Fighting To Keep Bury Forever...

Bury are in some trouble, with £1million needed to keep the club alive, and one remarkable man has been donating his time to help the club for over a decade...

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Things haven't been going too well for Bury on the pitch recently. Their defeat to Oldham a couple of weeks ago made them the first team in the Football League to be relegated this season. Despite a frustrating rally after the drop was confirmed, they are only not bottom of League One thanks to Portsmouth's ten-point deduction.

For their last game against Walsall they could only name two substitutes, and one of those was Efe Sodje, the bandana-ed war horse so old he knew Kanu when he was in his early thirties. The turnover of players at the club this season has been extraordinary - 37 players have represented them in the league, the majority free transfers and loanees, many of whom haven't stayed for very long. This is understandable, since the club have been unable to pay some of them - manager Kevin Blackwell admitted earlier in the season that "six or seven" players were earning under minimum wage, if they were receiving any remuneration at all.

"It started pouring down with rain as though it was crying for Bury Football Club," poetically mused Blackwell after relegation was sealed.

If the prevailing weather really is weeping for Bury, it isn't just because they face the prospect of League Two next season - it's because they face the prospect of no football at all next season.

Bury are in trouble. A couple of days before the Oldham game, the club issued a statement that said they needed money, and fast - specifically £1million, or they would not be able to continue operating. Their plan is to persuade ten different investors to put £100,000 each into the club with what they claim as a 'payback guarantee', and thus save the club. It basically amounts to these individuals loaning the club their money over three years, with interest of 6% per annum to be paid quarterly.

In some respects it's a sensible plan - rather than basically asking for charity, the club are offering something close to a business proposition. Of course, the problem is that to call it a 'risk-free' proposition is quite an understatement - it isn't entirely clear how a club who has managed to get in such a parlous financial state can guarantee a return for their investors. One answer is that they have used Gigg Lane as collateral for the loans, but that presents its own, obvious problems. Chairman Brian Fenton says he has a business plan, but isn't making public what that plan is.

It's not the first time Bury have been in financial trouble. In the nineties they were owned by Hugh Eaves, a stockbroker and fan who had basically bankrolled the club to a couple of promotions, up to what is now the Championship. In 1999 Eaves got into a little difficulty - and by 'a little difficulty' we mean he lost £20million of his clients' money in a calamitous investment scheme. His assets, including a 90% stake in Bury, were seized, and although the club managed to stumble on for a couple of years, they eventually went into administration in 2002.

As part of an effort to save the club, a couple of trusts were set up, raising almost £400,000 in just five weeks to save Bury. One of them, Forever Bury, under the guidance of a remarkable man called Dave Giffard, is once again working to ensure Bury do not disappear and are not forced to rely on the whims of money-lenders.

You probably think you're pretty committed to your club, and in your own way you probably are. However, Giffard has basically devoted his life to Forever Bury, taking on the chairmanship of the group as a full-time 'job'. I say 'job' because Giffard receives no salary, and gets by on £1 a day as he raises funds for the group.

Giffard told Football365: "I can't ever see the time I'll pack it in as it's my club and anything that I can do to help I will. I just wish more fans would get involved. To be honest, I wouldn't know what to do with all the time I'd have!"

He walks everywhere ("It keeps me fit") to try and attract investment, sponsorship and organise events, including the annual Forever Bury beer festivals, which have raised £77,000 over the years. This year it's being held on May 16-18 in the Bury Social Club, at Gigg Lane, featuring 51 real ales at £2 a pint, as well as food and live music on Thursday and Saturday nights. If that sounds like a naked and shameless sales pitch, it is. If you're in the area - go.

The worry is that, while the problems back in 2002 could largely be attributed to an identifiable cause, this time it feels like part of a more general decline. There are several reasons for the troubles Bury find themselves in, and none of them easily solveable.

Giffard explains: "Bury is a small town and in recent years it has lost a lot of its industry leading to people leaving the town. The space created by this has been taken up by many people moving into the area who have no affinity for the club.

"With the team really struggling this season the gates have dropped alarmingly leaving the club running on fresh air. Costs have risen and we happen to be in the worst area for policing costs, as Dave Whelan at Wigan can testify."

Bury also have the problem of being a small club in perhaps the most over-populated football area in the country. "People are much more mobile than back in the fifties and with six Premier League clubs and seven Championship clubs less than an hour away, they have a choice of who to watch," Giffard explains.

There will be some who argue, not without reason, that football clubs are businesses, and when businesses fail, they die. However, that doesn't mean Bury should just fold without any fight - this club is part of people's lives, and it would take a particularly cold-hearted bastard to shrug as 128 years of history disappear.

Giffard and Forever Bury are trying to keep their club alive. For that reason alone, you should care what happens to this old club.


Details of the Forever Bury beer festival are here, and for more information on the group and what they do, visit ForeverBury.org. Follow them on Twitter here.

Nick Miller - follow him on Twitter

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