Tag: finances

A Non-Zero-Sum Game

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:

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.

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This is C&N

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:

  1. Race to the Bottom: Episode 13 (opens in Spotify)
  2. The Big Kick Off: Episode 116 (opens in Soundcloud)
  3. Sky News Interview: Five minutes of my face on YouTube (sorry!)

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:

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.

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.

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.

CVA? CBA

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.

 

An Open Letter to Steve Dale

Dear Mr. Dale,

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.

Kind Regards,

A cloud spinner

Will the Most Courageous Promotion in Bury’s 134-Year History Prove to be the Club’s Epitaph?

For my reviews of AugustSeptemberOctoberNovember, December, January, February, and March, click their respective links.

No normal review

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:

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:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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U18s

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.

Women

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…

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No matter what happens to the ‘main’ arm of the business, there will still be a Bury FC Women – they couldn’t be in better hands at this moment in time

Potential Takeover

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.

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.

Get Out of Bury Football Club

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.

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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:

https://www.gofundme.com/help-the-staff-of-bury-football-club

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:

https://www.foreverbury.org/join/

No Crystal Ball, but Things Must Change Now and Forever, from Within and Without

It won’t have escaped even the most casual observer’s attention that this has been a(nother) horrific week in the long and storied history of Bury Football Club. The two comfortable home defeats back-to-back have paled into complete insignificance because of off-the-field events yet again. From a financial perspective, the Shakers have rarely ever been healthier than merely ‘treading water’, certainly in my quarter of a century following the side. I’ve been become accustomed over the years to phrases like ‘cash-strapped‘ and ‘begging bowl‘. Before previous chairman Stewart Day came along however, you could at least look at the accounts and say that the debts were comparatively tiny to what they have now become – at the very least, an increase of tenfold since the summer of 2013, together with numerous CCJs and winding-up petitions, one of which will be heard next week on the 10th of April. I know precisely where I lay the blame for all of this, but I’m not here to talk about him – I’ve done that before and received vociferous criticism – the past has informed the present, and in turn has set the likely course for the future.

Equally however, the near-ubiquity of the money worries under different administrations has understandably hardened many supporters of other clubs to Bury’s plight, coming as it does with greater frequency all the while. I don’t expect or ask for sympathy from anyone, as it’s my belief that a fundamental change needs to happen both within and without the club in the domestic game as a whole. Once more, the change I speak of does not absolve any custodian of the club from their responsibility to restore prudence to the books, and it is simply unacceptable that the players and staff have not been paid their wages for March.

Late last night, current chairman Steve Dale penned a long statement on the official website, which warrants being put on here as it addresses some, but not all, of the vital issues:

“I’ve become aware of some recent speculation about our club and, although I usually prefer not to address or give credence to rumours, I feel it’s reached a point where it’s time to address the main causes of speculation and to offer first-hand information around some recent events.

Firstly, I would like to highlight how our dedicated players, staff, and directors have all rallied round to support our club to ensure its future. Fans, followers and the community, can rest assured that Bury Football Club is here to stay.

Unfortunately, though, I can confirm that there is some element of truth in the circulating information relating to the club’s financial affairs. Due to a number of unforeseen issues, the financial position of the club is significantly worse than what was discovered during our due diligence process prior to the acquisition. The full extent of the problems inherited from the previous ownership of the club have become apparent over time, and this has undoubtedly led to our current difficulties. It is certainly a testing time, but we can overcome it. We will overcome it.

To address some of the gossip pertaining to my own position, I can assure you that this remains the same as it has been from day one. On the pitch, I have always been clear that I can add nothing; from that perspective, the club is in the highly capable hands of our Sporting Director, our Manager, and the players. We’re currently sat third in the league, and so I consider them to be doing their jobs extremely effectively. If in any given week the team loses a bit of form, showing them support and enthusiasm will help them rise to the occasion, as they have so many times before. The disdain that has been shown in light of recent results, however, is not only disappointing in the extreme, it’s disheartening to a team who have performed exceptionally all season. Fair weather fans are not true fans.

On the financial side, I made a commitment to get the club on an even keel, at which point my job would be done and a new, younger custodian could take over. That is still my aim, and what I’m working towards, although this process is slower than I would have liked due to the new issues that have arisen. Whilst many in my position would have walked away having unearthed the true position of the club (as some of my advisors have urged me to do), that’s simply not my style. But nor am I a never-ending ATM machine. Fiscal prudence and fans through the turnstiles are what will ultimately safeguard the future of our club. The former of which we’re working on, and the latter of which we need your help with. The continuity of any club is only viable by the support and attendances of its followers. Supporters are the blood we need through our veins, so bring as many family and friends as you can, get behind the team and have a great day. This will serve as a valuable contribution to securing the future of our club in the immediate term, as well as for future generations.

Another point I would like to address is my non-appearance at the game on Tuesday night. Unfortunately, my illness has rendered it impossible for me to be as able as I once was. On Tuesday, I left my house at 5am and didn’t return until 8.30pm, having had back-to-back meetings and a 9-hour round trip in the car. All of which was to safeguard the future of our club. Upon my return, I was understandably drained and so I was unable to attend. When I’m able to, I attend all of our matches, including our ladies and youth team. This isn’t a chore to me, I enjoy every match I watch and am an avid supporter of every team at Bury FC. It, therefore, saddens me to have to address speculation about my commitment to the club, which has been unwavering from the start.

The final point I want to address is the extreme unpleasantness experienced after the match on Tuesday evening. Whilst people are allowed and, indeed, fully expected to have their opinions, the actions of a select few individuals after the game was shocking, unnecessary and completely inexplicable. The threats and abuse (much of which appears to have been based on false information) endured by directors and staff, who have been going many extra miles behind closed doors, was a disgrace. To be clear, any further behaviour of that nature will result in anyone involved being banned from the club indefinitely.

I would like to take the opportunity to give my sincerest thanks to our true fans, those who stick by our club no matter what, as you are the future of Bury FC. We will turn the current circumstances around, and your support whilst we do so is invaluable. Thank you.

Finally, I would like to wish all the other clubs in similar, or far worse situations to ourselves, all the best of luck.

Best regards,

Steve”     

Perhaps for legal reasons, he doesn’t make an obvious mention of the salaries owed; there are plenty of other things to pick out from it, though.

Firstly, I am decidedly not assured about the future. It’s gone well beyond a rallying cry for me. I don’t point the finger at Dale for that, but it signifies the culmination in my experience of rhetoric over action. I’ll only be ‘moved’ with a demonstration of the latter, starting with paying what is owed to all the employees of the club. I must then see that there is a proper plan in place for managing the debt and making the business (because unfortunately in many respects, that’s precisely what it is) solvent.

The ‘easiest’ way of doing that is by cutting the wage bill of the playing staff, which is precisely what I’ve been advocating for quite a while, and I’m far from a lone voice in that respect. If that means staying in the fourth tier (or lower), so be it. It’s far more preferable to the age(s) of false boom, bust and even more bust. The reality of that might mean far more emphasis on bringing through academy prospects than is already placed, or even demoting the status to Category 4, which would effectively cut off everyone below the age of 16, and see the club more as a beacon for talent discarded by teams higher up the pyramid to have a realistic, short pathway to senior action. This would be far from ideal in many ways, but we’re not in the time for ideals.

The way I interpret the paragraph about due diligence is that, put simply, it was rushed, most likely out of necessity for the club’s existence, which has probably led to the latest malaise. I’m glad he specifically mentions prudence in the statement and he is also right to say that, coupled with more fans attending, will certainly help in the short-term. The football that has been played has been the best in my lifetime – no doubt about it, and I don’t need to use any stats whatsoever to back it up. At this point, I find it incredible that Ryan Lowe and the players got booed by some fans. No-one’s disputing that it was a poor performance and result on Tuesday,

I would like to see a different ownership model in the future. You only have to glance around the EFL and below the elite in the Premier League itself to get a flavour of how the odds are forever stacking up against clubs, despite how much money is awash in the sport. Whether this model is fan-owned, several different substantial investors (thereby spreading the risk), or an amalgam of the two, I’m unsure, but the dangers of being in thrall to a single benefactor or someone masquerading as one have been plain for all to witness. Very few owners at any step on the ladder see a return on their investment, so it’s usually better if the parties involved have an existing affiliation with the area and club whilst not being blind to the potential pitfalls involved.

In an age of rolling news and social media, the gap between that statement and the previous one felt like an aeon had passed, when in reality, it was a little over two and a bit days. Into that yawning chasm stepped 1,001 rumours – some that transpired to have a kernel of truth to them; some that were fanciful to say the least; worse still, some of them were really ugly, and manifested themselves as referred to in the statement. On the one hand, it’s inevitable that with feelings running so strongly for so many, a few will become desperate in their search for answers. On the other, I totally condemn any abuse and threats made for the very simple reason that they’re completely unnecessary, and make any positive outcome much less likely.

In the midst of the radio silence yesterday, I could ruminate on little else but the fate of my club, so I penned this tweet:

I stand by what I said. Yes, a ‘phoenix club’ could rise up (and it would be something I’d like to have involvement in), but it wouldn’t really be the same. So much more would be lost than a member of the EFL for 127 years and counting – people’s livelihoods for one thing, and much of fans’ identities, too. The closure of the current club would be like a death of a loved one. I know that’s hard for those not really interested in football to fathom – ridiculous, even… but the sport is so omnipresent, so interwoven in fans’ lives that it is no exaggeration at all to hint at the devastation it would bring.

Thankfully, I’ve been told that the recently incorporated women’s team will not be part of that unthinkable scenario. As with the rest of the sides and other work that the Trust do, they have been run on a sound financial footing, only spending what they actually receive. It could catch on. More to the point, the women’s game as a whole is experiencing a lot of growth in England, and there is a realistic plan for the female Shakers to be a small part of that. As such, I have made a commitment to provide equal coverage of them in the future, both on this blog and on the podcast, which will launch in the summer. Exciting times lie ahead for them, at the very least.

Turning back to the men, the players going above and beyond what can reasonably be expected of them by agreeing to perform until the end of the season, regardless of whether they are paid in that juncture. Talk of promotion is very much a tertiary concern for me now; like anyone else, I would celebrate if it does happen, but it would be a Pyrrhic victory without the securing the club’s future and making substantive changes to reduce the likelihood of this ever happening again.

There are of course factors outside the club’s control that are making things more difficult. I can think of 10 sides this season that have faced major problems of one sort or another, with the EFL ignorant, powerless or both. The instances are increasing year-on-year; substantive changes must also be made to how clubs operate, how to slow or reverse the trickle-down effect of wage inflation, as well as the ‘Fit & Proper Person Test’, which is one of the biggest laughing stocks in the game at present if you’re a lover of very dark humour.

As the title of this post suggests, I don’t have a crystal ball. I have no real insider knowledge. This might even be my last entry on this blog about Bury Football Club as we know them today. As someone who’s trying to pivot their career into football writing, a lot of that is reliant on the continuing existence of the club I support from a distance. I can’t say with any certainty that I’d still find the passion to write if they ceased to exist.

On the 9th of May, I’ll be at the Eithad Stadium in Manchester, where I’m a finalist in the Football Blogging Awards in the ‘Best Club Content Creator’ category. If you like my work, please vote for me to increase my chances of winning it. I just hope that some action has been taken by then to ensure it’s not an extremely bittersweet occasion.

‘The Haçienda Was a Better Run Club!’ – Can New Owner Steve Dale Make Bury’s Financial Status Viable?

I have never claimed to be a person ‘in the know’ where Bury Football Club are concerned, particularly with respect to the parlous financial state they always seem to be in, lurching from one crisis to another. This season, things have come to a head, with talk on social media even prior to the takeover of assets being repossessed, and rumours of certain players’ wages not being paid on time. Regardless of whether the latter is true, it’s undeniable that the latest findings by the well-known football finance expert Kieran Maguire have made for a sobering read:

The (small) caveat to that is that very few clubs in the English game operate at a profit, but fewer still can sustain such losses and continue to operate as a going concern in the medium term, something which is alluded to in the last edition of the available accounts, made up to the 31st of May, 2017.

That does not amount to a defence of (former) chairman Stewart Day by any means, and I have been heavily critical of him on my blog in previous years. This is his statement that was published on the official site earlier this afternoon:

day statement.PNG

Two things immediately spring out from that tract: firstly, he became more than just the owner of the club; he became a fan. That is one of the aspects of the past five years that is the least contentious, and he was well-known for attending almost every single match on the road. However, sometimes when you’re that emotionally invested, it can blind you to bridging the ‘impossible’ gap between prudence and ambition, and Day was certainly had the latter in spades.

His stated aim when he himself took the reins in the close season of 2013 was to take the club to the Championship within five years. Despite gaining promotion to the third tier in 2015, and a bevvy of high-profile signings on expensive salaries across three campaigns, his dreams ended in failure, precipitated by losing money hand over fist, and the shambolic stewardship of a certain Lee Clark only accelerated the reversal of the side’s fortunes, ultimately resulting in being back where they ‘started’.

Day is at pains to point out the success of the academy system, and that will serve as the most positive part of his legacy in my opinion. Detractors will say that the cost of operating a Category 3 setup is not insubstantial, but the development and sales of several key graduates over that time have probably come close to covering the overheads that aren’t covered by Premier League grants and other sources.

At the time of writing, the two key questions that I hope will be put to new chairman, Steve Dale, centre around what has happened/will happen to the debts (mostly owed to Mederco, Day’s own company). The timing of this deal lends me to believe that it was done in some haste, at least from one of the parties involved. Additionally, the outgoing supremo cannot in good conscience claim to have left the club in a better place without some of agreement to write them off.

Even then, the more pressing concern centres around cashflow. Managing this is perhaps more crucial than servicing debts, and Dale and the members of the board, new and old alike, will have to convince increasingly wary banks and other lenders that the ‘rolling the dice’ times are a thing of the past in order to win back confidence and grow any cash reserves.

Like almost every outfit, player salaries and their contracts are the most major form of expenditure. There are close to 40 registered individuals on pro terms. Even if somehow Dale and McCarthy have more money than they know what to do with, they have to find a way of reducing that number in the next transfer window, hopefully without majorly impacting on the sparkling displays and form that have taken Ryan Lowe’s charges to the cusp of the automatic promotion places, although that cannot be guaranteed.

Several of the current group are unavailable, either because they’re out on loan (Harry Bunn and Tom Aldred most prominently) or are long-term injured (Jermaine Beckford). My advice to the new owner would be to instruct Lee Dykes to cut deals with their temporary sides in the first instance to get them off the wage bill and unfortunately in Beckford’s case, cut the club’s losses.

Simultaneously, attention will be on the likes of Danny Mayor, Nicky Maynard, Jay O’Shea, and Callum McFadzean, all of whom have been amongst the star performers… and each one has a contract that will expire at the end of the current campaign, with the youngest member of the foursome already being 24. That would mean they could all leave on a free, regardless of whether the club were in a position to negotiate extensions for them. Not an enviable position to be in…

Dale’s stated ambition is for the Shakers to be a ‘self-sufficient League One side’, and mercifully, he hasn’t (yet) put a timeframe around that. There are many hurdles to jump over before that can be achieved, and it could take no small degree of patience and luck to see that to fruition.

If I was asked for my advice to the new owner with regards to how he should operate the club, it would be along the following five themes:

  • Openness – I’ve already seen a line suggesting Dale himself is a ‘very private individual’; that’s fine, but there are many stakeholders and dyed-in-the-wool supporters of the club. Learn from the failings of Day and keep an open, consistent line of dialogue between the board and fans.
  • Pragmatism – To take an extreme example for the sake of argument, which is more important: extending Mayor’s contract or still having a club next season? Some decisions are bound to be poorly received, but if people can see the reasoning behind them, then it will be that much easier to justify them and keep their support (in more ways than one).
  • Set realistic targets – I don’t believe his stated aim is too ambitious; look close to home for examples of how it can be done, most notably at Accrington Stanley and Rochdale. Football doesn’t exist in amber; quite the opposite. If it takes several years or longer to get to the desired state of affairs, then it’s something that needs to be accepted.
  • Ego – Don’t surround yourself with people who’ll consistently tell you you’re doing a great job of running the club. Invite, and accept, criticism. Question whether you’re making the right decisions in the interests of the football club and those ‘invested’ in it, first and foremost. They’ll be here long after you’re not.
  • Sustainability – Again, this has already been alluded to. It sounds simple: pay individuals and businesses on time. If the cloth needs to be cut accordingly, do it. This has to go hand-in-hand with growing revenue streams away from matchdays, however. The report by Day in the last accounts on Companies House below shows that he keenly understood that element at the very least:

17 Accounts Statement

The press conference and club interviews later in the week should shed some more light on Dale’s business acumen, but I would be extremely reluctant to take what he (or anyone else says) at face value. On way too many occasions, the collective fingers of fans of football clubs have been burnt by new owners promising ‘x’ and ‘y’. Action over the next six months and beyond will echo for far longer than anything he states in the coming days, and I’ll be keeping both eyes peeled.

Rolling the Dice: Are Bury’s First Three Signings of the Close Season the Shape of Things to Come?

I should preface this piece by saying that I believe all three signings thus far are (at the very least) good players. That should be self-evident from this post but read on for a slightly different take on events thus far.

The tendency in the lower leagues is that the more successful teams (whatever their aims are) make their moves early in the transfer window. Whilst far from an exact science, it allows the management at those clubs to have more time to instill whatever their particular ethos is in those individuals and the players in question familiarise themselves with their teammates, environment and training programmes and become well versed more quickly.

Bury manager Lee Clark spoke of the need recently to get business done early for the reasons listed above and in a fiercely competitive transfer market like England’s, it makes complete sense. He has targetted players that he believes are ‘winners’, either by gaining promotion from the third tier or by holding their own in the Championship, which is completely understandable given the stated aim of reaching the top six in 2017/2018. However, I did not expect three signings to arrive quite so early and there has already been a pattern that has emerged other than the ‘winners’ tag – their ages.

Let’s first look at the three signings in a little more detail:

Jermaine Beckford, 33

beckford-j-scfc-4x349-3245833_613x460

2016/2017 stats (for Preston North End in all competitions): 525 minutes, 4 starts, 14 sub appearances; 1 goal, 1 assist.

Largely frozen out of the first XI by Lilywhites’ boss Simon Grayson, arguably his most memorable ‘contribution’ was this:

Moreover, his playing opportunities have been limited ever since their promotion in 2015 but he has demonstrated in several seasons that he is prolific in the third tier and there are definitely parallels with Leon Clarke in this regard. He has previously partnered James Vaughan when the pair were at Huddersfield Town and their time together was fruitful but brief. Still possessing considerable pace and power despite his age and with a decent weak foot, Beckford also revels in the same ‘advanced forward’ role that Vaughan does a, which can be a double-edged sword from a tactical point of view and I’ll explore that in my next blogpost in much more depth.

Fans of clubs he has been at previously are mostly complimentary, with concern reserved for the occasional lack of discipline and seemingly like almost every Bury signing these days, his injury proneness.

Phil Edwards, 31

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2016/2017 stats (for Burton Albion & Oxford United in all competitions): 4,588 minutes, 51 starts, 1 sub appearance; 5 goals, 0 assists.

By far the least ‘bombastic’ of the three on paper, Edwards will offer vast experience and direct competition to Craig Jones in the right full back role. Featured against the Shakers for Championship survivors Burton in the EFL Cup and was quickly loaned out to Oxford, where he was almost ever-present and an important part of their very respectable league finish and serious tilt at the EFL Trophy, only to fall to defeat in the final. Gained promotion with the Brewers in 2015/2016, which is a big tick in Clark’s box.

Edwards’ style is much more conservative than the ‘typical’ modern full back. He is neither likely to drive forwards recklessly, nor will he provide much in the way of telling crosses or overlapping runs. What he will do is help to organise the defence, dominate in the air against the vast majority of wide players and perhaps equally as importantly, offer a threat in the opposing penalty area. He can also operate more centrally if required.

I canvassed opinion on him too, with the one major failing in his game being a propensity to give away penalties. Which brings me on neatly to…

Stephen Dawson, 31

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2016/2017 stats (for Scunthorpe United): 4,164 minutes, 47 starts, 3 sub appearances; 2 goals, 5 assists.

A player that needs no introduction whatsoever to Bury fans, especially after the recent campaign. Between his first and second stints at Gigg Lane, he starred for all four of his sides and held his own in the Championship for Barnsley under both Keith Hill and David Flitcroft, the former of whom secured his signature for Rochdale in 2014 after his own return to the Spotland dugout.

Highly competitive and combative, Dawson will plug the gap in midfield that some supporters have felt was missing since… Dawson. Seven years on, his positional sense is much improved and he is better at providing protection for the defence. Still liable to pick up a high number of yellow cards and be in the referee’s ear frequently, which is a trait I deplore and I’m not going to change my mind just because he is back in BL9.

At 31, he shows no signs of slowing down and featured in nigh-on every game for Scunthorpe in 2016/2017. He was deployed in a wide midfield role to limited effect in recent matches and whilst he is not slow, he lacks the raw skill that is often demanded in such positions. Clark is effusive in his praise of the box-to-box midfielder, having revealed he has attempted to sign him on a couple of occasions earlier in his managerial career; he is also bullish about Dawson’s continued ability to carry the midfield for the duration of his three-year contract, stating that age is just a number and that conditioning is paramount.

Opinion

What is increasingly noticeable when looking at the squad at present is that the average age is shooting up, bearing in mind it was already reasonably high (as illustrated by this excellent Experimental 3-6-1 graph). There aren’t actually that many members who can be considered to be at their ‘peak’ ages, even accounting for their main roles in the table below:

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The list above is still likely to fluctuate substantially and so that caveat currently exists in my argument. Things could still change in that regard. However, I am becoming more concerned as the days go by as to the transfer policy that has been adopted by Clark and approved by chairman Stewart Day. There is nothing wrong with targetting ‘winners’ but the profile of such players, given Bury’s current standing on the football pyramid, will always tend to be on the older side and deemed surplus to requirements (Dawson is a noteable exception in the latter case). They are also next to improbable to be cheap to sign.

The club’s finances are well documented and it is a path trodden by several others, particularly on social media and the message board. I’ve tended to stay away from directly involving myself in the debate as I feel that there is realistically little I could do, were the worst ever to happen to the club. What it feels like at the moment though goes back to the title of this post – rolling the dice to gain promotion in 2017/2018 and putting the future of the football club at risk. Every team ‘gambles’ in one sense or another that the players they identify and subsequently sign are of greater or at least equal quality to the ones who depart for pastures new.

However, I come back to the player profile of the three above. There are almost certainly going to be more bodies incoming in the weeks and months ahead – three minimum by my estimations and with Clark’s track record, I doubt that will be all. Every ‘new’ management team inevitably shapes their squad in their own image but the churn already has been considerable. Whilst the academy is performing brilliantly in terms of its output and at least several of the current crop of U18s could still have a big say next season, there is a yawning gap opening between their age band and the over 30 group. The saleable assets in the light purple (‘peak’) above all have very spotty injury records and combined with the season Vaughan has just enjoyed, it makes me a lot less bullish than Clark is that he will still be here to partner Beckford.

The latest accounts submitted to Companies House show another substantial loss for Bury, with wages and salaries close to £4,000,000 for financial year 2015/2016. Whilst it should be noted that the quoted figure will include non-playing staff, it still seems extreme for a club that has had very moderate/low gates for half a century and does not yet possess a method of generating sufficient levels of income on non-matchdays. With the mooted new stadium still some way off (or being a smokescreen depending on who you listen to), that won’t change for at least several more years.

It is hard to understate just how much is being bet on promotion in order to fulfill Day’s dream of Championship football at Bury by the fifth anniversary of his stewardship of the club. If it is achieved, I will celebrate just like any other supporter would do so as it might mean the future is a little more secure in the longer term… but there are (higher) associated costs with participation in the second tier, despite the near-tenfold increase in solidarity payments from the Premier League.

An equilibrium must be sought quickly to alleviate the impending financial woes: promotion is only one half of the ‘puzzle’ and despite the excellent signings thus far, it is still in my mind an outside chance as things stand, with a tougher League One on the horizon. More care and a longer term consideration needs to be devoted to whoever the next players are to sign on the dotted line at Carrington. They need to be younger/coming up or just in their peak so that the greatest possible fee is recouped if they prove to be a success on the field.

Whilst no fan enjoys feeling that the star turns in the side are ephemeral, if that is what it takes to get the business (because it is a business unfortunately) on an even footing, then so be it. I have no shame whatsoever in wishing that the club was ran much more like near neighbours Rochdale. Unless there is a big shake-up in how money in the game in England is (re)distributed, then they remain one of the acts to follow.

I want Exile Jr., currently nearly 20 months old, to be a Bury fan too… but that is only going to be possible with a more prudent attitude towards transfers than is currently the reality. Promotion alone will not solve these problems.