Tag: phoenix

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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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.

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/