The fight goes on to save Bury FC, two years after their last match

A Bury fan at Gigg Lane
(Image credit: PA Images)

It’s been more than two years since Bury played a football match - but an attempt is being made to revive the ailing club, before it disappears forever.

The Shakers were kicked out of the EFL in August 2019 following financial issues under unpopular owner Steve Dale, just months after the club had won promotion to League One. 

Macclesfield Town suffered a similar fate a year later, but while the Cheshire club were swiftly wound up, Bury have continued to exist - even if their off-field problems have prevented a return to match action.

They’re now into their third season without football, after Dale put the club into administration last November, but a group of fans have put a plan together to revive the team for next season.

Calling themselves Est 1885 - referencing the club’s formation, 136 years ago - they’re waiting to hear whether they’ve been successful, after lodging a bid for both Bury FC and its Gigg Lane ground.

“There’s no one involved who isn’t a Bury fan - we’re people who have loved the club for all of our lives,” explains Tom Pickup, the son of a long-serving former director.

LONGREAD Bury, the inside story: Neil Danns explains what life was really like at a dying football club

Gigg Lane

(Image credit: PA Images)

“The last two years have been awful. We’ve been in limbo. Growing up watching Bury, we went to pretty much every game home and away - it’s a way of life, and we miss it so much. The first few months were just utter disbelief and depression.

“People might think the club folded, but it still exists and this is the best and possibly only chance to resurrect it. We’re a club with a heck of a lot of history - we’ve won the FA Cup twice. It’s a big part of the town, and we said ‘We can’t let it die’.

“We’ve formed a group - we’ve got former directors in there, and financial people who know what they’re doing, looking at the debts and the administration issues. Our main benefactor is a Bury fan - he’s from Bury, he lives in America now and he’s donating money, he’s not asking for anything in return.

“We’d be looking at a 51 per cent fan ownership model, like the Bundesliga, which would guarantee that none of the stuff that happened before could happen again.”

Another club, Bury AFC, were formed in late 2019 and made their debut in the 10th tier of English football last season. They’re again plying their trade in North West Counties Division One North this term, after the 2020/21 campaign was ultimately declared null and void because of COVID. Home matches take place at Radcliffe’s Neuven Stadium.

But attempts to revive the original Bury FC could see football return to Gigg Lane, at a much higher level. “We want to get Bury FC back playing again in 2022/23, and we'd hope to start as high up the pyramid as we can,” explains Pickup, revealing plans to install an artificial pitch at the stadium to generate revenue all year round.

Gigg Lane

(Image credit: PA Images)

It remains to be seen whether the club would potentially enter into the Northern Premier League or National League North - much would depend on talks with the FA if the takeover went through.

There are concerns though, about what would happen if they were unsuccessful with their bid. “We’re still waiting to hear back from the administrator as to whether we’ve been successful - they haven’t said yes, they haven’t said no,” Pickup explains.

“We believe another interested party is a land developer - we cannot have a land developer buying Gigg Lane, and not just for the moral issue of how awful it would be to see it go. 

"Bury Council issued a statement in 2019 saying that planning permission would not be given for anything like that, because they would have to replace the football stadium in the town for another one, which would take many years to sort out. They’ve assured us that their statement still stands.

“We have worked closely with the Bury FC Supporters' Society throughout, and the two Bury MPs are both on board. This is a chance to get the club back, which would be an amazing feeling. All everyone wants is for Bury FC to play football again.”

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Chris Flanagan
Staff Writer

Chris joined FourFourTwo in 2015 and has reported from 20 countries, in places as varied as Jerusalem and the Arctic Circle. He's interviewed Pele, Zlatan and Santa Claus (it's a long story), as well as covering Euro 2020 and the Clasico. He previously spent 10 years as a newspaper journalist, and completed the 92 in 2017.