A Tale of Two Towns
Can Bury AFC learn from the Rise of Barry Town United
August 27th, 2019 is a day etched forever in the hearts of Bury FC. This was the day their club was expelled from the football league. For 135 years the people of Bury have been going to support their team. In administration and failing to find a buyer the EFL made the decision to remove them from league one.
An EFL statement said, “I understand this will be deeply upsetting and devastating time for Bury's players, staff, supporters and the wider community”.
Bury supporters are starting to split at a time when unity is needed. A phoenix club has been formed (Bury AFC) whilst the original club is still operating. Chris Murray Chairman of the new phoenix club told the Daily Mail “You have good friends arguing and it should never come to that”.
In a statement on Bury FC’s Website “Bury Football Club is not dead as some are asserting and will again be playing football. Steps are being taken to address the recent wrong doings to our club, the truth will prevail”.
It’s not just a football club to a town like bury. Local traders are feeling the loss a match-day. A staff member at Daphne’s café stated in Manchester Evening News “It’s been very quiet; we’ve lost quite a few people. There used to be a buzz around on a Saturday, but that’s no longer the case”.
Kieron Johnson owner of the Swan and Cemetery Pub estimates the pub has lost £3,500 per match-day. “We’ve had to let people go, but there’s nothing we can do about it”. For some supporters even talking about the situation is too much. One twitter poster saying that you couldn’t publish what they had to say.
Bury AFC will play the 2020/2021 season in the North West Counties Football League. Over the past few weeks, they have released kits, gained sponsors and been busy signing players. They will play their home matches at Radcliffe FC’s Neuven Stadium.
This story is very familiar if you are from a town in south Wales. Barry Town were pulled out of the Welsh League in 2013. After a court case the determined fan base now prepare for a second season in Europe. Could there be lessons for the supporters of Bury to follow.
Barry Towns troubles began in 2003 with the club placed in administration. Speaking to long time Barry supporter Ian Johnstone, when the club was in administration a few bids were tabled to buy the club. “The fans backed the bid by Stuart Loovering”.
Problems though were not far away. “He failed to reach an agreement with the Vale of Glamorgan Council, who were the clubs’ landlords”. This lack of agreement with the council meant Barry were forced to play matches away from Jenner Park.
After frequent attempts to sell the club issued supporters with an ultimatum. If you don’t buy the club, I will close it down. Ian Johnstone said, “His relationship with supporters wasn’t always the best, there was a series of people being banned from attending matches”.
The supporters started funding the football side of the club. Ian continued “to the public he is the owner, even if the supporters committee is funding the training and player costs, to the outside world he is Barry Town”.
In 2013 he carried out his threat to close the club. With two games remaining of the season Barry Town were pulled from the League. The playing record was expunged, and Barry Town was gone.
Speaking about that moment Ian said “pulling the club from the league in many ways the best thing that could happen because at that point there was nothing else that could be used or held against the fans. All the fears of the fans went out in one fell swoop because now there was nothing more that could be done. Now everything was in the hands of the fans and the people that cared about the club”.
The club was reformed as Barry Town United. The FAW council recommended that the club play at local league level. The Barry Town Supporters Committee took the FAW to court. The judge of the case stated that the FAW had misinterpreted its own Rules. Given the potential for success and the size of the club they should be given Welsh Division Three status.
With the club now in the hands of the people that cared about it, Barry rose quickly from Division Three back to the Cymru Premier. Three promotions in five years, a Welsh cup semi-Final and a Welsh League final. Three years back in the Cymru Premier and Barry have finished in European qualification places twice.
Speaking on the best moments of Barry’s rise, “a mixture on and off the pitch, on the pitch watching Barry qualify for Europe, promotion back to Cymru Prem after 13 years out. Off the pitch, the community, bringing back the clubhouse. Having the pan disability team, the ladies’ team and the 100's of players playing at the academy”.
So, does taking the reins of Bury FC or getting behind the new AFC Bury club the best way forward. On whether the fan run model should be used by more clubs, Ian said, “some fans want to be involved in the running of the club, some fans just want to turn up and watch a football match”. “What’s important is building in safeguards for someone who has no interest in the community can simply rock up and do what they like”.
What is clear is there is no easy answer. Football clubs are part of a larger community within their area. For supporters, the size or success of their club is less important than having a club to follow. So, whether you’re from Bury or Barry one thing is clear to Ian “football clubs make up a core part of local identity”.