Bury FC & A Lack of Innocent Parties
The time for excuses is over. At this stage, the blame game is an irrelevance, a mere sideshow in comparison with the only job that really matters. Bury Football Club now has thirteen days to be saved, and rather than sending out barely comprehensible press releases blaming – and long-time readers will be thoroughly unsurprised by this – everybody but himself isn’t going to cut any ice with anybody, any more. Steve Dale has to prove to the satisfaction of the EFL that he has the funds to put through the CVA that might finally go some way towards stabilising the club’s finances.
There is, put simply, no further room for the club’s apparent owner to obfuscate and deflect any further on this subject. The EFL have made themselves perfectly clear through a series of very clear public statements on the matter over the last couple of weeks or so. Dale has not satisfied their requirements, and the clock is now ticking. No ifs, no buts. No more prevarication. This is the Football League. Their house, their rules. If he doesn’t do this to their satisfaction – and caterwauling that he already has done so, whether through his own deranged sounding ramblings or through a legal advisor – is clearly cutting no ice with the EFL, Bury will be expelled from the Football League in less than two weeks time. It now really is as simple as that.
It is clear that there was a time when the condition of this particular football club likely felt beyond his control, and there is little doubt his claim earlier this year that the club’s finances turned out to be considerably worse than his due diligence through up when purchasing the club from Stewart Day for £1 at the end of last year, even if we overlook the possibility that his due diligence couldn’t have been very diligent in the first place. That time has now long passed. Day is not a voodoo doll who can be held up and waved around like some sort of catch-all excuse who in perpetuity shields Dale from his directorial responsibilities.
None of this, by the way, excuses the EFL for their dereliction of duty over this. The Football League AGM was held at the start of June. This was the point by which the financial viability of the club should have been confirmed, one way or the other. That this is dragging on towards the August Bank Holiday is a farce that paints all concerned in a very negative light indeed. Dale seems to have sailed through their Owners & Directors Test by simply acting as though it either didn’t exist or didn’t apply to him. “Not fit for purpose” doesn’t begin to describe it.
The EFL, Stewart Day, and Steve Dale have let just about everybody down. They’ve let the supporters of Bury FC down. They’ve let the players and staff of the club down. Getting them paid on time every month, which should be about the most basic obligation that any company should be able to meet, seems to have been just about at the bottom of the list of everybody’s priorities. As the summer has dragged on, this has called the entire structural integrity of the Football League into question. Those who are going to be hurt by this are, as ever, those who are the least to blame. This is failure on the part of Dale, and it is a structural failure on the part of English football.
We should take a moment to consider just how rare this is. The last club to tumble out of the Football League in such a manner was Maidstone United, in August 1992. Maidstone, some might remember, sold their ground – which was also the home of Dartford FC – to pay debts, and by August 1992 only two players were still registered to the club, leaving Maidstone without a first team squad a home and not knowing where they would be playing their home games if they remained in existence. A plan to relocate the club to the North East of England and merge with Newcastle Blue Star was rejected by the Football League, who ruled that the club had to remain in the county of Kent. Following the cancellation of their opening match of the 1992/93 season against Scunthorpe United, the club resigned its place in the Football League and went into liquidation. This was, following the collapse of Aldershot earlier in the year, the second such collapse of 1992.
There have been plenty of close shaves since then, but none have felt as immediate as this. If the club is expelled from the Football League, there is really no point in doing anything but liquidating it, but what happens after this? In such an eventuality, the company’s assets would be liquidated to pay creditors and this would include Gigg Lane itself. To refer back to the twin resignations of 1992, Aldershot’s ground was owned by the local council, which meant that Aldershot Town was ready to go in the non-league game for the start of the 1992/93 season. Maidstone United’s was sold. The club moved to Dartford. The ground was sold. Maidstone United were liquidated. Dartford were rendered homeless. The reformed club took until 2012 before they returned to the town itself, to the newly-built Gallagher Stadium.
Bury Football Club was founded in 1885, and has been a member of the Football League since 1894. The club has won the FA Cup twice, and one of those wins was only equalled as the record margin of victory in an FA Cup final this year by Manchester City, after one hundred and sixteen years. All of this presumably means nothing to the carpet-baggers who have been running this club into the last few years. It doesn’t seem to mean anything to the EFL, either, or even the Football Association, whose silence on this subject has been notable.
Steve Dale should be aware that this may well end up being his legacy, the thing that makes him the punchline to a story of administrative and financial incompetence for the rest of his life. Spencer Trethewy and Jim Thompson were the owners who did for Aldershot and Maidstone United. Almost three decades on, they are not forgotten for their roles in the maladministration and collapse of those two clubs. It’s now too late to salvage Dale’s reputation at Gigg Lane, but if he can’t sort this mess out he should stand aside immediately. Perhaps there is someone else out there, somewhere. Bury supporters, however, are already prepared for the worst. Even in the event that this can be avoided, though, Dale should evacuate his position at Gigg Lane at the earliest opportunity. In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, it doesn’t seem that he’s up to this task. Acting as the director of a limited company comes with rights, benefits and obligations. It’s about time he accepted some of the obligations.