Maidstone United are on the way back. Bury’s future is now in the hands of other league members. In this feature, I present the stories of both clubs and draw parallels in these dark times where for both, brighter times may be just around the corner.
1992 of course sees a parallel with our very own Aldershot and back then, The Telegraph reported this re Maidstone United:
Maidstone resign from League as debts rise
MAIDSTONE United, troubled by substantial debts and 20 miles from their natural home, yesterday resigned from the Football League, saying they were unable to fulfil their Third Division fixtures. They had no ground to play on.
Coming two days after the launch of the Premier League’s rich new ball game, Maidstone’s demise highlights the schism between the elite and the needy. ‘Last week we had the Premier League turning down millions in sponsorship money, the sort of money that would keep the whole lower division in business,’ Gordon Taylor, the chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association, said.
Maidstone, a well-run non-League side founded in 1897, lasted only three seasons in the League, an elevated status that they were unable to cope with. ‘I feel particularly sad for the hard-core supporters who came into the League on a dream ticket and saw it turn to disaster,’ Taylor added.
‘The climate at the lower end is such that the League must be wary of who they let in. They must have good financial backing. Not just to pay the players but because of ground improvements. It is very expensive being in the Football League,’ Taylor said.
Many were surprised that the League had allowed Maidstone in. Adrift from their original home, which was not considered large enough, the future of the roving Stones was always in doubt. The League admits this. ‘Since Maidstone, the rules on clubs coming into the League have been tightened up,’ Ian Cotton, the League’s spokesman, said. ‘No club would be allowed to play so far from their natural base.’
Maidstone will be missed, but not replaced. Cotton said that the lowest division will continue with 22 clubs, down from 24 after the collapse of Aldershot in March and now Maidstone. Wycombe Wanderers, runners-up to Colchester United in the Conference, will not be allowed to step up. ‘It would have been impossible as other Leagues have got their seasons sorted out,’ Cotton said.
Maidstone United’s slow return from 1992 collapse provides hope that all may not be lost for Bury
First comes the hurt, then comes the hope. For Bury fans, distraught and dismayed by their club’s demise, the pain of it all will be too raw right now for them to imagine a brighter future. They should know, though, that there are ways of resurrecting a club and rebuilding a pillar of the community that, in their case, has stood for well over a century.
The further down you look in English football, the more you will find teams who have been reborn from a collapse of the original club, rising from the flames of financial mismanagement and unpaid bills. Chester, Darlington, Rushden & Diamonds and others have re-emerged within the last decade. They have not yet risen to the same heights as their predecessors, of course, but Bury fans will know better than most that it is not about the quality of the football as much as the importance of the club within the area.
Many of these ‘phoenix clubs’ are reincarnations of former Football League teams who fell into financial chaos. The difference for Bury, and the reason for the widespread disgust that is sweeping through English football, is that they are — or, indeed, they were until this week — a current Football League team.
Not since 1992 has a club dropped out of the EFL. Back then it was Maidstone United, who had spiralled into a financial crisis thanks primarily to the decision to spend around £400,000 on a plot of land for a new stadium before they had been granted planning permission.
Maidstone’s manager at the time was Bill Williams, who now serves as the chief executive of the reformed side. More than 25 years on, he still remembers the pain of their collapse and the feeling of helplessness that swept through the upper echelons of the club. “It is one of the worst experiences,” Williams tells Telegraph Sport. “It is almost like losing a loved one.
“It is not like it happens just like that because if you are a board member and you are a part of that team, you know each day that it is coming and you are wondering how you are going to get yourselves out of it.
“Every day you are losing more and more money and there is less and less money in the pot to sort it out. The team is doing badly, the crowd’s are going down and there’s no knight in shining armour coming to give you the money you need. It’s an awful time, it really is. It is not just you, it is all of the supporters who are suffering as well.”
The journey back, as a new club with the same old name, was a long one for Maidstone. They are still on that path now, 27 years down the line. They currently operate in sixth tier of English football and have their own community-centric arena, the Gallagher Stadium, in place at last. Stability is the word, and optimism is in the air despite relegation from the National League last season.
The support from local businesses, in terms of advertising and sponsorship, has been essential as Maidstone have gradually found their feet again. There was also luck with the location of their ground, which is built on land bought from the Ministry of Defence.
As Bury’s supporters begin to contemplate the first steps of their new journey, only time will tell whether they will have the same fortune. It is a new adventure, though, and a new opportunity to create something fresh and exciting.
“It absolutely feels like a new club,” says Williams of Maidstone. “There was a massive history with the old club. It had been there all those years but that history and that old club is gone. This is a totally community-based club, where all the facilities are here whether you hire the pitch for a charity match or the clubhouse for a celebration. It is different.”
Bury’s plight now lies in the hands of other league members where later, they will vote whether or not Bury can be reinstated in Division Two next season. If they do not, Bury FC will have to ask for permission from the EFL for re-entry as a non-league club.
Bury’s Steve Dale has been pleading with members of the Football League ahead of a Thursday meeting over their future.
Dale seems convinced some sort of vote is set to take place, although that doesn’t seem to be the case.
He’s penned a rambling plea to other clubs for their support ahead of the ‘vote’, saying;
“We would ask before you send in your votes, for our reinstatement to our former position in the EFL this Thursday, to consider your own circumstances, and then give a thought to what has happened to Bury FC.
“Bury Football Club is a Victim, not a Villain, so why was it treated so unjustly?“There is a lot to address in our great sport to prevent injustice, a fairer slice of the pie to the lower leagues will help that before the TV rights disappear and there is no pot to help them.”
The long-suffering supporters at Gigg Lane are not likely to be supporting his suggestions and have come together on Twitter to roundly condemn a man who led them out of the Football League for the first time in their history.
JEFF STELLING also warns of the danger of clubs being bought by rogue owners and Bury fans voice their opinions in this video.
After being part of a takeover which saved Hartlepool in 2018, the Sky Sports’ Soccer Saturday host said clubs must be aware of the potential pitfalls of apparently attractive ownership bids.
“We were approached by a consortium this summer who wanted to buy us out, and came offering a fortune,” Stelling said.
“It transpired that one of them had just spent a few years in prison for fraud… so we said ‘thank you very much, no thanks, on your bike’.
“Those people will go to other clubs and try it on in exactly the same way. I’ve got a friend in the game who has a pretty good idea of who’s kosher and who’s not.
“All you can do is offer advice, you can’t stop them because sometimes the situation is so extreme that you’re going under unless you take the offer.”
Stelling was part of Teesside businessman Raj Singh’s takeover of Hartlepool in 2018 after the north-east club were relegated from the Football League and suffered financial difficulties.
Detailing the problems his club experienced, Stelling said: “We were in a financial mess, our books were chaotic,” adding that some players were being paid £75,000 a year and needed to be paid off, the club opting to take “immediate pain for long-term gain”.
Meanwhile Bury wait for news on their future…
Bury’s desperate bid to be reinstated in League Two will be top of the agenda at the English Football League’s club meeting on Thursday.
The EFL expelled Bury in August following a failed takeover bid, but Bury North MP James Frith and fans group Forever Bury have submitted a plea to be re-entered for the start of next season.
Frith’s proposal has the backing of Mayor of Manchester Andy Burnham, while chairman Steve Dale has also offered his support and pledged to assist in the search for a new buyer, in a signed letter seen by Telegraph Sport.
Frith is arguing that expulsion and a season without football should be regarded as adequate punishment.
Bury’s plea will be discussed at a meeting this week, but it is understood the rescue mission has been met with strong opposition from the majority of EFL clubs.