Morecambe had a nervous finish at the end of the 2017/18 season, surviving in the Football League on the final day. Perhaps they should have expected a close shave after being taken over by a Brazilian in 2016.
What was probably cause for a party at the time has then no doubt been replaced by the sombre reality of trying to survive financially after being railroaded by an owner whose relationship with the truth is about the same as Sam Allardyce’s ego is with modesty.
Being a fan of a lower league club is no different to that of a Premier League club, except there are fewer zeroes at the end of player’s wages and less chance of seeing a Japanese tourist with a selfie stick in the club shop.
The Shrimps were promoted to the Football League in 2006/07 and have done well to maintain their league status on meagre resources.
The club has recently produced their financial results for 2016/17, a bit late, partly due we suspect to resolving issues in relation to Diego Lemos, the absent parent who had a habit of forgetting to pay the wages.
Credit should however be given to someone at Morecambe for producing full sets of figures for us to analyse, as too many of their peers take advantage of Company Law loopholes to avoid full disclosures.
We are aware that the Football League (EFL) have been pressed on the issue of clubs only publishing cut down versions of the accounts by the likes of the Football Supporters Federation.
Sadly, the EFL’s standard response is to do nothing and then look surprised when so many clubs attract charlatans, conmen and scumbags at their helm. This takes away from the many brilliant owners of lower league clubs that put body and soul into supporting their local team.
Before writing this elegy to lessons learned we didn’t even know what colour kit Morecambe played in, or the astounding fact that they’ve only had three managers since 1994.
Present incumbent Jim Bentley has just become the longest serving manager of the 92, following the complicated departure of Paul Tilsdale at Exeter City.
Bentley has outlived the club’s recent owners, including the former head of Umbro, Peter McGuigan, Lemos (along with Qatari sidekick Abdulrahman Al Hashemi who lasted two months) via a company called G50 Holdings Ltd.
When Lemos resigned, or kicked out, the truth is murky, the club effectively was then owned by Graham Burnard, a tax consultant, who appeared from nowhere.
The club now appears to be taken over by a company called Bond Group Investments Ltd, which was set up with the princely sum of two pounds by two blokes called Jason Whittingham, owner of a pawnbroking empire, and Colin Goldring, a London lawyer.
These two only became directors of Morecambe on 14 May 2018. EFL approval of the takeover is required, and surely a pawnbroker and ambulance chaser at the helm means that they will satisfy the ‘Owners and Directors’ test of the EFL?
The club also appears to have taken out a mortgage secured on the Globe Arena, their home ground, with Mayfair Fin UK Ltd, an Essex based lending emporium, whose contact email address is that of…Jason Whittingham, and whose signature on the agreement is…Colin Goldring.
Income £2.70 million (up 9% from £2.47 million)
Wages £1.93 million (down 3% from £1.99 million))
Losses £350,000 (down 41% from £598,000)
Player sales and purchases zero (no change)
Borrowings £1.74 million (down from £3.32 million)
Most clubs split their income between three sources, broadcast, matchday and commercial. Morecambe have added a fourth, hospitality.
Morecambe’s income has been broadly static for the last few years, but the whole club generates about the same amount of money as the average annual wage for a single Premier League footballer.
Clubs in the EFL get a share of two forms of broadcast income. The Football League has a £90 million a season deal with Sky, and splits the money 80% to the Championship, 12% to League One and 8% to League Two. Some of the pot is allocated to the Professional Footballer’s Association, and a proportion is set aside for those clubs whose matches are broadcast live. This results in a League 2 team getting a basic payment of about £472,000, plus additional £30,000 for a match televised live at home and £10,000 if they are the away team.
In addition, the Premier League gives money to the EFL in what are called ‘Solidarity Payments’, which are a constant percentage of the Premier League TV deal. These solidarity payments increased from £230,000 to £430,000 in 2016/17 due to the commencement of the new BT/Sky TV deal kicking in.
If Morecambe were relegated to the National League, they would receive some parachute payments for a couple of years in respect of the basic payment money from the EFL deal, but after that they would effectively be generating nothing from this source.
Overall TV money is about a third of the total for Morecambe.
Morecambe averaged home crowds of 1,704 in 2016/17, the second lowest in the division, with only the mighty Accrington Stanley attracting fewer fans that season.
Consequently, the club only generated about £848,000 from gate receipts for the season, much lower than that of the large clubs in the division such as Portsmouth (£3.86 million) who have the benefit of larger crowds.
Without knowing too much about the club, it is unclear whether hospitality refers to matchday sales to food and drink fans, presumably the prawn, (or should that be shrimp?) sandwich brigade in the posh seats, or something else. Either way this is a significant source of revenue for the club, bringing in over a quarter of total income.
Hospitality income fell by 10% in the year.
Shirt sponsors were sponsored by Omega Holidays, a company owned by the club’s vice chairman. The club continued to have their kits produced by Carbrini and these sources, combined with perimeter and other sources, generated just under £1/4 million in the year, a 4% decline since 2016.
The main running costs for a club are wages, and Morecambe is no exception to this rule.
The wage bill is slightly lower than five years ago, reflecting the tight control that the club must keep in terms of player contract negotiations. It’s always tricky to determine player wages but using our standard formula we estimate the average weekly wage was about £928.
Morecambe player did have the further worry during 2016/17 of not knowing whether they would be physically paid at the end of each month, as salaries failed to be paid over on more than one occasion as the club takeover meant that no one was willing to foot the bill until they established whether they owned the club. The PFA had to step in and pay its members until the ownership issue was resolved.
The other player related cost for some clubs is that of transfer fee amortisation, which is where the club spreads the fee over the contract life. The two big Manchester clubs have annual amortisation costs of over £120 million a year, whereas Morecambe’s was a big fat zero, as it has been for living memory.
This reflects the hardship of many clubs at the arse end of League Two, in that they cannot afford to sign players for fees, instead relying on Bosman deals, existing squad members renewing contracts and loans.
One director was paid £30,000 for the year, a far cry once again from the million pounds plus average in the Premier League.
The main non-player costs were stadium and machinery depreciation (£85,000) and interest on loans (£97,000).
Profits and losses
Profit is the difference between income and expenses. For a club such as Morecambe it is a case of trying to keep losses to a minimum and hope for either selling a player or two at a profit or the benevolence of directors to balance the books.
The above shows that the club has lost on average £11,000 a week over the last five years. The losses fell in 2016/17 due to the additional TV monies being received.
These losses are underwritten by the club owners. It is unclear how much, if any, of these losses were covered by the unseen Mr Lemos.
Financing the club
If a football club loses money, it must cover these losses somehow. Some clubs can sell players at a profit, but this does not appear to be the case with The Shrimps. The accounts are a bit sketchy here but whilst there’s no evidence of players being sold for a fee for many years, Jack Redshaw did generate money apparently (£200,000?) when sold to Blackpool in 2016.
The club therefore must rely on lenders and investors to make up the shortfall. This can come in the form of issuing shares to investors or borrowing money from them. The main difference is that borrowings may attract interest payments. Whilst shares could in theory result in dividend payments this is highly unlikely in practice.
Morecambe have relied on owner/director loans and in the last four years they have put over £1.7 million into the club. This is the side of football that few show an interest in. It’s often local businessmen/supporters who know that the club provides a focal point for the town who do this, and most of the time they get nothing but abuse for their efforts (there’s no evidence of this in the case of Morecambe though, the fans were delighted that they have new owners who are prepared to do the right thing.
It looks as if the directors have gone further in converting over £2.2 million of loans into shares. This is effectively writing off the loans, as realistically the club has no means to repay them. It does mean that should someone take over the club they will inherit less debt.
Morecambe fans face an uncertain summer. The ownership issue is unresolved and it will take time to see whether The Shrimps have jumped from the frying pan to the fire.
The club is a textbook example of poor governance and control by the EFL, who have done their best Nero impersonation whilst players and backroom staff went unpaid on regular occasions under Lemos.
For all those fans of other clubs who are moaning about the lack of big money signings, glamourous managerial appointments and carefully choreographed kit launches, spare a thought for those who are nervously awaiting to see if they have owners who can continue to fund the club as a member of the 92.