It had all looked so promising. Diego Lemos, a man who made his fortune as a football agent in Qatar, arrived to a certain amount of fanfare when he took over as the owner of Morecambe FC in September.
Long-serving chairman Peter McGuigan had guided the club into the Football League for the first time in its history 10 years previously, overseeing the move from Christie Park to the Globe Arena as well as the club’s stabilisation in the Football League in the following years. However, Morecambe fans, like countless sets of football fans before them, wanted the club to pounce at the opportunity of outside investment when rumours about Lemos’ interest first spread last summer.
Wind the clock forward 5 months, and the promised expenditure from the Brazilian hasn’t arrived. Like his compatriots, Pele, Ronaldo and Neymar on the pitch, Lemos has become elusive; he hasn’t even been in England since 17th November. Unfortunately, for fans of the Shrimps, this isn’t a quality that they were looking for in a prospective owner.
Whilst this situation wouldn’t be particularly onerous for the Manchester Uniteds and Chelseas of the footballing realm, life nearer the bottom of the football food chain isn’t quite as glamorous. Players and staff didn’t get paid in October, resulting in a bailout by the Professional Footballers’ Association. And with Lemos and associates not even in the country to negotiate a potential solution, many at the club fear that this is the beginning, and not the end, of this saga.
The problem is, that this is nothing new. Many would have thought that Morecambe would have learnt the lessons that their fellow north-western cousins had been trying to teach them over the past few years. Bolton Wanderers can just about see the light at the end of the tunnel after years of financial mismanagement resulted in a drop from the Premier League to League One mid-table mediocrity. A similar story is still playing out in fellow seaside resort Blackpool, with the heady Premier League days of 2010 feeling like many moons ago for Tangerine fans, as the well-publicised dispute between the fans and the Oyston family shows no sign of abating. A short journey east along the M65 would lead to Blackburn and their Rovers, whose fans would rather dream about the many outrageous goals by Morten Gamst Pedersen in years gone by than the current debacle that is the Venky’s ownership of the club.
The problem is that Morecambe cannot afford to slip a few divisions like their once illustrious neighbours. Years of relative success for Bolton, Blackpool and Blackburn mean that they have a large and loyal fan base to fall back on (or exploit, depending on your viewpoint). Morecambe already have the lowest attendance figures in the Football League. Financial turmoil, and the impact that it has on performances on the illustrious Globe Arena turf, could prove ruinous for the Shrimps.
The problem is that Morecambe FC and the local community deserve better. The club made headlines recently, after supporters clubbed together to pay for manager Jim Bentley’s £1000 fine, after he was sent off in the Shrimps’ fixture against Cheltenham over the Christmas period. News reached as far as mainland Spain, as the Morecambe manager broke down after hearing about the kind gesture of the fans. The togetherness and close-knit nature of the club was illustrated in what may look like a small gesture to someone like Jose Mourinho or Pep Guardiola, yet to most it spoke volumes about what the club represented. In the increasingly sanitised and corporate world of English football, here is a club which has an incredibly tight bond with its local community, in a once great seaside resort that is struggling to find its feet in modern Britain, coping with high unemployment and economic insecurity in the process.
This is surely where the footballing authorities and the Football League in particular need to up their game. Unlike the Premier League, the impact of financial and regulatory checks on prospective board members for Football League clubs will have a lasting impact on the local community. And it is obvious that although potential investors may be able to provide proof that they have the funds available that they claim they do, whether these funds ever see the light of day is another matter.
Yet, if clubs such as Morecambe are allowed to go under then English football will be much the worse off for it in the future. Ironically for the Shrimps, it seems that there isn’t the appetite for the much-needed reform that is necessary if their current problems are not to be repeated by yet another club in the North West of England.