Bury have been expelled by the English Football League after a takeover bid from C&N Sporting Risk collapsed.
The League One club had been given until 17:00 BST on Tuesday to complete the deal, having been granted an extension to Friday’s initial deadline.
Bury are the first team to drop out of the EFL since Maidstone’s liquidation in 1992.
League One will comprise 23 clubs for the rest of the season, with only three teams to be relegated.
“When the news broke at Gigg Lane, fans instantly let out a huge cry – for help, of disbelief,” said BBC Radio Manchester’s Mike Minay.
“Fans walked away in instant tears, some crouching down to the floor.”
EFL executive chair Debbie Jevans said it was “one of the darkest days” in the league’s history, and added: “I understand this will be a deeply upsetting and devastating time for Bury’s players, staff, supporters and the wider community.
“There is no doubt today’s news will be felt across the entire football family.”
Bolton Wanderers, also of League One, have been given 14 days to avoid being expelled themselves, with their prospective takeover by Football Ventures (Whites) Limited still yet to go through.
In a statement on Monday, the club’s administrators warned they are on the brink of liquidation, saying if they were unable to resurrect the move the club was “not in a position to carry on trading”.
However they said on Tuesday they will “continue to work through the night” to complete a deal, adding that there will be another update “as soon as possible”.
‘No-one wanted to be in this position’
The EFL had suspended each of Bury’s first six fixtures this season, requesting evidence the Shakers could pay off creditors and had the funding to make it through the campaign.
In a statement at 23:05 BST on Tuesday, the league said it decided “after a long and detailed discussion” to withdraw Bury’s EFL membership “with enormous regret”.
“No-one wanted to be in this position but following repeated missed deadlines, the suspension of five league fixtures, in addition to not receiving the evidence we required in regard to financial commitments and a possible takeover not materialising; the EFL board has been forced to take the most difficult of decisions,” Jevans said.
Bury were initially given until 23:59 BST on Friday to either provide the required information or find a buyer to take them over.
With the third-tier side effectively an hour from being thrown out of the EFL, owner Steve Dale told BBC Radio Manchester he had sold the club and they were set to survive.
That news subsequently secured them an extension until Tuesday to complete the deal, but C&N Sporting Risk quickly expressed concern it was still not enough time.
An estimated 300 volunteers turned up at the club’s Gigg Lane home on Tuesday to help get the ground ready for Saturday’s scheduled game against Doncaster Rovers, but their efforts were in vain.
Reacting to news of the Shakers’ expulsion, Bury North MP James Frith was critical of the EFL and claimed there was a lack of consistency in how it has treated the situations at Bury and Bolton – allowing Bolton to play games but not Bury, for example.
“I’m angry. My head is in my hands. I feel Bury is the victim… and those left to pick up the pieces are the town and the community. Yes we will rise again and keep the faith but we shouldn’t be at this point,” he told BBC Radio 5 Live.
“We have to make this a moment in time for lower league football. We are just the latest victim of this. I have had clubs speak to me who are a default payment on a mortgage away from this.”
Founded in 1885 and first elected to the EFL nine years later, Bury were playing in what is now known as the Championship as recently as 1999 and have twice won the FA Cup.
No club has ever dropped out of the third tier before, and the Shakers also become the first FA Cup winners to have been expelled by the EFL.
England women’s manager Phil Neville, whose mother Jill resigned as Bury’s club secretary last week, described their demise as an “absolute disgrace” on Friday.
Supporters staged numerous protests in the build-up to the deadline, with former director Joy Hart handcuffing herself to a drainpipe outside their ground and a coffin reading ‘RIP Bury FC 1885-?’ was placed at the directors’ entrance.
Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham also wrote to EFL chief Jevans asking for the club to be granted more time “given the urgency of Bury’s plight”.
How did it come to this?
At the end of April, Bury were celebrating promotion back to the third tier of English football, but they were already enduring a torrid time off the pitch.
The club was already in financial trouble when Dale bought it for £1 in December from previous owner Stewart Day, with players and staff often being paid late.
A winding-up petition filed against the club was adjourned three times before eventually being dismissed by the High Court on 31 July.
By then, creditors had approved a company voluntary arrangement (CVA) put forward by Dale, which was proposed to help settle some of their debts.
The CVA meant unsecured creditors, including HM Revenue & Customs, would be paid 25% of the money owed – but also triggered a 12-point deduction in the League One table under EFL rules.
Furthermore, the EFL were unsatisfied Bury had given enough evidence of their financial viability, leading to a string of postponed fixtures while the organisation awaited “the clarity required”.
On 9 August, the Shakers were given a 14-day deadline to provide the necessary information or face expulsion. That deadline expired at 23:59 BST on Friday.
How will it impact the league structure?
The EFL had already outlined how it intended to balance the leagues if Bury were expelled:
- The current League One season would be completed with 23 teams, with the number of relegation places reduced to three.
- Four teams will still be promoted from League Two this season, ensuring League One is rebalanced in 2020-21.
- Only one team will be relegated from League Two, with two to be promoted from the National League as usual.
What next for Bury?
It is not yet certain what will happen to Bury Football Club, its staff and players or the stadium.
Paul Wilkinson was appointed manager on 2 July, but has not taken charge of a game.
Before Saturday’s announcement, the EFL said if the Shakers were expelled the club would “be free to make an application to the Football Association to rejoin league competition further down the English football pyramid from season 2020-21”.