Tag: community

Answering the Unanswerable

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 That’s impossible to truly verify without looking at the latest accounts (still unpublished).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.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think the EFL have an agenda against the club; they just don’t feel they have the concrete assurances from Dale to fulfil the commitments and money owed to creditors. Expelling Bury is an extremely bad look for the competition’s integrity, but there’s only so long the situation can be drawn out without some sort of resolution. That said, I’ve been distinctly unimpressed by interim CEO Debbie Jevans’ politician-esque answers to questions she’s faced publicly about both clubs. It’s the employees and supporters who suffer in all of this.

“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.

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My Thoughts on ‘My Club, My Community’ – The First But Most Important Step for a Brighter Future

In an increasingly urbanised locality, the town of Bury has in the past few years regenerated its centre, which has in no small part encouraged new residents to become part of the community, especially from Manchester’s overspill. However, it still has unique facets; an accent distinctly different from other satellite towns on its doorstep, famous exports known well beyond the borough boundaries, and moreover, a football club that has been through more than its fair share of strife throughout the 134 years since its founding.

Understandably, new owner Steve Dale’s takeover back in December was, and continues to be, met and held in cautious optimism. Supporters far older than I, writing as I celebrate my 33rd birthday, have seen silver-tongued figures come and go like the waxing and waning of the moon making promises they either couldn’t keep or worse, had little intention of keeping. I’m not for a moment lumping him in with those, but it does go a great deal of the way to explaining a deep scrutiny of anyone who arrives at the club in the future that doesn’t back up their words with actions.

The statement from the chairman today, which I encourage you to read before continuing with the rest of this article, is pitched at the right angle. There’s nothing contained within it that I feel overreaches what people at the club can realistically achieve.

The relationship I’ve had personally with the club has gone through several different phases; first, between the ages of eight and 12, I witnessed a meteoric rise on the pitch, an era not repeated in either the decades preceding or following it, which has been done justice in fellow fan and scribe James Bentley’s weighty, nostalgic tome.

The downward spiral almost immediately following the mid-90s is also well-documented, and of course led to periods where the club’s future was in serious doubt, including being in administration. Getting teased about it at school by a friend that happened to be an Accrington Stanley fan lent a bizarrely ironic twist to a situation completely out of my hands, and it still rankles me to do this day to see financial instability used a stick by some to beat followers of other teams with. It was also a period where it felt like the seeds were being sown at many other sides in England; the savviest amongst them were starting to realise the paramount importance of forging stronger links with their towns and cities whilst coinciding with a booming economy, and not necessarily just at elite level.

That’s not to say that Bury didn’t do anything; far from it. For my GCSE work experience, there was only place I wanted to spend my two weeks: whatever I could at Gigg Lane. As part of that, Football in the Community, as it was known then, would go into schools to do various talks and play short matches during P.E. lessons, although the overarching subject range was fairly narrow by contemporary standards. Even so, it felt good to be even the smallest cog in the machine I loved for a brief moment in my life.

Fast forward a few years and I’m in quite a bad place at university; without the money to regularly attend games despite only living in Rusholme, it was also when the first team were at their poorest on the pitch, barely surviving the dreaded drop to non-league in successive campaigns. Before the advent of social media, I was quite restricted in that position how and when I could interact with the club.

11 years ago, I had to make the decision to follow my parents down south to Bedfordshire. Suffering from both anxiety and depression, the era under Alan Knill brought some comfort; his interviews often gave me hope that a perpetual struggle wasn’t going to be on the cards. He left just before promotion was (finally) achieved in 2011, and since then, the first team has yo-yo’ed between the bottom two tiers.

Though at times criticised fiercely for various reasons, the club’s outlets on Twitter and Facebook in more recent times have slowly but surely improved beyond recognition with the current media team, and in turn have helped to build bridges between a club and fanbase that had been seemingly been growing apart on the power of their own inertia. CEO Karl Evans’ presence, receptiveness, and responsiveness on social media were one of the few positive constants of an otherwise shambolic 2017/2018; although not directly linked to that, my depression came back with a vengeance at the turn of last year and almost wiped out my longstanding, long distance affection for everything Bury F.C., even though I was writing about some aspect of it twice a week.

Thankfully through counselling, it started to ease off again. One of the main aims of my writing has always been to promote what the club does. For example, it wasn’t that long before interviewing current women’s captain Lucy Golding that I wondered to myself ‘why don’t Bury have a women’s team?’, only to find out through a lot of digging that they did.

The point of providing a potted life history of sorts, and how it has intertwined with the club, is to demonstrate that through events not restricted to, but mainly orchestrated in the past few months have made me feel part of it again, even though I live well over 100 miles away. I have seen the warmth and openness that fellow exiles have been treated with; I’m not saying that these qualities weren’t present before, but I think there has been a marked difference between the two parties since the new ownership.

Things are going fantastically on the field for almost every category under the banner of the club – the men’s team are two points off top spot and one game from only a second appearance at Wembley in history; the women’s senior team, after their superb win over leaders Blackpool last Sunday, also have a real chance of promotion, and will soon make Gigg Lane their new home and have been brought fully under the structure of the club, which I maintain is the best combination of news for quite some time in BL9. The U18s have made waves by making the furthest foray into the FA Youth Cup since 1966, and face the might of Liverpool in a fortnight for a place in the semi-finals. The female reserves under Colin Platt’s leadership also have an outside chance to reach the division above.

Going full circle, the statement is very timely. The iron has been struck whilst it’s scorchingly hot in many respects. It’s impossible to divorce completely success on the field with success and good sentiment off it. The tireless work of the Trust arm of the club has never stopped, but it is finally now getting the publicity that the staff there deserve.

Dale’s ambition from the outset has been to bind the club and town together. His words on the website today represent the first important step in achieving that aim; increased prominence and coverage of the women’s teams, disabled (Ability Counts) outfits, underage teams of all genders, and walking football will go a long way to plugging some of the current gaps.

The last two paragraphs are the most telling, and they relate back to a feeling I’ve held for a long time (and not I alone, I might add) that Bury simply haven’t penetrated the consciousness of the borough to nearly the fullest extent yet. I’m excited to see what happens in the future.

What can I do from my vantage point, as the writer of this blog? I want to continue promoting all aspects of the club wherever possible, and reserve the right to constructively criticise when necessary. I’ll continue to do tweets about stats that include all the available information like the one below:

I want to talk to more people involved in various departments of the club, as well as fellow supporters. It’s to that end that I’ll be launching a podcast in the summer to take things to another level, and to discuss things in a slightly different format than this blog allows. I’m not in the foreseeable likely to be able to go to every game; that’s why I want to make the most of when I do, and to watch from afar when I can’t, and hopefully produce some good content.

I’m very pleased about the direction Bury are heading in. As a fourth generation fan, I’d like my three-year old son to be the fifth if he develops an interest in football.  The announcement today makes that just little bit more likely, and that’s something that could be repeated across the town. The future generations are out there that will support the club in one way or another, I’m certain of it.