In Greek mythology, a phoenix was a bird-like creature that possessed the power to regenerate itself, meaning that it could be ‘reborn’ from the ashes of its former incarnation.
It’s an apt description of the increasing number of football clubs that are forged from the embers of a former identity – a situation that is likely to worsen as the after effects of the coronavirus pandemic are felt harshly up and down the football pyramid.
The latest phoenix to rise from the flames is Macclesfield FC, who will replace the now defunct Macclesfield Town and begin life in the North West Counties League in 2021/22.
Local businessman Robert Smethurst has purchased the club’s former Moss Road home as well as its commercial assets, and he has revealed something of a coup in naming Robbie Savage – who lives in the area – as the new entity’s ‘head of football operations’.
Macclesfield Town were wound up by administrators in September and subsequently expelled from the National League, but this fresh start – powered by those with local ties – will give the people of the Cheshire town a football club to call their own once more.
And in a nice twist, Danny Whitaker – a Macclesfield legend who played nearly 400 games for the club and who signed a deal to become their manager just a day before the winding up order was revealed – will be installed as manager once again.
Some clubs that are considered phoenixes aren’t really; outfits like FC United of Manchester are set up as protests against the ownership of a typically bigger concern, and so this rundown of football’s phoenixes from the flames will focus on those born out of the cruel demise of a previous entity due to financial annihilation.
Accrington Stanley F.C.
A stalwart of the EFL these days, many people don’t realise that Accrington were one of the twelve founder members of the Football League back in 1888.
But they met their demise in 1966 after tumbling out of the professional ranks, but in 1968 they were reborn as Accrington Stanley.
In the 1980s, Accrington leapt to national prominence when they featured in an advert for milk – the immortal line ‘Accrington Stanley! Who are they?’ seemed to spark an interest in the club, and it wasn’t long before local businessman Eric Whalley took the reins and began developing them on and off the pitch.
They climbed through the Football League, and today they sit happily in the third tier of English football.
Everyone loves a happy ending, and that’s essentially what AFC Wimbledon are enjoying right now as a League One outfit.
Because when they were formed in 2002, the club started life in the Combined Counties League. Six promotions later, the Dons are back where they belong.
AFC Wimbledon was a club born out of frustration. The former Wimbledon FC were allowed by the Football Association to relocate to Milton Keynes – a decision that was felt to be purely financial – to become the MK Dons.
Incredibly disgruntled, a handful of supporters met over a pint and the idea of AFC Wimbledon was born – after much hard work and dedication later, they now find themselves battling MK Dons in the third tier of English football.
Darlington F.C (Darlington 1883 2012 – 2017)
Often, financial calamity can follow some questionable decision making.
You can’t fault the ambition of Darlington’s former owner George Reynolds, who bankrolled a £25 million new stadium that would be humbly named the Reynolds Arena.
Unfortunately, it later transpired that the chairman had partly paid for the new ground with high interest loans, and with just 2,000 fans in the 25,000 arena it quickly became apparent that the maths on the deal weren’t quite right.
Well publicised moves to sign Paul Gascoigne and Faustino Asprilla fell through, and within six months Darlington had fallen into administration and were later sold to DFC 1883 Ltd, a supporter-led consortium.
Their previous financial plight meant that the new Darlington 1883 were expelled from the Football League and started life in 2012/13 in the Northern League Division One.
After a series of promotions, the club was allowed to be renamed Darlington FC – it’s former moniker, and today they are plying their trade in the National League North….pretty much back where they started prior to Reynolds’ intervention.
Poor decision making cost Hereford United dearly, and a club with a huge amount of history – founded as they were in 1924 – was fed to the wolves in 2014 with debts said to total £1.3 million.
Such was the disarray towards the end of that doomed spell home fans had boycotted the club’s home games, and it was out of that group that the idea for Hereford FC was born.
The Hereford United Supporters Trust (HUST) had an ownership bid accepted, and while they had to change the club’s name for legal reasons they were allowed to inherit the predecessor’s Edgar Street ground.
Since their establishment for the 2015/16 season, Hereford FC has comfortably climbed the no-league ladder and they are today knocking on the door of the Football League.
Maidstone United (Maidstone Invicta 1992 – 1995)
One bad decision threatened to decimate any hopes of a bright future for Maidstone United.
With blueprints for a new stadium drawn up, the club purchased a £400,000 plot of land back in 1992 with dreams of a shiny new arena.
Unfortunately, they hadn’t – and subsequently weren’t able – to secure planning permission, and suddenly they were left with a huge deficit on the balance sheet.
That ultimately led the club to bankruptcy, but quick thinking saw local youth team Maidstone Invicta taken over and the step up to adult football made.
From the Kent County League Fourth Division in 1993/94, Maidstone United – they were given permission to use the old club’s name in 1995 – now turn out in the National League South.
The name Terry Smith haunts the dreams of Chester City supporters.
The American purchased the club in July 1999, and after just a month at the helm as chairman he also announced himself as manager – just four league wins in as many months meant he soon became incredibly unpopular.
Smith eventually saw sense and stepped out of the dugout, but ahead of the 2001/02 season he drew ire once more when employing his close friend, Gordon Hill, as manager.
Eventually Smith left the club, but a series of financial catastrophes left the club on the brink in 2009 with reported debts of £7 million. Placed into administration, Chester were handed a 25-point deduction which precipitated a slide down the football pyramid.
In the background, the City Fans United (CFU) group had been set up, and soon after a game against Eastbourne Borough was abandoned when supporters stormed the pitch to protest against the club’s ownership.
By 2010, players were going unpaid and refusing to board the team bus, and so the CFU set about building a phoenix club: Chester FC was born.
They took on City’s assets, and after starting out in the Northern Premier League Division One, today they are back in the National League North.
S.S.D. Parma Calcio 1913
Just to show it’s not just English clubs that require a phoenix-like rise from the ashes, one of Italian football’s most prominent outfits also went through the doldrums before a rebirth.
Parma won the UEFA Cup twice and Coppa Italia three times during their 90 year history, but a bizarre scandal involving their main sponsor – the dairy firm Parmalat -left them penniless.
Parmalat, curiously, expanded from producing long life milk to investing in stocks and derivatives in 1997, but a series of bad investments – coupled with accusations of financial fraud – led them to pull their funding out of Parma, forcing the club into bankruptcy.
Reborn as Parma FC SpA, the new entity lasted a decade before more financial ruin set in – the club’s directors were even forced to sell trophies in order to raise capital.
Some stability was found and Parma Calcio 1913 was born, albeit they were made to drop down to Serie D. They have since returned to Serie A.