Four months after celebrating promotion to League One, Bury now find themselves without a league altogether.
The Shakers were expelled by the English Football League on Tuesday having failed in their bid to secure a buyer for the club.
They had been given until 17:00 BST to prove they could pay off creditors and had the funding to last the season but, when a proposed takeover by C&N Sporting Risk fell apart, so did their survival hopes.
Their expulsion means they are the first side to drop out of the EFL since Maidstone were liquidated in 1992.
But how did it come to this for a club with 134 years of history and two FA Cup wins?
‘If I don’t do the job, slag me off – easy as that’
Steve Dale completed his takeover of Bury Football Club from former owner Stewart Day on 11 December last year.
In a news conference following the takeover, Dale said he bought the club after being given a “second chance” following a battle with leukaemia.
Even before Dale’s arrival, there was financial trouble at Gigg Lane. It had been reported the players’ November wages had been delayed before eventually being paid on the day of Day’s departure.
There were to be more issues with payment of salaries to come, however.
Dale told BBC Radio Manchester at the time: “We’re not magicians, it [the club] is in a mess and we will turn it around but if people are expecting big grand gestures and all of that, you’ll get none of that from me.
“I’ll do the job and then you can pat me on the head after. If I don’t do the job, slag me off – easy as that.”
Problems at Bury continue
Fast forward to April. As the end of the 2018-19 season approached, things were progressing well for the Shakers on the pitch. Legendary Bury player-turned-manager Ryan Lowe led them to the brink of promotion from League Two.
However, off the pitch, the problems began to mount up. Former head coach Chris Brass issued a winding-up petition against the club over unpaid wages, which was taken over by HM Revenue & Customs.
It was the second time in two months the Shakers had been in the High Court after a bid by HMRC to wind them up was dismissed in February, with Dale saying Bury’s financial position was “significantly worse” than he believed it to be before his December takeover.
“While many would have walked away having unearthed the true position of the club, that’s simply not my style,” he said.
“But nor am I a never-ending ATM machine. Fiscal prudence and fans through the turnstiles are what will ultimately safeguard the future of our club.”
Player and staff salaries, which had been due on 29 March, went unpaid with the club initially saying on 2 April they were working to resolve “unforeseen circumstances” which led to the delay.
Director Matthew McCarthy later apologised for the off-field problems, while the EFL said they were “extremely concerned” about the club’s situation.
Just five months after taking over, Dale put Bury up for sale, again reiterating that their troubles “turned out to be far in excess of what we could have comprehended”.
As the season reached its end and the Shakers closed in on automatic promotion, their game against Colchester United almost did not take place until an agreement was made over unpaid wages.
Bury then went on to seal promotion with a 1-1 draw against Tranmere on 30 April.
A summer to forget begins
Although the season ended and promotion was sealed, a summer to forget began for Bury, with midfielder Neil Danns claiming the players agreed not to talk about the club’s financial issues so as not to impact their bid for promotion, something echoed by fellow midfielder Nicky Adams.
The Professional Footballers’ Association stepped in to pay 50% of money owed for March and April’s salaries to Bury’s players who are PFA members, while fans raised “in the region of £900” of shopping vouchers to help staff who had not been paid their wages as scheduled.
The winding-up petition served against the club was eventually adjourned to allow it to be sold after the High Court was told there were three prospective purchasers who had shown an interest.
So exasperated with going unpaid and the way in which Dale was running the club, the Shakers’ players issued a statement urging the owner to “walk away” if he received an offer to sell, with Dale responding in a lengthy statement saying he hoped that the players’ issues could be resolved.
Staring down a 12-point deduction for entering into a plan to clear some of the club’s debts in the form of a company voluntary arrangement (CVA), the club were eventually left without the majority of the squad that had led them to promotion, with many rejoining Lowe at Plymouth after the 40-year-old joined Argyle.
Ex-Everton striker Paul Wilkinson was then named Bury manager less than two weeks after signing a two-year deal as Truro City boss.
A season that did not start
As the 2019-20 season approached, the club’s creditors approved the CVA first proposed in June and therefore Bury were handed a 12-point penalty by the EFL for entering into an insolvency event.
Before the season even started, doubt was cast on Bury’s opening game of the campaign against MK Dons with the club given a deadline to prove their financial viability.
The winding-up petition which had drawn on over the summer was dismissed by the High Court after three adjournments, but matches against Accrington and Sheffield Wednesday were suspended as the Shakers were given 14 days to provide evidence they had funding for the season and could meet the terms of the CVA – or lose their place in the EFL.
Heading into the final week before the deadline, the club were withdrawn from the Carabao Cup and had a sixth game of 2019-20 suspended. The EFL insisted no more matches could be called off.
An extraordinary week at Gigg Lane
That final postponement – Saturday’s match against Tranmere Rovers – was to spark a remarkable seven days in the life and demise of Bury.
Firstly, club secretary Jill Neville – mother of England women boss Phil, former Manchester United defender Gary and former England netball coach Tracey – resigned after almost 30 years in the position.
With Friday’s 23:59 BST deadline looming, ex-director Joy Hart, whose father Les was ‘Mr Bury’, chained herself to the stand which bears the name of her father in protest at the way the club has been run.
Fans then carried a coffin with ‘RIP Bury FC 1885-?’ in an act of symbolism over just how dire the club’s position had become.
The EFL would go on to offer some brief hope with the mention of a possible 48-hour extension if Dale could find a buyer – and the organisation was true to its word when news of C&N Sporting Risk’s interest broke with an hour to go.
Given until Tuesday to get a deal across the line, the analytics company worked over the Bank Holiday weekend to complete what they described as a “very complicated” takeover.
It proved too complicated and, with the second deadline having passed, the EFL took the decision to remove Bury from its leagues.