Optimism in the air for Morecambe ahead of big kick-off

Morecambe kick off their 14th EFL campaign today and co-chairman Rod Taylor tells GAVIN BROWNE there is an air of optimism despite being tipped for relegation yet again
Morecambe's co-chairman Graham Howse and Rod TaylorMorecambe's co-chairman Graham Howse and Rod Taylor
Morecambe's co-chairman Graham Howse and Rod Taylor

If there are three certainties in life, then they have to be death, taxes and Morecambe being tipped for relegation from League Two.

The Shrimps have repeatedly been backed for a return to non-league since becoming a Football League club in 2007.

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It’s the same this year as they get ready to embark on their 14th consecutive campaign in the bottom tier; their first full season with Derek Adams in charge.

Morecambe boss Derek Adams and his  assistant, John McMahonMorecambe boss Derek Adams and his  assistant, John McMahon
Morecambe boss Derek Adams and his assistant, John McMahon

They start the 2020/21 league season at Cheltenham Town today after victory against Grimsby Town in the League Cup last week, followed by a midweek EFL Trophy group stage defeat against Rochdale.

Yet, while clubs have been in unchartered territory as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, there is a sense of optimism in the air around that part of the North West.

With off-field cash increasingly crucial after their season ended in March, the Shrimps have taken giant strides in that department.

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A three-year stadium naming rights deal with Mazuma was announced in July, accompanied by a five-year sponsorship of the main stand with Wright and Lord solicitors.

Further stand and shirt sponsorships followed and, while it doesn’t mean the club will begin to splash the cash, every extra penny is welcome.

It can also aid Adams with his budget after a busy summer which saw 11 players leave and nine more arrive at the newly-rebranded Mazuma Stadium.

Burnley loanees Ryan Cooney and Adam Phillips are back on a season-long basis after making a big impression last time around.

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The signings of other players including Ben Pringle, highly-rated Newcastle United loanee Jake Turner, Kelvin Mellor and Harry Davis have also gone down well with the Morecambe fans.

The bookies might remain unimpressed but Shrimps’ co-chairman Rod Taylor believes there is a buzz around the club.

He said: “I think it’s palpable, in as much as we aren’t seeing lots of spectators for obvious reasons but our season ticket sales are excellent.

“There’s been a lot of commercial activity. It’s great having Mazuma involved as the stadium sponsor, that’s a real breath of fresh air.”

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As most clubs start the return to football after six months off, there are clouds hanging over the sport.

It’s previously been claimed that around half-a-dozen EFL sides have doubts as to their financial viability for the 2020/21 season.

It wasn’t just the lack of matchday income that caused problems while society tried to find a way to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Off-the-field incomes took a massive hit with a lack of corporate clients on matchdays and other functions during the week.

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In Morecambe’s case, the Wright and Lord Stand has been a money generator with birthday parties, wedding anniversaries and the like all held there in the past.

The Shrimps are in better shape now than they have been previously – most notably during Diego Lemos’ ill-fated association with the club – but there is no room for complacency.

“We aren’t in totally robust health but I think we’re a lot better off than a lot more,” Taylor said.

“Covid has hit everyone. Clubs can’t earn money at the moment and we have to recognise that but we’ve managed so far and, hopefully, we can come out the other side.

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“I’ve no doubt there are clubs who are struggling. We had our struggles two or three years ago but we came through that and we’ve got some stability now.”

That stability could be helped further by the vote to implement salary caps in the bottom two divisions.

In the wake of Covid-19, the vast majority of League Two clubs backed a proposal whereby they could spend a maximum of £1.5m on wages.

It was less clear-cut in League One, where the 16-team threshold was only just reached in passing a motion to spend £2.5m.

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As with any new initiative, the salary cap has had its share of supporters and denigrators.

The PFA announced a notice of arbitration within hours of the vote, while some clubs opposed a flat figure on the basis they could spend more and remain sustainable as a result of their higher revenues.

Those in favour argue that clubs will have to learn to live within their means and that it makes for more of a level playing field.

“The wage cap doesn’t directly affect us because we’re under that,” Taylor said.

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“There are a few issues with other clubs; one club, a couple of years ago, spent three million quid and got relegated to the National League. We’ve never been in that position because our budget has always been just over £1m.

“Now it’s a maximum of £1.5m in League Two, and while that won’t bother us, it will affect other people. The ones who are spending ridiculous money will have to box a bit more cleverly.

“It also means we won’t have squads of 35 or 40 players but, even before Covid, you couldn’t have kept all of those players happy.

“I think Covid has focused minds but the process was starting anyway.”