The deed is done. Whilst (The) Bury Football Club Company Limited still exist as an insolvent going concern, the EFL’s decision to reject the proposal by the ‘Rescue Board’ to reinstate the Shakers in League Two for the 2020/2021 season will likely be the penultimate deathblow to 134 years of history. The coup de grace will surely come in the form of a final winding-up petition by HMRC, which is slated for the 16th of October.
The blame game is still being played, and depending on your own disposition as to how much of it is apportioned to Stewart Day, Steve Dale, and the EFL themselves. But I’m not writing another post that serves as a eulogy for what’s been. Out of the most devastating of circumstances arises an opportunity that, realistically speaking, was never going to come supporters’ way without some extremely rich individuals counting themselves among the base.
There will be some who, barring a scarcely believable intervention, will not want to come on the journey of any subsequent phoenix club – the grief is still very raw for one thing. If the merits of a new entity don’t make their mark on them in the fullness of time, then their decision should be respected.
Nevertheless, I maintain the view that there is a lot to admire about a clean slate, not too dissimilar to using the ‘Create-a-Club’ mode on the Football Manager series and analogous incarnations in other video games down the years, but made real, and far from the confines of fantasy.
Name and crest
I’m not an expert on whether the original name of ‘Bury Football Club’ can be retained in any new venture in a legal sense. Obviously, that would be the preference of the overwhelming majority… but if that’s not able to be achieved, it opens up a lot of alternative options. As illustrated by the above image, my own choice would be 1885 Bury. Darlington faced a situation with many parallels seven years ago, and opted for ‘1883’ as their suffix (they have since dropped the moniker, having had the change approved by the FA).
1885 Bury would retain in their name a link back to the founding of the original entity, as well as mirror how a lot of clubs in the Bundesliga style themselves. This is of heightened relevance when it comes to setting out the possible ownership models later in the article.
As for the crest, I think it needs modernising (simplifying). Again, the above picture is a good example of what I mean, although sadly, a new club wouldn’t be able to retain the two stars signifying the number of FA Cup wins. The v-shaped badge is a hark back to a past iteration, but with an updated motto and more legible text.
In essence, people should be able to look at the crest and know at first glance it can only be Bury’s, whilst also making it far easier to duplicate onto kits, merchandise, and in general marketing itself.
Club Colours & Kit
Every facet would need to be voted, and the club colours and kit are no exception to that. The shade of blue that accompanies the white is not as clear-cut; it has switched between royal and navy historically, and I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t really mind either way, having been witness to both in my time.
I think it would be prudent to strike up a business relationship with a local supplier for the manufacture and distribution of kits. This would enable them to be bespoke, which will be a key cornerstone of a phoenix club’s identity, as well as keeping the supply chain costs down. In turn, a simpler crest as described above would also make it easier to change the colours of it to a single hue, as evidenced in the away kit mock-up.
When possible, taking a leaf out of Accrington Stanley’s book would be a savvy decision:
🙌🏼 The full #asfc squad are today giving out shirts to every Year 3 child in the Hyndburn area.
— Accrington Stanley FC (@ASFCofficial) September 24, 2019
It is just one method of engaging with the community; equally, they don’t change their kits every season unlike almost all of their contemporaries. This ensures greater longevity of the shirts themselves, but also keeps costs down for everyone involved.
When they do change, supporters can be involved in every step of the process.
The small matter of where they’ll play
For many, Gigg Lane is the club. It is also crucial in the sense of having a platform from which to apply to the FA for a higher tier than would otherwise be the case. Chester did this with the Deva on appeal, for example, and the ground is indeed listed as an Asset of Community Value, as can be seen on the spreadsheet link below:
Even so, there is a high financial barrier to having the ground under fans’ ownership, especially without the help of wealthy backers, or even a Compulsory Purchase Order by the council, who would then lease it back to the new entity at a mutually affordable rate. This does not factor in the cost of maintenance, however.
If no deal can be struck, then it opens up the prospect of ground-sharing with other local non-league outfits, such as Radcliffe, Ramsbottom United, and Prestwich Heys. The notion is not without its pitfalls, however. All three have distinct identities of their own, and might feel like sharing their homes is the first step towards absorption. This would need to be categorically ruled out.
The third route would be to find an entirely new site, but the timescales for that would vary wildly, so it’s difficult to discuss in any real detail at present.
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The small matter of which division they’ll start in
As discussed, this is partly contingent on the ground situation. Throughout the process, I’ve heard from a number of different individuals the prospect of competing in an expanded National League North. The basis for That would seem to rely on the current business somehow surviving, the debts being cleared, and Dale not being in situ. The National League as a body are far more stringent on the financial side of their member clubs than the ‘competition organisers’ above them in the pyramid.
Even then, it would require the votes of the clubs to allow re-entry. It’s far from a foregone conclusion that current members would acquiesce; many will feel that the only ‘correct’ course of action is for Bury in either form to start right back on the bottom rung of the North West Counties League.
Strangely enough, the police might have a say, too. Very few grounds that far down are equipped for large away followings. If you take the view that even half the current fanbase would desert a new venture in the 10th tier, that would still constitute a regular crowd that would dwarf every other club by a factor of 20. There are inherent safety issues associated with that likelihood, and it just goes to show that any application to the FA would have many strands for them to consider.
The most common misconception when the phrase ‘fan-owned club’ springs to mind is that it conjures up the logical conclusion that it must also be a fan-run club. It doesn’t necessarily work out that way, even with 100% models. The board, normally run by a majority of volunteers, employ others in a small number of paid positions to work in the day-to-day football roles.
A wholly-owned fan club would have complete control over the direction of travel, decisions and elections onto the working group/board would be democratic, and would rise or fall on the strength of the sense of community fostered therein. I’d also advocate a ‘one owner, one member, one vote’ system, despite favouring a tiered system of ownership practised by Lewes
Another style would be to ape the 50+1 rule in the Bundesliga; essentially, for a club to have a license in Germany, they (the members) have to retain majority voting rights, but the true proportions vary from team to team. This would allow some flexibility in terms of accepting external investors, whilst ensuring that no matter how much they put in, it would never assume control.
I am personally more flexible in my approach to the model than some others I know of for a phoenix club; my red line however is that it must be 50+1 at the very minimum. Bury, and many other clubs, have normally come into financial difficulties at the hands of one individual or a succession of de facto sole owners dictating the course of events. That can never be allowed to happen again.
Philosophy & values
No longer can lip service be paid to both being a hub and a service to the townspeople and beyond. The hashtag ‘#MyClubMyCommunity’ quickly became an awfully ironic phrase as many began to suffer financially and mentally.
It must be at the heart of everything. For me, this means an acceptance that having a club with the main focus being just a men’s first team is over. Women, underage, veterans, Ability Counts. All of them should be catered for. That won’t be the view of everyone else – far from it; in the early days, players are almost certainly going to be drawn from the borough and Greater Manchester – the level of pay they’d receive would preclude anything else. Inversely, this presents opportunities for a much stronger link between supporter and player – in some instances, they would be one and the same. Efforts need to be made to reincorporate the women’s first team back under the more stable wing. It has gone largely unnoticed by the wider media the devastation wrought on them; this, too, can never be allowed to happen again. They’re under the care of the Trust – its future is also uncertain, and efforts should be made to secure the charity.
I’m not in favour of publicised year plans as to the goals of a club, and this would be no different with a phoenix. The aim would obviously be to get back up the pyramid as high and as fast as possible, but there are significant bottlenecks off the pitch to realising those ambitions, let alone on it. There’s also something to be said for this not coming at the cost of diluting the model and/or jeopardising the long-term security.
The club must also not overexert itself in any commerical ventures, and maintain a lithe and agile stance to current trends and events. A far greater push for transparency is paramount, too – I look at the accounting example at Clapton Community as something to both admire and replicate.
This has helped them have a strong presence far outside Walthamstow, and they are but one of several very prominent ‘case studies’, for want of a better term, of how invoking community spirit coupled with a clear identity and constant communication can galvanise support from a smörgåsbord of different sources.
To summarise, a phoenix club would not be a permanent state of rainbows and pots of gold. There’s so much that needs to be done in the next four months to guarantee football is once again played next season, should efforts ultimately fail to revive the moribund current business. Make no mistake though, a phoenix club would be more than a palimpsest of Bury – there’s a massive chance to take the very best of The Shakers from the past 134 years and pay that forward for the next 134, whilst making the club more inclusive, modern, and a shining beacon of the town and beyond.