The deed is done. Whilst (The) Bury Football Club Company Limited still exist as an insolvent going concern, the EFL’s decision to reject the proposal by the ‘Rescue Board’ to reinstate the Shakers in League Two for the 2020/2021 season will likely be the penultimate deathblow to 134 years of history. The coup de grace will surely come in the form of a final winding-up petition by HMRC, which is slated for the 16th of October.
The blame game is still being played, and depending on your own disposition as to how much of it is apportioned to Stewart Day, Steve Dale, and the EFL themselves. But I’m not writing another post that serves as a eulogy for what’s been. Out of the most devastating of circumstances arises an opportunity that, realistically speaking, was never going to come supporters’ way without some extremely rich individuals counting themselves among the base.
There will be some who, barring a scarcely believable intervention, will not want to come on the journey of any subsequent phoenix club – the grief is still very raw for one thing. If the merits of a new entity don’t make their mark on them in the fullness of time, then their decision should be respected.
Nevertheless, I maintain the view that there is a lot to admire about a clean slate, not too dissimilar to using the ‘Create-a-Club’ mode on the Football Manager series and analogous incarnations in other video games down the years, but made real, and far from the confines of fantasy.
Name and crest
I’m not an expert on whether the original name of ‘Bury Football Club’ can be retained in any new venture in a legal sense. Obviously, that would be the preference of the overwhelming majority… but if that’s not able to be achieved, it opens up a lot of alternative options. As illustrated by the above image, my own choice would be 1885 Bury. Darlington faced a situation with many parallels seven years ago, and opted for ‘1883’ as their suffix (they have since dropped the moniker, having had the change approved by the FA).
1885 Bury would retain in their name a link back to the founding of the original entity, as well as mirror how a lot of clubs in the Bundesliga style themselves. This is of heightened relevance when it comes to setting out the possible ownership models later in the article.
As for the crest, I think it needs modernising (simplifying). Again, the above picture is a good example of what I mean, although sadly, a new club wouldn’t be able to retain the two stars signifying the number of FA Cup wins. The v-shaped badge is a hark back to a past iteration, but with an updated motto and more legible text.
In essence, people should be able to look at the crest and know at first glance it can only be Bury’s, whilst also making it far easier to duplicate onto kits, merchandise, and in general marketing itself.
Club Colours & Kit
Every facet would need to be voted, and the club colours and kit are no exception to that. The shade of blue that accompanies the white is not as clear-cut; it has switched between royal and navy historically, and I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t really mind either way, having been witness to both in my time.
I think it would be prudent to strike up a business relationship with a local supplier for the manufacture and distribution of kits. This would enable them to be bespoke, which will be a key cornerstone of a phoenix club’s identity, as well as keeping the supply chain costs down. In turn, a simpler crest as described above would also make it easier to change the colours of it to a single hue, as evidenced in the away kit mock-up.
When possible, taking a leaf out of Accrington Stanley’s book would be a savvy decision:
🙌🏼 The full #asfc squad are today giving out shirts to every Year 3 child in the Hyndburn area.
It is just one method of engaging with the community; equally, they don’t change their kits every season unlike almost all of their contemporaries. This ensures greater longevity of the shirts themselves, but also keeps costs down for everyone involved.
When they do change, supporters can be involved in every step of the process.
The small matter of where they’ll play
For many, Gigg Lane is the club. It is also crucial in the sense of having a platform from which to apply to the FA for a higher tier than would otherwise be the case. Chester did this with the Deva on appeal, for example, and the ground is indeed listed as an Asset of Community Value, as can be seen on the spreadsheet link below:
Even so, there is a high financial barrier to having the ground under fans’ ownership, especially without the help of wealthy backers, or even a Compulsory Purchase Order by the council, who would then lease it back to the new entity at a mutually affordable rate. This does not factor in the cost of maintenance, however.
If no deal can be struck, then it opens up the prospect of ground-sharing with other local non-league outfits, such as Radcliffe, Ramsbottom United, and Prestwich Heys. The notion is not without its pitfalls, however. All three have distinct identities of their own, and might feel like sharing their homes is the first step towards absorption. This would need to be categorically ruled out.
The third route would be to find an entirely new site, but the timescales for that would vary wildly, so it’s difficult to discuss in any real detail at present.
The small matter of which division they’ll start in
As discussed, this is partly contingent on the ground situation. Throughout the process, I’ve heard from a number of different individuals the prospect of competing in an expanded National League North. The basis for That would seem to rely on the current business somehow surviving, the debts being cleared, and Dale not being in situ. The National League as a body are far more stringent on the financial side of their member clubs than the ‘competition organisers’ above them in the pyramid.
Even then, it would require the votes of the clubs to allow re-entry. It’s far from a foregone conclusion that current members would acquiesce; many will feel that the only ‘correct’ course of action is for Bury in either form to start right back on the bottom rung of the North West Counties League.
Strangely enough, the police might have a say, too. Very few grounds that far down are equipped for large away followings. If you take the view that even half the current fanbase would desert a new venture in the 10th tier, that would still constitute a regular crowd that would dwarf every other club by a factor of 20. There are inherent safety issues associated with that likelihood, and it just goes to show that any application to the FA would have many strands for them to consider.
The most common misconception when the phrase ‘fan-owned club’ springs to mind is that it conjures up the logical conclusion that it must also be a fan-run club. It doesn’t necessarily work out that way, even with 100% models. The board, normally run by a majority of volunteers, employ others in a small number of paid positions to work in the day-to-day football roles.
A wholly-owned fan club would have complete control over the direction of travel, decisions and elections onto the working group/board would be democratic, and would rise or fall on the strength of the sense of community fostered therein. I’d also advocate a ‘one owner, one member, one vote’ system, despite favouring a tiered system of ownership practised by Lewes
Another style would be to ape the 50+1 rule in the Bundesliga; essentially, for a club to have a license in Germany, they (the members) have to retain majority voting rights, but the true proportions vary from team to team. This would allow some flexibility in terms of accepting external investors, whilst ensuring that no matter how much they put in, it would never assume control.
I am personally more flexible in my approach to the model than some others I know of for a phoenix club; my red line however is that it must be 50+1 at the very minimum. Bury, and many other clubs, have normally come into financial difficulties at the hands of one individual or a succession of de facto sole owners dictating the course of events. That can never be allowed to happen again.
Philosophy & values
No longer can lip service be paid to both being a hub and a service to the townspeople and beyond. The hashtag ‘#MyClubMyCommunity’ quickly became an awfully ironic phrase as many began to suffer financially and mentally.
It must be at the heart of everything. For me, this means an acceptance that having a club with the main focus being just a men’s first team is over. Women, underage, veterans, Ability Counts. All of them should be catered for. That won’t be the view of everyone else – far from it; in the early days, players are almost certainly going to be drawn from the borough and Greater Manchester – the level of pay they’d receive would preclude anything else. Inversely, this presents opportunities for a much stronger link between supporter and player – in some instances, they would be one and the same. Efforts need to be made to reincorporate the women’s first team back under the more stable wing. It has gone largely unnoticed by the wider media the devastation wrought on them; this, too, can never be allowed to happen again. They’re under the care of the Trust – its future is also uncertain, and efforts should be made to secure the charity.
I’m not in favour of publicised year plans as to the goals of a club, and this would be no different with a phoenix. The aim would obviously be to get back up the pyramid as high and as fast as possible, but there are significant bottlenecks off the pitch to realising those ambitions, let alone on it. There’s also something to be said for this not coming at the cost of diluting the model and/or jeopardising the long-term security.
The club must also not overexert itself in any commerical ventures, and maintain a lithe and agile stance to current trends and events. A far greater push for transparency is paramount, too – I look at the accounting example at Clapton Community as something to both admire and replicate.
This has helped them have a strong presence far outside Walthamstow, and they are but one of several very prominent ‘case studies’, for want of a better term, of how invoking community spirit coupled with a clear identity and constant communication can galvanise support from a smörgåsbord of different sources.
To summarise, a phoenix club would not be a permanent state of rainbows and pots of gold. There’s so much that needs to be done in the next four months to guarantee football is once again played next season, should efforts ultimately fail to revive the moribund current business. Make no mistake though, a phoenix club would be more than a palimpsest of Bury – there’s a massive chance to take the very best of The Shakers from the past 134 years and pay that forward for the next 134, whilst making the club more inclusive, modern, and a shining beacon of the town and beyond.
The current situation is very bleak indeed – stop me if you’ve heard that tired old refrain before. James Frith, the local MP for Bury North, has been central to keeping efforts to save the club in the public eye, and his latest post on Facebook suggests that there has been a snowball effect in galvanising support from both the political and business fields to convince Debbie Jevans, the interim CEO of the EFL, to rescind the ‘unanimous decision’ to withdraw the golden share (membership) of the competition.
Once more, the statement makes mention of an ‘interested party’ in taking over the club. Quite what the attraction is for any consortium now is in owning a side that won’t have any fixtures for 11 months minimum is hard to see, and that doesn’t even take into account the severe lack of income there will be during that interim period, the CVA (which is now under investigation), Steve Dale (fresh from his most unintentionally hilarious and bizarre ramblings yet and belatedly widespread recognition and media depiction as the last but most crucial ‘villain of the piece’).
Hopes were first pinned on C&N Sporting Risk, who pulled out an hour before the extended deadline last week over concerns surrounding due diligence. Latterly, a London-based pastor by the name of Gustavo Ferreira supposedly tabled a £7m offer for the business before said deadline, which wasn’t sufficient to persuade the competition organisers to change tack, mainly because it just wasn’t credible.
The EFL have come in for plenty of flack since, with condemnation coming in the form of chants at many of their fixtures last weekend, an online petition (with north of 40,000 signatures at the time of writing), and a savaging in the press. I believe that they have handled the situation incompetently rather than malevolently, having simply failed to heed the warnings from two years ago. The method behind the expulsion, as much the action itself, has weakened their already sagging reputation much further still, and in a far more serious way than suspending Bury’s games prior to their decision was to the ‘integrity’ of League One.
It is this that has led to a possible legal challenge against them from a number of disparate groups, one of which could be by Forever Bury, who are holding a meeting at the town hall tomorrow. The short notice of that gathering is understandable, given that the clock is already ticking on both the outcome of any court case and an application to the FA to rejoin the pyramid. Remaining staff and players at the club have had their worlds turned upside down, with parents of children as young as eight years old
I also wonder what now is actually is the best case for the entity known collectively as Bury Football Club, and I don’t think it’s as immediately obvious as it might seem. I’m sure plenty of readers would say it’s for the EFL to place the Shakers in League Two for 2020/2021… but under whose ownership? How would the CVA (if left unscathed by the investigation) and debts not covered in it be paid for? How would income be generated without any matches? Most pertinently of all, the largest sticking point is the current situation surrounding Gigg Lane itself, which would require roughly £4m to wrest back the stadium from Capital Bridging Finance Solutions, plus the cumulative daily interest.
I find myself increasingly of the disposition that, barring a miracle (and it has been the hope that has killed fans over and over and over again in recent weeks), a fresh start might not be the worst outcome. Don’t get me wrong, every sinew should be stretched to at least come to an agreement with CBF, but in lieu of that, the following tweet from the local council should be noted:
All planning applications must be considered on their own merits. However, national planning policy guidelines advise that a development which would lead to the loss of a football ground unless it was replaced by a ground of equivalent or better quality should be opposed.
Ultimately, I’m suggesting that as big of a wrench as leaving Gigg and perhaps not being even in League Two would be, it doesn’t have to be the last page in the story of the club. A way must be found for extremely angry and grief-stricken supporters to come together once again. A phoenix club is the last resort, but its likelihood increases by the day – this is a non-zero-sum game where things are never straightforward on closer inspection. If and when it happens, I’ll put forth my vision for what it could be like, as I think even in the most dire of circumstances, there are opportunities. Until then, or a highly improbable reversal by the EFL, this blog will keep a watchful eye on proceedings. I need to write about something other than finances, and what that will be will follow later this week on the blog.
In the meantime, the clock is ticking on 134 years of Bury Football Club.
In a perpetual state of cutting it extremely fine, the future of Bury Football Club is still precarious at the time of writing. The events of the past week have at once felt like a whirlwind and running in treacle, amplified by belated but constant national media attention. Many of the club’s supporters have taken to the airwaves to highlight the (ongoing) plight, and yours truly has been no exception to that:
The previously intransigent owner Steve Dale was sending all kinds of mixed messages on Friday during his grand tour of seemingly everywhere except the negotiating table, with as many as four interested parties in taking over before the midnight deadline set by the EFL for either sufficient evidence of proof of funds from Dale himself or for a deal to be struck to their satisfaction.
Like probably every other fan, I was glued to social media (even more than usual) as the minutes ticked by, desperate for some solid sleep but even more desperate for a credible source to break the news that there had been a sale, which duly came a little over two hours from oblivion:
Understand @buryfcofficial owner Steve Dale has accepted a takeover offer from a London-based group and is in process of notifying the @EFL – as yet unconfirmed.
What quickly emerged from then on were the identities of the group – C&N Sporting Risk, a small company whose main service is in data analytics, with Rory Campbell and Henry Newman at the head of the firm.
Campbell is the son of the infamous Labour spin-doctor Alastair, who, for all his… flaws (putting it extremely lightly) has always maintained a fervent and genuine interest in football, being a follower of fellow Lancashire side Burnley and raising a family with an appreciable knowledge of how important the link is between clubs and the communities they are an intrinsic component of.
Rory has created his own niche after completing the well-trodden Oxbridge PPE path, founding C&N in 2016 whilst still in his 20s after firming up his interests at university, with the ongoing ‘Moneyball’ experiment at Brentford a big driver behind his deepening involvement in the sport (and perhaps the current interest in Bury). It’s impossible to ignore the betting aspect of his company, however, and there would be a question mark over just how they could as a business work around the strict laws set out by the FA governing inside information whilst owning a club. He would need to prove, much like Tony Bloom at Brighton & Hove Albion and Matthew Benham at The Bees that he doesn’t place any bets himself, only acting as a ‘consultant’ for others.
Newman’s background is more rooted in coaching, especially in London with two different clubs – Charlton Athletic and Barnet, the latter of which he had a brief spell as joint-interim coach with Rossi Eames two years ago, and the pair appeared on a Not the Top 20 podcast during their brief tenure:
In it, Henry sets out his vision for how football should be played, with an emphasis on an eye-pleasing style whilst still being mindful of the shortcomings of the squad he had under him at The Hive. He took a break from a role as chief opposition scout with West Ham United during that four-month interlude, continuing to hone and diversify his skillset in the game and firmly setting him on the road to his directorship at C&N.
At this juncture, it’s important not to get too far ahead of myself. A disappointingly short extension to the deadline, in C&N’s collective view, was granted by the EFL yesterday, providing only a single extra business day to conclude the deal (or at least 99% of it). Doubtlessly, between Stewart Day and Steve Dale, a complex web was woven for any future prospective owners to cut through and unravel simultaneously. A debt of gratitude is nevertheless owed by many to a few select people – the half-dozen or so at the head of Forever Bury, local MP James Frith, and even the likes of Ron Wood and former chairman Terry Robinson in the background.
One final thing to note right now is that whilst I can claim to have no insider knowledge of the wealth (or otherwise) of C&N, they have already provided to the EFL what Dale could not in terms of proof of funds. Moreover, their pursuit of a deal has been 10 weeks in the making, only coming to a head thanks to Dale relenting at the last possible moment… and crucially, well before the CVA had even been tabled, let alone approved.
@JamesFrith James – How can I contact you directly to discuss the ownership status of Bury FC please? Have been in discussions with Directors over the last few days and have seen your intervention over the last few days in the media.
Hopefully, this won’t prove to be another false dawn (and subsequently the footnote) in Bury’s proud, if often financially fraught, 134-year history. The Gigg Lane faithful don’t want the moon, just a club to continue supporting to pass on to the generations to come.
This post is an attempt to answer some of the things I’ve seen written about Bury Football Club in the past few days in as balanced a way as the current situation allows. This isn’t the place for financial facts and figures – the approved CVA is in the public domain, and experts like David Conn for The Guardian and Kieran Maguire have opined extensively about the complicated web of debt and disarray.
“Bury spent beyond their means”
There’s absolutely no question about that, and it’s never been a particularly well-kept secret. This reached its absolute nadir during the close season two years ago, with former chairman Stewart Day letting Lee Clark loose with money he never had on players the club didn’t need and could ill-afford. The common retorts to that centre around a perception that few, if any, Bury fans railed against the actions of Day. I did on this blog on more than one occasion, but this isn’t about bigging myself up for that. Other supporters expressed their concerns far earlier into the regime and were utterly castigated for it. Even if the groundswell of opinion against what was happening had more weight, without representation on the board, what practical influence did anyone truly have? A small contingent did indeed boycott going to games or spending money towards the end before it became a more widespread stance under Steve Dale, ultimately resulting in some of the most die-hard supporters asking for refunds on their season tickets.
The case is then made that Mansfield Town were ‘cheated’ out of a promotion place because of said overspending. Whilst I do have a limited amount of sympathy with that angle, it should be stated that the budget the club had and the players they used to achieve that miraculous promotion was far lower than the previous term. That’s impossible to truly verify without looking at the latest accounts (still unpublished). In truth, the EFL should’ve been scrutinising the ability to even make it through 2018/2019 under Day’s ownership. His very quick exit in December has precipitated every event since.
Most clubs in the 92 ‘spend beyond their means’, but have ways of servicing the debt and/or repaying the loans they have access to. Very few make a profit of any kind, especially without the help of transfer fees. Make no mistake, if Bury did go out of business, they’d be the first of many without legislative changes to either give the EFL more powers, redress the laughable financial imbalances in the domestic game and/or to set up an independent regulator.
“Bolton Wanderers are being treated differently / The EFL have an agenda against / want to make an example of Bury”
Well in one sense, Bolton definitely are being treated differently. The protracted takeover bid by Football Ventures feels like it’s taken all summer to reach its conclusion, and it’s still not certain what the outcome of it will be – the hotel (a separate business) on the same site as the UniBol Stadium complicates matters to a great degree. The only logical conclusion to take is that the EFL are far more satisfied that there are measures in place for the Trotters to fulfil their fixtures (even if the majority of the ‘squad’ at the time of writing are still in their teens) than with the Shakers.
Several statements have been issued by both the competition organisers and Dale in the past week, with the intransigent owner taking an increasingly attacking stance in his against the football body. The latest was penned by his lawyer, all of which just leaves fans in the awkward position of hoping some sort of compromise can be reached that allows matches to be take place but also hastens Dale’s exit.
“Things are really bad at Manchester United / Arsenal / Newcastle United”
It seems churlish to even compare the ‘woes’ of fans of the three Premier League giants above to Bury. In many ways, it is… however, if you take the view that what takes place at one club has a knock-on effect at another and so on, then a more holistic picture emerges of the state of the game. Accrington Stanley owner Andy Holt, affected by the suspension of next Saturday’s home fixture, has nonetheless appealed to his growing number of followers on Twitter not to take too much umbrage with the discontent those clubs’ supporters have at the way they’re being run.
Whilst it’s unlikely that in the short to medium-term that any of those businesses (because that’s precisely what they are) will fail to remunerate staff on time or have a kit supplier for the campaign, it all hints at a powerlessness to affect the sort of change they wish to see, and it should reverberate down the pyramid. A decision has to be with finality whether football clubs in the English system are businesses like in any other sector with all that that entails or ‘community assets’; if it’s the latter, then huge strides are required in order to bring that to reality. Football is meant to be ‘The People’s Game’, but it feels increasingly divorced from that in many respects. Rogue owners and those who would seek to put themselves and not the club they are custodians of first must be brought to heel. The mechanisms don’t exist to do that at this point, and might only when clubs that register more on the public consciousness than Bury suffer a similar fate.
“Other clubs won’t vote to expel Bury from the EFL”
Depending on how you interpret the EFL’s statement about the CVA being approved, there are either four days until expulsion occurs or still at least 14. Should it be the latter, It should nevertheless still be noted that the first two league matches being suspended will put inexorable pressure on the body to serve the notice as quickly as possible. It’s one thing to nominally rearrange those games (which, by the way, have already had negative financial effects on both Milton Keynes Dons and Accrington), but quite another to do that for the EFL Cup tie with Sheffield Wednesday. They’re unlikely to countenance a third match across two competitions they organise not taking place as scheduled, so you can expect a decision on that early into next week.
I don’t pretend to know what’s in the minds of most boards of the other 71, so this is only pure conjecture on my part. I would posit that the calls for expulsion will reluctantly grow louder every single day, cognisant as those same people will be on the widespread consequences of such a vote, both on the overall structure of League One downwards and the club’s viability. With Dale still resisting selling Bury, I can’t envisage a scenario now where they can remain in business for longer than several weeks. I don’t want that to happen (despite some bizarre claims to the contrary), but it’s not within my gift to exert any influence on proceedings, and it feels like this has been a long time coming.
“Without Bury, my interest in football would die”
A perfectly reasonable opinion to have, doubtlessly shared by quite a few people. For me personally, my interest has been significantly waning in the elite/top tier of the sport for sometime, which feels increasingly remote from the grassroots and up. You’d hope that a phoenix club would be formed in the absolute worst case scenario, although it doesn’t always follow that fans of the original would do the same for the new entity for a multitude of reasons: different location, much lower standing, the ‘soul’ would be lost, and so on. It’s something I’d like to be involved in from afar if it does transpire.
I cannot admit to being immune from just how jarring it was yesterday to even vaguely kept abreast of the opening day fixtures, knowing Bury weren’t a part of them and almost certainly won’t be in their present form ever again. It’s difficult not to leap into other people’s conversations about how their teams got on and say “what about Bury?”, but it doesn’t do any good to.interject. Most are sympathetic to the collective plight shared by several thousand fans.
My intentions for the blog in case Bury do cease to exist are as follows: I will on occasion go ground-hopping to fixtures local to me in the Forest of Dean that take my fancy – that could be anywhere from Bristol City in the Championship to Lydney Town in the Hellenic League Premier Division. It won’t be the same, but I still intend to take an interest and to write about what I see. I’m also a self-employed freelancer, so I need to keep that up to realise my ambitions.
All we can do is hope for Dale to do the right thing – change his mind, and sell the club immediately to avoid any of this happening.
This season, owing to certain circumstances and my new-found profession as a freelance writer, I’ve taken the opportunity to write team-by-team previews for every League One and Two side over on We Love Betting UK:
A fortnight ago, it became even more abundantly clear that the immediate future of Bury Football Club in its current form is under serious jeopardy. Owner Steve Dale, the only director left, made a Company Voluntary Arrangement to the ridiculous number of creditors – for the full shameful and disgraceful list, download the document here. In short, the proposal, if accepted on the 9th of July, will see those entities classed as football creditors paid in full as per the EFL’s rules. The rest will have to make do with 25%, and the total debt would then be reduced to a touch under £3m (former chairman Stewart Day’s company Mederco are excluded from the scope). The biggest mystery is the mention of Dale himself being a creditor… to the tune of £3.6m. I have seen no documented evidence of the loan in the public domain, and the accounts are now ridiculously overdue. It would however, go a long to explain Dale’s reluctance to sell up.
One possible outcome of the proposal being accepted is that the EFL, the self-styled ‘competition organisers’ will see fit to deduct the Shakers 12 points ahead of the new season, but frankly, that’s the least of many fans’ worries. 2019/2020 is already a write-off… and that’s the best case scenario. Manchester City have served notice to evict their neighbours from Carrington, even though as the CVA confirms, the rent had been a nominal amount. It simply hadn’t been maintained. That move will leave them without a training ground, and the news has further damaged whatever was left of Bury’s reputation.
Only circa six senior players are still in situ, and no pre-season preparation has even taken place yet. Expect that number to decrease even further in the coming days. The U18s, whose salaries are funded from elsewhere, are in better nick. As ever, their fate is somewhat contingent on the continuing machinations above them. With Ryan Lowe and several other key staff and players firmly ensconced in much more stable surroundings at Plymouth Argyle, the ‘search’ for a replacement was finally over yesterday. One of the most needlessly bombastic and asinine managerial announcements I’ve ever read, Paul Wilkinson’s credentials are steering Truro City to relegation… into the seventh tier! I can only presume there was a clause in his still-fresh contract with the White Tigers that allowed him to join a pro outfit without compensation.
What that move does is meet the most minimum requirement to creditors that there’s a ‘plan to move forward’. Very few supporters truly believe the appointment amounts to any more than that, and it is still far from clear if or how Wilkinson will be paid, let alone cobble together a large enough squad to fulfil the fixtures, which start in earnest a month from now. I maintain my belief that they won’t be. Others have voted with their wallets, requesting refunds for their season ticket purchases already. Obviously, I don’t live close enough to attend regularly, but until Dale has sold the club, I won’t be financially supporting Bury in any way; not through merchandise, not through ticketing, not through iFollow (which I cancelled a fortnight ago before it automatically renewed), or by any other means.
Enthusiasm is at an all-time collective nadir, and since Lowe’s own departure, there has been no official confirmation from the club about the subsequent leavers, which also means that none of them have been thanked for their selfless service last season. Plenty of observers are predicting Bury won’t even reach a positive number of points (should they even be afforded that opportunity). The anguish the ongoing howling shambles is inflicting upon the remaining staff and fans is unprecedented, and goes far, far beyond being upset and angry at witnessing many of last season’s heroes depart. Yes, there have almost always been financial problems, but never anything close to this. More are coming round to the depressing realisation that a phoenix club might be the least worst option as things stand.
The state of limbo has left me feeling like a frog slowly boiling in a saucepan, and more pertinently, utterly uncertain how to proceed with this blog, too. In the short term, I’ll be focusing on the women’s teams, reviewing football related books… and hopefully, not seeing the work I’ve prepared for previewing every club in League One and Two go to waste.
I read your latest statement on the problems at Bury Football Club with a familiar sense of dread. The ‘sadness’ you mention in the opening paragraph is dwarfed many, many times over by the financial and mental health problems experienced by staff and fans as a result of the current situation. Nobody has ‘an agenda’ against you. Employees simply want to be paid what they’re owed up to this point, and on time in the months to come.
Once more, nobody is saying the parlous state is mostly attributable to you. Everyone’s cognisant of the reckless spending by previous incumbent, Stewart Day. A small number of supporters saw the warning signs well before I did, and were branded ‘keyboard cowards’, and many of whom were subjected to shameful treatment at one of the few fans’ forums held during his tenure. Three years later when I started this blog, I, like they, came in for heavy criticism when examining the decisions that were putting the future of Bury in serious jeopardy on more than one occasion. To his credit, former CEO Karl Evans agreed to have a lengthy conversation with me on a number of topics, where I put forth realistic ways of generating more income. Even at the moment you took over from Day, I still caught plenty of flak for what some people believed was a clickbait article – which was as far from that as possible. Yet again, I called for financial prudence.
In fairness, that was what you promised. It was abundantly clear that the headcount needed cutting in both a playing and non-playing sense. What I don’t understand then is with the club in the top three of League Two and some individuals attracting serious interest from teams higher up the pyramid, why didn’t you sanction their sales? Whilst it would almost certainly have resulted in any promotion bid ceasing, it could have gone some way to addressing the most pressing debts. You mention in your statement that you regret not cutting the ‘surplus (non-playing) staff’ – laying people off would never have been a popular decision, but again, from the outside looking in, it might have been welcomed as a necessary step to sustainability.
I’m glad you took the time to recognise the efforts of the coaching staff and players at gaining promotion with all the uncertainty in the back of their minds the whole time. Whilst their success has not been wholly appreciated throughout domestic football (with some fans ironically thinking it was ‘bought’), I firmly believe they will, to a person, all be regarded as heroes in the years to come.
What I cannot abide by however is the temerity to single out Nicky Adams for criticism. He and everyone else that collectively took the decision to play without remuneration were putting their careers at risk, and at 32, coming off the back of a horrible injury in 2017/2018 with Carlisle United, that cannot have been an easy choice for him to make.
The very fact that the players released a joint statement is proof positive of how dire things are, and wouldn’t have been something that they composed lightly. Many of them could’ve easily walked away by this point to join other sides – maybe they still will. The same principle applies for Ryan Lowe and all the talk of him leaving to manage Plymouth Argyle. Who could honestly begrudge him or anyone else for finding gainful, stable employment at other clubs?
I’d advise that you look to conclude a deal with one of the two seriously interested parties as soon as possible. I’m now of the mind-set that no longer can long-suffering supporters be beholden to a single person deciding the fate of the club they love so dearly. Fellow fans set up Buy Our Bury with the aim of taking the club out of private ownership. The boom and bust cycle must end. The club must live within their means, even if the ‘cost’ of doing is so is operating well below the third tier of the domestic game. I want to work to ensure that my three year-old son, should he develop an interest in the sport, has the chance to support the same club I and three previous generations of my family did/do.
I confess myself extremely disappointed that it’s got to the point it has for wider media attention to finally be focused on BL9, and can’t help but wonder whether your statement is in reaction to that, rather than the pressing need to address concerns. The list of clubs in trouble grows ever longer, and there are fundamental flaws in the structure of English football that are going to make these instances increase in the short-term, never mind the long-term. I’m also utterly perplexed at the need for you to mention and thank Shaun Harvey, the outgoing EFL Chief Executive. Ask fans of Leeds United what role he played at their club for years, how he has treated near neighbours Bolton Wanderers (now in administration), and how he has been complicit in being totally obsequious to the demands of the Premier League, which have only served to further heap pressure on smaller clubs in his gift as head of the ‘competition organisers’.
I put it to you that is the many, not the few, who have the true best interests of the club at heart. I have been remarkably restrained in the words I have used in this letter. You have had chance after chance after chance to adopt a more open, far less recalcitrant attitude towards every concerned player, member of staff, fan, and other stakeholders in the past several months. Instead, you have taken a very adversarial line that sheds you in an extremely negative light that has galvanised these different groups into a united front against you.
As at Christmas, I canvassed opinion on social media, grouping the grades as follows: A-B are good, C-D are okay, and E-F are poor. The grades are only a reflection of every player’s on-pitch performance, rather than their heroic stoicism off to it to continue performing without full pay since the end of February:
**IMPORTANT NOTE**: The ‘What Next’ for every player makes the assumption that a resolution of some kind will be found to the current shambles off the pitch with regard to finances and the immediate future of the football club… otherwise, there wouldn’t be much point including those sections!
1. Joe Murphy
Total Games / Total Minutes: 52 / 5,074
Goals Conceded: 65
Clean Sheets: 13
Assessment: Surprisingly voted by his peers in the PFA League Two Team of the Season, the veteran custodian didn’t miss a minute of league action, brushing off his injury problems from the previous term. The emphasis on quick and short distribution out from the back suited his style very well indeed. He made the odd glaring error as you’d expect from any guardian – allowing former Shaker Danny Rose to rob him of the ball in the home encounter with Mansfield Town to tap into the empty net sticks out in particular. That mishap has to be balanced with often being the very last line of defence in one-on-one situations, and he performed admirably in those cases, saving brilliantly from James Norwood at Prenton Park to ensure parity was kept and promotion was sealed.
Not the tallest or most aerially confident, coming for floated crosses and dead balls into the area were his weaker aspects throughout the campaign, and he conceded more than many other members of the ‘union’, hence a large contingent of fans’ shock at his award. Solid but often unspectacular, his presence on and off the pitch as the oldest individual in the dressing room proved to be a steady influence over the course of 2018/2019.
What Next: He’s harboured ambitions of going into goalkeeper coaching for a couple of years now. At 37, he probably still has at least another season of playing should he be offered another deal. Whether that’s in BL9 or with his #1 spot quite so assured I’m much less certain of.
2. Tom Miller
Total Games / Total Minutes: 15 / 936
Goals Scored: 0
Goals Assisted: 0
Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Right wing-back / Right-sided centre back in a three / Right-back
Assessment: Started the season as the right-back of choice in a conservative 4-3-2-1, but an early injury likely hastened Lowe’s plans to adopt a more attacking posture. Frequently spotted on the bench thereafter, he had good cameos in the EFL Trophy in a number of roles that ably demonstrated his versatility. At wing-back, his style was in stark contrast to Nicky Adams when rarely afforded the chance, joining in less often in the sweeping moves forward. Additionally, he won plenty of headers down his flank when direct balls were lobbed in search of a nippy winger.
What Next: Still has a year left to run on his contract. Being pushed to a definitive third place in the pecking order by Adams and Ryan Cooney (a decade his junior) must have rankled him somewhat, but if so, there were never any public signs of it. More at ease in a flat back four, he’s an ill fit for a swashbuckling ‘score one more than the opposition’ mentality, but equally, his versatility is important. If the numbers on the roster are cut as expected, he might want to make the most of guaranteed first team football elsewhere as part of the group heading for the exit door.
3. Chris Stokes
Total Games / Total Minutes: 43 / 3,697
Goals Scored: 4
Goals Assisted: 0
Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Left-sided centre back in a three / Left wing-back / Left-back
Assessment: The former Coventry City defender had quite the arc in his maiden campaign in white and royal blue. Like Miller, he started out at full-back before being pushed forward briefly. The emergence of Callum McFadzean saw him take up a less familiar left-sided centre back with mixed results. His lack of raw speed and physicality saw him beaten often in the air and on the turn when the opposition looked to press the Shakers in their own half to prevent an easy out-ball from their own third. His nadir came in the breathtaking comeback win over Milton Keynes Dons, having a big hand in all three strikes for the visitors (including an unfortunate own goal).
The loan signing of Scott Wharton late in the winter transfer window seemed to have put paid to his season, but he had an amazing renaissance in April, bagging a brace against Carlisle United and another goal with a superb volley at the far post to start the fightback versus Northampton Town, demonstrating a different sort of threat at left-wing back to McFadzean.
What Next: In his prime and with one more year at the club, I can see him staying and being at the very least a good candidate from the bench to call upon to either shore things up at the back or to give something different down the left.
4. Will Aimson
Total Games / Total Minutes: 43 / 3,940
Goals Scored: 4
Goals Assisted: 3
Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Right-sided centre back in a three / Middle centre back in a three
Assessment: From the get-go, he was instructed to stay wider than most conventional centre backs do in a three-man backline, covering in behind Adams’ many bursts forward up the right flank. This was both a blessing and a curse for the former Blackpool stopper; it gave his teammates the reassurance to push onward, but made his distribution suffer somewhat, restricted in some ways to clipping passes down the channel for the strikers to run onto. Aerial prowess was on show in both boxes, scoring four times from set pieces, none more emphatically than the third equaliser at home to Lincoln City, gaining some small measure of ‘revenge’ for his harsh red card in the reverse fixture.
In the run-in, he took injections in his groin to get through the hectic schedule, which resulted in several early withdrawals from games and time on the sidelines. An unheralded member of the squad relatively speaking, his contributions didn’t go unnoticed by the more discerning observers.
What Next: His appearance makes you think he’s much older than just 25, but, with a year on his contract to run, he’s one of the best assets likely to remain at Gigg Lane into 2019/2020. Can only improve with time, and might be a more central figure in the defence to boot.
5. Adam Thompson
Total Games / Total Minutes: 54 / 5,102
Goals Scored: 2
Goals Assisted: 2
Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Middle centre back in a three / Left-sided centre back in a three / Right-sided centre back in a three
Assessment: The pick of the bunch from a defensive point of view. Thompson’s travails last season are well-known, and he alluded to them during a Q&A for this blog. Almost immediately asked to be the all-important middleman in a backline often matched in terms of numbers on the counter, he had few truly poor outings in a year where he played the most of any Bury player. Not the most adept at combatting target men (a problem he shared with his cohorts), he nevertheless always gave as good as he got, being sometimes the only assured presence in front of Murphy. An accurate passer, he might be a tad disappointed not to have got more goals with his intelligent runs in dead ball situations, but showed great composure in the snow against Oxford United in the EFL Trophy to rifle home on the volley.
He was rewarded for his displays by occasionally receiving the captain’s armband, and he really was the glue that held together the defence far more than the goals conceded stat might suggest.
What Next: A swift return to third tier football and one of the more well-regarded centre backs this season in the league, a recall to the Northern Ireland national team setup is not beyond the realms of possibility. It wouldn’t surprise if that happened, and by the same token, if other sides were interested in his services, being at a good age and entering the final year of his contract.
6. Eoghan O’Connell
Total Games / Total Minutes: 35 / 2,278
Goals Scored: 3
Goals Assisted: 2
Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Middle centre back in a three / Right-sided centre back in a three / Defensive midfielder in a three
Assessment: The mixed grading by fellow fans above signify that the Irishman had an up and down campaign. Physically, he’s the closest the club have to a dominating defender, and would certainly be the top candidate for isolating a lone striker in the air. On the ground is a different matter entirely, however, which is where the mixed results are borne out; when faced with speed, he can look more than a touch cumbersome, especially on the turn. On the other hand, when the team needs to take the initiative, which they almost always did by default under Lowe, his quality on the ball is there for all to see, with his often surgical through passes helping the whole backline advance up to 10 yards. There’s even an argument that he’s the best passer in the squad on his day, such is the difference he can and has made on numerous occasions.
What Next: Subject of serious interest from Coventry City in the winter transfer window, his prime is still some way off. Used in defensive midfield because of the aforementioned passing range, the biggest conundrum he faces is where he should be consider his go-to role, lacking the speed required for a two-man central defence, or to plow a lone furrow as an anchor in front of the back three/four in a counter-attacking outfit, as that could expose the shortcomings in his game.
7. Nicky Adams
Total Games / Total Minutes: 53 / 4,553
Goals Scored: 3
Goals Assisted: 15
Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Right wing-back / Right-wing in a four
Assessment: I’ll be the first to admit I was a bit sceptical about his return to the club for a third spell, given the lengthy injury spell caused by a damaged anterior cruciate ligament at Carlisle United… and was then utterly perplexed when Lowe shifted him backwards to be a right wing-back after Miller’s own time on the treatment table began. However, it soon became abundantly clear that there was method to the apparent madness, and under the manager he also calls a dear friend, the mutual faith and trust was rewarded, being tasked with playing more like a conventional winger than anything. Putting in the most crosses of anyone in the division yielded the highest assist total in the EFL. Injuries have curtailed a bit of his speed, but he has found ways to combat that, adding probing corners and free-kicks to his repertoire over the last few years.
Stellar displays were always likely to peter out at some stage in the term, but he could never be accused of lacking effort when things weren’t working out as he’d planned.
What Next: It can’t be underestimated how much the vice-captain did for the cause, nor will it have gone unnoticed that he appeared in the second most number of matches in total. His consistently high number of assists will always have other outfits interested in a transfer, but he’s only likely to leave if events off the field conspire to offer him little alternative.
10. Danny Mayor
Total Games / Total Minutes: 44 / 4,143
Goals Scored: 12
Goals Assisted: 9
Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Left-sided central midfielder in a three / Attacking midfielder in a four / Left-wing in a four
Assessment: Another to silence the doubters, lower league fans were treated to the sorts of displays that reminded them precisely why he’s such a joy to watch. The inside forward took a few matches (like the rest of the squad) to truly get motoring, but once he did, he was unplayable for large swathes of the season in a narrower, deeper position than he’s occupied previously as the nominal left-sided central midfielder. His dribbles from deep always gave his teammates hope that he could conjure something from nothing, which he conspired to do with pleasing regularity, whether benefitting from his own superb close control or by laying off the ball to a free man after dragging his marker horizontally across the pitch.
With such a special talent, the team will inevitably be weaker when he’s not in the lineup, as his needless, costly dismissal at home to Swindon Town proved, making him miss three matches with the worst disciplinary record in the side (some of which, like that incident, can be reasoned away by the number of fouls he suffered). His predictability in his movements on the ball did not necessarily translate into making him any easier to stop, and he was nominated for League Two Player of the Season again, losing out to Norwood, but can console himself by his inclusions in both official team selections.
What Next: Out of contract and almost certainly off elsewhere, which, after six seasons in south Lancashire, you could hardly begrudge him for. The key for him will be finding another manager like Lowe who will treat him in much the same way. Individuals have different needs in terms of support, and my hope for him is he can be a central component of another team’s plans whilst receiving the same sort of attention he’s experienced at Bury.
11. Jordan Rossiter
Total Games / Total Minutes: 16 / 1,593
Goals Scored: 1
Goals Assisted: 1
Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Defensive midfielder in a three / Right-sided central midfielder in a three / Left-sided central midfielder in a three
Assessment: Another to assuage fears of breaking down on the pitch and in some style, too. The Glasgow Rangers regista was a ‘massive coup’ according to Lowe when he signed on loan during the winter transfer window, and once more, the gamble was vindicated. His start on the half-frozen pitch against Crawley Town wasn’t the most auspicious, from then on, he hardly erred, being precisely what was missing in defensive situations – someone who could intercept loose passes, win second balls, and redistribute with purpose.
Plying your trade in defensive midfield is probably the best way of going unheralded in the modern game, but it was his vision that stood out most about him, a perception shared by anyone who bore witness to his exploits for the Shakers. He’s never going to be relied upon for what he can do in the final third – that’s not his forté; that said, he capped off his temporary arrangement with a peach of a goal on final day, bending in a stunning effort from outside the area.
What Next: Steven Gerrard will be delighted with how he performed, and must surely have wormed his way back into contention for the Old Firm outfit. A return next season looks unlikely for several reasons, and if he is loaned out once more, expect it to be to a side in the Championship.
15. Byron Moore
Total Games / Total Minutes: 44 / 2,758
Goals Scored: 8
Goals Assisted: 3
Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Right-sided striker in a two / Left wing-back / Right wing-back
Assessment: A surprise package in the sense that Lowe found an elegant solution to the absence of conventional wingers. Moore, hitherto almost always found on the right flank, carved a very specific niche of his own up top, which came to the fore before the signature of Maynard when there were fewer options to choose from. Important strikes in tricky away fixtures at Swindon Town and Colchester United respectively set the tone for having an important say in the course of the campaign. The nature of his playstyle and unfamiliarity with the requirements of a striker did at times mean he cut a frustrated figure, not always in sync with his partner.
The Plan B for him was to come on in place of McFadzean at left wing-back in an even bolder strategy based on camping in the opposition’s third and working the space in tandem with Mayor to get in behind. It didn’t always come off because it sometimes appeared as though they were occupying the exact same area, but it did signify a greater degree of tactical flexibility on Lowe’s part than any recent predecessor to his post.
What Next: Should stick around for a second season, and might have more consistent starts if the likes of Mayor and Maynard do move on. Positional versatility will be of even greater importance in a trimmed down roster.
16. Ryan Cooney
Total Games / Total Minutes: 14 / 809
Goals Scored: 0
Goals Assisted: 1
Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Right wing-back / Right-sided centre back in a three / Right-back / Left wing-back
Assessment: Slowly but surely made his way into the frame over the nine months, eventually having the honour of being one of the youngest captains in the club’s 134-year history bestowed upon him for the last fixture of the campaign. Cooney’s rise is built upon a solid work ethic and a willingness to follow instructions and play where asked to. Better in the air than would probably appear, his stand-out performance came at right wing-back in the narrow EFL Trophy triumph over Mansfield Town, thwarting almost every sojourn down the channel. Steady performances ensured more minutes were afforded to him in the run-in, and he strikes a good balance between defence and attack when out wide.
What Next: Will probably be another mainstay on the bench from the get-go, having proven his worth in the difficult transition from U18s regular to the fringes of the first team over the course of the past year and a half. Intrigued to see how he will grasp his second full campaign as a professional in 2019/2020.
18. Dom Telford
Total Games / Total Minutes: 48 / 2,444
Goals Scored: 14
Goals Assisted: 5
Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Right-sided striker in a two / Attacking midfielder in a four
Assessment: Finishing top scorer in the EFL Trophy was a double-edged sword for the striker, who gleaned half of his haul from the unpopular competition, as was the regular rotation in league games he was prone to being a victim of. Lowe showed more tactical nous in having him usually on the right side of the two, despite very much being a left-footed player. This gave Adams free rein to get forward unhindered, as well as frequently giving Telford’s marker pause for thought as he had the pace to dribble into central areas from a starting position well before the 18 yard line.
Described as a ‘fox in the box’ by his manager upon signing, he showed there was more than one bow on his strong with his diligence outside of it, possessing a low centre of gravity to compensate for his lack of height. This was seen before Maynard arrived, and the pair formed a good understanding, knowing in which context to stay close to one another and when to split to create openings.
What Next: 14 goals is an impressive number for any forward, especially for a player whose ratio was better than one in two. Could be the main man in attack next season if not subject to strong interest from elsewhere in the EFL. A major success story of 2018/2019 without question.
19. Scott Wharton
Total Games / Total Minutes: 15 / 1,266
Goals Scored: 2
Goals Assisted: 1
Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Left-sided centre back in a three / Middle centre back in a three
Assessment: Parent club Blackburn Rovers recalled him from his season-long deal with Lincoln, disappointed that he wasn’t able to cement a first team place (it should be said he had extremely stiff rivals for a berth). Cian Bolger’s permanent arrival at Sincil Bank compounded matters, so Wharton was instead farmed out to fellow promotion candidates Bury. His 15-game stint has divided opinion somewhat – he, like the rest of team, looked utterly bereft of confidence in that three match losing streak during April, giving the ball away ridiculously cheaply. In other instances, he’s appeared a calmer, taller replacement for Stokes as left-sided centre back.
Goals in successive fixtures signalled his ability to be on the receiving end of dead balls, and when he was at his best, he shut down plenty of attacks in the half-space.
What Next: Reasonably successful seasons in the fourth tier should persuade Tony Mowbray to offer him to established League One clubs. I don’t foresee one of them being the Shakers.
21. Callum McFadzean
Total Games / Total Minutes: 50 / 4,213
Goals Scored: 0
Goals Assisted: 7
Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Left wing-back / Left-sided centre back in a three / Left-back
Assessment: Like Moore, he performed way above my modest expectations. Didn’t arrive at the club with the best of reputations, and ‘released from Guiseley’, rightly or wrongly, did colour many supporters’ perceptions. Had a slightly shaky introduction at left wing-back, but then made the role his own with increasingly consistent showings, being almost as reliable with his low crosses as his counterpart Adams on the opposite flank with floated ones. No mean feat!
Might be slightly disappointed to be the only regular outfielder not to trouble the scoresheet – he certainly went close on a number of occasions. The self-confessed ‘better at attacking than defending’ belied his own statement throughout the campaign, and his goal-saving tackle at Forest Green Rovers after his own error was a sight to behold, running at full pelt to make amends. Formed an on-pitch rapport with Mayor not too dissimilar to the one the latter enjoyed with Chris Hussey.
What Next: One of the few out of contract individuals that under normal circumstances, the club would be desperate to keep hold of. Initially only came on a six-month basis, and had it deservedly extended. The hope is that history repeats itself, as he is yet another key figure in the squad who proved their worth and then some, appearing in three discrete left-sided roles.
26. Jay O’Shea
Total Games / Total Minutes: 47 / 4,589
Goals Scored: 16
Goals Assisted: 6
Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Right-sided central midfielder in a three / Left-sided central midfielder in a three / Attacking midfielder in a four
Assessment: Everything I thought he’d be in his first year with the club he turned out to be in his second. Like several others, he was tasked with a different role than he was used to, playing as a right-sided central midfielder rather than off the striker or as an inside forward. The adjustment took time, and given that he forged a reputation as a goalscoring attack-minded player over a creative one, it’s truly astonishing he racked up 16 goals from such a withdrawn position. Even excluding penalties and direct free-kicks, the total would still be in double figures. All of this means he’s the best by that metric at the club in over half a century.
The goals did dry up by the end of February, but his contributions in those five months of white-hot form were extraordinary, earning him multiple Player of the Month awards, nominated for Player of the Season, and even a place in the EFL Overall Team of the Season. Whilst defending is never going to be his strongest suit, he had to do his fair share of tracking back and sitting in to protect leads, intercepting plenty of potentially dangerous passes into his own third.
What Next: Extended his contract on the quiet in January, for all that that’s currently worth. Like Mayor, there’ll be a queue of teams wanting his services, and as much as I’d love him to stay, I can’t realistically conceive of a way in which that will happen.
27. Gold Omotayo
Total Games / Total Minutes: 17 / 617
Goals Scored: 1
Goals Assisted: 0
Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Left-sided striker in a two / Right-sided striker in a two
Assessment: Along with McFadzean and Jordan Archer, the giant Swiss-Nigerian target man made up one of the trio drafted in from non-league by then Sporting Director Lee Dykes. Initial signs were promising, scoring an injury-time winner on his debut from the bench against a depleted Yeovil Town. Since then, he was given a loan spell at National League side Maidstone Town, notching once during a 35-day arrangement. Eked his way back into contention in March, most often used as a battering ram when chasing the game to divert attention away from Maynard.
What Next: He possesses all the physical attributes to make something from a pro career. Usually in a good position to shoot but rarely able to for one reason or another, I think it’s reasonable to suggest he’ll be elsewhere next season.
31. Neil Danns
Total Games / Total Minutes: 39 / 2,931
Goals Scored: 2
Goals Assisted: 4
Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Defensive midfielder in a three / Right-sided central midfielder in a three / Left-sided central midfielder in a three
Assessment: An instrumental presence on and off the pitch, the club captain didn’t have a stellar year in terms of his own form, but that won’t be what fans remember about him. Nominally the most defensive-minded midfielder before the arrival of Rossiter, the 36 year-old wasn’t especially cut out for the task. That said, few could accuse him of lacking the effort needed for such a demanding position. At Moss Rose, he rolled back the years with a brace of highest quality, providing a timely reminder of his talents further forward.
Rossiter’s signing all but relegated him to the bench for the last four months, but he was more than up to the task when coming on, with accurate passes into the channels a staple of his game.
What Next: He wants to continue playing for a couple more years yet, and will have a chance few Guyanese internationals would’ve dreamt possible this summer, being a big influence behind the small country’s qualification for the Gold Cup, their first ever major tournament. A massive motivator behind the scenes, he could be afforded the chance for one final season at Bury.
32. Caolan Lavery
Total Games / Total Minutes: 29 / 1,339
Goals Scored: 6
Goals Assisted: 0
Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Right-sided striker in a two
Assessment: An unremarkable capture in many ways, the Sheffield United loanee gave plenty of huff and puff to a forward line that already had that in abundance. In his defence, he rarely had a full 90 minutes to impress, but did manage to get three goals in two derby day clashes with Oldham Athletic, the last of which had huge significance in the context of that fixture. Didn’t face towards the opposition goalkeeper enough for me, which limited the number of shots he was able to get off. A goal every 220 minutes or so doesn’t tell the full story one way or the other. More aggressive in the tackle than his competitors, this was usually at the expense of giving away a free-kick.
What Next: Released by the Blades, there’s still an outside bet that he’ll be back at Gigg Lane, or an ambitious outfit in the fourth tier once more. At 26, he needs to be holding down a regular spot in the EFL.
36. Nicky Maynard
Total Games / Total Minutes: 39 / 3,453
Goals Scored: 22
Goals Assisted: 7
Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Left-sided striker in a two
Assessment: Curiously overlooked for official recognition of any kind at the end of the season, the much-travelled striker has to rank up there for me as one of the very best to adorn a Bury shirt in my 25 years of watching the club. Bearing in mind he was picked up as a free agent in October, to finish 2018/2019 north of 20 goals in all competitions is an outstanding achievement, and even more so conversely when you take into consideration that they only represented just over a fifth of the Shakers’ tally.
A provider as well as a predator, his all-round game, despite his protestations about being poor at heading, is proof positive of his past, much more lofty history. Scored a plethora of crucial goals, some more beautiful than others. His work-rate, first touch (most of the time), and movement really did make him the missing piece in the jigsaw up front.
What Next: An option already exists to extend his deal. It would be fantastic if that was somehow able to happen, but I have my doubts. A more stable club must surely be ready to take him on, which would follow the pattern of other recent potent strikers having single year stints.
Unused Players – What Next?
8. Stephen Dawson
Almost certain to leave in the summer, the tough-tackling central midfielder has been beset by injury problems and woeful displays when Lowe did pick him in the early going. The highest hurdle to a swift departure is the year remaining on his deal, but with pronouncements of cutting costs at the club, he might be persuaded to take a cut of what remains and move on.
9. Jermaine Beckford
The veteran striker played just 13 minutes in 2018/2019 after an aborted comeback from a lateral cruciate ligament injury. He targetted a return to first team action around the time of the play-offs, which thankfully weren’t required. His contract expires in June, and I’d be gobsmacked if he was still here after then.
14. Phil Edwards
Relegated to featuring in just the EFL Trophy on three occasions, the conservative right-back’s attributes are an ill-fit for an expansive, attack-minded wing-back system, possessing neither the height nor pace to make a decent fist of being one of the wider centre-backs in that formation. Certain to leave on the expiry of his contract in June.
17. Jordan Archer
Used extensively at Southport on loan as a lone target man, he hit nine goals in 31 appearances in all competitions for the National League North outfit. Still has a year to run on his deal at Gigg Lane, and has yet to be seen adorning the white and royal blue in a meaningful fixture. Difficult to envisage that changing after the elevation to the third tier, but he might get the opportunity to impress in pre-season friendlies to alter that perception.
20. Joe Adams
Finished well clear in the U18s top goalscorer charts, despite almost exclusively being used as a wide forward on either flank in a front three. Capped several times for Wales U19s, his stock continues to increase, and he made the most of a rare first team chance in the EFL Trophy with an assist, putting in a hanging cross for Telford of all people to head in. Mayor’s probable departure should open the door to more consolidated gametime, but don’t expect him to be thrust into the XI from the off. Strong with both feet, he’s a different kind of prospect, and one that needs developing in a sensible manner.
23. Joe Skarz
Distinctly unimpressive by all accounts on loan at FC Halifax Town for the entirety of 2018/2019. A mirror image of Edwards but on the left flank; now 29, perhaps his extensive injury history has sadly caught up with his body when he ought to be in his prime. His contract almost certainly won’t be renewed.
24. Tom Aldred
A mainstay for SPFL side Motherwell for the second season running, he’s barely missed a minute of action as the right-sided centre-back in a flat four at Fir Park. Clearly unwanted by Lowe when he perhaps had the chance to make him part of his plans south of the border, I’d be surprised if he didn’t end up once more lining up for the Steelmen in 2019/2020.
28. Saul Shotton
Surprisingly overlooked for minutes for the first team (particularly with the EFL Trophy in mind), given his commendable efforts last season. The young left-footed ball-playing centre back has yet to sign terms offered to him at the close of last season (meaning he’s still a scholar rather than a pro), which will negatively impact any offer from another club for his services from a Bury perspective…
29. Callum Hulme
The second player to receive a lengthy pro deal, the key for him is to improve his discipline. There’s little question he has the talent to make a success of a pro career – I haven’t seen that many youngsters have the range of passing he possesses, and he can also be effective anywhere in central midfield. What takes the gloss off slightly are a small number of very questionable incidents resulting in red cards. I wouldn’t be altogether surprised if an offer came in for him during the summer, but I’d be more than happy to be witness to a calmer, more focused individual donning a first team shirt with more regularity next season.
33. Harry Bunn
Spent almost the whole term on loan at higher tier Southend United, where he had a mixed bag of a season, full of the usual struggles to stay off the treatment table and flashes of quality. Started off for the Shrimpers mainly as an inside forward cutting in from the left of a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1, before latterly being partnered up top with Simon Cox. Two crucial goals during League One’s crazy relegation run-in were worth four points to his temporary side, making a huge difference to their hopes of survival in the process. Is there a chance for him to be back at Bury in the final year of his deal? I think it’s very slim, personally, even in the event of Mayor leaving. I envisage a similar situation to the one facing Dawson in the early weeks of the close season.
35. Scott Burgess
Another unfancied by Lowe, he had two loan spells in the upper echelons of the non-league system; the first was cut short at Wrexham with minutes on the pitch severely limited by the form of others in central midfield, and the second was with York City a tier below the Red Dragons, being a key part of a squad that pulled the Minstermen away from choppy waters and an unthinkable relegation into step three. Reportedly offered a permanent stay by manager Steve Watson, he could be plying his trade at the new stadium at some point next season.
37. Dougie Nyaupembe
Has the pace and flexibility to work in Lowe’s preferred style, but two loan spells at local sides Hyde United and Stalybridge Celtic respectively suggest that his future could lie away from BL9. Regular minutes at Bower Fold would’ve done him the world of good; turning 20 later his year, this is a career-defining summer for the Zimbabwean youngster. Yet again, it probably won’t be with Bury.
38. Sam Allardyce
The grandson of the one-time England boss, he’s perhaps a victim of there being no U23s setup more than he is any shortcomings in his game in being released at the end of his scholarship. Admittedly more effective as a centre-back without the ball than with (although he has worked hard to improve that aspect), he’ll almost certainly resurface at a club that can financially accommodate taking low-risk signings in bulk in the hopes of one or two of them eventually progressing to their first team or being sold on at a handsome profit.
39. Aaron Skinner
Developed as a full-back through the academy but was deployed frequently in central midfield, most notably during the FA Cup Youth run to the quarter-finals. Has had experience of being the captain for the U18s, and will be a key figure for Ryan Kidd in 2019/2020.
40. Aaron Brown
More goals will be expected from the Northern Irish forward during the second year of his scholarship, hitting just four in 2018/2019. He can play as the focal point or on the left of a front three (a favourite ploy of Kidd’s), and will have to contend with the likes of Joe Collins, Bright Amoateng, Cedric Ondoa and Femi Seriki (more on him below) for opportunities next season. Some players thrive on the increased competition, so let’s hope he’s one of those.
41. Cameron Hill
Much like Allardyce, he’ll probably have the same fate after his release. Started off the campaign on fire with the U18s, belying his withdrawn playmaker role in midfield to get amongst the goals. A bad injury kept him out for four or five months, before coming back in time for the Liverpool clash. He perhaps wonder what might’ve been without that setback.
42. Femi Seriki
Graced the bench on final day against Port Vale. The main purpose behind that was to push his name into the shop window again. Having only turned 16 a fortnight ago, he can play anywhere down the right side of the pitch or in a two up front. Crashed in an impressive eight goals from out wide whilst still underage for the U18s in 2018/2019. Still very rough around the edges, retaining him for the duration of his scholarship will prove difficult.
43. Scott Moloney
Impressed Lowe enough in training that he was content to have the young custodian on the bench after Preston North End loanee Mathew Hudson’s deal expired, rather than source a replacement. Suspect he’ll have to make do with the same next season, regardless of whether Murphy is still at Gigg Lane, but could be thrown into the EFL Trophy group games if the format remains close to the last few years.
It’s frankly impossible to carry on in the same vein as the previous analyses this campaign to conclude 2018/2019. Well-documented off-field issues on here and elsewhere did spill over to matches themselves. Without taking anything away from the sides that beat Bury during April, it’s difficult not to wonder whether some of those might have been prevented had the players been paid, and had manager Ryan Lowe not gone above and beyond his remit to motivate non-football staff, as well as a downbeat squad.
Fortunately, a mixture of an unbelievable rekindling of the team spirit, fans and club being as one (with the usual caveat), and promotion rivals Mansfield Town and Milton Keynes’ equally woeful form ensured the Shakers made it over the threshold with a game to spare. Requiring a point from a daunting looking trip to Prenton Park, Lowe’s heroes rallied from a relatively poor first half display by their standards to deservedly equalise in the second period, restricting the division’s top goalscorer James Norwood much more successfully than had been the case in the early exchanges. The enforced substitution of Eoghan O’Connell for Will Aimson after 38 minutes proved to be the catalyst to regain a foothold in the contest.
It was perhaps poetic that Danny Mayor was the one to get the all-important leveller. Just like with Tom Soares’ effort four years prior on the same ground, the actual finish wasn’t pretty, being hit against a defender’s leg, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who cared at that very moment or in the days since. Besides which, his turn on the halfway line to create the opening all by himself was a bittersweet reminder of his peerless ability to conjure something out of nothing, and that it will likely not be seen in white and royal blue again.
Rightly, the euphoria and imbibing of several shandies by everyone involved at the club once promotion was confirmed lasted well into the week. Although the final fixture at home to Port Vale was largely academic, a second 1-1 draw in the space of five days had two rare moments: firstly, sections of the home support applauding an opposition goal; Tom Pope took to Twitter after the match to acknowledge that:
Congratulations @buryfcofficial on the promotion and thank you to the fans for a lovely reception considering I didn’t give you the best of me you still gave me an incredible reception for which I’m truly grateful! Hopefully I’ll see you in a couple of years 👍🏻👍🏻
Secondly, Jordan Rossiter, rarely seen in deep in enemy territory, was left completely unmarked outside the area to arc a beautiful left-footed shot into the far corner. In a career dogged by injury, that goal marked only his third in senior football. Having come through his loan spell constituting 16 games unscathed and his reputation enhanced, Glasgow Rangers boss Steven Gerrard will doubtlessly be ecstatic that the gamble worked.
The result meant Bury clung on to runners-up spot behind champions Lincoln City, six points off the Imps and with a superior goal difference to MK. Suffice it to say, whilst on paper, the grand total of 22 wins and 79 points is nothing special (and is indeed ‘worse’ than previous successful campaigns), the circumstances in which the last 10 or so games were played out under makes it the most remarkable of the 11 promotions in the club’s 125 years in the EFL. It’s also reasonable to suggest that many followers of other teams are far from happy about the nature of it, which isn’t going to go away anytime soon. I’ll make an attempt to address this at the end of this post.
Ben Mayhew’s xG timelines illustrate that there was very little to choose between the Shakers and their opponents, almost without exception:
Ryan Kidd’s side wrapped up their highly commendable season with a derby defeat to a very strong Rochdale outfit, which meant they finished just outside the top three. Nevertheless, the greatest success of the term was in the FA Youth Cup, reaching the quarter-final stage against all odds before being understandably outclassed by Liverpool.
The likes of Joe Adams, Callum Hulme, and the well-regarded Femi Seriki were on all the bench for the senior setup on Saturday. Whether by accident or design, it’s hard to envisage these instances not increasing in League One; the budget will almost certainly be cut much further than what happened last summer (if the club survive the winding-up petition). That should also entail a smaller roster and perhaps a little less reluctance on the part of Lowe (should he stay) to give some of the more promising talents meaningful gametime.
As you can see from the Twitter thread above, the academy are still proceeding as normal for next season. The Carrington training complex, divisive among Bury fans as it is, remains a vitally important component of the underage structure, and that should not be dismissed out of hand so readily if the club are to really cut their cloth. The Shakers could do a lot worse than attempt to emulate the likes of Crewe Alexandra if they want to remain a beacon to players released from higher category institutions, as well as developing their own in-house for a fairly streamlined pathway at present to at least the fringes of the first team.
It would be extremely remiss not to mention at the huge success achieved throughout the different women’s sides.
In his first season with the U18s, Chris Honor led his charges to two cup finals and a top-three finish in their division.
The reserves managed to best higher tier opposition in the form of Nelson on on penalties during their Lancashire FA Plate Final encounter after mounting a thrilling comeback in regular time. Kimberly Tyson was particularly impressive up top, showing calmness under pressure for a cool finish for the second goal in the highlights package below:
Colin Platt’s team also came third in their pool, and they will hoping for an even better term next season.
The senior side under the auspices of Scott Johnson have gone from strength to strength ever since he was handed the reins just weeks after the campaign got underway, culminating in a title win and promotion at Gigg Lane itself on Sunday. For club stalwarts like captain Lucy Golding and Aymee Openshaw, the trophy has been a long time in the making, and it will be intriguing to see how they cut their teeth in the North West Premier Division, the fifth tier of the women’s pyramid. A very young squad overall, the potential is most certainly present for them to push higher in the next few years. It’s something I’ll be paying even closer attention to on this blog and when my podcast launches later this summer…
Whilst the celebrations of the past week were taking place, there was of course a very notable person in absentia. Owner Steve Dale has not been seen at the club recently, and his last set of ramblings on the official site dated the 25th of April made stark the grave situation facing the club, even if like me, you don’t take all the figures and needless anecdotes mentioned at face value.
At the time of writing, there are just eight days to go until the adjourned High Court appearance. Director Matt McCarthy mentioned in a more recent local radio interview that there are some interested parties looking to purchase the club from Dale. Simultaneously, there’s a new initiative that’s launched called ‘Buy Our Bury’. They’re looking for pledges from supporters with the aim of making the BL9 outfit fan-owned.
Correctly in my view, they’re not assuming that any successful takeover from Dale will transpire. Even if one does, I firmly believe it’s in the interests of any would-be party to have a conversation with BOB to help spread the financial burden of operating a full-time professional team in the domestic game. If you can, I’d like you to pledge an amount to the campaign. If not, please share the website with your friends. It might make all the difference.
Is this it?
I’d like to take this opportunity to address anyone who’s read up to this point and feels that the men’s team have ‘cheated’ their way to promotion: You’re half-right… but the culpability rests mainly with people no longer at the club – Stewart Day and Lee Clark. The vast majority of the alleged higher earners on the books have barely been used, if at all, by Ryan Lowe during 2018/2019 for various reasons. Does that assuage the overspending by the club for years? Not in the least.
All clubs in the Championship, 2/3 in the Premier League are losing money. Oxford announced their results this morning & had £4m trading loss. Championship income £530m & Wage bill £590m is the problem pic.twitter.com/sqQoUzLFf4
Should there be a punishment for clubs like Bury that have continued to spend beyond their means? Yes, I think so. However, we have seen all too keenly and all too frequently as of late that the EFL are not fit for purpose, and there’s nothing in their current rules and regulations to combat this. Every side in the Championship during 2017/2018 made a loss, in spite of the far higher level of income being part of the second tier ensures. That pattern is largely repeated in the lower reaches, especially when you take out money made from player sales. Again, that in no way excuses the reckless behaviour in the Gigg Lane boardroom during the past six years.
There is the chance that the new owners will wipe out the debt owed to all the creditors, and whilst in many senses that would constitute the best possible outcome for everyone, it could easily be seen as a ‘cheat code’ that draws a definitive line under the past with no repercussions whatsoever. I have a lot of sympathy with that argument, but until there comes a time that one or more high profile club goes bust, I just can’t foresee the EFL doing anything meaningful to clamp down on rogue owners and a flagrant disregard for the long-term futures of clubs. Financial Fair Play (FFP) hasn’t had the desired effect, and is not enforced in the same way throughout the divisions. You only have to glance at how they have handled the even bigger shambles due west at Bolton Wanderers to glean an understanding that massive financial reform is well overdue… but is the collective appetite there for it? What’s next on the blog?
Regardless of the outcome of the High Court case, I’ll be doing a detailed analysis on every player used in the second half of the season; discussing the retained list (if it’s released in the conventional sense…); putting together my alternative take on League Two Team of the Season; detailing my night at the Football Blogging Awards, which takes place this Thursday at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester; lastly, I hope to have at least one Q&A in the pipeline… and that’s far as I can look with the club’s future still up in the air.
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: