Robbie Savage on making Macclesfield FC: 'The hardest thing I've ever done

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Robbie Savage: Making Macclesfield FC – watch the trailer for the new BBC iPlayer documentary

Robbie Savage: Making Macclesfield FC available on BBC iPlayer and BBC One starting Saturday 13 November at 11pm

Robbie Savage played international football for Wales, captained four Premier League teams and had to deal with angry fans each week on BBC Radio 5 Live's 606 program.

However, none of this prepared the 47-year old for what he calls "the hardest thing that I've ever done".

A new BBC iPlayer film shows how Rob Smethurst and Savage built a new football club out of the ashes. It took them just nine months to do it.

We are allowed to see the boardroom, the dressing area, and the dugout. As things go wrong, money leaks out, but eventually, a team that is successful is formed.

Recently, we spoke with Savage about the film and his Macclesfield experiences.

"Did you ever think that I would be a part-owner in a football club?" He asks. "Probably not. "Probably not. But, the opportunity was too great to pass up."

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Macclesfield Town, an 1874-founded community, was wound up by the High Court in September 2020 with more than PS500,000 in outstanding debts.

They were relegated from English Football League a month prior to the 2019-20 season, during which players struck because they weren’t getting paid.

Many of the film's loyal fans were left devastated.

They found some hope in Smethurst after just a month.

The programme features the story of a self-confessed risk taker who bought the club after seeing it on Rightmove.

He says, "Idiots purchase football clubs." "But I am an idiot."

Robbie and Rob are the Moss Lane men in charge

Smethurst, who made his fortune in car sales, admits that he doesn’t know much about football.

Savage was one of his first calls to Savage, to persuade him to share his footballing knowledge in a proper capacity.

At first, the Welshman told him that buying a football team was "the most absurd thing you've ever done." But he eventually got his arm twist.

Savage laughs and says, "I think about it every day." Every day brings another problem.

"Ultimately though, however, when the first team goes out and wins, or when kids are smiling on the pitch, or people enjoying the bar, or the gym that's been look at this with pride."

Savage built the senior team and also used it to establish grassroots football through his company, The Savage Foundation.

It took nine months to build a team.

Smethurst purchased Macclesfield Town's assets. The club didn't have any players or leagues to play in, and the Moss Lane stadium was in serious disrepair at the time.

His team and he had nine months to make it right in time for the 2021-22 season.

The film documents the difficult journey, which included waterlogged pitches and construction issues. Smethurst claims that the club is losing PS100,000.

Another scene shows Savage scrambling to find players. He reveals that he has been trying to negotiate gym memberships as well as free food at the club bar.

These were not the only problems.

He says that the club did not have a safety certificate for everyone to enter the ground when they started. "I think we got it on the Thursday prior to the start of the season," said he.

"Then, you have to do everything else with the club - stewarding and police, making sure that the ground is fit for purpose, finding a team.

They did it, of course. The renamed Macclesfield FC, managed and owned by Danny Whitaker (club legend), entered the North West Counties Premier Division – five rungs below that of the Football League.

They are now laughing, but it isn't all fun and games.

However, the difficulties did not end there.

Savage says, "On the first Day of the Season, we had two photos in our WhatsApp Group from players with positive Covid Tests."

Macclesfield is still at the top of the table, and they are making a strong push to be promoted - and Savage believes that the facilities they have created offer a great experience.

He says, "We have a gym with 335 members. We put the pitch down at 3G. Plus, we've got the academy, Macclesfield Ladies, and the Macclesfield Ladies."

Savage is proud to offer free grassroots football through his company, The Savage Foundation. He also created what he calls a path through the academy.

He says, "What we have achieved is quite remarkable."

"A year ago we didn't have one player. Now, 600-700 players are available. The girls' academy has nearly 50 girls, which is amazing to see.

However, it has been fraught with controversy and has drawn criticism from local grassroots clubs.

"Local clubs thought that we were going to try to pinch all their top players," Savage says, adding, "Dialogue is very important."

Fans of other clubs have voiced their disapproval at Macclesfield's attempt to buy out the league.

This is evident when Savage shows up to Winsford United's match and is treated with mild criticism by the locals.

Savage says, "I believe there are a few clubs in our league that have larger budgets."

"We're overachieving. We like finding youngsters. We have been very shrewd. The average age of the squad members is 23. The average age for the reserves is 19.

"If we were promoted now, our squad probably would have one of those lowest budgets at this level."

"Would any other football director be clearing out pint pots?

Savage was a player who wasn't afraid to risk the ire from opposition fans to win.

As a football director, why should we expect him not to be any different?

He said, "I will always protect those around me and take stuff on my chin for other people."

Robbie Savage claims he is a different type of director of football.

The film shows him running along the touchline, barking instructions to players and calling out his opponents. He also makes some exaggerated team-talks.

While some fans think it shows passion, others feel it is not appropriate for the role of director of football. Savage won't apologize.

"Should a Director of Football be on the Touchline?" He asks. He asks.

It's not like being a director at Liverpool or Manchester United football clubs. It would be much easier if that were the case.

"Owners and owners change, but the fans stay."

Setting up a new club can be difficult because of the difficulty of getting support from the existing club members.

Savage says, "Owners and owners come and go but the fans stay,"

We meet many supporters in the film, including two who are part of the club's staff: Bob Trafford (head of communications) and James Goodwin (groundman).

Savage has made it a point to host weekly Facebook check-ins and Q&As with his fans.

He says, "That's something that I want to do in order to keep fans engaged." "I provide updates on injuries and answer any questions I can.

"Some fans are worried and skeptical because of what's happened to their club over the years." "I think we can be transparent now."

Savage believes that numbers are already proving the club's success – their first North West Counties Premier Division league game was a sellout – but this is not a short-term project.

Savage states, "You can be happy looking in the mirror if you believe that all you do is for the benefit of the community."