Former Port Vale owner Norman Smurthwaite believes it is too late to save Bury because the crisis-hit club’s owner Steve Dale wants at least £1million to walk away.
Dale, a Cheshire-based businessman, bought Bury for £1 in December after previous owner Stewart Day ran up huge debts following years of overspending at Gigg Lane.
But having initially claimed to buy the club for “philanthropic” reasons, Dale put Bury into administration this summer and engineered a debt repayment scheme, known as a company voluntary arrangement, that would see creditors paid only 25 per cent of what they are owed, with him and his associates being the main beneficiaries.
His plan, however, depended on Bury being allowed to start the season – with a small squad and skeleton staff – and the English Football League handing over the club’s share of its central income.
That, as desperate Bury fans are well aware, has not happened and the 134-year-old club now have until one minute to midnight on Friday to prove they can pay the debts and fund the season or find a new owner who can.
If they fail to do so, they will become the first club expelled from the league since Maidstone in 1992 and be liquidated.
On Friday morning Dale called on fans and other interested parties to pledge a total of £2.7m to save the club.
Having previously greeted each EFL postponement of a Bury game – five league fixtures and an EFL Cup tie so far this season – with an angry statement on the club website, Dale announced he was willing to listen to offers for the club early last week.
This prompted a member of the EFL board to contact Smurthwaite, who sold Port Vale in May but was known to be interested in buying another club, to see if he would save Bury.
The 59-year-old looked at the club’s finances over the weekend and phoned Dale with his offer on Tuesday – an offer which Dale quickly and robustly rejected.
Speaking to the PA news agency, Smurthwaite said: “The EFL knows I have the resources and experience to buy Bury and get it back on its feet.
“That would require an investment of £4.5million to settle the club’s debts and fund the team this season. But it would also need the lender that has a £3.6m charge on the ground to accept what the land is really worth, about £1.5m.
“If Stewart Dale accepted that neither he nor any of his associates get anything from the CVA, or any other payment, then l am willing to step in. They are the two conditions of my offer.”
Smurthwaite explained that Dale told him he wants at least £1million for his share of the club debt that he and his business partners control.
But even if Dale was to drop that demand, Smurthwaite thinks Bury are doomed.
“I fear it is now too late to save the club because there is simply not enough time to do this deal,” he said.
“It could take three months. And if Dale finds some novice to take it on, Bury will be back in this mess next year.”
PA understands the EFL wants Dale, or any other Bury owner, to prove they have access to circa £2.8million before they will be allowed to start the season.
This was the amount Dale called on supporters and the local business community to pledge when he was interviewed by talkSPORT on Friday.
“Fans, anyone out there who will pledge money to come to us…
“If they come to us and say we’ll put £100 in, £1000 in, if the big players put in £100,000, £500,000, whatever it is, we want it pledged to the company. We need a pledge of £2.7m plus to save Bury.”
The funds the EFL wants to see are to cover the club’s debts to their current and former players and other clubs of just over £700,000, and the almost £1million they are obliged to pay unsecured creditors, such as the taxman, to meet the terms of July’s CVA, as well as working capital for the season.
If this can be demonstrated, the league will release the withheld funding of just over £500,000.
England women’s team manager Phil Neville revealed that his mother Jill, who had been Bury’s club secretary, resigned from her job on Friday.
The former Manchester United defender, whose late father Neville has a stand named after him at Gigg Lane, told BBC Radio 5 Live: “My mum has worked there for 30 years, my dad’s got a stand named after him and to consider that today they might not have a football club is so upsetting.
“My mum’s devastated. She resigned on Friday because she couldn’t work with the current ownership.
“Today common sense has to prevail. One man cannot stop one football club that has hundreds of years of history going out of existence.
“I pray that common sense today prevails and that somebody is allowed to buy that club and the town has something to be proud of again.”
Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has offered his support to Bury, and their beleaguered neighbours Bolton.
The Norwegian said: “The Bolton situation, the Bury situation – it’s hard to keep up with the top if you don’t have the resources.
“Of course, as a local club we want to see our local players do well. We’ve recruited players from those clubs and of course we want them to do well. If there’s anything we can help them with I’m sure we can do that with loan players or anything.”