By Lewis Martin
In the last few weeks Bury Football Club has been facing eradication due to complete mismanagement by their owner. Whilst this is sad for the fans, it isn’t the first time that we have heard this story this summer, let alone in the last few years. Bury are the victims of the shifting focus of the English Football League and club owners from the survival of teams to the creation of profit.
In the case of Bury, the story starts with Steve Dale buying the team in December 2018 with the goal of creating ‘a stable and self-sufficient League One side’. This was immediately followed by HMRC issuing a winding up order of an unpaid tax bill, which Dale paid off. However, as 2019 wore on Dale became less keen to cough up for the maintenance of his new toy. This summer has seen the team fail to prove it can pay its creditors, have numerous games suspended and face expulsion from the English Football League as a result. Meanwhile pleas from staff for Dale to sell the club so it could have lived on fell on deaf ears.
Sadly, the tale at Bury hasn’t been the only one of its kind this summer. Bolton Wanderers, a team that was playing in the Europa League less than 15 years ago, is close to collapse, with the players striking for their pay throughout the summer and non-playing staff forced to use a foodbank as they went unpaid. The eventual result of the turmoil was the green lighting of the sale of the club to Football Ventures Ltd, only for it to collapse at the eleventh hour.
Both of these clubs are facing this situation less than a decade after Portsmouth FC nearly collapsed – during their time in the premier league. Whilst they were certainly not the first team to fall into administration, Pompey’s near destruction was a watershed moment for clubs becoming the newest toys for the super rich to abandon when they get bored. Sadly in the case of Portsmouth, this happened twice in three seasons, taking the club from the Premier League to the bottom of English Football League. After Pompey fans saved the club, we, were promised that this wouldn’t happen again. The woes of Bury and Bolton show the emptiness of the EFL’s words.
These three cases have two things in common: bad owners and even worse League governance. Portsmouth was seen as a disgrace to the financial giant that is the Premier League, and as such was flushed out quickly to avoid any further embarrassment. This was repeated when they found themselves in the same situation a few years later, because the EFL had failed to complete its due diligence on the club’s new owners when they rushed through the sale of the club after the first administration period.
on Tuesday the news came that Bury, one of the EFL’s oldest teams, had been expelled from the league
Similarly, Steve Dale he was supposed to have passed the fit and proper persons test to own a team in the EFL, central to which is proof that you have the required funds to run a club. The failure of the test to pick up on Dale’s lack of cash show that it is far from fit for practice in protecting the fans who are now watching their team disappear into oblivion.
After the EFL granted an extra two weeks to save the deal with Football Ventures, Bolton Wanderers have secured their survival, amid claims that previous owner Ken Anderson attempted to frustrate the process. Sadly, on Tuesday the news came that Bury, one of the EFL’s oldest teams, had been expelled from the league and would soon be wound up. In this case, the EFL rejected the request for an extra 24 hours to save the club, simply stating that they believed it to be ‘undoubtedly one of the darkest days in the league’s recent history’. These words ring hollow – once again they talk of ‘reform’, but not before they increase their profits.
If the EFL is truly committed to preventing this from happening ever again, like they said they were a decade ago, they wouldn’t go chasing profits and sponsorships for their cup games. They would be focussing on making sure that dodgy owners are bought in line and that clubs are not being abused by these owners. They also need to focus on building a financially stable platform for teams to survive on – salary caps and spending maximums are the bare minimum that all leagues should be looking to implement to save teams from their awful owners. As unlikely as this may seem given the EFL’s attitude during this summer of chaos for Bury and Bolton, sooner or later something will have to change in order to save the league from itself.
Featured image credit: Matthew Hatton
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