The fan owned club bringing football back to Bury

“By the fans, for the fans” is the tagline of Bury AFC. They are a fan owned club due to enter the 10th
tier of English football. For the significance of their tagline to be suitably explained, a history lesson
is in order.

The original football club in Bury was founded way back in 1885, and made their debut in what would, over 100 years later, become the EFL in the early 1890s, and by the year 1895, they had won promotion to the First Division of English Football. During their 17 year stint in the division they won the FA Cup twice, in 1900 and 1903, the latter being won after a 6-0 victory over Derby County in the final, which remains a record to this day. The club never matched these heights, and spent the majority of their history bouncing between the third and fourth tiers of English Football.

The 2000s saw a period of financial difficulties for the Shakers. On the 1st December 2018, there was hope that these issues would be a thing of the past, when businessman Steve Dale purchased the club for £1, passing an EFL “Fit and proper” test to do so. He immediately paid off bills to avoid a knock on the door from HMRC, but this was short lived. By April 2019, financial difficulties resurfaced, with the club’s wage bill for the month of March not being paid on time.

Dale admitted in late April that the financial difficulties of the club were far greater than he initially thought (which wasn’t very fit and proper of him), only managing to stump up £180,000 of the £1,600,000 which the club owed. A Company Voluntary Agreement (CVA) was approved in July to try and secure a future for the club, but it was to no avail. Bury were barred from playing any of their League 1 fixtures until the financial security was up to standards, a feat that was never accomplished. On the 27th August 2019, at around 11pm, Bury FC were expelled from the English Football League, without having kicked a ball in the 2019/20 season.

That’s where Bury AFC come in. Initially going by Bury Phoenix as a working name, the name was changed on the 18th December 2019 to Bury AFC, after a vote by registered supporters with a turnout of almost 800. Although a move to their spiritual home of Gigg Lane is the dream, achieving it is easier said than done, and the challenges they face are far greater than just buying the stadium. This is due to the former Bury FC owner Stewart Day, who created what AFC called a “huge mess”, including the sale of parking spaces outside the ground, but the club insist that they are “putting together a plan as we speak”. With Gigg Lane out of the picture, hopefully, for now, the club will play their maiden season at Stainton Park, in neighbouring Radcliffe, as part of a ground-share agreement with local side
Radcliffe FC.

One of the key components that is needed for a Non-League club to survive is the community
surrounding them, and this side have that by the bucketload. As was hinted at the start, they’re a
fan owned club. Membership rates are £5 a month for adults, and £2 for Under 16s, which secure
voting rights for board and internal elections in a one member, one vote system. As of July 16th , the
club has amassed around 540 members, almost all of whom are paying £60 a year. The members govern the club, by electing the board democratically.

While fan ownership might seem like a radical idea, it is not uncommon. In Germany, all football clubs are required to be at least 50% owned by the fans, and successful fan owned football clubs include the likes of FC Barcelona.

Despite being run as a non-profit, the club is also open to the right kind of investors, with the membership having the power to dilute how much of the club they control should the right person come along. This also serves as a way to stop the wrong sort gaining control, as having protections in place to avoid assets (such as a stadium) being stripped, if another Steve Dale came along.

February saw their application into the North West Counties League (the same league as AFC
Liverpool – a co-operative) accepted, and the club are currently in the process of hiring their first
ever manager. Whoever they appoint, they’ll have to be ambitious, the club has seen the heights reached by a fellow member owned phoenix club, AFC Wimbledon, and believe that they have what it takes to go just as far. They aim to reach the EFL within a decade, and say that the club is structured in a way designed for a return to the big time, and maybe to their home as well.

If you want to become a member of Bury AFC, you can do so with few clicks here.

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