When Bury FC was expelled from the English Football League in August 2019, its supporters were left with no team to follow and a hole in their Saturday afternoons. Many have found it too painful to watch any football since. But they hope the club can somehow be revived. Photographer Madeleine Penfold has been following them.
Every other Saturday, Kenny Hindle would leave his sheltered housing, take the bus into town, go for a pint and then watch the team he has supported for more than 70 years.
Not any more. Bury FC was ejected from league football in August after the collapse of a takeover bid and its failure to provide financial guarantees.
“What do you do without bloody football?” says Hindle, who is 78. “Bit boring when you just watch TV.”
Kenny isn’t alone in feeling bereft. The new MP for Bury North, James Daly, used his maiden speech in the House of Commons to say the loss of football at Bury FC “has increased social isolation” and that some supporters “no longer see the friends they have made over a lifetime”.
When the turnstiles closed for the last time at Bury’s ground, Gigg Lane, fans left shirts, scarves, flags and messages outside.
Some of them are inscribed with the words “Dale out” – a reference to the deeply unpopular owner who bought the club for a £1 and didn’t pay the players for weeks on end.
For fans who have a long relationship with the club, it’s difficult seeing Gigg Lane lie empty. Joy Hart, a former director of the club, chained herself to a drainpipe outside the stadium during protests in August last year. Her father, Les – a former Bury player and manager – has a stand named after him, and she has faith that Bury FC will rise from the ashes.
She says, “I think we will all come together, and that’s all we need for Gigg Lane to rise again.”
No football will be played at Gigg Lane this season but the company that owns the club has not yet been liquidated. So groundsman Mike Curtis, who has worked at Bury FC – nicknamed the Shakers – for over three decades, continues to keep the pitch match-ready.
Without football on Saturday afternoons, many of the pubs around Gigg Lane began to suffer financially, because supporters were no longer meeting there for drinks before and after matches.
Some fans came up with a plan – Saturday afternoon meet-ups at three of the pubs and clubs that have suffered the most, with recordings of old Bury matches played on the screens and memories shared.
Also just down the road from Gigg Lane is Daphne’s Cafe. When the players trained nearby they came to Daphne’s for their breakfasts.
These days Debra Melia runs a quieter cafe, with the main morning trade coming from students at the local college.
Former club photographer Zoe Hitchen put together an exhibition in Manchester celebrating the club’s 134-year-history from the point of view of the fans. She wanted to hold it because she felt “the true value of Bury FC – which is people and community – has been forgotten”.
She adds: “I care because that football club was my extended family.”
In October 2019 some fans organised a fundraising match between former players which took place at nearby Radcliffe FC.
The teams were led on to the pitch by Kenny Hindle.
The match was sold out and raised over £14,000 to revive the club – either to support any buyer who came forward to purchase the existing Bury FC, or to set up a new, “phoenix” side.
A new club, named Bury AFC after a vote among fans, has applied to join the North West Counties League. They are looking into ground-sharing for the 2020-21 season and hope, eventually, to play at Gigg Lane.
Dominic Martinez is a project manager by profession. In recent months he has been one of the volunteers devoting any available time to setting up the phoenix club.
“I could live without Bury football club for the rest of my life, I’ve got the memories, I’ve been to Wembley, I’ve seen championships,” he says. But he wants the same thing for the next generation: “My son is never going to have that unless I do something.”
Four hundred fans came to Bury Town Hall in December to hear about options for the future of football in Bury. They were told that a consortium was in talks to buy the club from its current owner. Entrepreneur Robert Benwell outlined his plan if the current club goes into liquidation. Chris Murray from the phoenix club said: “We’ve ensured that there will at least be some football played in Bury in ’20-21.”
Byron Rudravajhala was born on the day in January 2019 that Bury came back from 3-1 down to beat MK Dons 4-3, when both teams were still playing in League Two. His dad, Sanny, managed to take his son to one game before the club stopped playing. He says: “One thing I really was looking forward to as a new dad was taking my son to the football. Hopefully that can happen again in the future.”
Photos by Madeleine Penfold
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