There is generally only one solution when a North-west club under Middle Eastern ownership discover their goalkeeper has broken his thumb on the eve of an FA Cup fourth-round tie – and it tends to involve a chequebook. But Macclesfield Town's Iraqi owners lack the limitless Eastern promise enjoyed by a certain club 15 miles to their north, so their manager Steve King yesterday secured the emergency loan of a Shrewsbury Town keeper, Joe Anyon, who has made only one senior appearance (in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy) all season.
For some clubs this would be a calamity, with Premier League Wigan Athletic in town today and King having serious designs on becoming the first non-League manager to defeat a top-flight club in the FA Cup since Sutton United beat Coventry City in 1989. It is actually a mild inconvenience, after the straits the Silkmen have navigated in the past eight months.
In May, the club whose stadium nestles in the lee of the Peak District suffered relegation from League Two to the Conference – a turn of events that, by removing £750,000 of annual funding at a stroke, would have been catastrophic enough were it not for the £250,000 they had also thrown at the survival effort. The threat of falling out of the Football League gets you and twists you that way, though. At one stage last winter, Macclesfield signed four goalkeepers in a week, as a freak combination of injuries and Brian Horton's emergency arrival as manager left the club desperate for a sense of security. League Two's bottom-six clubs all look at the sides who have toppled over the edge and taken years to get back and throw the kitchen sink at making sure they will not be the next ones.
"The worst of it was that nobody saw it coming," says chief executive Jon Harris, who arrived in May with the task of rebuilding from the wreckage. On New Year's Eve last season Macclesfield were nine points off the play-offs after beating Port Vale. It was their last win of the season and they were relegated with one game to play.
There is a £250,000 parachute payment for those who make the drop but the non-League game, competitive though it is and fine though some of the football may be, kills you in myriad ways. A third of your income is lost. You are asked to pay for 40 of the 60 footballs you are given. You have to cover up your Adidas gear in the warm-up because the league has a tie-in with Cabrini. And it's a darned sight harder getting players.
This certainly was not the vision of the owners Bashar and Amar al Khadi, two Iraqi Kurd telecoms entrepreneurs, who bought the club a decade ago, motivated as much as anything by Amar's wife, who happened to be from Macclesfield and an enthusiastic supporter of the local team. They have always suffered from a catchment area including Manchester United and City but there have been high-profile moves – such as inviting the Iraq national team to play at the Moss Rose ground and the short-lived signing of the Iraq international Jassim Swadi Fayadh. A new stadium is three years away from completion, with a 7,000 capacity, and offers chances of increased revenue.
The club's attempt to live to see that day is one of those many untold football stories that get buried under the blizzard of fables about Mario Balotelli spending in a month what relegation costs a club like Macclesfield over a season. Harris, a one-time Shrewsbury Town chief executive who helped Wrexham through their own challenging transition into supporters' trust ownership before the Khadis hired him, has had to take out a lot from what was already a seriously small cost base. The non-football staff has been reduced essentially to seven people: two ground staff, a chef, secretary, accounts clerk, part-time stadium manager and Harris himself.
The Khadis, who are now based in Dubai and Baghdad and have tended to allow the executives on the ground to run the club, were determined to interview four prospective managers to replace Horton and went for King, an operator in the non-League game, on the basis of his ambition. The target is the Conference play-offs and there have been no half measures. No fewer than 21 players were released this summer and 17 brought in, four of them on the basis of two trial games at Mottram Hall. One of those four, Craig Braham-Barrett, felt one of the gambles at the time, as did Matthew Barnes-Homer, the hero of Macclesfield's third-round win over Cardiff City. Both have been the stories of the club's season so far.
It is hard to understate the financial significance of tomorrow afternoon's match to a club whose existence has been so precarious, with basic costs, such as the rent of 10 or so local flats to accommodate such a raft of new players, making the chances of breaking even impossibly difficult in a first season outside the Football League. The general expectation was that the Khadis would need to put in £250,000 each at the end of the season if there was none of what football people at this level call "football fortune" – the unexpected bonuses. But now, to go with the money secured from the sale to Luton Town of France-born midfielder Arnaud Mendy, with John Paul Kissock also arriving as part of that deal, there is some seriously welcome Cup money. There was £67,500 income for beating Cardiff in the third round and if only the TV cameras were at Moss Rose tomorrow – where Wigan could quite conceivably lose with a side likely to be weakened ahead of the midweek trip to Stoke City – then there would be at least £123,500 TV income, too. That would not buy you four days of Carlos Tevez's salary, but it does get you a hell of a lot of footballs. Instead the cameras will follow Manchester City to Stoke – a game that does immensely less for the imagination.
"It was Wigan's need of a replay in the third round that killed the TV hopes," says Harris. "We actually thought Bournemouth could have won. And ITV don't get a chance to screen City live very often."
It is easy to understand his zeal about making sure the game goes ahead. There's been a sheet cover on the pitch since last Friday – a legacy of the Football League's demands that its clubs have such items. An abandonment and Tuesday night replay would potentially reduce the attendance by 4-6,000, not to mention the refunds required and the pies that would need to be thrown away.
"We do believe we can do something in this game," says Harris. "We enjoyed a replay at Bolton in the third round last season but we're thinking more positively than that." The goalkeeping problem hasn't been the only recent calamity. The boiler packed up before the Kidderminster Harriers game last weekend, prompting the need to pay out another £1,700 that the club did not really have. But Macclesfield brushed that one aside, too, and won 1-0. There's spirit as rich as gold in the foothills of the Peak District.
Likely lads: three to watch
The forward took his tally for the season to 18 against Cardiff City. The 27-year-old has played for 15 clubs, including spells in the United States and Sweden.
The defender, 28, has something of an FA Cup pedigree, having featured for Crawley Town at Manchester United in 2011. Came through the ranks at Derby County, and was in the squad that reached the play-offs in 2005.
John Paul Kissock
A regular for Everton's reserve and Under-18 sides before his release in 2009. The 23-year-old also played for England youth teams and made one appearance for England C. Named Liverpool Young Sports Personality of the Year in 2005.Reuse content