Neglect of Bury FC could become the norm
125 years after joining the Football League, 116 years after winning the FA Cup and just four months after gaining promotion to League One, Bury FC became the first club since Maidstone United in 1992 to face expulsion from the Football League due to unpaid debts, with owner Steve Dale unable to sell the club. A statement from the EFL read: “Despite repeated requests to owner Mr Dale, the necessary evidence in respect of how the club would meet its financial commitments has simply not been provided.”
Considering that this has been bubbling away in the background throughout the whole of last season, it’s a minor miracle that the players were able to lift themselves and gain promotion from the fourth tier, finishing second in League Two. It should have been an important mark of survival, a turning point for the club and some optimism for the fans. Instead it was their final game as a Football League club. Without the funds to operate as a business, it now could be days until liquidation.
The Shakers fans were given a last glimpse of hope last Friday evening with a possible chance of survival, as C&N Sporting Risk confirmed their interest in buying the club, albeit over a complicated three days during the bank holiday weekend. The deal itself proved too complex over too short a time period, and the last bastion of hope had gone by Tuesday morning. With the deal in ruin there was only the simple decision to remove Bury from the league.
The warnings signals of Dale rang out on so many levels. 43 of his previous businesses had suffered the same fate of liquidation that Bury may soon face, his takeover of the club was completed for just £1, he even admitted having never heard of Bury in his life: “I never went to Bury. So, for me to walk away from Bury & never go back is a very easy thing to do. I didn’t even know there was a football team called Bury. I’m not a football fan”, he said. The intentions were clearly to take advantage of a club desperate for a helping hand, make a quick buck and get out of there.
Much of the blame for Dale’s assassination of the club has been laid at the door of the EFL, and rightly so. For somebody with no clear interest in football and a history of financial meltdown in previous businesses to be allowed to complete the takeover in December of last year shows extreme neglect and carelessness. The EFL don’t make clubs have their accounts audited accounts, nor is there a punishment for late publication of accounts. The fit and proper person’s test seems to be in place mainly as a box-ticking exercise. Perhaps that’s why Dale left the purchase so late, using extreme brinksmanship so that there wasn’t enough time for background checks in the knowledge he shouldn’t have passed.
Bury aren’t alone in their perils. Bolton Wanderers survived late peril from a takeover on Wednesday night. Macclesfield Town and Oldham Athletic both failed on several occasions to pay their players on time, and saw managers walk out of the club as a result. Coventry City will spend the whole season on the road ground sharing with Birmingham City, a 30-mile round trip, due to problems with owning the Ricoh Arena.
Even further up the Football League similar problems reside. Last year Championship clubs reported an operating loss of more than £510 million as their price of Premier League aspirations came to light. For some, such as Wolves and Aston Villa, it has paid off and the dream has come true. Birmingham City are a case of the gamble backfiring, deducted 9 points last year for recording a loss of £37.5 million in the 2018 financial year, well over the limit of £13 million in the EFL’s spending rules.
Last year Derby County owner Mel Morris was reported to be losing £2-£3 million a year running the club, and Sheffield Wednesday’s owner said that promotion may be the only way to overcome their continual losses. These problems only begin to scratch the surface that resides below the Premier League. At the current rate of losses there will be more Burys and Boltons and if two of the founding members of the Football League, with one being a Premier League regular less than a decade ago, can face such a brick wall of turmoil then nobody is safe.