Wednesday, 28 August 2019

Bury FC Expelled From The EFL: Why Our Football Clubs Need Protecting

If you were to explain to someone why you supported a football club, how would you do it? How can you covey the feelings that connect you to your club? Why you spend copious amounts of time and money following a football team around the country for (often) very little reward?

As of the 27th August 2019, Bury FC have been expelled from The Football League after 125 years of membership – and I defy anyone watching, listening or reading the outpouring of emotions from their supporters to not understand why they supported their football club. Because, as I find myself repeating progressively as time goes on, watching football is about more than just watching football.

It’s difficult to comprehend why this has happened – we know how it’s happened; the club couldn’tprove to the EFL that they had sufficient funds to see them through the season, and proposed takeover deals collapsed or didn’t have enough time to go through – but it’s hard for me to understand why a succession of club custodians (and the EFL) has allowed Bury to get into this state.

Ever since the club was served notice of their possible expulsion, one word has been a constant in the national and local news coverage – community. It can be easy to forget in the times we live in (where the cost of transfer fees and the wages of players are thrown in our faces through television and the internet), that football clubs are supposed to represent a town, the people sat in the seats, a collective ideal, even. Football clubs should not represent the avarice of businesses and amateurish penny pinchers. Sadly, many have forgotten that.

Bury FC: Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Money has always been difficult to come by for Bury – living on the doorstep of two of English football’s biggest clubs tends to cut into the number of supporters and sponsorships you can get. So already, money is scarce; investments need to be thought out intelligently and preferably, backed up with a safety net. Over the years, they haven’t had this – getting into financial struggles that have threatened but not, seen them go out of existence as a Football League club. Until now.

The problem for clubs further down the pyramid is that there is a lack of interest from investors who a) know what they’re doing, b) have genuine intentions and c), have the money to put their plans into place. This is where the league needs to step in to protect these clubs – one of the more alarming facts to stem from this sorry mess was Bury owner, Steve Dale’s, business record. Out of the 51 businesses he had involvement with 43 have beenliquidated. Now I appreciate that the EFL were under pressure at the time to sort a deal for Bury out (Dale purchased the debt-ridden club from Stewart Day for £1), but based on that evidence alone, he should have never passed ‘the owner and directors test’ – you can get a good picture of his record by simply looking online.

So what can the EFL do? It needs to realise the true value of clubs. It needs to put in place new legislation to prevent things like high-interest loans from beingtaken out on football grounds. It needs a new way of deciding whether the guardians (because that’s what they are) have it within them to look after the club. It needs to find a way to have more supporter or local council involvement at board level to protect these community assets.

The Effect Football Has On The Local Community

Community assets are precisely what our football clubs are. Visualise what’s around the ground of your local club – there’s likely a plethora of shops, chippys, pubs, restaurants, hotels, etc. Even if your local ground is in the middle of nowhere, people will visit your town just to see a football match, perhaps even for the weekend – it may be the only reason that most visitors have in coming to your locality. So the local economy, people’s jobs and livelihoods are majorly impacted by the standing of the local football club.

Community is about families too. The busy lives we live may mean that we don’t see each other that often – football gives us that opportunity to get together and be a family. Family isn’t just about blood ties, either – football provides the means for mates, who have known each other for years, to get together to enjoy a common hobby and have a laugh. People can make new friends with those who they sit near – some people even fall in love after meeting at the football. Our clubs are the home for the family it has created and without them, our towns and lives would be poorer without them. This is why the EFL needs to put those changes in place to protect them.

My last visit to Gigg Lane was in 2015, as part of my ‘doingthe 92’ book project. Back then, things were looking positive for the club – I even commented on how previous owner, Stewart Day, was spending money, bringing in signings that would get them to League One and beyond. Oh dear.

As I was reading back at what I had experienced that day, this particular section seems somewhat poignant in the circumstances: 

As I take my seat in the main stand, the PA tells us that a man at the game today is celebrating his 100th birthday (even he wasn’t born when they won the FA Cup) - in comparison, the (supporter) mascot is 5 years old. For me this is what some people who criticise the game don’t get about football - clubs like Bury are very-much rooted into their local communities, catering for all people, some of whom are 95 years apart. All we’ve heard in the last few weeks is about new television deals and high ticket prices, clubs like Bury show that football is for families, for everyone. 

Whatever happens to the club from here (the likelihood is that, without any re-admittance into the EFL, they will be wound up), I hope (I know) the supporters will group together and give the town a football club again. In the meantime, English football has got a lot to do to ensure that nothing like this happens again – the work starts now.


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