UPDATE: Macclesfield have withdrawn their offer with the following statement: "It was intended to be a light-hearted idea that would be of interest only to our local media. We now recognise that, whatever controls are put in place, it creates a possibility of altering the outcome of a competitive fixture and as such, clearly crosses an important line with respect to the integrity of the game. We are therefore withdrawing the offer and would like to apologise unreservedly to the football authorities and to the Football Conference for our error of judgement in this matter."
Football fans are being given a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play professional football in a proper competitive match – but only if they agree to pay for the privilege.
Before you start thinking about raiding the piggy bank and trotting out at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge, we should just point out that the club who have agreed to let a total amateur fulfil their dream is Conference National side Macclesfield Town.
And as for how much you’ll need to pay? A cool £20,000. For that, you’ll be registered with the FA and guaranteed at least 10 minutes in a Conference Premier or Cup match this season.
The club cooked up the scheme as part of its attempts to raise the £100,000 they need by August if they are to avoid going out of business.
It’s a lot of money for the average football fan, and Macclesfield’s hopes of finding someone to take them up on the deal are not helped by the conditions attached to the deal: to be eligible, fans must be men between 18 and 35 years old, and physically fit.
That's probably going to be the dealbreaker. We can see a rich, ageing businessman doing this sort of thing, but someone young enough to be playing for real? That would just be embarrassing for all concerned.
And it's not even as if a young hopeful could use it as a make-or-break way to get a chance at playing professionally. You’re only likely to get 10 minutes on the pitch, and by the club's admission it will almost certainly only come when the team are already winning or losing 5-0.
There’s also another problem: the club could go under in any case before the match actually takes place.
As for the team you'll be playing for? Okay, they're not exactly bristling with household names - but Macclesfield pulled off a huge shock in the FA Cup this season when they knocked out Cardiff. They were then cruelly denied a place in the fifth round after outplaying eventual champions Wigan in their next match, but lost to an early penalty -all the more galling considering they were denied a cast-iron spot kick themselves just before half time.
It's a shame about the age and time limitations, because the rest of the deal sounds pretty good, according to the Macclesfield Express: “The fan will be given a squad number as well as a set of home, away and training kit. He will then train with the first team, managed by Silkmen legends John Askey and Efe Sodje, for a whole week with access to all areas and receipt of usual player privileges including a place in the official club photo.”
That’s more or less your lot, though: club director Andy Scott admitted that “if we are 3-0 up with 10 minutes to go, that would be a good opportunity” to let the fan have a run-out.
Askey, the current manager, said that he “wouldn’t have anything against it” if someone pays the money, so long as it doesn’t “hinder or restrict the team.”
He then simultaneously undermined the point of the whole thing by adding, “For me, pulling the Macc shirt on for the first time was an extremely proud day and massive achievement.”
Writing a cheque probably won’t fill the winner with quite such a sense of accomplishment. But anyone nutty enough to pay £20,000 for the privilege of playing for Macclesfield probably won’t worry too much about how what they did to get on the pitch.