This piece is a follow-on of sorts to Bury Football Club Have No Identity, which I wrote back at the start of September.
Even in the space of eight weeks, the general feeling at Bury Football Club has slid even further. The largest online forum, once a hive of vitriolic activity on the frequent occasions the team lost, is now a much more ambivalent place to visit and this is also reflected in the stands at Gigg Lane. In previous years, yet another limp defeat would’ve been the catalyst for a vociferous outcry against the manager. No-one I’ve spoken to wants Lee Clark to remain in post a minute longer but the discontent amongst fans is… muted in how it is manifesting itself.
For me personally, there is an anger at seeing the current squad, which, not without its weaknesses, are being really poorly utilised by the current coaching staff. The difference between the talent within it and actual results is the widest I’ve ever known it to be in 24 seasons of following the club. However, even that emotion isn’t what it could be, nor is it directed at just the man in charge of team selection, tactics and transfers. I am angry that the chairman Stewart Day has allowed things to become so toxic that supporters who have been going many more decades than I have and who still have the means to watch the team week in, week out, are reconsidering that arrangement or have already made the decision to sadly stay away.
Of course, these occurrences arguably happen whenever someone is fed up for a long period of time with performances but I think this time, it’s something deeper and points to a more fundamental disconnect with Bury and arguably, the sport itself. As everyone knows (and those who follow teams who can call on larger fanbases often point out), the third tier side at the northern point of the Manchester conurbation have seldom enjoyed a groundswell of people through the turnstiles, so when it becomes more than a handful of die-hards, it’s very noticeable.
Additionally, I don’t believe that simply dismissing Clark will solve the growing problems at Gigg Lane but it nevertheless is a completely necessary step to take before, not after, tomorrow’s match away at local rivals Oldham Athletic. The perceived reluctance to do so (which many link to the pair’s strong connections to Huddersfield Town) only prolongs the profound sense of disillusionment many now have.
As I’ve said before, it isn’t just with matters on the pitch but how things are off it. There is a big disconnect between most staff and customers and even a cursory perusal through some of the stories online, which even if some were embellished, still paints a damning picture. I confess I readily accepted the idea of football clubs being ‘businesses’ many years ago but to that end, it’s only viable (and even close to solvent) if it retains the current level of customers or ideally, adds to them. Ignoring hand-written letters by people who have supported the club in a timespan of many decades is just soul-destroying.
Once again, mooted talk of a new stadium being built ‘within three years of 2017’ has gone quiet. The implications of such an idea are wide-reaching for the town as a whole but people are still really none the wiser as to if it will ever become a reality, let alone how it will be financed. It’s symptomatic of the current regime, often over-promising and under-delivering on a whole plethora of schemes. Before too long, even well-intentioned announcements in public receive the cold shoulder because just as with how 2017/2018 is going, the gap between expectation and reality is massive.
I am the researcher for Football Manager 2018 (so please direct your bile to me when it releases!). As you can imagine, there is a ridiculous level of detail involved in that, from superfluous things like a player’s skin complexion to the much more pertinent bank balance conundrum. I was asked by my superior how a club with no major revenue streams currently outside of matchdays can possibly afford the likes of Harry Bunn, Jermaine Beckford et al. I have no answer for that and the general confusion around this aspect only serves to further drive a wedge between the board and the only stakeholders who really ultimately matter: the fans.
Whilst this blogpost is not quite as pretentious/pointless as an open letter, if someone with influence in the club does happen to come across these pages, I would like them to consider what I’ve written: the chairman needs to have a radical rethink of where the club is going, how this is communicated and most importantly of all, how to get the small but actually very loyal core support back onside. Clark’s removal is but one piece of the puzzle. A much more open, humbler approach is also required. Few hold Day’s Championship ‘dream’ against him. In these times of mega-money sloshing about the game but only really being distributed amongst a small cabal, Bury cannot afford to lose their best and main source of income. The problems are bigger than just one team in the third tier but there is still much that can be done to eliminate or minimise them now.
I suggested to the club two years ago to conduct detailed research into what exactly the ‘average’ supporter and citizen of the metropolitan borough wants from them. Whilst not a panacea, it would go a long way now to bridging the gap many sorely feel before it becomes irreversible.
All things considered, the current state of affairs is a drain on my enthusiasm to write reviews of games, not because the Shakers are frequently losing (although that doesn’t help!) but because it just feels like there’s an air of acceptance about it instead. On Saturday, it was a relatively even contest decided by a moment of magic from Southend United’s Ryan Leonard, who I warned about in the strongest terms during my preview. The current system does not play to the squad’s strengths and a change of tack is required tomorrow. Another loss would surely even force Day’s hand in this matter.