Exactly five miles separate the grounds of Bury and Salford City off the A56 in Greater Manchester.
Bury have been members of the Football League since 1894. Salford have played one match in the competition – Saturday’s 2-0 win over Stevenage.
Other than geography, there are links between the clubs.
Both were promoted last season; Bury into League One, Salford into League Two. The main stand at Bury is named in honour of club stalwart Neville Neville, who was also father to two of Salford City’s famous owners, Gary and Phil. Their mother, Jill, still works at Bury as club secretary.
Both clubs were scheduled to open their season with home fixtures. As it turned out, only one of them actually played.
Two grounds, one game
In April 2014, Salford City announced they had agreed a deal for ‘the Class of 92’ – Gary and Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes, plus Singapore businessman Peter Lim – to buy the club.
At the time they were just below halfway in the Northern Premier League Northern Division, tier eight on the English football pyramid. Among their opponents that season were Kendal Town and Cammell Laird.
“I still have a bruise on my knee from when I fell over at Cammell Laird six years ago,” said Salford chair Karen Baird. “It is mad. We have Leeds in the cup in two weeks.”
In May 2015, Salford won the first of four promotions in five years as they began on their path to the EFL for the first time in their history. Four months later, Bury went to Sheffield United – now a Premier League team – for a League One game and won 3-1.
“Bury is in my blood,” said lifelong fan James Bentley.
“My great-grandfather, who was a prisoner of war, brought my granddad. He brought my dad. My dad brought me. My friend’s ashes are scattered on the pitch. That is the kind of community asset this club is.”
Bury were relegated in 2018 after three years in League One. Last season there was a change in ownership, as businessman Steve Dale taking over from Stewart Day with the aim of resolving ‘cash flow issues’ the club were experiencing, and they were promoted again.
Crucially, that deal was not passed to the EFL for ratification before it was completed.
All quiet at Gigg Lane
At 15:15 BST on Saturday, Bury’s ground was a lonely place. Instead of a few thousand fans being inside Gigg Lane watching the League One encounter with MK Dons, staff in the offices counting turnstile and shop receipts, others serving in catering stands or clearing away the pre-game dining debris and getting ready for the half-time rush, the stadium was locked and empty. No-one was in the souvenir shop or the social club next to the ground. No fans were hanging about outside.
Someone had been busy though, judging by the small cardboard signs that had been left in various places on the stadium wall stating ‘Dale Out’ and ‘EFL Save Our Club’.
Bury’s problem is this: They did not have enough money to pay their debts.
A Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) was passed last month that remains subject to appeal. The CVA brought Bury an instant 12-point deduction by the EFL. But in addition, the EFL wanted to make sure Bury had sufficient funds, not just to start the season, but get through it. It is the same test any new owner must subject themselves to.
In this instance, Bury have failed to convince the EFL. On 29 July, Bury’s game against MK Dons was suspended. On 2 August, a second game, against Accrington Stanley, went the same way. Bury’s next match is set to be in the EFL Cup, at Sheffield Wednesday, on 13 August.
Two statements have been released since the Accrington Stanley game was called off. One by Bury, the second, from their lawyer, Chris Farnell, who said the EFL was “causing immeasurable damage” to the football club.
On 31 July, EFL interim chief executive Debbie Jevans said her organisation “was not standing in the way of Bury’s survival”.
“It is so wearing,” said Bentley. “It is like watching a slow death. I don’t think the EFL is trying to kill the club but we are getting mixed messages from both sides and you don’t know who to believe.
“We should have been looking forward to going to Sunderland and Portsmouth. Instead it has just been one thing after another.
“Part of me has already accepted the club is not going to exist anymore.”
Salford’s sensational EFL debut
The dark mood at Bury contrasted sharply with the euphoria at Salford, who began their League Two campaign with a 2-0 win over Stevenage thanks to a goal in each half from Mani Dieseruvwe.
“It is amazing what has happened here,” said Baird. “I was up at daft o’clock this morning flapping and getting nervous about today. We have spent weeks and weeks trying to get everything right. It is so exciting for everyone.
“I came in as treasurer at first. Then I was asked to be chairman. We had to get some Portakabin changing rooms because we didn’t have enough.
“Six months later, they came in and it has gone absolutely wild.”
‘They’ are Salford’s famous owners.
Although it was thought none would be present for the Stevenage game, Paul Scholes did eventually phone at short notice to say he would be there.
Neither Gary nor Phil Neville were around. Gary was on a long-planned holiday, Phil was working.
Given their connections to Bury, it has been suggested they could have put their money towards them, rather than build Salford up as they have done. This does ignore the fact they are only two of six former internationals – David Beckham took a 10% stake in Salford earlier this year – whose shared connection to the area comes through the time they spent together as youngsters at Manchester United’s old training ground at The Cliff, which is one-and-half miles from Salford City’s Moor Lane ground.
Bentley, for one, is not pointing a finger.
“It is their money to spend as they see fit,” he said. “Just because Bury have a stand named after their dad doesn’t mean they should spend their money on Bury FC.”