Meeting Mr Cala: My surreal afternoon at Morecambe FC

Joseph Cala, would-be owner of Morecambe FC, at the Globe Arena on Tuesday.
Joseph Cala, would-be owner of Morecambe FC, at the Globe Arena on Tuesday.

GREG LAMBERT met Morecambe’s new would-be owner as staff waited to get paid on an uncertain day in the club’s history.

It’s 1pm on Tuesday, January 31 at the Globe Arena.

Around half a dozen staff are sitting in the downstairs bar lounge at Morecambe football ground.

It could be any normal lunch break at the Globe. Except today, the staff are pensive, waiting for news.

For the second time in four months, wages are late.

Employees were told money should be in their accounts today. They were supposed to be paid last Friday.

Meanwhile Sky Sports News is on the TV in the corner, relaying the latest on transfer deadline day.

Assistant manager Ken McKenna is working hard on his laptop and manager Jim Bentley is on his mobile phone outside in the rain.

They have football business to attend to.

But even though he is busy trying to find new players and the dark clouds hanging over the club aren’t just from the weather, the gaffer is still generous with his time. He has agreed to be interviewed.

Bentley is as professional and polite as always, a credit to the club.

He answers all questions at length, mainly talking about football matters but happy to speak about off-field woes.

In the main stand, I start by asking Jim if the wages have gone in.

The boss confirms this hasn’t happened yet and they hope to know more soon.

“It’s not ideal, it’s very frustrating,” he says.

“Among our staff and squad we have a great spirit. But it’s not the first time it’s happened. I’m sure things will sort themselves out in time. The least you expect is to get paid for your services and people have gone beyond what they are expected to do.”

I ask him about his thoughts on Joseph Cala, the Italian businessman who has been at the Globe for the past few weeks.

Mr Cala claims he’s the new owner, subject to English Football League confirmation, and that once his ownership is official he will focus all investment in the footballing side of Morecambe FC.

“It’s early days, talk is cheap,” says Jim.

“We’ve got to see the actions. There’s a lot going on at the minute. It’s all up in the air. It’s dragged on for far too long. The old board has the club’s best interests at heart. Yes, Joseph Cala has been in the building. Who knows what’s going on?

“We just need to put this to bed, we need a bit of stability, it’s very hard to comment on.

“People are suffering for it but we’ll crack on with the job in hand.”

Afterwards the boss offers me a cup of tea.

Meanwhile other staff, it’s fair to say, are putting a brave face on their predicament.

Everybody I speak to at the Globe is friendly.

The phrase ‘gallows humour’ is bandied about, as they crack jokes to take their minds off the situation, and continue to go about their daily business.

Rod Taylor, 23 years a board member, Morecambe FC through and through, is there too.

Rod has been trying to keep staff morale up, a personable presence at the ground on a surreal and uncertain day.

He asks me if I’d like to speak to Joseph Cala.

The head of US-based firm Cala Corporation is upstairs.

He apologises for being scruffily dressed, shakes my hand and shows me into the boardroom.

Over the past week, amid legal wranglings and meetings over who actually owns Morecambe Football Club, Mr Cala has been outspoken, saying he feels there is too much focus at the Globe on “catering and weddings”.

So he is unhappy that the boardroom table is covered in dirty dishes and a jug of congealed milk.

“Look at this,” he says to me. “You call this hospitality?”

Mr Cala agrees to be interviewed, although he feels he is not dressed smartly enough to talk on camera. “More notice next time,” he asks.

He is alone in the boardroom, save for Rod Taylor popping in to see if I still want that cuppa.

Mr Cala’s demeanour is serious, sometimes quite forceful, and he talks very openly.

My first question is about the worries of staff and when they might be paid.

Mr Cala says: “I agree with them. But if I work for a company and I realise that my company has a hard time to make payments, and a couple of times my pay cheque is late, and I realise that something is wrong, I think I will look for another job.

“Everybody waits for the ship to sink.”

I ask him if he will pay the staff.

“I’m going to start making payments, I have to,” he says.

But he stresses that he is not yet officially the owner until the English Football League clears him.

“Then I will be free to do what I want,” he says.

Talk turns to Morecambe FC finances.

He quotes annual profit and loss figures, and claims “the economic situation here is not really bad”.

I mention G50 Holdings, the firm at the centre of the ownership row.

He says he purchased G50’s controlling stake in the club on “Thursday or Friday”, openly telling me how much he agreed to pay for it, a six-figure sum.

I ask about Diego Lemos, the man unveiled as Morecambe FC owner last September, and if he still has a claim on the ownership.

“If he is the owner, then he should be here,” he says.

“I’m very happy for him to come here and bring a cheque. Tell him he’s welcome.”

He is critical of the board, saying they are responsible for it being run “like a social club more than than a business”.

But he also concedes “some directors have put their heart and soul into the club”.

He would look to appoint “two or three” of them for his own regime, although he won’t confirm names.

As we talk, he receives a phone call from former owner and chairman Peter McGuigan, who has been at a meeting with the EFL.

Mr Cala then hands me the mobile phone to speak to Peter.

In a brief conversation, Mr McGuigan reiterates that Joseph’s ownership of Morecambe FC remains subject to him passing EFL checks and as yet nothing has been confirmed.

Mr Cala and I then resume our chat.

I put to him that he must have plenty of finance behind him to pursue this takeover.

“I don’t have money to burn,” he replies. “I’m very careful with money.”

Then once again, he complains about the state of the boardroom table.

He says it hasn’t been cleared for five days and turns the full milk jug over to demonstrate. The milk doesn’t fall out.

I wonder aloud if the employees haven’t cleared up because they haven’t been paid.

Mr Cala says: “It is only three or four days. If anyone is at the club just for the money they shouldn’t be at the club. They should be here for the love of the club.”

Then I ask him if he would mind posing for a photograph.

He leaves the boardroom. A few minutes later he returns in a black shirt, and a red and white tie. Morecambe colours.

Now happy with his dress, Mr Cala poses for photos overlooking the pitch, which he describes as “fit only for sheep”.

He reiterates that investment will be focussed on football matters such as improving the turf, because fans don’t care about anything other than “the 11 lions on the pitch”.

After we return inside, he says “You can go now” making it clear the conversation is over.

But, as the de facto owner of Morecambe FC, he gives me permission to film a ‘Facebook Live’ update outside the ground.

Back downstairs, employees are still going about their work.

There is no sign of anyone ‘downing tools’ although some would surely be within their rights.

One or two MFC workers ask me about the conversation with Mr Cala, wondering if I now know what’s going on.

But I’m not sure I’m any the wiser.

Staff still aren’t aware if and when they will be paid.

There is a man in the boardroom acting like he owns Morecambe Football Club.

In reality, nobody actually knows for certain who will end up in charge or what the future holds for the Shrimps.

And as far as I know, the dishes still hadn’t been cleared.

As I leave the Globe Arena in the rain, an overwhelming sadness hits me.

How has my hometown club come to this?

WEDNESDAY UPDATES

*A club spokesman said that casual staff and those employees with “urgent bills to pay” had now been paid some or all of their wages from football club funds. It was not known when other staff would be paid.

*We approached the English Football League to ask for the latest on Mr Cala and the ownership checks process. An EFL spokesman said they would not comment at this stage.

Former Visitor editor Mike Whalley spoke to Joseph Cala in Costa on Morecambe promenade on Tuesday morning. For this interview see HERE.

For more from Jim Bentley’s interview at the Globe on Tuesday afternoon see our Facebook page HERE

For a diary of the craziest week in Morecambe FC history see HERE.