Bury FC: One year on from EFL expulsion - what happened next?

By Jay FreemanBBC Sport
Bury fans gathered at their Gigg Lane home after they were expelled from the English Football League, but 12 months later, they are are no nearer to seeing a return to the ground
Bury fans gathered at their Gigg Lane home after they were expelled from the English Football League, but 12 months later, they are are no nearer to seeing a return to the ground

It is just over 12 months since Bury Football Club were expelled from the English Football League having failed in their bid to secure a buyer.

Since that day, the finances of many clubs have been tested by the coronavirus pandemic, yet the impact of Bury's expulsion can still be felt in the lower leagues and has drawn questions on the way in which clubs are run.

But, as Bury became the first team in nearly 30 years to be kicked out of the EFL, what was it like inside the club and how has a town reeling from the loss of its team coped?

BBC Sport, in conjunction with BBC Radio Manchester and its Out Of Our League podcast, spoke to those who experienced one of the biggest modern crises in English football.

'We boxed with the kit man just to stay fit'

Bury celebrated promotion from League Two after a 1-1 draw with Tranmere in April 2019. Just four months later, the club would lose their place in the EFL
Bury celebrated promotion from League Two after a 1-1 draw with Tranmere in April 2019. Just four months later, the club would lose their place in the EFL

The 2018-19 League Two season, at least on the pitch, was something for Bury fans to cherish as Ryan Lowe's side put off-the-field issues to one side to earn promotion back to the third tier at the first attempt.

But following Steve Dale's takeover of the Shakers from former owner Stewart Day in December 2018, midway through that triumphant campaign, the wheels started to fall off at the historic club.

Former Bury defender Adam Thompson was one of the few players to return for pre-season training ahead of the ill-fated 2019-20 season.

"There was no medical insurance put on by the club. If we wanted to go and train we couldn't, because if we were injured we wouldn't be covered," he told BBC Radio Manchester.

"There were alarm bells anyway having read stuff, but that was the first sign where you're thinking 'if this is the first day of pre-season and we can't even train, we're in trouble here'.

"At that point, we were boxing in the gym with the kit man, because that was all we could do to keep fit. That was testing mentally."

Thompson eventually secured a move to then League One side Rotherham United, but he was not alone in having to find somewhere to play at short notice with the new season rapidly approaching.

"I didn't have a deal, but no-one informed us. Very quickly from the high of being promoted, I had to find a new club," former Bury winger Nicky Adams told BBC Sport.

"In hindsight we thought the team would be taken over. I thought they'd be fine, they're a great club with a rich history.

"It was a nightmare situation for everyone and it wasn't nice. It doesn't matter who you support, all over the country and with teams' rivalries, no-one wants to see any other club go out of business."

From joy to division

In one of the most evocative images of the downfall of Bury FC, Joy Hart chained herself to the stand which bears her father's name at their Gigg Lane home while fans later carried in a ceremonial coffin
In one of the most evocative images of the downfall of Bury FC, Joy Hart chained herself to the stand which bears her father's name at their Gigg Lane home while fans later carried in a ceremonial coffin

A turbulent summer continued. Fixtures were postponed, wages went unpaid and a takeover deal collapsed.

Just before the club lost its place in the league, one image stuck out as the Shakers' plight made national and international news.

Joy Hart, daughter of Bury legend Les Hart, who spent 44 years with the club as a player, physio and later manager, chained herself to the ground in protest at what was happening.

It was an act which transcended the sports news circuit and put Bury in the headlines.

"I'd thought about it for quite a while and I wanted to bring Bury's plight to the media," she told BBC Radio Manchester.

"It did actually snowball and as they call it, went viral, all over the world. I was asked to speak to Russian TV, the Seychelles, everyone seemed to be interested and at this point there were a few people who did supposedly come forward to put offers in."

One such offer, from a group called C&N Sporting Risk, came through and gave some much-needed hope for the club as the start of the season came and went and six successive Bury fixtures were called off.

But then, on 27 August 2019, came the announcement from the EFL that the club's support were dreading. Bury were to be expelled from the league.

Questions were asked, answers were few and far between and the town was left with the prospect of a season without football.

Answers sought in Westminster

There was further uncertainty over whether Bury Football Club would continue in its current guise, with Dale still at the helm and without a league to play in.

The aftermath of the expulsion drew questions from those in Westminster as the government looked to ascertain why the saga had been allowed to happen.

Executives from the Football Association and EFL were called to speak before the House of Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport select committee.

Its then chair, Damian Collins MP, told BBC Radio Manchester: "My concern was that this was something that was avoidable and that if the football authorities had enforced their own rules effectively, action could have been taken much earlier in the process and before Bury was expelled from the league.

"The things that football say they do to try to protect clubs from bad owners, from clubs getting into too much debt too quickly, those rules are not properly enforced, and if they had been, I believe the tragedy of Bury could have been avoided."

In response, the EFL said it has "sympathy with the situation that transpired at Bury FC and are aware of the impact that the club's expulsion has had on the fans and the local community".

It added: "However, as the League commented at the time, we provided every opportunity to Bury to meet the commitments required and in September 2019, commissioned an independent Bury FC review with the outcome determining that significant time and effort was made to try and force the club and its owners to provide the required information, and any additional action would not have made any difference to the eventual outcome, which was ultimately caused by a lack of owner funding."

Undeterred, Bury fans set up a new club known as Bury AFC in December, and after a year without football, were allocated a place in the 10th-tier North West Counties League Division One North for the 2020-21 season.

In their first match, a friendly against Daisy Hill in August, the phoenix club rose from the ashes in style with a 5-0 win.

Meanwhile, Bury FC still remain, but in August were denied a place in the National League, with the FA stating the decision related to their "financial resources, ownership and insolvency status".

A remarkable level of success

Just over a year after leaving Bury, Nicky Adams became the latest in a string of former Shakers players to win promotion in 2019-20 as he helped Northampton Town win the League Two play-off final against Exeter City
Just over a year after leaving Bury, Nicky Adams became the latest in a string of former Shakers players to win promotion in 2019-20 as he helped Northampton Town win the League Two play-off final against Exeter City

What followed for those that left Bury in that fateful summer is remarkable, considering what the playing and coaching staff endured.

Manager Lowe, who took over at Plymouth Argyle ahead of the 2019-20 season, went on to win automatic promotion from League Two for the second successive season, along with former Bury players Danny Mayor, Will Aimson, Dom Telford, Callum McFadzean and Byron Moore.

Meanwhile, Adams also won promotion from League Two through the play-offs with Northampton Town, while Thompson helped Rotherham win promotion to the Championship.

"That was the move that I felt I deserved and I had earned in that season. I played every game so that was the move I was hoping for, a top League One team," added Thompson.

"Before then I was having to train with Bolton to keep fit as a sort of trial. Nothing came of that because of their financial position but Rotherham showed their interest.

"There's a lot more motivation for me now and I'm going to try to do everything I can to play in the Championship and to make Rotherham successful."

Despite the adversity of his second spell with Bury, Adams used his experiences as a positive in order to find success with another of his former clubs as he returned to Northampton last summer.

"Going to Northampton last year, it was in the back of my mind that I'd been robbed of League One football again, so that pushed me to go on and achieve this year," he explained.

"That's what I used to spur me on in a way. It stands us all in good stead as managers, players, and coaches, to do what we did and get the promotion.

"It was a special group of people and players."

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