Bury FC: Anger and tears at League One club before EFL decision
Compare Premier League Football Betting Odds
A coffin with ‘RIP Bury FC 1885-?’ painted on it leans against a wall. Just a few metres away, a woman stands handcuffed to a drainpipe.
Bury Football Club is 134 years old. In less than 134 hours, it could be no more.
With the club in financial turmoil, and six successive fixtures cancelled so far this season, the Shakers could be expelled from the English Football League.
It is the nightmare scenario for the club’s fans and the town.
Joy Hart’s father Les was ‘Mr Bury’. He spent 44 years at the club as player, manager, coach and physio, and the club’s south stand bears his name.
On Wednesday afternoon Joy – a former director of the club – handcuffed herself to a drainpipe at the club’s ground in protest at its plight.
“We need everybody’s help, or on Friday we will not be a football club ever again,” she says, with tears in her eyes.
“I am appealing to all the north-west clubs. Please help us. Unless somebody comes in, we are dead on Friday. Forever.
“I cannot even bear to think about how much it will affect me and thousands of other people.”
Just after Joy’s protest begins, a man arrives and offers his support. He then kicks open a door at the stadium and shouts angrily at a member of staff inside before apologising to those around him and walking away. He later returns with two friends. Carrying a coffin.
There is a lot of anger in this town. Anger at how this club, their club, has been allowed to reach this precipice.
“What will annoy me is if 44 years of memories are taken away,” says Tom. “I hope I have got lots more good times to come.
“I have not watched Match of the Day and the past two weeks of EFL, because I cannot stomach watching any football without my team playing.
“The chairman needs to do the right thing, give the club back to the fans and community, and players that will proudly wear the shirt.”
On 30 April, Bury secured promotion to League One – an achievement made all the more impressive by a series of financial challenges off it.
A week earlier, the club had been put up for sale by owner Steve Dale, who had bought it from Stewart Day for £1 in December 2018.
“Even as we were celebrating, we knew what was coming,” says Tom – one of 6,719 fans who packed out Gigg Lane for Bury’s final game of last season.
“That Port Vale game might be my last memory of being at the stadium.”
Only two of the players in the squad for that match remain, and the first-team page on Bury’s website now features just eight names.
“Last season it felt like the players were playing for the shirts,” says Jamie Hoyle, who set up a petition – since signed by almost 7,000 people – calling on Dale to sell.
“Seeing that dissolve over the summer has been dreadful.”
Dale’s eight months as owner have been controversial and tumultuous.
Bury have had financial problems before – administration in 2002, and further issues in 2012-13 – but the current crisis is seen by many fans as terminal.
In July, the club were hit with a 12-point deduction after entering into a company voluntary arrangement to try to clear some of their debts.
Players have not been paid on time, and last week midfielder Stephen Dawson argued with Dale live on Talksport, saying he is “on the verge of losing everything”.
“Mentally, it’s tough. Financially, it’s been horrendous,” says winger Harry Bunn. “My wife is expecting a child in February so it’s been really tough.
“I can’t see how a football club that’s been going for 134 years can be two days away from folding.
“It’s quite scary. We don’t know what’s around the corner. We don’t know whether we’ll be playing for Bury next week, or whether we’ll be looking for another club.”
Dale initially insisted he would not sell until financial stability had been restored, but then said he would consider selling sooner after staff “implored” him to accept a new offer.
On Tuesday, we reported he had rejected an offer made by former Port Vale chairman Norman Smurthwaite. It is understood it would have secured Bury’s survival, but Dale believes he can get a better offer.
The EFL has said the club must prove it can pay off creditors and show adequate operational funding by Friday and says it is “frustrated at the lack of progress”.
David has come to Gigg Lane to try to return his season ticket.
“All I want to do is come and watch football,” he says. “All I want is the club to survive, nothing else.
“I am pig sick that we have ended up in this situation. I have been coming since 1962 and cannot believe the way it has gone.
“The town relies on this club – it puts it on the map.”
Hoyle describes the situation as “desolate”.
“You fear the worst,” he says. “You fear you will not come back here and see a game of football.
“It’s all I have ever known for as long as I can remember. The effect it has had on the community, people like me, my dad and thousands across town… it doesn’t bear thinking about.
“I cannot contemplate life without this football club.”
The gates at Gigg Lane have not been open for a match since 24 July, when Bury lost 3-0 to Blackburn in a pre-season friendly. There is real fear they may never open again.
“I feel sad, emotional and angry,” says 35-year-old John Wiggins, who attended his first game aged four.
“Seeing no football again at Gigg Lane would be a catastrophe. I hope some good news will eventually come for Bury fans but, if I am realistic, I don’t see it.”
Older fans – one in his 70s – speak of being “devastated” and of their “nice memories” being wiped out by recent events.
“It would be a catastrophe if Bury are no longer in the football pyramid,” adds Wiggins, who feels the club gives him “a bond” with the Shakers-supporting grandfather he never met.
“There are a lot of passionate people here because of what the club means to them. Some come because it helps their mental health, others come because they have got nothing left, no loved ones, so the only thing they have is Bury Football Club.”
Bernadette, who was born on the road Gigg Lane sits on, arrives to support Joy.
“It is an absolute tragedy,” she says. “I feel as if we have been tortured.
“I would never watch another football match if Bury went out of business. Whatever happens in your life, on Saturday afternoon, we always had the anchor of the club.
“Just for two hours we could forget all those other worries and be part of the big Bury family.”
As well as anger there are tears – and more will be shed should the worst happen on Friday.
Martin wells up as he considers the possibility of there being no Bury Football Club.
“I wake up every day looking at what news Bury is delivering and at this moment there could not be a worse point in my life,” he says.
“This is my family, this is my life.”
Interviews by Katie Gornall and Mike Minay
Football Betting Sign Up Bonus