality in the product on offer both on and off the pitch! There also appears to be a a relative dearth of sponsorship at games despite our promotion, and fans clearly continue to see a disconnect between the club’s hierarchy and themselves with people feeling very ‘short changed.’ What has been particularly poignant is the number of supporters (including hardcore ones who have followed the club though thick and thin over many years) posting on various social outlets, that they will no longer attend until Messrs AlKadhi & Blower are no longer involved with our beloved club. There seems to be a collective sense of resentment that the club is chronically under invested on and off the field, and that the owner is reaping the rewards of the additional income from this season (and arguably over the next couple of seasons with parachute payments) with genuine fears from a number of the Silkmen faithful that we are likely to suffer back to back relegation’s and remain in the football wilderness for years or even decades to come!
One of the only highlights of this godawful season was the recent Gala Dinner for Danny Whitaker that was held in the beautiful surroundings of Mottram Hall to commence the start of a fully deserved testimonial season for him. It was so good to see local businessmen like Nick Bianchi, Tom Kirk, Danny Towns & Andy Scott who have been so supportive of the club financially and otherwise over the years at the event, to acknowledge and support Danny’s contribution to this wonderful club of ours. What was refreshing to hear when talking to them on that fantastic evening, was the clear message that they still have huge affection for the club. Sadly many of them feel as disenfranchised from the club as many of our hardcore supporters. I will leave it to you, the readership, to surmise what appears to have been the cause of this feeling of disconnect that has subsequently led many of these great local businessman to end their involvement / relationship with the club at this time!
I am not a businessman by any stretch of the imagination having spent the whole of my working life as an employee of the NHS. In recent years I witnessed a particularly chronic under- investment within the NHS that negatively impacted upon recruitment and retention of staff, and produced unprecedented numbers of unfilled vacancies which in turn impacts massively (and negatively) upon staff morale and quality of service! I recently read with interest an article by AJ Agrawal entitled ‘Take Care of Your Customers and the Rest Will Follow.’ Within the article, Agrawal states that there is no longer a need for consumers of services to be loyal. If for whatever reason they have a bad experience, they can then simply move onto a similar brand. They are only likely to retain loyalty if they feel that the brand has invested significant time and energy in demonstrating their support for; and appreciation of them as consumers of their service. Agrawal goes onto say that this requires actively listening to customer and embracing and acting upon feedback whether it be good or bad. This then ultimately promotes a reputation for dedication to quality service provision towards the customer. This club has a long and proud history with a small but extremely passionate and loyal fan-base who are clearly unhappy and disillusioned with the club and it’s hierarchy at a time where we should be all as one and celebrating our hard-earned Football League membership. The next few months will provide a crucial test as to how much the fan-base is valued and listened to because the likely ramifications of a lack of a perceived engagement with / respect for the fans will most almost certainly yield very unpleasant long term effects for the club which would not only be tragic, but oh so avoidable!