Tag: fans

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 That’s impossible to truly verify without looking at the latest accounts (still unpublished).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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What Does Success on the Pitch Now Look Like for Bury This Season? Fans Have Their Say

You might recall my prediction at the start of 2018/2019, which now looks rather modest: it was simply a desire that the minimum target be for Bury to win more league games than they lost, even if the margin was only one. Barring a complete collapse, they’re likely to do much better than that. Fans’ expectations at the club have, on the whole, risen in the last decade, thanks in no small part in my opinion to former manager Alan Knill, now assistant to Chris Wilder at Sheffield United in a role reversal of their time at Gigg Lane.

Knill was by no means perfect, but what he did manage to achieve during his interviews was a perceptible shift in the collective mentality in BL9, which has barring one miserable season (no, not 2017/2018 – 2012/2013!), stayed around long after he departed eastwards for Scunthorpe United. It wasn’t ‘little Bury’ anymore, and rarely has been since. There’s a difference between knowing the limits of what can be achieved, and seeking to expand those confines even by just a little bit.

Few supporters, myself included, truly knew what this season would bring. There’s been tumult off it, but it hasn’t disrupted the harmony on it. The players and indeed the staff seem as one, especially since Steve Dale took over shortly before Christmas. That doesn’t mean the current state of affairs will continue in perpetuity, but I thought that now was a timely moment to reflect on what it’s been like for the past few months, and still might be up until May and maybe beyond, but in the words of others:

It’s a question I also put to members of gigglane.com, the largest unofficial message board dedicated to the Shakers. The standard of responses were very high, and can be generally categorised into the following groupings:

  • Winning the ‘right way’, i.e. entertaining hugely whilst doing so, and rarely (if ever) resorting to a win-at-all-costs mentality
  • Restored/rekindled affection and love for the club, and a sharp contrast to last season
  • Ryan Lowe – his honesty and selflessness during interviews is a marked departure from previous incumbents
  • High satisfaction with how things have gone already, even if results taper off…
  • … which contrasts with more than a minority stating that ‘anything less than finishing in the top three would be a disappointment’
  • A pleasure to go to matches

I’ve included Barry Howarth’s comments verbatim, as I think he sums it up quite brilliantly, and always writes well:

“There are too many factors to take into account in predicting success or even defining what success is for a club like Bury. Unlimited finance is probably the one guarantee of success and even that isn’t particularly reliable.

However, there is one aspect of the management of the club that deserves some scrutiny and that is the management style of Ryan Lowe and its impact on the pitch.

Ryan isn’t a proven manager or even one that has had a qualified training background to the highest level. He has had little experience in management, his earlier spell care taking wasn’t exactly a wild success. However, there was one early indicator of his impact when we were left manager-less after Knill left us short of the line. There is no doubt that Lowe played a key part in driving the team to promotion – arguably after we we heading out of the race before Knill left. He did have some other strong characters and experience around but I would argue that it was Lowe’s natural positivity and emotional intelligence that made the difference.

Given last season’s debacle and the increasing creakiness of Day’s tenure, it has been a total revelation to see the way the team has performed and dealt with injury setbacks as well as off the field distractions. I can’t believe it is down to Lowe’s tactical genius, his managerial experience or his skills. Great leaders are defined by their behaviours and not by their skills.

Lowe presents as someone who is what you see – he is authentic. He is modest and open about his background and achievements, never pretends that he is what he isn’t (looking at you Clarkey!) and always always puts his players, his team first and foremost. Without wishing to sound over analytical, people have a choice in how to respond to events. They can be reactive (like this messageboard is sometimes when we lose!) in that we moan about mistakes, we get angry about losses or we slag off people who don’t seem to be up for the job.

In his first spell, Lowe did that when the team lost – “that’s not my team out there” – and you can only imagine the impact on the players. I called him out for it at the time but, being charitable to him, it was out of character and I believe heavily influenced by Clarke’s tenure which was all about blaming the players for what he, as manager, was entirely responsible for.

This year we have seen Lowe with his constant grin, his cheeky chappie attitude not ‘reacting’ to events and setbacks but choosing to be proactive in pretty much all the situations. This removes pressure from his players, gives them a confidence boost and creates an overall happy and supportive environment. This is immediately obvious on the pitch where we are playing with a freedom and positivity which I honestly can’t remember over such a sustained period since – errr  . . . .

Football at this level has always been more about making the most of what you have. Teamwork is the single most effective indicator of that and anyone who can create teams who have self belief, are happy, work for each other and create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts is a good manager in my book.

For me, success on the pitch this season is not about promotion, play offs or even (god forbid) relegation but about demonstrating our values, our togetherness, our teamwork and building a Bury brand in the image of the manager. We can always bring in skills but attitude and behaviour is in short supply in the managerial pool.

Dale should do all he can to keep Lowe.”

It was inevitable that some would factor in the (cautious) optimism surrounding Bury since Dale became the chairman. Most supporters have seen false dawns come and go, and successful times become relatively short-lived. What can be agreed upon though, is that the current squad and brand of football is the best anyone has seen for decades… it’s now just a small matter of ‘getting to where we want to get to’, in Lowe’s own words. It’s sure to be quite the conclusion to 2018/2019!