Hundreds of volunteers have taken part in a clean-up operation at Bury Football Club’s stadium as the future of two of England’s longest-running clubs hung in the balance.
Meanwhile, Bolton Wanderers have the same deadline to make takeover progress or they could also face expulsion from the league they helped to found in 1888.
At Bury’s homely Gigg Lane stadium, which opened in 1885, nearly 400 people put on washing-up gloves and grabbed mops and buckets on Tuesday morning in the hope the club will play their delayed first game of the season on Saturday.
Bury’s first five league games have been postponed due to the turmoil surroundings the club’s ownership. Fans hope that an 11th-hour deal – which first emerged two hours before the deadline on Friday night – crosses the line by 5pm.
The local MP, Ivan Lewis, was among scores of people helping to clean the stadium’s famous blue and white seats on Tuesday morning, many having travelled for miles to help out.
“It’s very, very moving in many ways,” he said. “To see this reaction from Bury supporters, from people who live in the town who maybe aren’t football fans – we’ve got people here from Blackpool. This is a tremendous outpouring of community spirit. I’ll be honest, out of adversity over the last few weeks and months this town has really shown its strength.”
Lewis, the independent MP for Bury South, said both Bury and Bolton were in “the last-chance saloon” and that the crisis raised serious questions about the governance of English football.
He added: “People are absolutely tenacious, passionate, determined to keep this club going, both for what it represents in terms of traditions of the town, but also it means so much to two, three, four generations in some families for whom this club has been everything.
“You can see a reaction today like you wouldn’t see in many other communities or clubs. People scrubbing the seats, getting the stadium ready, and optimistic and hopeful that the first game of the season will be on Saturday. It’s very, very powerful.”
Dave Gifford, the chair of the Bury supporters’ trust Forever Bury, said he was “quietly confident, but not 100%” that the club could be saved by 5pm. Some volunteers had driven 300 miles to take part in the cleanup operation, he said, with plumbers, bricklayers, electricians all chipping in alongside fans of rival clubs including Leeds United, Accrington Stanley and Blackpool.
“We’ve cleaned every seat, so we want to see someone sat in every seat on Saturday,” Gifford said, adding that the atmosphere inside the 11,840-capacity stadium would be “absolutely phenomenal” if the club survives.
“It’s been the most difficult four months for us as fans. It’s been the most difficult six years for us,” he said. “We just want to have a total rethink about how this club operates and be involved with the new owners. Hopefully they’ve got a clean slate to start the club with and we’ll look forward to helping them let it grow.”
The two-time FA Cup winners have faced a tumultuous 20 years off the pitch, having narrowly avoided going bust in both 2002 and 2012. Last season’s ownership drama formed the backdrop to a successful period on the pitch, with the club winning promotion to League One, the third tier of English football.
Carrying her gloves, bucket and sponge, 72-year-old Joan Lingard was cleaning the stadium’s seats by 9am on Tuesday. It would be “absolutely awful” for Bury if its club disappeared, she said.
“Everybody’s come down, whether they come to the matches or not. I’d hate to see it go. Next to Bury black puddings, this is the next thing, Gigg Lane. The two are synonymous,” she said.
Ian Frazer, 48, a Leeds fan, set off at 8am to make the 41-mile trip to Gigg Lane to take part in the cleanup, motivated by the financial crisis experienced by his own club 12 years ago. Wearing a Leeds shirt while scrubbing pigeon droppings off Bury’s Manchester Road stand, Frazer said: “It’s simple stuff like this that’s fantastic to see – all the kids here. I kind of welled up when I got here.”