Administration, unpaid creditors, a protracted takeover, players unpaid and fixtures called off. It has been a summer to forget for Bolton Wanderers and Bury.
But what is it like to be caught up in the crossfire at two clubs in crisis? How has the situation reached breaking point at two historic English Football League clubs who are just 12 miles away from each other?
Living with uncertainty
Andrew Taylor played for Bolton for three years and acted as the club’s PFA representative alongside his playing duties, but is now without a club.
A calamitous 2018-19 season which saw fan protests, player strikes, a league fixture cancelled, relegation from the Championship and administration, has been matched by an equally poor off-season.
On the eve of the new campaign, Bolton have just seven players registered, five of which are outfield players, while their pre-season preparations have consisted of one friendly defeat by non-league York three weeks ago.
Add to that a 12-point deduction, along with current and former players owed five months’ wages, and 32-year-old Taylor says the situation has put some at the club in a difficult position.
“This has been going on for the whole summer and it gets to a point where certainly the lads who are still there are turning up every day, training, not getting paid, putting their own careers at risk,” he told BBC Sport.
“They could turn up and get injured tomorrow and all of a sudden their careers are derailed and there’s more confusion.
“It’s the uncertainty and the fact that we [initially] have an indication that things are getting sorted and it’s going to be done, then the end of the week comes and it’s silence. We don’t know what’s going on, whether we’re coming or going.”
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Taylor claims that a lot of information the players receive comes from the local press or social media, with the club passing on minimal information.
And the defender says the events of last season – which saw the players go on strike three times – as well as the ongoing takeover, have had a wider effect on his family.
“As players, it’s hard to deal with the stress and everything else. But I think it’s more difficult for our families and certainly for my wife,” he added.
“They go through all of the the stress and all of the problems as well, but they’re not at the forefront finding out what’s going on and knowing the ins and outs.
“Fortunately I am an older player coming to the end of my career so I do have a bit of money set aside, but that’s for mine and my family’s future. You certainly don’t expect to rely on that to get by when you should still be getting paid by the club.”
‘Doom’ and gloom
“There is a sense of inevitable doom,” said Bury North MP James Frith as he summed up the feeling around Gigg Lane when speaking to BBC Radio Manchester earlier this week.
The Professional Footballers’ Association stepped in to help pay for players’ salaries in March and April, while Bury fans raised nearly £1,000 in shopping vouchers to help staff who were not paid their wages as scheduled.
Eventually the club were deducted 12 points for the coming season after their creditors approved a rescue bid. However, with just seven players on their books and concerns still present about Bury’s finances with four days until the start of the season, their first game was suspended by the EFL.
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Local pride is something that is often missed in amongst the financial chaos, but it is something that Frith agrees with.
“There is a real issue with lower-league football clubs and how they survive at a time when all the money is evermore concentrated to the larger clubs.”
‘Something needs to change’
Nicky Adams helped the Shakers win automatic promotion from League Two at the first time of asking last season, but he became one of a number of players to leave the club in the close season.
Although the club was facing an uncertain future, Adams says the players were unfazed despite playing while not being paid last season.
The English Football League (EFL) has “reluctantly” suspended the Shakers’ opening game of the season against MK Dons on Saturday after they failed to show the league evidence of financial viability, although Dale claims the club have provided the league with the required information.
- Bury chairman Steve Dale says EFL are ‘working against’ League One club
- EFL ‘not standing in the way’ of Bury’s survival
“All we could do was do our job on the field because we couldn’t do anything about the money situation and we just wanted to make ourselves and the fans and our families proud of what we achieved last year,” midfielder Adams, who has since joined Northampton, told BBC Radio Manchester.
“We take a lot of pride and passion in what we do. We’ve done it since we were young and we knew the situation and problems but the fans were behind us all season.”
As Bury struggle to start the season, having lost all of their promotion-winning side from last term, Adams says their current situation came as a surprise, as he thought the club would be on a firmer footing.
He continued: “I’m so sad that this has happened. I didn’t think it would get this far. I genuinely thought they might lose 12 points but they can start again from there, but I didn’t anticipate this to happen.”
‘It feels like a bereavement’
From the highs of promotion last season to the lows of seeing the first fixture of the new campaigned suspended, it has been a long few months for Bury’s supporters.
“I feel really numb. You never expect something like this to happen,” Bury fan James Bentley told BBC Radio Manchester.
“After such a fantastic promotion last season where the players weren’t being paid, to get it over the line in the way that they did, there was such a feeling of camaraderie and a bond with the fans that hadn’t been there for years and now it’s just been destroyed.”
Meanwhile at Bolton, although Wanderers’ prospects look marginally brighter than the Shakers’, season ticket holder Claire Cragg has likened the club’s situation to a bereavement.
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“It’s like grief to some extent because you’re losing something that is so important to you,” she told BBC Radio Manchester.
“You’re defined by what you see in the media and football is such a big part of that. If your team is doing well then people think fondly of your town, but if it’s financially struggling then that impacts the town.”