Bury Bad News

Kenny – the sad, bewildered but quietly dignified face & voice of the traditional fan facing the loss of his football club after 70 years of loving, loyal support. Sorry, did I say football club? I meant commercial entity.

Sat Aug 17, 2019 Bury FC Did Not Play

Sun Aug 18, 2019 – Chelsea 1, Leicester City 1

Tue Aug 27, 2019 Bury FC Expelled from EFL

“If it’s going to be a world with no time for sentiment, it’s not a world that I want to live in.” –  Christopher Isherwood, A Single Man

I always love the first home match of the season. The sunshine, the cock eyed optimism, the chance to view new signings. For the first time in 3 months I get to see The Albert Bridge, &, of course, Stamford Bridge, & to ponder, on splashdown at Victoria, the eternal question. Does H.Stain Ltd Jewellers (Established 1929) ever actually open? Because P. Munday Chelsea fan (Established 1970) can never remember seeing it so.

Sadly, things did not go entirely to plan this time. The sun had absconded along with Mr Stain long before I arrived in London, a serious road crash near High Wycombe  having worryingly extended the journey nearer to kick off time than I would have liked. I refrained from throwing a Jezza. Unlike the well known petrolhead cretin Jeremy Clarkson, who recently complained about the length of time taken to clear a road after a (fatal) car crash I am aware that the world does not revolve around me. Devout Chelsea fan Mr Clarkson of course. Often used to be seen on The Shed back in the day. Not. I would apologise for reverting to the vocabulary of the ’90’s  here, but given the wooly headed, posh nobber’s dress sense it feels weirdly appropriate. What is it about Chipping Norton? I played cricket there as a kid & have no memory that being a celebrity dickhead was a prerequisite for living there back in those days. Ronnie Barker had an antique shop  & it was always freezing. That was it. Now it is alive with despicability as Clarkson, David Cameron & that Grade A weapon Alex James off Blur hob nob together in the most nauseating  fashion. Sir John Betjeman owes Slough a posthumous apology.

On the purely footballing front it has been a troubling week, the Chelsea ride through it being the standard blue & white clad rollercoaster. The transfer ban imposed by UEFA has already had its upside, primarily the appointment of bona fide legend Frank Lampard & his assistant Jody Morris. Both are Chelsea to the core & the latter having  coached at the Academy means he brings extensive knowledge about the young players who will now finally get their chance. One, Mason Mount, scores a fine goal against Leicester. The new regime seems to have reawakened the dwindling spirits among the diehard, & the atmosphere early on reflects this, the gloom of the fractious Sarri era  lifted. How diehard is diehard though?  Come the last ten minutes & the moans & groans are back to the fore & many proclaiming eternal love for Frank have vacated their seats & trudged out of the stadium. Many fans understand that the loss of Eden Hazard & necessary introduction of largely untested younger players promises an exciting but uneven journey through the season. In the past seven days a promising start foundered badly due to defensive ineptitude at Old Trafford. 4-0 was an unfair reflection of the game but a 4 zipping to one of the worst Man Utd teams for decades is still disappointing in the extreme. This was followed up by a heartening performance in the European Super Cup. A 2-2 draw against the European champions is more than creditable, & defeat on penalties, horrible though any defeat to Liverpool is, was less than catastrophic. The fallout on social media was both disproportionate & deeply unpleasant as Tammy Abraham, who missed the vital spot kick, was subjected to sustained & sometimes racist abuse from the PS4 masturbators on Twitter, most of whom have likely never been to Stamford Bridge or in many cases ever glimpsed the white cliffs of Dover. Abraham first started at Chelsea in the under 8 age group so to see him dismissed as a viable representative of the team off the back of one tired penalty is absurd in the extreme. John Terry missed a more important penalty in the same circumstances in Moscow in 2008. Christiano Ronaldo had missed his kick earlier in that particular shootout. The great Roberto Baggio did likewise for Italy in the 1994 World Cup final. Anyone can miss a penalty & anyone can drip hatred from a keyboard sat in their bedrooms surrounded by crusty mounds of Kleenex. We all talked shite when we were 14 but the amount of posts appearing with pictures of unfavoured players with red crosses struck through their faces was sickening this week. Abraham joined the likes of Willian & Azpi in being awarded this dubious accolade so he’s in good company. The latter have been great for Chelsea  & hopefully Tammy will come good too. He came on against Leicester & sliced a shot nervously & horribly over the bar, a likely sign of over eagerness to silence the doubters. The season will be long & more chances will present themselves for young players like Abraham. I just hope the emptying seats around me at the final whistle are not a milder sign of similar fan impatience. We will all need to be braver than this & do more than pay pre season lip service to the concept of a rebuilt side that may fail more than it succeeds at times this year. The change is exciting but also a little scary. Eden Hazard’s swansong was a magnificent rebuttal of Sarriball, at no times did he moderate his game to fit into the chainsmoker’s tactical straitjacket, & hallelujah to that. He is a huge loss. We are still Chelsea is the cry. No man is bigger than the club. All true, but with no opportunity to buy in the summer realism has to be the order of the day. If you cut Roger Federer’s right arm off he can still enter Wimbledon but he won’t make a final again any time soon.

Come what may Chelsea will survive. Comfortably. They have come close to the brink of financial ruin several times in the past. In the mid 1970’s they overstretched building the East Stand, got relegated & went four years without buying a player. By 1975 there were begging baskets around the ground for fans to throw spare coppers into. After Ken Bates bought the club for £1 in 1982 there was a long period of fighting off the developers who owned the lease on the ground, intent on capitalizing on escalating property values as the decade proceeded. Relegation to Division 3 was avoided by a whisker in 1983, & in 1992 a flurry of deadline day transfer sales are thought to have been an attempt to stall attempts at foreclosure by some of the club’s creditors. In 2003, the players were warned beforehand that the last game of the season, effectively a  Champions League qualifying shootout with Liverpool, needed to be won. Any other outcome & the consequences for the club were potentially calamitous. The team did win & Claudio Ranieri had successfully steered a team unable to sign any new players that season to the now crucial 4th place spot. One day some of his sneering detractors among the Chelsea fanbase may even remove their tongue from Jose Mourinho’s butt crack long enought to have the grace to acknowledge that, but I won’t be holding my breath just yet. Hopefully they are holding theirs.

Having already extensively redeveloped Stamford Bridge & established themselves as a trophy winning team, Chelsea would, I am sure, have been dug out of the hole they were in in 2003 even if a Champions League place had not been forthcoming & a certain Russian billionaire had looked elsewhere to invest in a football club. However, the fate of Leeds, relegated the following year & still waiting to return to the top level now, 15 years later, remains a cautionary reminder of the dangers of overstretching following a Champions League run in that era. Chelsea did exactly the same  & got away with it, but by the skin of their teeth for sure. On the previous occasions the club had run into economic problems the potential for it becoming extinct was far greater.

Consequently it is a pretty poor fit for supporters of a club indulged by a decade & half of hitherto unprecedented trophy success, bankrolled by a billionaire, to loftily remind us all that football clubs are ‘commercial entities’ when Chelsea have achieved spectacular playing success while frequently running up record financial losses off the pitch. Most clubs do not have benefactors with limitless bundles of cash, nor are they based in fashionable West London & able to construct a platform of building a global brand off the back of these two happy, sizeable slices of good fortune. Chelsea were playing Russian roulette prior to Abramaovich via Ken Bates gambling on Champion’s League football being a regular occurrence. Leeds did the same without a billionaire to bale them out & slumped from main players to League 1 paupers in half a decade. Smartarsed tweets about the impoverished state of other clubs do not become Chelsea fans, but they are not in short supply at present.

Football fans generally don’t care much for each other most of the time, but the one thing that unites them is the very thing that causes the divide. They love their own club above all other sporting considerations, & cannot imagine life without it, & they need rival teams, even the ones they loathe, ESPECIALLY the ones they loathe, for the competitive spirit to thrive & retain meaning. Consequently, I would never want current & traditional hated opponents of Chelsea to go out of business, be they Spurs, Liverpool, or even Leeds, dirty Leeds, let alone a club like Bury plugging away in the lower regions of the football league. Spurs, Liverpool, or Leeds fans have as much right to support their horrible clubs as I do mine, & I am baffled by the desire of so many to see other teams wiped off the map, usually expressed at maximum intensity on toxic media platforms like Twitter. If they got their way, their teams would only have nice, cuddly opponents left & for how long would that continue to be any fun? Especially when there is such a widespread complacent & disinterested attitude to a club like Bury dying, a club who won the FA Cup twice at the beginning of the last century, &  produced one of the greatest post-war English footballers in Colin Bell, as fine an English midfielder as I have ever seen.

The responses of some fellow Chelsea supporters have both saddened & angered me as Bury seemingly bit the dust this month. The short video included at the top of this page includes a heartrending piece with Kenny, a fan of over 70 years. There is also a Twitter post recounting the despair of one fan whose brother’s ashes were scattered on the pitch after his death. Sad stories abound, & it is increasingly clear that outside of the Premiership the English footballing pyramid, long the envy of many other nations, is loaded with clubs in dire financial straits. Bolton Wanderers, a grand old name of English football, not so long ago an established Premier League team playing in Europe, are hanging on by the skin of their teeth, surviving on a skeletal paying staff that promises to see them get royally stuffed every week. The warning signs have been there for some time. North Ferriby won the FA Trophy Final in 2015 beating Wrexham at Wembley. On March 15th this year they were wound up, their outstanding debt a mere £7,645.25 at a time when Man Utd were paying Alexis Sanchez a reported £350,000 a week to stay at home cuddling his dogs. Does believing no club  should be allowed to fold over such a paltry sum make me a naive sentimentalist. Apparently it does, & if so I am proud to be one. The demise of Rushden & Diamonds was a sobering warning. They were the team that Dr Martens built, boasting a swanky ground with a Nandos in it. They entered the Football League in 2001 & were promoted in the 2002/3 season. 8 years later they were out of business, their Nene Park stadium still used by athletes for training purposes during the 2012 Olympics. No more. It was demolished in 2017.

Kenny can’t tweet pithily about Bury games at present because there aren’t any. I doubt he would want to. The right to hear the click of the Gigg Lane turnstile behind him a couple of dozen times a season as he has for 70 years is all he asks. Fans like him are worth their weight in gold & his lengthy devotion to The Shakers renders that wish a divine right as far as I’m concerned. Andy Saunders from The Chels podcast is a different beast entirely. He greets devoted followers to his Twitter page with the following, Kevin Rowland from Dexy’s penned paen to his own highly advanced sense of self worth:-

But now just look at me
As I’m looking down at you
No, I’m not bein’ flash
It’s what I’m built to do

Never knowingly undersold! Andy Saunders is a PR man in the music business, high up the food chain at Creation Records in those peak commercial years following the staggering success of that band with the two monobrowed Mancunian brothers, the ones who can’t even be civil to each other. One of them has been known to turn up at Man City games in August wearing a full length Parka, the other sits  at the Etihad in mid winter wearing sunglasses. They think cool. Others think of a word of identical length starting with the same consonant. The music was rousing & the tunes were great early on (though usually purloined from superior artists – T.Rex, Burt Bacharach, Neil Innes, New Seekers) & being part of that ’90’s rollercoaster must have amazing. I don’t know who Andy works with now, although apparently he had a hand in helping to hype The Cheeky Girls at one point. Doubtless this has paid well & been more fun than most of us will ever have at work, but does it really justify looking at him while he looks down on us? Nah. I stopped listening to The Chels largely because of Saunders himself, endlessly rattling off the dullest of stats & droning on about high presses & low blocks. Teams from other parts of Europe were routinely dismissed as pub teams & at one point the Chelsea career of Mark Hughes was belittled. Yes, the man who joined from Man Utd the same summer as Ruud Gullit, instantly raising the profile of the club enormously, & then scored vital goals in FA Cup, League Cup & Cup Winner’s Cup matches in 1997 & 1998. The club went on to win all 3 trophies. Mark Hughes may have been a dour managerial presence in the modern Premier League but show me a Chelsea fan who denigrates his contribution to the development of the club in the 1990’s & I will show you either a 24 carat plum or an inveterate, perverse attention seeker. Mr Saunders could even be both. He is also a supporter of Chelsea Together, the ostensibly worthy but ultimately sanctimonious &  pointless fan collective that seemingly exists merely to tell us that racism & homophobia are bad. No shit Sherlock. Chelsea as a club are actively promoting both these causes, so what are Chelsea Together bringing to the party? Not a lot so far save for wagging a reproving finger alongside all the Chelsea hating media at any fan misbehaviour. Existing  just to announce their moral superiority over less politically correct fans will achieve the sum total of nothing. I can see no sign that they are engaging with anyone in any constructive way. Yes, racism & homphobia are poisonous evils within both football & society as a whole  but If you have no proactive campaign planned to counteract it then leave the club to get on with the sterling work they have been doing. The police are there to deal with the law breakers.

Unlike Kenny I have not spent my 50 years following a team primarily in the lower divisions  but I have seen an awful lot of football covering the whole spectrum of the game in England. Many Oxford United games between 1968 & 1980, Hull City as a student between 1981 & 1984 & Bournemouth sporadically between 2004 & 2009 with my dad, after his retirement to Dorset but before the money came rolling in for The Cherries. I watched Isthmian League football at Oxford City with my grandfather as a child & various non-league competitions watching my nephew play as an adult. During my self imposed Chelsea exile from 2004-2016 I sat with Barnsley fans at the first ever MK Dons league fixture, & saw Portsmouth & Leyton Orient games home & away with friends. There is also the small matter of hundreds of fixtures attended since 1970 as I have followed the Chelsea over land & sea. If not Leicester.  I have seen matches at Leicester but not actually a Chelsea game. Like Kenny I have paid my dues & respectfully suggest I might deserve to have my say without it being ignored &/or treated with contempt. Despite his unconvincing disclaimer I would seriously question whether Mr Saunders has even the vaguest sympathy for Bury, nor any true understanding of the impact their demise will have on their followers.  My Twitter response to him was measured & polite, so of course ignored. Fair enough. I have a paltry amount of followers & will not enhance his Twitter reach. I know how important that is to him, hence his tendency to preach rather than engage in an intelligent debate. Fortunately the glorious democracy of the football experience (1 person, 1 ticket, 1 voice regardless of who you are or how much you earn) allows me the luxury of putting all the egotistical drivel spouted on social media to one side & enjoying the game once I’m there. Bury fans are not so lucky at present hence my irritation.

A football club folding is not akin to the demise of HMV or Woolworths. They were commercial entities in the truest sense, existing to supply the populace with goods in exchange for profit. When we no longer wanted those goods in enough number to enable that profit the train to oblivion beckoned. As part of our past going back to childhood we may have waved them off mournfully from the platform but a human barricade across the tracks was never on the cards. Football clubs going to the wall is far more complex. Like libraries or public parks they are an essential cog in the wheel for many communities, living, breathing assets to the population that outweigh a simple devotion to Mammon. The need to run them in a businesslike way is undoubted but Andy Saunders’ cliched, middle management training day apology for a tweet is a crass summary of a situation that highlights a crisis in English football that is only going to escalate if debate & action among the footballing hierarchy do not arise from the current fallout.

I had tweeted a couple of times about the Bury situation & pleasingly not all Chelsea fans responded with the low key but nonetheless hackneyed & smug defensiveness of Saunders & his two cohorts displayed at the top of this piece. I never mentioned Chelsea but there have been other contributions elsewhere on Twitter that betray a similarly paranoid assumption that a belief in the need for those from the higher echelons of football to play a bigger part in assisting the poorer represents an attack on specific clubs. Elsewhere many people did predictably single out big clubs, especially those  in the Lancashire area, & also high profile football personalities. Football regulations mean other clubs cannot pump money directly into the coffers of another. Gary Neville, who has strong family links to Bury, is heavily involved at Salford so similarly cannot intervene directly to help resolve the crisis at Gigg Lane. Collectively however the bigger clubs SHOULD be ashamed at the plight of many smaller outfits throughout the pyramid, & when the notion that they should dig deeper to help avert these situations is dismissed by Saunders as ‘sentimental nonsense’ he exposes nothing else than  his own pointless, self satisfied preference for playing to the gallery. As for no football clubs having a divine right to exist what does this banal comment even mean? Possibly very few things in life have a divine right to exist, but Kenny & 4,000 other regulars at Bury believe their club does, as do fans of every football club all over the world. If you don’t get that Mr Saunders then I suggest you stick to the noble art of plugging low grade aural tat by one of Lembit Opek’s peculiar retinue of ex girlfriends.  Steve Palmer refers to #footballfanignorance while listing previous occasions when clubs in trouble, Chelsea included, have not been helped out by other clubs. Fair point well made Steve, but if you read that an OAP had been mugged in the street & nobody had gone to their aid would you then cross the road & ignore a similar incident if you witnessed it? Despite Steve’s jibe I am sure I have more direct & vivid memories of Chelsea teetering towards bankruptcy in the mid 1970’s than at least two of the people involved in this exchange. Valky makes the frankly idiotic observation that he supposes I think all other clubs would chip in should Mr Abramovich walk away & leave Chelsea owing billions. My tweet specifically referenced bigger clubs helping those lower down the pyramid so Valky is emerging as a worthy successor for Roger Irrelevant from Viz here. Chelsea are now a known global brand anyway, so would obviously find attracting new investment rather easier than Bury. Billionaire Jim Ratcliffe, possibly Britain’s richest businessman is already reputed to be sniffing around should Roman pull the plug. He already has a season ticket. Were Valkey’s unlikely scenario to arise I would not expect charity from other clubs anyway. If Bury going bust is an OAP mugged in the street to general indifference from onlookers, Chelsea going bust in 2019 would be like seeing Bill Gates made bankrupt having maxed out on all his credit cards without ever paying off so much as one month of interest. There was a like for both Steve & Valky’s rather sour denunciations of my tweet however. Step forward Andy Saunders. I would say let the circle jerk commence but there were only three of you given the general indifference of most Chelsea fans to the subject , & especially my view of it! Like Saunders neither replied to my polite responses. Chelsea together.

However, I would like to issue a Mr Wolf in Pulp Fiction style warning for Andy, Valky & Steve not to suck each other’s dicks just yet. Comparisons between two television deals 30 years apart reveal just how much the financial landscape has changed in the football world since Chelsea had begging baskets scattered around Stamford Bridge in 1976. In 1985 there was a TV blackout in England as the Football League sought a better deal than the one on the table for them that summer. The live football offer was for £19 million over 4 seasons incorporating 6 league, 4 FA Cup & 3 League Cup matches. In December 1985 the Football League caved in & accepted a 1 year deal for 9 Division 1 & League Cup games for £1.3 million. A separate deal was struck for 4 FA Cup games. £1.3 million! A couple of months wages for a top Premier League player now. I suppose Sanchez would have enough for dog food. The combined BT/Sky deal in 2015? A staggering £5.14 Billion. I would say bigger clubs putting their hands in their pockets was a moral imperative. The money IS clearly there to help.

As it stands a new Colin Bell at Bury cannot be spotted for Manchester City to swoop on. The pub next to the ground will lose the biggest portion of its custom, along with other assorted businesses. What other social activities in Bury regularly attract 4,000 people, all of whom will be feeling a huge sense of loss at the moment? The fact is that not enough money has been fed through the pyramid, & the ensuing cracks are now going to cause massive subsidence.  It is easy to see how finanacial desperation led to Bury letting a rogue like current owner Steve Dale through the door. Of course the clubs have a responsibility to run themselves along commercial lines but this is a lot easier said than done. The EFL have a supposed right & proper person’s criteria for letting individuals like Steve Dale take over clubs like Bury. Dale has a string of failed business ventures to his name, & by his own admission no affinity either for Bury as a place or its football club, or indeed football at all. Is it impossible to create an insurance policy with contributions from all clubs relative to their stature to protect clubs in Bury’s position from themselves, tighten up the right & proper person’s test &/or apply it correctly? If new owners had to sign an agreement that they would waive any financial stake & walk away if they were no longer able to pay wages then asset stripping would not be an option & the likes of Dale would be forced to fail elsewhere. The emergency funds could be used to prop up the club while new buyers are found. If this is ‘hopelessly naive’ then I apologise. It seems preferable to arrogant complacency though. Good luck Bury. As for Andy Saunders, I’m not sure if The Cheeky Girls opus he was responsible for promoting was that touch my bum, this is life abomination but I think Kenny should continue the honourable music industry tradition of the answer song & record his own single as a riposte. Less touch my bum than kiss my arse. He’s the real, loyal selfless deal.

Ah yes. The match.  1-1. Chelsea could have been 3 up in the first 10 minutes, but Leicester will feel hard done by that they didn’t take all 3 points by the end. I thought James Maddison was an irksome pinhead who missed a sitter & kept falling over too easily, then endlessly whining like a child about it to the referee. Post match opinion would suggest that everyone else in the ground thought he was brilliant, & it seems my Chelsea goggles may have been on a little too tight. Thank goodness I don’t do post match tweeting. Compared to the plight of Bury the transfer ban is not a big deal. It will still be a fascinating & challenging season.

Upwards & onwards.