In the past ten days Burscough Football Club have seen their chairman and secretary sacked, a groundshare with their rivals announced and seen their Supporters’ Club disown them and make plans to form a new, independent club. Yet just under 12 months ago the club were proudly announcing the dawn of a new era. It is unlikely director Dave Hughes had the events of the past week in mind when he declared:

“We are looking forward to the future with renewed optimism following the recent takeover of the Club and we will be looking to return the Club to the centre of the local community where it has played a significant role over many years.”

Far from keeping Burscough in the ‘centre of the local community,’ the company which took over the club has arranged a groundshare outside of the village and in doing so threatened the very future of Burscough FC. It was around this time last year that Chequer Properties were officially revealed as the new majority shareholders at the club and the news owners of Victoria Park where the Linnets play their games. The property company had been widely rumoured to be taking a role in the club for a few months prior to the official announcement that previous owner Chris Lloyd had sold his shares (and written off a hefty debt the club had accumulated.) Chequer quickly drew up an arrangement whereby the club, which the company held the majority shares in, was able to lease the ground, which the company owned, at a peppercorn rent of a quid a season.

Registered to an address in Southport and run by Martin Gilchrist, from the outset of the company’s involvement with Burscough the directors have been frank about their plans from the start. The Linnets’ ground is currently protected by a historic legal covenant which stops any development on Victoria Park but Chequer have not been exactly quiet about the company’s desire to remove the covenant and build houses on the Victoria Park site, with a new ground for Burscough to be built as part of the deal. This was the main reason for the company buying the ground (and the shares in the club) – Chequer also agreed to leave the day-to-day running of the club to the Supporters’ Club.

The 2010/11 season started and it looked like Burscough might have overcome the drama which had almost swallowed them up last time round after the all too familiar tale of a big tax bill and a date at the High Court. Fast-foward to February and Linnets manager Andy Gray is sacked – the decision is made by the Director of Football and the club issues the following statement:

“The Directors of Burscough Football Club Limited would like to confirm that sole responsibility for the running of the playing side of the Club is with the Committee and the Directors do not wish to be involved in this aspect of Burscough FC on a daily basis.

“The recent decision taken by the Director of Football, and supported by the remainder of the Board, was taken in the best interests of the Club. It is regretful that the Committee were not consulted on this decision and the Directors would like to confirm that any such decisions going forward will be made by the Committee.”

Gray’s departure was followed by that of players Lee McEvilly (to Droylsden) and Dave Roberts (to Southport) before Chris Stammers was handed the caretaker manager’s position. The Linnets fought on but were eventually relegated from the relegated from the Evo-Stick Premier Division.  But Stammers stayed positive, only two weeks ago he told the Ormskirk & Skelmersdale Advertiser:

“We want to come straight back up and the players have never, ever given me anything less than 100% in every game.”

“We have just got to bounce back because this football club has a big history. I’m not saying relegation is a blessing in disguise but success breeds confidence throughout a foot ball club and maybe we can start achieving that in the Evo-Stik First Division.

“And at this moment we are playing in that league. There have been plenty of stories on the rumour mill about clubs potentially folding but they are just rumours at the minute.”

Then, last week the club’s website (which has now disappeared for a revamp) made the announcement that chairman Frank Parr and secretary Stan Petherbridge, who between then have racked up around 70 years of service to the Linnets, had both been ‘removed’ from their positions, with Mr Petherbridge being replaced by Chequer boss Gilchrist’s son. The statement also stated that Chequer Properties had attended the Evo-Stick League meeting and proposed a groundsharing agreement between Burscough and Skelmersdale United. A proposal, which was approved by the league.

Understandably the fans were shocked by this announcement, both the changes to the board and the groundshare came out of the blue. Skelmersdale might only be eight miles away but Victoria Park is part of the community for Burscough and with Chequer’s plans for redevelopment still on the table many are worried that if the club ‘agrees’ to move out it may affect the covenant on the ground. Not to mention the whole “we will be looking to return the club to the centre of the local community” promise from this time last year.

The Supporters’ Club, which put £60,000 into Burscough FC over the course of the last season, issued a statement on Monday on the fans forum expressing disappointment at the current situation, disappointment with the league and disappointment with Chequer Properties. It also announced a public meeting to be held next week which will outline plans to form a Supporters’ Trust, launch a new football club in time for next season and ensure Burscough has a football club based in the community.

You can read the whole statement here but it ends by saying:

“There has been a lack of communication from Chequer Properties to the Committee and as a result of the actions taken by Chequer’s, the Committee consider that they are unable to continue to support the team as it moves to Skelmersdale. The Supporters Club, with the help of the local community have successfully run Burscough FC for the last 12 months on a sustainable budget and it is disappointing that we will not have the opportunity to continue this next season.”

A new AFC Burscough may be on the way but even if they are cleared for entry in the league (this is usually given an April deadline) they still need to find a ground. The Supporters’ Club have called a meeting for next Tuesday to talk through the options. But as they point out in their statement Victoria Park isn’t just their home, it is home to Burscough Richmond and plays a serious role in the local community. This isn’t just about the football which takes place on a Saturday afternoon at 3pm, it’s about the schools’ and the youth clubs, the social events and the training days.

Since Dave Hughes’ statement Burscough FC’s ‘new era’ has seen the club fractured and split into two factions; Chequer Properties the owners, board and landlords (of both grounds) and the Supporters Club, the ones who were running the club, putting in the money and attending the games. The ‘renewed optimism’ has been replaced by anger, fear and disappointment and Burscough FC look set to leave their local community.

What a difference a year makes.

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