During one of the darkest days for English football in a long time, and the darkest of days for Bury FC, Sky Sports News saw it as an opportunity for theatre and drama, using a countdown ticker to 5pm when the fate of Bury, and their rivals and neighbours, Bolton, would be decided.
Counting down to a time when a club that has been in the football league for 134-years will cease to be in existence was pretty shameful, misjudged stuff, but the fate of a small northern club is immaterial to a broadcaster willing to throw £5.1billion at the Premier League.
Eventually the desperate news that Bury FC would be expelled from the Football League was shared, the first club for this to happen to since Maidstone United in 1992.
There was slightly better news up the A58 where Bolton were given a 14-day reprieve to find a buyer. Bolton had been a brilliantly run club in the 1990s when the Warburton bread- making family who owned them realised that a modern stadium could help make the club more profitable. They were even getting more bums on seats in the hospitality boxes than Manchester City, before the Abu Dhabi money flooded in.
In the 90’s Bolton had a manager in Sam Allardyce who searched Europe for cheap or loan players, bringing the likes of Youri Djorkaeff, Jay-Jay Okocha and Ivan Campo to the Reebok Stadium.
Then chief executive, Alan Duckworth, even covered the risk of those deals by building in heavy relegation clauses into players contracts to keep them loyal to the Trotter’s cause. Allardyce’s Bolton players didn’t get bonuses when they reached the Europa League either, but the environment that had been built was so positive that Stelios Giannakopoulos even turned down a move to Liverpool to stay at Bolton.
But the dependency on a benefactor is a risk that can’t be negotiated away by any club, as Bolton have discovered. All clubs in the lower two leagues are struggling financially, with 90 per cent dependant on benefactors.
Football clubs are clinging on to their very existence in a sport that is flooded with money; money which has increasingly gone to the elite in the Premier League. It is a league that is televised and accessible throughout the world, which means League One and Two clubs will find attracting new fans ever more difficult. No fewer than 31 of the 48 clubs in the bottom two leagues averaged crowds that were less than half their stadium capacity last season.
One former Bolton executive said, ‘There’s no bad organisation. People make them bad. You need good innovation and fiscal responsibility. You can’t buy your way to the next level.’
For Bury FC though, it is all too late. Their expulsion has left many people questioning how this could have happened to a club with such a rich history – an ex-FA Cup winner.
Until there is a serious shake-up about the way money is distributed throughout English football, Bury FC will be just one of many lower league clubs that will eventually wilt under the power of the Premier League.