The winding-up petition was adjourned by the High Court, giving Bury Football Club a five-week window in which to settle debts with the most pressing creditors. During the hearing, it emerged that HMRC are now the lead creditor, being owed £277,640.77 by the club – a figure which will only increase as time goes by. Former assistant manager Chris Brass’ deferral of the £140,000 he’s owed was, and still is, contingent on the players and staff being paid their March salaries. This still hasn’t taken place, as this piece on the BBC confirms. It’s incumbent on Steve Dale as owner and chairman to address that as soon as possible, with a vague promise of late next week rumoured.
A statement was released several hours after the adjournment on the official website, in which it originally suggested a resolution to the owed salaries this week. At an unspecified point after publication, it was amended to remove the reference to a specific timeframe. What had brought relief to many readers initially only brought yet more anxiety hours later, together with a non-sequitur reference to the Sunday Sport newspaper of all things in the midst of a passive-aggressive pop at supporters racked with worry. The vast majority of the statement is extremely defensive, and not at all the rallying cry you’d expect from a chairman of a professional football club or committed communitarian.
Granted, it also painted a picture of a future in which major changes will be obligatory to keeping the club afloat next season – stop me if I’ve heard that one before. Actions speak much louder than incoherent words, which even with the best of intentions, might not be able to acted upon. The Damoclean threat by HMRC will not be avoided on the back of an unspecified sum from the EFL, nor will it be remedied in combination with season ticket sales. Whilst there’s still major doubt whether the club will be a going concern in 2019/2020, even the most die-hard of fans will at least think twice before renewing their subscription, especially if they can’t claim back the cost in the event of administration by using a credit card for their purchase(s). To repeat, these two streams of income were what was used in High Court to stave off the club being wound up immediately, and says nothing of having any cash in the bank over the summer to pay for other expenditure during the months without a ball being kicked…
Playing devil’s advocate, Dale is absolutely right to say that some ‘bitter pills’ will need to be swallowed by all concerned, should the business even survive past the 15th of May. In reality, that will undoubtedly mean a drastic reduction in the playing budget and probably redundancies for some non-football staff, too. I don’t wish anyone to lose their livelihood, and the vast, vast majority of people I’ve come into contact with at the club are talented, hard-working, and passionate about Bury. The burden will mostly fall on players who must by now be instructing their agents to seek more stable pastures next term, but the strife already caused by the lack of remuneration cannot be underestimated.
It’s inevitable in any firm that if people are unhappy and not being paid on time (or at all), employees will air their grievances in one way or another. The ubiquity of social media has provided an avenue for ‘leaks’ to spread, which allege a whole host of things. Taken individually, they are next to impossible to substantiate and could easily fall into the ‘he said, she said’ category. However, when you receive messages from no fewer than six people working in completely different departments that, for all intents and purposes, echo the same sentiments which aren’t just related to money, it’s hard to ignore. I should also stress that six is not a tiny sample for a club the size of Bury, either…
A professional football club is not just another business. Whilst I’m not fond of the term, there are many stakeholders (yes, even in BL9) in its ongoing operation. Bury as a town is one of the smallest in England or Wales that hosts a team in the top 92 and consequently, whether everyone in that corner of south Lancashire realises it, the club play a major role in its economy, so it’s no surprise to see the council, its two MPs and belatedly, even the EFL take an active interest in what’s unfolding.
It’s the middle of April now. In any other season, this blog would be awash with analysis, opinion, who might win which award in the end of season showpiece at the club, as well as statistics about the run-in, who Ryan Lowe could sign in the summer if he got the Shakers up. It should go without saying that I don’t want to write pieces about off-field matters, especially now that they’re this dire. Finances are never a million miles away from keen consideration by the more prudent-minded at Gigg Lane, but we’re now shoulders-deep in the mire, a nightmare that has sucked away all the enthusiasm over the displays on the pitch.
I know of fellow supporters that are suffering badly from the events that have transpired in the last fortnight. Many of them are at wits’ end, desperate for a positive resolution to the situation. Others still refuse to believe that there’s even much of a problem at all, even after the latest news. That the game is on against Colchester United tomorrow has unfortunately had the effect of assuaging lingering doubts.
As always with hindsight, there were some warning signs. A popular Shrewsbury Town forum had a thread on Dale as soon as he took over, the contents of which make for grim reading. It should be noted that elements of Salop’s supporters have been fiercely critical of how Bury have operated financially for years now, and not without good reason. They were not alone. Football message boards always throw up posters that make a big splash and then disappear without trace. The largest Shakers one was no different in December, and as I mentioned earlier in this blogpost, it’s often easy to dismiss a lone voice. Much of what the anonymous guest said has been vindicated, however.
It’s at this point I want to make two things crystal clear; firstly, I am fully behind Lowe, the backroom staff, the players, and everyone else at the club (with one big exception) in whatever they decide to do from hereon out. It’s already close to the 14-day notice period without pay in most of their cases by my best guess. Few could blame them if they left now.
Secondly, the mess was inherited for all intents and purposes. The past few years’ accounts all show substantial losses and spiralling debts; the latest ones have yet to be filed. A cursory glance at former owner Stewart Day’s appointments on Companies House is very illustrative, coming on the back of two more of his businesses being wound up. What you could say about him though was that he really did come to care about the club. That should not be construed as a defence of his time in charge, but his passion was self-evident.
That passion and ‘everyman’ persona he imbued seems to be in sharp contrast to the current owner. He is by his own admission not a Just eight days ago, yet another statement on the site spoke of his desire to pass on the reins to a ‘younger custodian’. That time has come now. I have racked my brain to come up with a real reason as to why he took over in the first place. He’s said that he’s not an ATM – nobody either wants or expects him to be, and if he can’t take on a task of the size Bury are, he should let others try whilst there’s still a small window.
Liquidation is a serious prospect in the near-future. I have had conversations with a representative at Chester and Supporters Direct to gather information for what would need to be done in that eventuality. Of paramount importance is somehow ensuring that the ground remains in the club’s possession by any means possible, whether it’s conjunction with the council or another body. The ‘success’ of any possible phoenix club is highly contingent on that happening, whilst being fully cognizant that there are still charges against it.
In any case, the clock is ticking on 134 years of history. In my opinion, Bury Football Club will only get to their next anniversary if someone else can step in. Even if that happens, there’s no magic wand to either turn the clock, nor will HMRC have the same degree of leniency that Brass showed this week when the club are back in court, almost certainly on the back of a heavy play-off semi-final aggregate defeat. Staff and fans need to be united now more than ever.
If you are able to donate a small amount for the staff still without pay at the time of this update (16th of April), you can do so via this link:
Forever Bury, officially recognised by Supporters Direct, are actively seeking new membership and/or funds to build capital for all possible contingencies. Whether you’re a Shaker or a follower of another club, your membership or donation would be extremely welcome, and it could just prove to be the difference between a club bearing the name Bury still existing or ceasing to. The link to join them, as I have done today, is below: