Former Bury director Joy Hart has sent a heartfelt but simple message to the crisis-hit club’s owner Steve Dale: sell up and go.
The 66-year-old Shakers fan handcuffed herself to Bury’s Gigg Lane on Wednesday in an attempt to raise awareness of the 134-year-old club’s dire predicament, as they are now only 48 hours away from being ejected from the English Football League.
Despite gaining promotion to League One last season, Bury have been in financial difficulties for over a year and have been prevented from starting the new campaign by the EFL over concerns about Dale’s ability to fund the club this season.
Their first five league games have been postponed, their EFL Cup game against Sheffield Wednesday was forfeited and they have until close of business on Friday to prove to the EFL’s board that they have a credible business plan: fail to do that and they will become the first club since Maidstone in 1992 to be thrown out of the league.
Dale, who bought the club in December for £1, rejected an offer from former Port Vale owner Norman Smurthwaite this week but PA understands the Cheshire-based businessman is in talks with other potential buyers.
But with Dale seemingly determined to walk away with a share of the debt repayment deal that he engineered this summer, the club are in grave danger of losing their league status and potentially being liquidated.
This is a fate Hart and the dozens of Bury fans who came to the ground to show her their support is determined to avoid.
Speaking to PA, she said: “We have very little time left and I had to do something drastic to get some publicity for this club.
“I love it so much, as do many other people, and I wanted to send a personal message to Mr Dale to say ‘please sell the club – it’s not just Bury Football Club but the town of Bury that need you to sell so the place doesn’t die’.”
Hart’s father Les Hart spent 44 years at the club as a player, captain, physio and trainer, and the South Stand was renamed in his honour in 2010.
She had hoped to chain herself to that stand but was prevented from doing so by one of the few staff still reporting for duty at Gigg Lane, so she settled for a drainpipe beside the main reception, where she was later joined by a coffin daubed with the words ‘RIP Bury FC, 1885 – ?’ in white paint.
“We just need saving – I don’t mind if we’re in the lowest tier but I worry that if we go, we won’t come back,” she said.
“And there goes 134 years of history. I know it was a long time ago but we won the FA Cup twice, we have that history. We’ve had great players, we’re part of the football community.”
Those FA Cup wins came in 1900 and 1903 but the club was in English football’s second tier only 20 years ago and have been promoted from League Two three times in the last decade.
On Wednesday, the only activity at the club, apart from Hart’s protest, was the steady trickle of Bury fans arriving to see if the ticket office was open: they all wanted refunds for their season tickets.
Mark Walker, a 51-year-old who has been coming to Gigg Lane for 40 years, said: “We just want a decent owner. We don’t mind them making a bit of profit, we just want them to care for the club like we do.”
Ray Dixon, another fan who has been coming to Bury for 40 years, said he did not buy a season ticket this year because he does not have a credit card and was worried he would never see his money again if he paid with a debit card.
Other season ticket-holders said they feared the worst when the club sent them paper tickets for the first three games of the season: last season they had cards they could use to get through electronic turnstiles but there are no signs of such modernity now.
Paul Hearne was taken to his first Bury game by his grandfather and he and his wife Alison have since taken their children and grandchildren to Gigg Lane.
“Not coming here on a Saturday would be a massive hole in our lives – it’s a big part of the community,” said Paul.
While Alison said: “We just keep hoping something good will happen but I feel a bit lost, to be honest, and there are people all over the town who feel the same.”