Football is not to everybody's liking. Neither is Cricket. Both however, are the national games of Britain. For all the passion and success of other sports, Olympic Gold, upsurge of interest and including Rugby, football and cricket still stand alone as the two games most people play. Of the two, football is probably played by more, although what the numbers are has never really been clearly defined. What can be said with certainty is that even today, one can find kids kicking a ball about on a patch of waste ground and yes, using jumpers of one kind or another, for goals. The jumper might be a little different to what it used to be – it probably has a hood these days, but it’s still there, still serving in its multi-tasking capacity, this time and as always, a goalpost.
In summer what serves as the three stumps topped by bails to be struck by an accurately bowled ball is a little more difficult. Perhaps that may be one reason why football has been a shade more popular; all one really needs is something round enough and a wall. Perhaps not even the wall come to think of it - the needs of the cricketer require a little more than only a ball.
Cricket also falls someway behind football in terms of the numbers watching. Despite that, the summer game appears to be reasonably healthy and the stunning Ashes comeback by England ranks as one of the greatest. Football however, still reigns supreme. Only just perhaps, and no doubt any cricket aficionado will argue differently. As might fans of Rugby.
And it is football that has hit the headlines - again - and for all the wrong reasons this week, again, this final week of August 2019, with the expulsion of Bury Football Club from the English Football League, the EFL.
Yet right there is an indication of how football has changed immeasurably over recent years; not a long time ago, the EFL was simply named, ‘The Football League’. Everybody knew where it played its games, just as everybody knew that ‘The FA’ meant The Football Association and that it was the FA of England. No one needed to preface the title with ‘The English...’ or follow it with ‘...of England’.
No other country did it this way, not even Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. All three carry the name of their country in the title, as do their primary leagues. Only England did not.
It was so because England is the country where football was founded and everything else came along afterwards. Including rugby; who knows today of William Webb Ellis, the Rugby School student who picked up the ball and ran with it one day, 'with a fine disregard for the rules of football as played in his time’. That’s how the game started, and where it got its name (1823 in case you wondered). This at least, is the evocative legend of rugby, whether true or not but still football came first.
And with it the great names of the game in England. The twelve founding members of the Football league; Preston North End, the first winners, never losing a game as they dominated the league’s early years. Derby County and just along the road, Notts County, in Nottingham. Aston Villa, Everton, Stoke, Blackburn Rovers, Burnley, West Bromwich Albion, Wolverhampton Wanderers. Accrington Stanley. And Bolton Wanderers.
William McGregor was the man behind it, and yes, he was Scottish. After moving from Perthshire to Birmingham to set up business as a draper, McGregor became involved with Aston Villa. He served the club for over 20 years in various capacities, including president, director and chairman. In 1888, frustrated by the regular cancellation of Villa's matches, McGregor organised a meeting of representatives of England's leading clubs, which led to the formation of the Football League, giving member clubs a guaranteed fixture list each season. Since those far-off days (the league began on September 8, 1888), it has grown somewhat and Bury Football Club joined in 1894 and remained members for the next 125 years.
So who, some may well ask, is Bury? People forget the club has been in the top tier of English football. In their first season, 1894–95, they won the Second Division title by a nine-point margin to gain promotion. In 1900, the club won the FA Cup, beating Southampton 4-0 and won it again in 1903. This time the club did not concede a single goal during the cup run and by winning the final 6-0, set a record FA Cup Final score which stood until this very year, 2019, when Manchester City equalled it – over a century, which is a long time for a sporting record to stand (116 years to be precise).
Bury retained their top-flight status for seventeen seasons until they were relegated to the Second Division after the 1911–12 season. The team returned to the First Division for a five-season spell in 1924 and achieved their highest-ever league position, fourth, in 1925–26. After relegation back to the Second Division in 1929, Bury have not played in the top flight since. Even so, the club does have one other notable achievement to its name; in May 2005, Bury became the first (and to date the only) football club to score a thousand goals in each of the top four tiers of the English football league.
So it’s probably fair to say that Bury Football Club deserve their place in the annals of the game’s history. Just as Preston North End do and just as Notts County do – they are not in the Football League now either, having been relegated out of it last season. County did at least complete their fixtures; Bury have not played a single competitive game this season.
It is a picture of the game today. English football sold its very soul years ago to the lure of big money, mostly manifested by the ownership of today’s top clubs. At its height, football in England is owned by foreigners, managed by foreigners, coached by foreigners and played by foreigners.
It is not however, foreign ownership by itself that is a problem. Many of those from other countries have graced the game in England and helped drag it out of yesterday’s thinking. Owners, managers, coaches and players from elsewhere have brought a new dimension to football in England and improved things almost beyond measure. It is numbers that are a problem and significant among those numbers are the average and the less-than-average who have simply sucked the life out of football and the cities and towns in which clubs have stood for so long.
We have enough chancers and opportunists of our own, like the owners of Bury and Bolton. Neither club are alone in having owners that are lost in the dream of the big time, who spend somebody else’s money without thought as to what may come next. Darlington, Wimbledon, Aldershot, Chester, Coventry City, Portsmouth, Leeds United, Charlton, Middlesbrough, Tranmere, to name just a few. Even Glasgow Rangers in Scotland and most notably in England, Chelsea, before Roman Abramovitch came along. And Accrington – little Accrington and their Stanley, founder members of the league, bereft and bankrupt, went out of existence in 1966.
Reborn however, the reformed club are doing quite well today and might well serve as a guiding light for Bury.
Barring a miraculous u-turn by the EFL, Bury will not play a game this season. They are however, still alive. If the club can stay that way, they will start again next season, 2020-21, lower down the tier, as Accrington, and for that matter, Wimbledon and others have.
So what of Bolton Wanderers? They have fourteen days to conclude a successful sale to new owners. If that deadline is met and the new owners can finance the club properly, they will still be able to carry on. If not, they will go out of existence. As still might Bury.
As long as there are people apparently with money who want their place at the top and who see football as a means to an end, the problem will stay. That problem will get worse if the staggering amounts swilling around at the top end of the game stay there too.
The FA, the EFL and the top clubs all have a responsibility to those lower down the chain and its worth remembering that as long as clubs in the top two tiers of English football continue to spend huge amounts on average foreigners (both full time professional and, astoundingly, young boys in their early to mid-teens), the lower level clubs will struggle and ultimately depart the game.
For it is those clubs that have, in the past, produced many of the top stars. Bolton were, in days gone, one of the bigger clubs; Nat Lofthouse played for them. Nicknamed ‘The Lion of Vienna’ after starring for England away in Austria, he was born and bred in Bolton and made his debut against…Bury. And later from Bury – Colin Bell. Scunthorpe United – Kevin Keegan. Just two but there are many more.
Lofthouse, Bell and Keegan were a long, long time ago. Today, clubs will buy a boy from anywhere. Anywhere except England.
Thus our clubs shall die, and with them, the hearts of our communities.
© Kevan James 2019
top: Bury FC
lower: Bolton News
On the evening this article was posted, the following statements were released regarding Bolton Wanderers FC:
Statement On Behalf Of David Rubin & Partners, Administrators For Bolton Wanderers
We are pleased to announce the sale of Bolton Wanderers to Football Ventures (Whites) Limited has been completed.
Joint Administrator, Paul Appleton, said: "This has been one of the most complicated administrations I've been involved with but I'm delighted to say we have finally reached a satisfactory conclusion with the sale to Football Ventures.
"At times, some of the hurdles appeared insurmountable and the frustration felt has been immense, not least by the supporters who have had to endure too many weeks of uncertainty.
"I would like to pay particular tribute to the Eddie Davies Trust and their legal team who, throughout this whole process, have been willing to do everything in their power to ensure Eddie's incredible legacy was maintained and not sullied.
"Even at the 11th hour when other parties were content to renege on their agreements, the Trust realised the very existence of Bolton Wanderers was at stake and were willing to find a compromise to save the club. It is a testament to their unflinching determination to do what was best for Bolton that we are able to complete the deal today.
"The Trust were forced to constantly compromise their position in the face of circumstances and demands which were wholly unreasonable. This says much about their determination not to allow Eddie's beloved Bolton Wanderers to suffer any longer at the hands of Ken Anderson.
"Sadly, Mr Anderson has used his position as a secured creditor to hamper and frustrate any deal that did not benefit him or suit his purposes. Thankfully, with the assistance of the Trust and others, we were able to overcome this obstacle.
"I would especially like to thank both my team and my lawyers who worked around the clock to find solutions to problems which certainly threatened to derail the whole process.
"I have every sympathy for the staff, players and fans who have been forced to stand by while their club was taken to the brink. I am delighted their loyalty, dedication and patience have finally been rewarded.
"Of course, there will be difficult times ahead while the club gets back on its feet but there are too many people with Bolton close to their hearts for it not to be successful once more.
"The EFL and PFA have both played a major part in the club's survival. They have understood the complexities of the process and have stood strong in the fight to save Bolton, helping to drive this deal over the line.
"Now there can be a fresh start with owners who, I believe, will run the club for the good of the supporters and the community as a whole.
"For everything the fans have had to endure, they deserve nothing less."
Statement On Behalf Of Football Ventures (Whites) Limited
We are privileged to announce that negotiations to transfer the ownership of Bolton Wanderers Football Club and Whites Hotel are over and we have formally completed.
Throughout this lengthy and complicated process, we have remained focussed on completion of the deal and nothing else.
At times it has been difficult to keep our counsel but we took a decision to remain on the sidelines even when further damage was being inflicted by delays outside of our control.
Our thoughts were always with the club staff and supporters and we worked tirelessly behind the scenes to find an agreement and prevent even more stress and uncertainty for those who have suffered far too much over the past months.
Now we are excited to begin restoring this magnificent football club to its rightful position, securing its future for the fans, the loyal club staff, and the players.
We are thankful to the EFL for their willingness to support our efforts along with the PFA. We would also like to thank the University of Bolton and Bolton Council for their backing and Bolton Wanderers Supporters Trust for its understanding.
We understand Phil Parkinson and Steve Parkin’s decision to leave the Club. They have behaved impeccably and loyally and we wish them both nothing but the best for whatever the future may hold.
It is now imperative that we commence the process of appointing a manager and strengthening the team with the right players to take the club forward.
The true spirit of this football club rests with the fans, it is nothing without them. The support shown to the players during this season’s opening fixtures has been overwhelming.
It would be remiss of us not to say how saddened we are at the devastating news from our neighbours at Bury FC. Our hearts go out to the fans and the community.
Now the deal is complete, please be assured we intend to do all within our power to bring back a true sense of pride to Bolton Wanderers Football Club, which is the least the staff, fans, future generations of supporters and the community deserve.
Football Ventures (Whites) Limited