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Bury the hatchet? Two clubs need merger but emotions run high

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Bury AFC have won their first league title, but the schism among the old Bury club’s supporters caused by their formation still hasn’t healed.

 

When the the full-time whistle blew at Stainton Park on Sunday afternoon, hundreds of fans streamed onto the pitch. Becoming the champions of the North West Counties League Division One may not mean a great deal in the overall scheme of football, but it absolutely does when it’s your team who have won the league, and perhaps even more when you’ve been through hell like the supporters of Bury AFC. A 4-0 win against St Helens Town was enough to put the destination of the silverware beyond any doubt. They’ll be playing at Step Five of the English league system next season, all things being equal.

But there is an asterisk hanging over the success that AFC have enjoyed the season, which is the schism between those supporters who, when the old Bury Football Club was expelled from the EFL at the start of the 2019/20 season, decided that they needed to form a new football club as soon as possible and those who believed that Bury Football Club had to be rescued somehow or other. Two-and-a-half years on from the old club’s exit from the League, that schism remains, and until it’s resolved, the return of the game to Bury is somewhat tarnished. It got very personal very quickly, and on the internet at least, the vituperation has hardly eased since.

Bury Football Club still exists to an extent, but to what extent remains questionable. They haven’t played a match since expulsion from the EFL, and although the club’s website still loads, it hasn’t been updated since September 2020 and now seems to exist as a ghost of the past. But for all this, there remain some who have continued to push for the readmission of the original football club back into the non-league pyramid, and they have received not-inconsiderable support from apparent friends in high places.

A consortium led by fans group Est 1885 successfully bought the stadium from administrators last month, as well as Bury FC’s trading name, history and memorabilia, but this required a £1m government grant approved by Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove (the Bury South constituency within which Gigg Lane is located is an extremely marginal seat, which must be some sort of coincidence with regard to this particular club receiving a sum of money towards saving their ground which dozens of non-league clubs would have given their high teeth for over the last few years) and a £450,000 grant from Bury Council to accompany the financial backing of US-based benefactor Peter Alexander to get over that particular line.

So in March 2022, Bury FC have a ground (albeit one that is expensive to maintain and that, at the time of purchase, has been sitting doing nothing for more than two years) and no team, while Bury AFC have a team that has been successful on the pitch but doesn’t have a ground of their own, and the reasonably minded could be persuaded that the easy thing to do would be to merge the two clubs into one. Further progress wouldn’t be guaranteed, but the progress of another reformed club, Macclesfield FC, a division higher shows what could be possible. It wouldn’t be a perfect solution, but it would be an obvious next logical step on the way to rebuilding a football club of which the town could be proud again.

But logic can tend to take something of a back seat when it comes to something that provokes the emotional responses like football, and the possibility of a permanent schism remains very real indeed. When supporters of Enfield Football Club, angered by the decision of the club’s owner to sell their ground and his sluggishness in building a replacement, voted to break away and form their own club in 2001, a small rump stayed behind to continue to keep the old one going.

After struggling along at other clubs’ grounds for a few years, Enfield FC folded in 2007, but those who wanted to keep the old club going reformed as Enfield 1893. Fifteen years on the schism remains, and even though 1893 even briefly ground-shared with the new club, Enfield Town, for the 2010/11 season, attempts to merge the clubs together have proved unsuccessful. Having dropped the ‘1893’ part of their name in 2019, they continue to play in the Essex Senior League, 25 miles from Enfield in Bishops Stortford. A similar situation came to pass in Cheshire a few years later, when supporters of Northwich Victoria broke away to form their own club, 1874 Northwich. The scars caused by that haven’t fully healed.

There have remained some Bury supporters who have continued to hold out the hope that Bury FC could be readmitted into the game at a higher level because of their former EFL status, but this seems unlikely after three seasons without a game, even considering how unprecedented this situation is and was. Allowing a club to join any division pushes everyone else down the pecking order by a place, and when the club is likely to attract far bigger crowds (and therefore generate far more money), that matters. It is not yet known at what level Bury FC would be allowed back, but what is known is that, subject to ground regulations, Bury AFC moving into Gigg Lane and merging the operations of the two clubs would appear the be the most sensible and healthy way for things to move forward. One club would clearly be the best outcome for the town.

There are causes for optimism on this front. The Bury FC Supporters Society congratulated Bury AFC on their league title win, while Bury AFC did release a statement in which they confirmed that ‘We remain of the view that Bury is best served by one club representing the town’. And for all that there has been a lot of angry noise from people who clearly want to completely go their separate ways, the suspicion remains that there may be a less noisy majority who would just like the pain of the last few years to be forgotten and get on with the job of trying to regain the EFL place that was lost in August 2019. It’s time to bury those hatchets and bring the club back together again, because the schism that has come to exist surrounding this club has done nobody any good whatsoever.

The post Bury the hatchet? Two clubs need merger but emotions run high appeared first on Football365.

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