IAN HERBERT: Clubs in the lower leagues like Bury and Bolton are wilting due to power of Premier League
- Bury, formed in 1885, were expelled from the Football League on Tuesday night
- Bolton administrator Paul Appleton says the future of the club ‘is still in doubt’
- Bolton’s storied 145-year history is very much hanging in the balance
- Bury’s proposed takeover by C&N Sporting Risk fell through on Tuesday evening
For Sky Sports News, it was a heaven-sent opportunity for theatre. The broadcaster provided a dismally misjudged Deadline Day ticker for Bolton and Bury’s countdown to a possible 5pm date with oblivion.
The fate of the odd small club or two is apparently immaterial when you’re throwing £5.1billion at the Premier League.
The Bury management’s judgment was little better.
Bury have been expelled from the Football League after a 134-year history
Before the desperate news late last night that the 134-year-old club is being expelled from the Football League, they made it their priority to issue a statement warning supporters not to attempt to gain access to the stadium, on threat of CCTV evidence being used against them.
The early 21st century history of Bolton, who last night remained on the same treacherous path as the club eight miles up the A58, demonstrates that drama like this is not inevitable. Bolton were a superbly run outfit in the 1990s when the Warburton bread- making family saw that a modern stadium could help make the club profitable. They were beating Manchester City to hospitality box clients just before Abu Dhabi money washed in down the road.
Bolton found an on-the-up 45-year-old manager Sam Allardyce and he scoured Europe for cheap or loan players — Youri Djorkaeff, Jay-Jay Okocha and Ivan Campo.
Chief executive Alan Duckworth, an ex-Umbro chief financial officer, covered the risk of those deals by building in heavy relegation clauses. But dependency on a benefactor is a risk that can’t be negotiated away, as Bolton have discovered. They won’t be the last Lancashire club facing this threat. There but for the grace of God go Morecambe and Oldham.
The proposed takeover of League One club Bury by C&N Sporting Risk fell through on Tuesday
Allardyce’s staff remember him attending a fund-raising event for Burnley, also on their uppers while he was at Bolton.
‘All clubs in the lower two leagues are struggling and 90 per cent depend on benefactors,’ one chief executive told Sportsmail. ‘The saying in the game is “every club is for sale”.’
Clubs are clinging on, in a sport where the money increasingly coalesces around the elite, whose vast digital appeal makes new fans increasingly hard to attract. No fewer than 31 of the 48 clubs in the bottom two leagues averaged crowds last season that were less than half their stadium capacity.
There are stories of revival which demonstrate the game is not up for clubs who accept more straitened times. Stockport County attracted crowds of 5,500 last season again as they were promoted back to the National League, where they have started well despite their top earners making no more than £550 a- week.
Allardyce’s Bolton players didn’t get bonuses when they reached the Europa League but the environment was so life-affirming that Stelios Giannakopoulos turned down a move to Liverpool to stay.
‘There’s no bad organisation. People make them bad,’ said a former senior Bolton executive. ‘You need good innovation and fiscal responsibility. You can’t buy your way to the next level.’
Bolton are one of the 12 original founding members of the Football League