Bury: EFL should apologise and pay reparations to expelled club, say MPs

Bury fan stands at the gates of Gigg Lane
Bury failed to start life in League One after being promoted from English football's fourth tier last season

The English Football League should be made to pay reparations to Bury for a loss of earnings following the club's expulsion from League One, a select committee inquiry has concluded.

A hearing into football governance, triggered by Bury's demise, also recommended staff and fans receive an apology from the EFL for its failings.

A letter sent to the EFL, FA, and minister for sport demands a revamp.

And if reforms are not made, the government has been asked to intervene.

A three-page letter from Conservative MP Damian Collins, who is chairman of the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee, was also sent to Jonathan Taylor QC, who is overseeing an independent review of the regulations and procedures concerning the financial sustainability of clubs.

Collins has called for "urgent action" to prevent other clubs following Bury into financial trouble and added that the league has to "share the blame" for the Shakers' turmoil.

Other major reforms recommended by the committee are:

  • The FA, EFL and Premier League should establish a supporters' ombudsman to hear concerns about how clubs are being run.
  • Reformed owners' and directors' test would disqualify a buyer with record of corporate insolvency.
  • Clubs would be banned from borrowing against fixed assets such as stadiums.
  • Formal and enforceable licensing system for professional English football clubs, as recommended in 2011 report on Football Governance.

In response the EFL said that responsibility for what has happened at Bury was a result of financial mismanagement by the club's current and previous owners.

"We very much recognise the real distress felt by Bury FC supporters," an EFL statement said. "Withdrawing membership was a very difficult decision to have to take at the time and we regret that such a course of action was required.

"However, we stand behind the decisions taken in respect of Bury FC, which were applied in accordance with rules in place at the time."

Bury were expelled from the EFL in August following long-standing financial problems when a last-ditch takeover bid collapsed.

EFL clubs have since rejected a proposal for Bury to be readmitted into League Two next season, while the club are due back in court next month to face an ongoing winding-up petition brought by HM Revenue & Customs.

Collins said the "systematic and structural problems responsible" for the the collapse of Bury were "avoidable".

"It is essential that the authorities urgently overhaul their framework if they wish to avoid the same fate befalling other clubs," he said.

MPs also found that problems at the Gigg Lane club preceded the tenure of owner Steve Dale, who bought the club from Stewart Day for £1 in December 2018.

A study of the club's accounts showed "the rapidly worsening financial situation" of Bury and revealed that promotion from League Two last season was achieved by "clearly trading outside" the competition's spending rules.

"We heard time and again that supporters felt powerless as they watched their beloved club suffer shocking mismanagement and financial misconduct," Collins said.

"The authorities must learn to respect, and act upon, these concerns.

"If the football authorities fail to implement these reforms, or conclude that a statutory framework is needed to give them full effect, we recommend that the government immediately brings forward the necessary legislation to introduce a fully independent system of football licensing and regulation."

However, the committee went on to say it is "concerned" that the terms of the Taylor review are not clear and it is not "confident" the "clubs themselves will necessarily accept reforms that might subject them to tighter scrutiny".

"We request that the EFL writes to our successor Committee following its 2020 AGM to outline exactly how it intends to implement Mr Taylor's recommendations," the statement continued.

"We also recommend that the FA withholds approval of the EFL's updated rules until they fully incorporate the review's recommendations."

The committee considered evidence from EFL executive chair Debbie Jevans, FA chairman Greg Clarke and Premier League interim chief executive Richard Masters last month.

Former club director Barry Roth also used the Parliamentary privilege afforded by the hearing to outline his thoughts on deals done by Day, the man who sold Bury to Dale.

Roth said Day took out two loans against Bury's Gigg Lane stadium, worth £2.5m, from Capital Bridging Financial Solutions.

The committee said it was "seriously concerned" and has explicitly asked that the Taylor report investigate further.

On the "wider problems in football governance" the MPs said it is individuals, rather than clubs, that should face sanction when financial rules are broken.

Greater financial transparency demanded of clubs and enhanced scrutiny of those looking to invest in sides are all among a wide range of recommendations.

The committee went on to add that "robust changes" to ownership rules should also see those who "fail to meet the required standards" stripped of their control of a club through a "compulsory sale".

An update on a number of governance recommendations has been requested by 1 February 2020.

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