One of England's oldest clubs, Bury FC, was expelled from the Football League yesterday for failing to meet their financial requirements, and Bolton Wanderers given a fortnight's stay of execution as they continue to search for a buyer to save the club.
I've been to watch Bury a few times over the years, often when the Premier League was on an international break, and until the late 90s paid on the turnstile to stand in the appropriately named Cemetery End at their home ground, Gigg Lane (still homeless Swinton rugby league club and fan-owned breakaway FC United have also played there in the past). I always found it charming that, as well as their 1900 and 1903 FA Cup wins, the honours list printed in the matchday programme also included their highest League position, a fourth place finish in the First Division in 1926.
Of course, Bury's location just a few miles north of Manchester, which makes it a shortish bus or tram journey for a casual fan like me, is also one of its problems, given the proximity of the two big Manchester clubs, and, as in other nearby towns such as Oldham and Stockport, there are probably as many City and United fans there as there are those of the hometown team (Stockport, like Tranmere Rovers on Merseyside, got round that for a while by playing on Friday nights).
The other problem facing small clubs like Bury is the huge inequality of income within the football pyramid (you could argue that the start of that was the abolition of the maximum wage for players in the early 60s which saw the decline of other Lancashire mill and seaside town clubs Bolton, Burnley and Blackpool). A fan outside Gigg Lane on TV last night said that Premier League clubs would come to rue letting small town lower league clubs like Bury go to the wall as they produce young players for them, but I think the former can probably now rely on their own academy systems and scouting networks to identify and attract both local and international prospects.
For Bury fans wondering how to spend their Saturday afternoons after the club's liquidation - and for those of Bolton who seem set to follow them - the answer is surely to do what supporters of other "lost clubs" like Accrington and Wimbledon have done and re-form as a non-league side and begin the ascent up the divisions again.
In my first phone call to the club's ticket office twenty-odd years ago, I learnt as soon as the woman there picked up the phone that while to outsiders the town and club is "Berry", to locals it is definitely "Burry".