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Bury The Bleak Reality Facing Small Teams

Thursday Sep 5, 2019

 When Bury Football Club was unceremoniously kicked out of the Football League at the end of August, it was the ultimate nightmare for thousands of Bury fans.

 The club, with 125 years of history, has been at the heart of the town for longer than any of the current fans have been alive. Many of the people who've lost the chance to go and support their home team on Saturdays will be remembering the first time they ever went to a game at Gigg Lane. In the majority of cases, they'll have been taken by their fathers. Their fathers, in turn, were probably taken by their own fathers before them. Decades of tradition have been torn about by the greed and ineptitude of rogue owners - and at the same time, a worrying message has been sent about how English football treats its smaller clubs. 


 At Tamworth, we’re in what many clubs would consider to be a fortunate situation. We own our stadium. We have stable ownership. We may not be the very largest club in the division, but we’re not under any undue financial pressure. Bob Andrews is still looking to deliver on the promises he made a couple of seasons ago, and Tamworth is geared up to make slow and steady progress up the divisions. It could just as easily not be this way, though.

 With the best will in the world, Bob Andrews will not be the chairman and owner of the Lambs forever. He seems to be in fine health, and we hope he stays in charge for as long as he's healthy and happy, but he's a man in his mid-70s. He's been in charge of the club for several decades, but it will not be forever before someone else has to take up the reigns. When that happens, Tamworth FC will be looking for somebody else to come and become the custodian of our fine club - and that's a reason to be concerned.

 Too Many Sharks

 Down at our level, the vetting that’s carried out on the prospective owner of a football club isn’t as thorough as it’s supposed to be in the English Football League. Based on the standard of checking that was applied to Steve Dale at Bury - who was waved through with what now appears to be almost no due diligence whatsoever - the fit and proper test at what’s supposed to be a professional level of football isn’t fit for purpose. 


 The story of Dale and Bury isn’t an isolated incident. We can go back ten years and look at what happened to Notts County as evidence of that. A foreign consortium was allowed to come in, appointed Sven Goran Erikkson as Director of Football, and signed big-name players like Sol Campbell. Weeks later, Campbell was gone. A few short months after that, the club was in severe debt, Erikkson was gone, and another one of English football’s most famous teams was staring down the barrel of oblivion. In the time since, we’ve seen ownership problems at Blackpool, Blackburn, Hull, Charlton, Leeds, Portsmouth, Coventry, and several more sides. County managed to find new owners, and avoid the bullet. Bury weren’t so lucky. 

 If such scant protection is afforded to football teams in the professional divisions, we shudder to think how little there is in the way of oversight when someone comes to take ownership of a non-league team. It's been a very long time since anybody at Tamworth has had to think about it, but when that moment does come, it's likely to fill us with dread. A new owner coming in and promising big money and forward momentum should, by rights, be an exciting time for football fans. If recent form in the big leagues to go by, it's more akin to a white-knuckle ride, during which nobody can be taken at their word, and nothing will be done to protect a team from parties who might do them harm. 

 Spinners And Losers

 Back when football clubs were seen as part of their local communities instead of investments for rich businessmen to speculate on, it would be reasonable to assume that whoever came to own a football club was a fan of the side, and would have its best interests at heart. In the modern age, that’s no longer the case. Owners can come from anywhere - and if they come from outside the network of supporters, there’s a very real chance that their primary interest is in making money from the fan base before moving on. 

 As should be obvious, it isn't possible to make money from the ownership of a football club. Many sides operate on a knife-edge, and can fall the wrong side of it at any given time. Bolton Wanderers - who played in Europe barely ten years ago - serve as chilling evidence of that. For too many rich investors, a football club is nothing but a slots casino. They come, in, put a little money in, and see if they win any profit as a result. When players aren't winning at mobile slots games, they simply stop betting and walk away. If nobody ever comes to play the mobile slots game again, it's taken offline through lack of interest. Nobody mourns the passing of a mobile slots game - they're easily replaceable. Football clubs aren't. As Wimbledon, Maidenhead and Aldershot fans can tell you, rebuilding a club from scratch is an arduous and difficult task, and not everybody can do it. Bury are currently waiting to hear whether they'll be granted an exception to play in League 2 next season under new ownership. If they're not, there may never be a football team of equivalent size in Bury again.

 When larger clubs fold, all teams of Tamworth’s size can do is look at them and count our blessings that it didn’t happen to us. Given the billions of pounds that are floating around in the upper tiers of the English game, it seems wrong that the clubs lower down the divisions don’t have a better form of defence than hoping and wishing. If English football authorities don’t develop better protections for clubs outside of the all-hallowed Premier League in the very near future, the soul of the game might be gone for good.

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