The Parallel Lives of Bury
From the outside looking in, it all seems absolutely baffling. It’s been almost exactly a year since Bury FC was expelled from the EFL, but even now those ultimately responsible for that expulsion are still trying to give CPR to an increasingly foul-smelling cadaver. All the more astonishingly, and despite the fact that a new club has been set up, agreed a ground share, appointed a manager and gained a place in a league for next season, the very people who you might have expected to have been driving this new club forward is still standing over the corpse of the old one, urging people to keep trying to breathe life back into it, so that everyone can just pretend that the last few years hasn’t happened and life can get back to normal.
Perhaps there is a master plan, of which we are all currently unaware. But let’s take a quick step back to consider what Bury FC doesn’t have at the moment. It doesn’t have a manager. It doesn’t have any players. It doesn’t have any coaching staff. It can’t have a place in any league until next summer, even if a case could be made for it continuing. How is the CVA that was offering 25p in the pound ever going to be paid? And then, who’s going to come up with the money to buy the ground from the new owners, the charge-holders, the liquidator, or whoever else ends up responsible for it?
Bury Football Club, the legal entity and the limited company, sits in purgatory at the moment. Rescue is possible, so long as 2021 is official declared World Opposites Year and the behaviour of almost every single person involved with this entire wretched saga takes a complete volte face. The amounts of money required are likely to be vast, and the waters through which they may have to pass could be extremely murky indeed. It hasn’t felt as though there was any chance of saving Bury FC since they were expelled from the EFL, but the start of the following season was always the last point at which such hope, no matter how unlikely it might have seemed, could stay alive. Were it to somehow find a way through this, it would be miraculous.
In an ideal world the spirit of Bury Football Club would be in one place as well, but it isn’t at the moment. There is a group for whom Bury FC is effectively dead now, and for whom the principle of preserving its spirit is best served by ackowledging the club’s de facto passing and getting on with rebuilding for the future. It acknowledges that this is a difficult decision to take, that to sever ties with a football club under any circumstances is an emotional strain that many of us never really even have to consider in out day-to-day lives as football supporters. For many of us, it borders on being an existential question.
Football clubs, however, are not Gods, and divine intervention isn’t going to work for Bury in a practical sense at this stage. If the almighty was to show their face at Gigg Lane, they’d surely have done so by now. The harsh truth of the matter is that ready money rather than prayer is going to save the club now. Capital Bridging Finance Solutions was owed £3.7m, secured against Gigg Lane. An “entrepreneur”called Robert Benwell became involved in December, just enough time to get the support of Forever Bury and secure a divide in the fanbase, with his plans to buy the ground from the liquidator and form a club of his own. He is understood to be nothing to do with it all any more. Despite this, though, Forever Bury seem to remain married to the idea of someone stepping in and buying the club.
By April, Dale was claiming that they didn’t even owe this money and that the decision to expel them was an “unbelievable” (it wasn’t) because “In law, you must have received something to have owed it” (Wait, what?) And, with a degree of optimism that was almost touching, he set about applying for a place in the National League for next season, despite really only being the owner of a smoking crater where a football club once stood. Predictably enough, the Football Association shot this idea down in flames last week:
The FA can confirm that Bury FC’s application to join the National League System [NLS] for the 2020/21 season has not been accepted by its Alliance Leagues Committee and this decision has now been ratified by The FA Council.
Both the application and additional information provided on behalf of Bury FC, including at a virtual meeting between the Alliance Leagues Committee and the Club, were considered thoroughly. However, the Alliance Leagues Committee’s decision not to accept the application was based on several different factors, including in relation to the Club’s financial resources, ownership and insolvency status.
This decision was not taken lightly as both The FA and its Alliance Leagues Committee recognise the history and standing of Bury FC. As a result, the Alliance Leagues Committee would welcome an application from the Club to join the NLS for the 2021/22 season and detailed guidance has been provided in relation to the various conditions that would be expected before one could be considered.
The problem is… how are these matters all going to be resolved? How long is it going to take? The club’s official response to it all was this garbled mess, a 500 word salad which spoke very loudly while saying very little, while Forever Bury confirmed again that they are fully committed to “saving Bury Football Club, its 135 year history and having football played once again on Gigg Lane.” The problem is, of course, that this can only happen if there is a Bury FC to play on it. There won’t be a Bury FC unless a buyer steps in, and perhaps the middle of a global pandemic that is threatening to send the economy into freefall might not bite the best time to be trying to flog a small football club with a history of financial mismanagement and multiple potential issues relating to its biggest asset.
Bury AFC, meanwhile, continues to take shape. They now have a manager, they have a ground-share agreement in place at nearby Radcliffe, they have launched their first kit (of which, as of Friday afternoon, they’d already sold a thousand), and they have a place in the North West Counties League, to start in a few weeks time. Under just about the most trying circumstances imaginable they have got the new club up and running in time for the new season. Forever Bury do still have a purpose. As the organisation that registered Gigg Lane as an ACV, it may find itself in a position to bid for the ground in the future.
ACV status, however, doesn’t guarantee the future of the ground. It guarantees them first refusal to buy Gigg Lane should it be put up for sale, and then a period of grace to buy the ground should their offer be accepted. Such is the state of Gigg Lane, with its car parking spaces sold to goodness knows who and millions of pounds in mortgages attached to it like limpets, that anybody looking to buy the ground may well need considerable legal advice to get through the myriad of potential legal issues outstanding and a considerable amount of support with which to buy it.
It’s not that we don’t have sympathy. To make any decision of this nature can be heart-wrenching, and at a personal level hectoring those who continue to follow the trust would be counter-productive. That said, though, they’re certainly not above criticism, and with the windows of opportunity to somehow revive Bury FC having disappeared into the distance, it’s time for hatchets to be buried and for unity the bring Bury’s supporters back together. Bury AFC is happening. It’s now up to Forever Bury to decide whether they want to be part of a new future, or whether they want to cling to the past like a comfort blanket.