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The return of Bury FC

The return of Bury FC

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Bury FC have been bought out of administration three years after their league expulsion. But the hard work in starting again has more hurdles than you might think.

Back in 2020, Bury FC, a Football League club for 134 years, found itself in dire financial straits, was placed into administration, and finally expelled from the League.

It wasn’t the first, and sadly won’t be the last, which is why Bury Football Club was used as an example in Tracey Crouch’s ‘fan-led review’ as one of the reasons football is in need of major reform.

Its former owner, Steve Dale, oversaw the club’s plummet into administration after buying Bury for £1 in December 2018, and after staving off a winding-up petition, things got worse for the club, including a 12-point deduction for an insolvency event. 

Steve Dale became increasingly unpopular, and didn’t help matters when he admitted on BBC Radio 5 Live that walking away from the club he owned would be an ‘easy thing to do’.

“I never went to Bury, it wasn’t somewhere I frequented, for me to walk away from Bury and never go back is a very easy thing to do. I don’t do anything up there, I didn’t even know there was a football club called Bury to be honest. I am not a football fan.”

BBC Radio Five Live

The club has never been liquidated, so Bury FC has always remained – but they haven’t played football since that time, and their ground, Gigg Lane, has been left to rot. 

“That’s where the subs used to sit, and the coach. I know… do you want to go and sit where they used to sit?”

Wears Urbex

There’s a subgenre of YouTube videos, where football fans and vloggers explore ‘abandoned’ football stadiums.

There’s one of Bury’s Gigg Lane. It’s a father and son who’ve made their way into the stadium, and are looking at the very state it was left in when Bury stopped playing. 

It’s quite a haunting scene. You can see they just stopped and left. 

At one point, the son finds a few footballs that have been left by the side of the pitch. 

The grass, once a pristine football surface, has grown to almost half a foot tall. 

The PA system has just been left, with wires hanging out as weeds invade the gantry in which it’s housed. 

It’s eerie, and sad.

Bury FC’s digital presence was in a similar state. 

The club’s official Twitter account tweeted on October 25th, 2019 – ‘Read the latest statement regarding the future of Bury FC here’, with a link to its site.

Then, again nothing, until August 2020. This time, it tweeted: ‘Latest update from our Chairman is now on the website’.

Then, complete silence, until earlier this week, when a video popped up. The tweet read “We are coming back. It is with great joy that we can say the fans have bought Bury FC and Gigg Lane out of administration and we’re working on the comeback story of a lifetime.”

It was official – Bury FC were back. 

The club has been bought out by Bury Football Club Supporters’ Society, who have bought the intellectual property, history and memorabilia, as well as the club’s Gigg Lane stadium.

The club will be fan-owned, using the German model of 51:49 ownership – meaning the Supporters Society owns 51% of the club, while the remaining 49% can be bought by fans. 

However, in amongst all the excitement and jubilation of the news that a historic club has been ‘bought back’, an interesting narrative has formed.

“If you’ve ever wondered what football will be like, run by people like you, then come down, get involved, and fall in love with football all over again.”

Bury AFC

Once Bury FC had stopped playing football and entered administration, a group of fans formed what’s known as a ‘phoenix’ club – Bury AFC.

Some 300 fans helped create it, promising that it would be a club ‘by the fans, for the fans’. 

Bury AFC couldn’t play at Gigg Lane, of course, so it’s been groundsharing with Radcliffe FC, three miles down the road. 

It was the team that some Bury FC fans – who understandably thought their club was well and truly gone – started to support. 

And since Bury AFC’s inception, it’s done well – it entered the football league pyramid in the tenth tier, and won the North West Counties League Division One North this season. They’ve also attracted crowds of up to 1,800 fans. 

The problem is… Bury FC is ‘back’ – but plenty of fans have got used to watching Bury AFC instead.

So there are now two teams in Bury, when three years ago there was, in effect, none.

Getting a new club up and running is fiddly – so the priority for Bury FC will be registering players, teams, and entering into leagues.

Bury AFC has shown itself to be adept at organising, has got a team entered into a league, and has so far demonstrated success on the pitch. The question is, should it continue?

Or do the two parties, as collectively they are all original Bury fans, come together and propose a merger of the two entities, to all play under the Bury FC banner, at their home of Gigg Lane?

Coming back from nothing was always going to be difficult – and given the nature of Bury’s disastrous expulsion from the football league, those hurdles were all going to be huge.

But for now, Bury fans are basking in the fact they’ve got ‘their club’ back.

Today’s episode was written by Andrew Butler, and mixed by Hannah Varrall.