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Interview: Morecambe manager Jim Bentley opens up about club's financial struggles

Morecambe manager Jim Bentley speaks to Sports Mole about the ongoing financial struggles at the League Two club.

'We are coming out fighting' - that is the general sentiment of cash-strapped Morecambe Football Club, and manager Jim Bentley is spearheading the message.

In a sport where a number of elite clubs in this country are forking out in excess of £100,000-a-week wages on individual players, the League Two side are at the complete other end of the spectrum, struggling to pay staff and the team on time.

There was an air of optimism around the Lancashire-based club when Brazilian businessman Diego Lemos bought a majority stake in September, but the initial promises of investment were unfulfilled, and after leaving the country on November 17, nobody at the club has heard from him since.

With all the off-field issues rumbling on, Bentley, who made almost 300 appearances for the club as a player before becoming manager in 2011, has been responsible for keeping things ticking along on the pitch.

He is not alone, though. After being handed a two-match touchline ban and £1,000 fine by the Football Association for his reaction to Alex Kenyon's red card against Cheltenham Town in December, the fans pooled together during Morecambe's 4-1 win over Notts County earlier this month to raise cash for the manager's fine.

Morecambe manager Jim Bentley pictured in January 2017

"I did my post-match interview and out of the blue was presented with the money to pay my fine," Bentley explained to Sports Mole. "The fella who handed it over told me, 'We all care about the club and we care about you and we stand shoulder to shoulder with you. We know you're fighting for this club'. I just felt so proud because this is my 15th season, I always give it my all and I've done a lot of work with the community.

"I've always given 100% as a player, as a coach, as a manager at the club, and it was just nice to have that show of appreciation from the supporters. It was a very touching moment. There were two other people in the room and they all had a tear in their eye so it just set me off a little bit. Three of us got a little bit emotional. It was a nice moment. As I say, what a fantastic gesture, I couldn't thank them enough."

To show his gratitude, Bentley has teamed up with EFL sponsors Sky Bet to give each fan a free pie and a pint or soft drink at Morecambe's clash against Cambridge United at the Globe Arena on February 11.

"Sky Bet got in touch with us and said it was a great story, a real positive story - one of those stories we could do with more of in the game. A lot of negativity surrounds football but they saw a real positive," said Bentley. "They wanted to help me and I was keen to give something back [to the fans]. I can't afford to buy everyone a pie and a pint! Sky Bet got in touch and came up with the idea and I said, 'Great, all for it!'.

"The next home game they will all be able to take advantage of that. It's fantastic by Sky Bet. It's a great gesture by them. The people of Morecambe, and certainly the community, have been spoken very highly of over the last 10 days or so and it will be nice for me to give something back with the help of Sky Bet."

Due to the financial issues hampering development off the pitch, the Shrimps have been placed under a transfer embargo, which involves certain criteria that need to be met with regards to incomings and outgoings.

The club are stretched so thin, with just 16 players contracted to the League Two outfit, and in order to free up some cash they had to sell their best player Tom Barkhuizen to Preston North End in November.

Tom Barkhuizen of Morecambe and Brad Smith of Bournemouth in action in August 2016© SilverHub

"The transfer embargo can sound pretty daunting but it's not the first time it's happened at our place. We've worked under these rules and regulations in the past and we've just got on with it," said Bentley. "It's very difficult at our club because we're one of the smallest, if not the smallest in the division. The location's not great because it's a very southern league. We've got the smallest playing budget. It's been very, very hard.

"When new investment comes in and a new owner, everyone gets excited and gets on the bandwagon and the future looks bright and promising. There has been plenty promised, which slowly but surely over the coming days and weeks started to go downhill. We were late getting paid and then we wondered whether we were going to get paid at all. We had to sell our best player to Preston, which paid the wages. Then the owner disappeared back over to where he's based. He's gone off the scene and no-one's heard from him since.

"The ship has just been floating along and no-one's been at the forefront of it all, so it's been very difficult. The loan players had to go back at the end of December because we haven't been able to afford to keep them. It's very, very tough as you can imagine, particularly at this stage of the season when bookings start topping up, the cold weather, you start getting the odd injury, and we're coming into a busy month with seven games, so we need to get some players in.

"The old board have sort of reunited and they've come together and we're fighting through it, trying to sort out the problems we have off the field, which can make it even better on the field. I'm just focusing on the matchday responsibilities, focusing on the players, keeping them organised, motivated, doing what they can to win games. I can't affect boardroom level because it's a financial thing. I can't get involved because I can't affect it."

Cole Stockton celebrates scoring for Morecambe in August 2016© SilverHub

There has been a shred of positivity this week with the arrival of Everton teenager Antony Evans, who has joined on loan for the remainder of the season, but long-term, are there concerns that the club's future is in jeopardy?

"When a new owner comes in, takes the shares and then disappears, it's very tough. Who knows what is around the corner, but what I can say is that the board have got together and are working extremely hard to sort out some of the stuff that they have to do to be able to run a Football League club.

"There is always the threat of administration, there is always the threat of clubs going out of business but I don't think that's the case at the moment. There's been a bit of a mess, it's all come about over the last few months. We've never been one of the big clubs anyway, we are very limited in all departments, everything's stacked against us in that sense but we do everything within the rules. At the moment the board have to sort out [financial issues] and get back on track so we can move forward and look towards a brighter future."

Despite the frustration that is being felt due to the AWOL owner and the growing uncertainty over what could happen next, Bentley is not allowing himself to succumb to stress.

"It's not been nice because I care about the club, I want it to be successful and I don't like negativity surrounding my club because there's a lot of good people that work [here] and it hurts the fans as well. It's been a very stressful time. There's been a lot going on behind the scenes that I'm getting told. It's been hard managing the players when we were late getting paid.

"There is quite a bit of uncertainty knocking around, we have had people leave the club from other departments of the football club probably because of what's gone on, but we've all stuck together and we're all getting on with the job at hand. In that respect I feel mightily proud, but on the other hand it's been a very stressful couple of months because there has been much uncertainty and negativity surrounding the club. It's 24/7 for me. You take your problems home and it can really affect you so it's been a stressful time, but I put it all down to experience. Hopefully in the future I can look back on it as a good learning curve, but it's been a really difficult time for all concerned, and for me as the manager it's been tough.

"The players and the staff look to me for leadership and guidance. The board are looking to me with what I can do with the players because ultimately we're a football club and we have to put teams on the pitch and be competitive in the division. So there is that stress of doing all that, and the job's been made harder because we've had to send our loan players back. We've had to sell our best player in Tom Barkhuizen to Preston. It's not nice, but you don't feel sorry for yourself, you come out fighting and that's what we're doing."

Morecambe manager Jim Bentley looks on prior to the Sky Bet League Two match between Morecambe and Northampton Town at Globe Arena on September 19, 2015© Getty Images

As well as being the face of the club for the supporters and media alike, a huge part of Bentley's role is to prevent the players from losing motivation during this tumultuous time, which can be hard considering the doubts over payment.

For the manager, though, his message is clear: "You're professional footballers, get on with the job at hand. You can't affect what's going on. All we can do is try to win games of football and hopefully the rest will look after itself."

With regards to money, the Professional Footballers' Association has stepped in to make up the outstanding payments, but on one occasion, it took 12 days for the staff to receive their monthly wage.

In times like this, it is easy to get distracted with what is going on behind the scenes, but on the pitch Morecambe have had a positive start to 2017, drawing two and winning one, which has left them 17th in the league table.

Back in August the Shrimps were flying high, winning four consecutive games, resulting in Bentley receiving Manager of the Month and the Liverpool-born coach is hopeful that those positive days will return.

"We've played well. We're pretty pleased with the way it's going at the minute, there's a good spirit among the lads," the manager told us. "Even though we have all the problems going on off the field, there's a real good feel-good factor around the community and the supporters around the ground. It's as if they know we're in trouble and they've got to do that little bit more and try that little bit harder to push the team on, and to be fair to the team, that's reflected on the supporters.

"There's off-field problems but all the staff, the players, the board, the supporters have all pulled together to try and kick us on and hopefully the stability will come back in somewhere and we can build on what we've generated. Hopefully come May, everything is sorted and everything is back in place off the field."

With some lower-league teams largely being forgotten due to the rising cost of football, Bentley could be forgiven for feeling gloomy about Morecambe's future, but the manager's optimistic outlook is unwavering.

"Whatever happens with regards to where we finish in the division, the club has got to go on - that's the most important thing. I hope come May, we will look back at a turbulent season and can look forward to a positive 2017-18 season where everything is stable again and there's a brighter outlook and a brighter future for all concerned."

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A general view of the Globe Arena during the pre season friendly match between Accrington Stanley and Blackburn Rovers at the Globe Arena on July 16, 2011
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