Bury FC: Promotion Isn’t Supposed To Feel This Way

It’s only been a couple of weeks since Bury pulled off one of the surprises of the season by clinching second place in the League Two table, but the last few been taken up with accusations of non-payment from players and a statement issued by the owner club Steve Dale which, with a degree of consequence that we can only presume to have been “unintended”, has now cast serious doubts over his suitability to run the club. Dale purchased the club in December for a nominal sum from previous owner Stewart Day, whose period in charge of the club had come to characterised by a £1m loan taken out at an eye-watering interest rate of 138% from a company called – described by the Guardian’s David Conn as “somewhat unpromisingly” – Cash4Assets Ltd and secured against the club’s Gigg Lane ground.

When the purchase was confirmed at the end of last year, it was assumed that Dale would need some time to sort out the mess left by the previous owner. The previously published company accounts showed that the club had lost £2.5m for the year to 2016 and £2.8m for the year to 2017, and there was no telling what further skeletons might pour forth from the closet with Day having now departed the club. With promotion being a reasonable aim for the second half of the club’s League Two season, when the suggestion that the club’s financial position remained dire it was easy to put the blame onto the previous owner and cling onto the idea that  promotion back to League One would go some way toward improving the club’s position ahead of the start of next season.

Indeed, this focus on promotion was so strong on the part of the players that they kept the fact that they’d been paid at best a couple of weeks of wages over the previous two months quiet. However, and as we mentioned when last discussing this particular club, “Having achieved that aim, their attention will now surely turn to the small matter of when they’re going to actually get paid as per their contracts.” Well, it’s now been more than three weeks since the end of the season, and the answer to that question would appear to be a fairly resounding “no”, and the evidence from this comes from the players themselves, who found themselves in the position of having to make the following further statement last Wednesday:

As players we are disappointed to find ourselves in this position having had such a great season. We have gone from elation to complete and utter dismay. As it stands it looks like as players, we may have to start looking at other clubs which is something none of us want to do. Adding to this we have now found out one of our contracts isn’t valid moving into the next season which needs addressing as a matter of urgency.

Unfortunately, we are now in a position where we as players haven’t been paid in 12 weeks from the club with no intention of paying what is owed or future payments to us. The PFA stepped in to help us with March’s wages which we are very grateful for but unfortunately this is not a long-term solution.

Right now, we should be spending some well earned down time while we are out of season, instead we find ourselves having to consider the future. Everyone can see the togetherness of this squad which gives us a great start for next season. All we want is to come back to some stability and give the fans another great year.

From what we understand the chairman bought the club for £1 with a good understanding of the problems it had. He openly says this in his first ever press interview. If it’s become too much, all we ask is that you step aside, move on and stop negatively impacting everyone’s livelihoods.

We have been made aware via various sources that offers have been made to Bury FC, which would see him making money after such a short amount of time in control of the club. Mr Chairman, we know you have no regard or consideration for us as players, our families, or our futures, but please just accept the offer and walk away from our club before you bring it to its knees.

Strong words, then. The players have not been paid in full by the club now for twelve weeks and are openly calling for the owner of the club to walk away from it now, before he brings it “to its knees.” Such comments from the most important staff members that the club has might, in saner times, have been the cue for a period of some degree of contrition (or at least humility) on the part of the owner of the club and a concerted effort to address their (clearly legitimate) concerns. These, however, are not clearly not sane times, and Dale decided instead to release this garbled vomit of words instead.

Clocking in at more than 1,300 words, it’s a bit lengthy to reprint in full here, but here are a few selected highlights, with commentary:

WITHOUT PREJUDICE

Interesting way to start a public statement. “Without Prejudice” is a legal term that is used in times of legal dispute, which is intended to prevent statements made in a genuine attempt to settle an existing dispute from being put before a court as evidence of admissions against the interest of the party which made them. For example, if two parties are in dispute over a debt and the debtor makes an offer to settle the debt in order to prevent the time and expense of court hearings, that they made the offer “without prejudice” so that the offer itself cannot be used in a subsequent court case in order to attempt to treat said offer as an admission of the full debt.

Any communication that is not made in a genuine attempt to settle an existing dispute would not be considered “without prejudice”, regardless of whether it appeared on previous correspondence. Indeed, putting this at the top of a communication that isn’t substantially offering a genuine attempt to proactively resolve might well be considered an implied threat. “Sorry for the without prejudice but necessary given pending legal actions” doesn’t clarify what the “pending legal actions” are, still less how the statement relates to them.

I did and am being vilified by the same few trolls/persons with agenda for sorting a mess that I did not create.

It’s difficult to see why anybody would have much of an “agenda” regarding the current financial mess that Bury FC is beyond wanting the club to be financially sustainable, the players to be paid on time, and this constant rollercoaster of financial ups and downs to be brought to a close so that supporters can get on with just being football supporters rather than being required to hold qualifications in accountancy, company law, or insolvency law in order to understand what’s been going on at the club.

I thought it common knowledge I have an incurable form of Leukaemia as well as acute osteoarthritis, this renders me unable to leave my bed let alone home some days, I do however work tirelessly till all hours on my computer and phone to save our Club.

This is obviously a terrible position to be in, and our sympathy goes out to Mr Dale. However, it does also raise the question of whether it’s in anybody’s best interests for him to be overworking himself with the football club. There’s no snide insinuation behind this, by the way. The question of, “Well, why on earth are you doing this to yourself, then?” comes from a genuine place of concern.

I think I must make this abundantly clear, this is a horrible situation to be in, of course everybody needs to be paid but the Club cannot afford the level of employees it has, there is no magic wand here, certain people if they genuinely care about the Club would have left long ago knowing they were not adding value just draining a dead corpse.

Setting aside the tautology at the end of this (at least the club isn’t a “live corpse” – the last thing League One needs next season is a(nother) club staffed by the undead), this brings forth the small matter of employment contracts. If redundancies haven’t been made in order to save the business over the last six months, why hasn’t this been done? It would be tough on non-playing staff, but if they’re absolutely necessary, they’re absolutely necessary. If, however, he’s talking about the playing staff, then those people are on fixed-term contracts which the club should either honour or release them from.

I hear all this rubbish about not being paid for months, that’s what it is RUBBISH wages have been paid every month in increments as we could (given our Bank is frozen) its all lies/propaganda being spread to cause unrest by certain people and I’m told who peddle it now on the radio

Getting paid in full and on time is not the same as “paid every month in increments as we could (given our Bank is frozen).”

To those who the cap fits, enjoy your fame for the small window you have but be careful what you say as our Lawyers are ready and indeed other employers are watching your un-professional un-truthful actions. Finally I think it disgraceful that people who have been paid monthly have set up food banks, these were created for people in desperate need not to further propaganda you should be ashamed.

If Bury Football Club is in the condition that it is currently considered to be in, it might be a good idea to focus on that rather than what others may or may not be saying on social media. Stating that people setting up food banks are doing so in order to “further propaganda” (rather than, say, out of a genuine concern that those not being paid by the club will likely need food that they cannot afford to buy at the moment) may be considered libellous just as much as anything that has been said about Mr Dale, if those individuals are easily identifiable, their reputation has been materially damaged by his claims. That’s the problem with implying libel. Others might start to suggest that you’re guilty of it as well, of you’ve been issuing hyperbolic statements of your own.

We want this resolving as fast as we can and I can assure the players it’s the last thing I want to break up our winning team I hope you can allow us to get the past cleared so next season there are no reoccurrences of the last few months.

And here’s the problem. In obliquely describing what he’s responding to as “media rubbish”, Dale gives the impression that what he is responding to is the players’ statement. There may well be other matters relating to the behaviour of opposing parties in relation to all of this, but these are of little to no interest to anybody outside of the immediate circle of the club itself. The players’ statement, however, received national press attention and this means that the assertions made within Dale’s statement will be responses to that, other than anything that may have been going on within the club over the last few weeks or months. That’s one of the inherent problems with choosing to air your dirty washing in public.

It is my priority along with the winding up order to settle the playing staff as fast as we can and I can only apologise for the delay it’s not what I thought would happen, but if it can go wrong it will at Bury.

So, there’s the clarification that no, the players haven’t been paid in full yet and that no, the winding up petition (it’s a petition until the club’s winding up is formalised – we might have expected Mr Dale’s ever-vigilant lawyers to have picked up on this) hasn’t been satisfactorily addressed yet. Exactly what adding “but if it can go wrong it will at Bury” to the end of this is anybody’s guess, other than it being needlessly confrontational.

I can confirm interested parties are concerned at the media/internet diatribe, well done you are jeopardising the sale of the Club.

No, Mr Dale. There’s one “diatribe” concerning Bury FC that is more likely to jeopardise the future of the club, and you wrote it. What on earth is any potentially interested party supposed to make of such a statement? That the club is circled with trolls who, for reasons that are more or less entirely unfathomable, want it to completely crash and burn? That no, none of the outstanding financial issues that the club faces – addressing the winding up petition raised against it and getting all players paid up to date – do not seem to have been satisfactorily resolved in the slightest? That “if it can go wrong it will at Bury”? None of this sounds like anything that will encourage someone with the means to repair the damage that undoubtedly has been done to the club to do so, really.

Tone matters. Professionalism matters. Blaming everybody else for something that you ultimately have the legal responsibility for matters. The CAPITAL LETTERS matter. There was a period of grace for Steve Dale following his purchase of the club, precisely because everybody knew the terrible condition that it was in when he bought it. It was common knowledge that many of the problems facing the club came as a result of the mismanagement of Stewart Day, and that these would take time to resolve. This forebearance, however, was always going to be time-limited and Mr Dale simply cannot continue to blame the fact that ongoing financial obligations that have not been met on Day, still less on internet critics.

The winding up petition raised against the club has been deferred twice already and will be heard again on the 19th June. Does Mr Dale seriously believe that making statements like that he released last week will increase the likelihood of a buyer being confirmed over the next three weeks? Because if he does, we have a financially-incompetent League Two football club we’d like to sell him. Why would the players, who have not been paid in full and up date and have already confirmed that they are furious about this, hang around at Gigg Lane when their stock is high following promotion when the owner of the club sends out hastily-constructed  and ill thought out public statements shortly after they’ve voiced their concerns.

Most critically of all, what happens if the small matter of ensuring that the winding up petition against the club that is due to be heard for the third time in just over three weeks hasn’t been resolved by then? Steve Dale has already accelerated the depreciation of the period of grace that he was granted when he took over the running of Bury Football Club. And yes, Stewart Day was undoubtedly responsible for the lion’s share of the pickle in which the club finds itself today. Dale’s name, however, is above the door at Gigg Lane at the moment, and that responsibility now rests quite firmly with him, whether he likes it or not. If he doesn’t want to be remembered as The Man Who Killed Bury (and whether that’s fair or not is simply an irrelevance, at this stage), Steve Dale needs to change both his tack and his tone. Both Bury’s players and supporters deserve better than this sloppy, unprofessional blame-deflecting that enhances the reputation of precisely nobody, least of all either Bury Football Club or its current owner.