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EFL asked to apologise to Bury fans and staff

The Shakers were expelled from the league in August.

The EFL has been criticised for its role in the folding of Bury in August (Peter Byrne/PA)
The EFL has been criticised for its role in the folding of Bury in August (Peter Byrne/PA)

By Jamie Gardner, PA Chief Sports Reporter

The English Football League has been asked to apologise and make reparations to the supporters and staff of Bury and told it has to “share the blame” for the club’s demise.

The Digital Culture Media and Sport committee heard evidence from EFL executive chair Debbie Jevans, Football Association chairman Greg Clarke and Premier League interim chief executive Richard Masters last month concerning how the club came to be expelled from the league in August over a failure to provide financial guarantees.

DCMS committee chair Damian Collins made some damning comments in a letter published on Tuesday which he sent to the EFL, the FA and Jonathan Taylor QC, the barrister leading the EFL’s independent governance review.

Collins wrote: “From the evidence we have received, we believe that the failure to enforce its own rules and regulations both prior to and following (Steve) Dale’s takeover of the club contributed to the problems that ultimately led to Bury’s expulsion.

“The EFL was warned about the club’s finances and ownership, and had multiple opportunities to intervene, but did not do so in an effective or timely enough way to prevent the club’s problems from escalating.

“As such, we conclude that the EFL has failed in its duty to Bury FC and its supporters. We recommend that the EFL formally apologises to the club’s staff and supporters and makes reparations for associated loss of earnings.”

Bury’s bid to be reinstated in League Two for the 2020-21 season was rejected by the remaining 71 member clubs in September.

A winding-up petition against the club was adjourned last week until December 4, with plans already under way to form a ‘phoenix’ club.

Collins added: “Systematic and structural problems are responsible for the tragic expulsion of Bury FC from the league this year.

“These failures were avoidable, and it is essential that the authorities urgently overhaul their framework if they wish to avoid the same fate befalling other clubs.

“We heard time and again that supporters felt powerless as they watched their beloved club suffer shocking mismanagement and financial misconduct. The authorities must learn to respect, and act upon, these concerns.

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Messages from supporters are placed on a fence outside Gigg Lane (Dave Howarth/PA)

“If the reforms we recommend are not introduced forthwith, the only alternative is for the Government to step in.”

The EFL later released a statement saying the responsibility for what happened to Bury lay solely with the current and former owners.

It added: “We very much recognise the real distress felt by Bury FC supporters. Withdrawing membership was a very difficult decision to have to take at the time and we regret that such a course of action was required.

“However, we stand behind the decisions taken in respect of Bury FC, which were applied in accordance with rules in place at the time.

“The EFL recognises that there are lessons to be learned to reduce the likelihood of a similar situation arising in the future, and as has been communicated previously, work is under way to understand whether it may be appropriate to modify our regulations and procedures to support the long-term financial sustainability of clubs.”

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Bury were expelled from the EFL in August (Peter Byrne/PA)

The committee was concerned that further clubs could suffer unless “decisive action” is taken and highlighted “structural failings” in the administration of clubs.

Collins’ letter called for the introduction of a licensing authority for would-be club owners and enhanced regulatory authority for the FA.

It also recommended changes to the EFL’s owners’ and directors’ test, with Collins saying this must be passed before a new owner is able to buy a club.

If there is no licensing system and the test is not met, Collins said the club in question should be suspended from the league until the test is passed. The letter recommended introducing an obligation on owners to produce a business plan before buying a club, and before each new season.

It also recommended an outright ban on borrowing against fixed assets, such as a club’s stadium, other than for capital projects.

PA

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