FLASHBACK: Newport County’s Mickey Demetriou keeps a close eye on Nicky Maynard, one of Bury’s big signings last season
THIS could be the final week of Bury Football Club’s proud 134-year history and, if the worst happens, the pain at Gigg Lane will be shared by those fans who remember the demise of the old Newport County back in 1989.
Yesterday marked 30 years to the day since Newport AFC played their first competitive game – six months after County went out of business in February 1989.
The revived club became Newport County AFC 10 years later but it was a long and winding road, full of potholes, back to the big time.
After relegation to the Conference in May 1988 and liquidation with debts of £330,000 the following year, it was a quarter of a century before they made it back to the Football League in 2013.
That could easily be the fate of Bury, who started the season with a 12-point deduction as a result of agreeing a Company Voluntary Agreement (CVA) to reduce debts and have since seen their first five fixtures postponed by the EFL.
The authorities are demanding proof that owner Steve Dale, who paid £1 to take over the crisis club from Stewart Day last December, can settle with creditors and fund the Shakers going forwards.
The EFL has set a deadline of this Friday for the club to prove their financial viability or face expulsion, which would end their 125 year stay in the Football League.
That drastic outcome doesn’t happen often.
Rushden & Diamonds and Darlington, both opponents of the Exiles in their non-league days, have both gone bust in this decade.
But Aldershot and Maidstone United were the last clubs to resign from the League in 1992 and before that it was Accrington Stanley in 1962.
Current County boss Michael Flynn was just eight when his hometown club went bust – part of a lost generation of fans who supported Liverpool, Manchester United, or even Cardiff City instead.
But he remembers the void left behind, as does any fan who followed the Ironsides in the 1980s.
“It’s the supporters I feel sorry for because us, as a football club, have been through this and it’s not nice,” said Flynn when asked about Bury’s plight last week.
“It’s awful, actually. And the people who suffer are the supporters.
“Bury has been going for 134 years so it’s sad to see.
“It happened here and I think there will be a few dark days ahead if they do go.
“It’s not going to be a flash in the pan and it’ll all be turned around – it will take a long time.
“There’s no guarantee that they will keep winning whatever leagues they go into and get back up the pyramid quickly.
“It’s not that easy. We know – it took us 25 years to get back to the Football League and that’s a long time.”
It took Accrington 28 years to return after they reformed in 1968 and, while they managed it in 16 years, Aldershot are now back in non-league with the reformed Maidstone United.
Anyone who has seen their club go to the wall, and plenty who haven’t, will have sympathy for fans of the Shakers.
But how much sympathy should we have for the owners of these clubs?
Bury obviously overspent to finish second and achieve automatic promotion from League Two last season – denying fourth-placed Mansfield Town a place in League One – and they somehow managed to rack up debts reported to be around £12m before the CVA.
“They [the EFL] have got to do something,” added Flynn. “How have they been allowed to get into that much debt?
“Without knowing the ins and outs, it’s a crazy situation to be in in this day and age.”
Bury are not the only team in trouble, of course.
Bolton Wanderers, who also started the League One season on -12 points, have postponed tonight’s clash with Doncaster Rovers due to ‘welfare concerns’ for the young players in their squad.
And Coventry City, who are playing their ‘home’ games in Birmingham this season, are never far away from crisis.
County would have been in deep trouble if Flynn and his team hadn’t pulled off the Great Escape in 2017.
Even now, it is only the remarkable FA Cup runs of the past two years that mean the club is in a relatively healthy financial situation.
The problems at Bury and Bolton show that, in the lower leagues, the continued existence of your football club cannot be taken for granted.