The English Football League will consider giving Bury a “very short delay” to come up with a credible business plan or a new owner, or they will become the first club to be ejected from the English Football League since 1992.
This was the stark warning on Thursday from EFL boss Debbie Jevans as the clock ticked down to Bury’s current deadline of one minute to midnight on Friday.
The EFL has already postponed Bury’s first five league fixtures and kicked them out of this season’s EFL Cup, and Friday’s deadline was meant to be one last line in the sand for the League One club.
But with Shakers owner Steve Dale no closer to being able to prove he can settle Bury’s debts and pay his players and staff this season, calls have grown for the EFL to give the businessman more time to sell the 134-year-old club.
On Wednesday, former director Joy Hart chained herself to the club’s Gigg Lane stadium to draw attention to the Shakers’ plight, while local MP James Frith and Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham have both asked for more time to find a saviour.
But speaking to reporters on Thursday afternoon, Jevans said: “There’s got to be tangible reasons for a delay and a conversation (between Dale and a potential buyer) would have to be a very deep one for that to happen.
“When people say there needs to be a delay, you want to say ‘yes’, because we want this club to survive.
“But we have to step back and look at the fact there are other clubs in this league. We have already postponed five fixtures and you have to fit those fixtures in – in all likelihood, other matches will be postponed this season for inclement weather.
“If we were to delay, it would be a very short delay – 24, maybe 48 hours. We can’t keep postponing matches. A long delay isn’t possible or practical, however much one wants this club to survive, however much there is empathy for the fans.”
Asked if she was still optimistic that Bury could be saved, she said: “There’s always a chance of a successful solution but time is short, the timeline is midnight tomorrow evening.
“We are in constant communication with Steve Dale and we have been approached by some people who are interested in purchasing the club.
“They’ve asked for information and we’ve spoken to Mr Dale and asked if we could share financial information with them – he’s given approval for that.
“So there are conversations ongoing but we’ll see where that ends up. Ultimately, he’s got to want to sell the club, it’s in his gift.”
The PA news agency understands four different parties have contacted Dale this week, although he has already rejected an offer from one of them, former Port Vale owner Norman Smurthwaite.
Of the other three potential bidders, the most credible is a London-based group which is already involved in the football industry and has been looking to buy a club in the third or fourth tiers.
But even the most well-resourced buyer would struggle to complete a transaction this complicated by Monday.
The club’s current and former players, and other football creditors, are owed approximately £1m, Dale recently engineered a debt repayment deal to pay off 25 per cent of the club’s unsecured debt of nearly £9million and there are three outstanding charges over the club and Gigg Lane, not to mention the matter of a covenant on the ground that means it must be used for sporting purposes.
This is why Burnham, Frith and others are begging the EFL for more time.
Frith, the Labour MP for Bury North, has suggested an extension of a “working week” on his Twitter feed.
Speaking to PA, he said: “I’m encouraged that the EFL now recognises the need to extend the time available to Bury but the extension should be determined by the practical need to save the club, not an arbitrary figure which risks being more hindrance than help.
“The alternative ownership of Bury is real so all all efforts need to be on this and not about all the mouths there are to be fed all of a sudden.”
And Burnham, a former secretary of state for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, has written to Jevans saying: “I fully accept that the EFL cannot bail out the club, nor can financial mismanagement within clubs become normalised.
“Nonetheless, I feel that the complex circumstances surrounding Bury’s current difficulties are exceptional and merit an alternative approach.
“Given the urgency of Bury’s plight, I would be grateful if you would consider intervening on this occasion and granting the club a one-off extension based on an explicit agreement that new ownership be actively sought and demonstrated.”
Whether that will be enough to sway Jevans and her board is debatable, as there is already considerable frustration with the situation at Bury, who were promoted last season despite being clearly insolvent, and at Bolton, who have been allowed to start the season in administration but unilaterally postponed Tuesday’s game against Doncaster because they did not have enough senior players.
Jevans is optimistic Bolton’s sale to new owners, Football Ventures, will go through “very, very soon” but she said time is running out for them, too.