It’s only a game, right?

The question that no one who considers themselves a football fan ever asks. Of course, there have been times that I’ve chanted it over and over to myself as if it was some form of soothing mantra after a particularly miserable defeat but that’s been nothing more than a coping method to try an ease the temporary pain that comes when your team has let you down on the pitch. What happens on the field is ‘only a game’ but football in its entirety is way beyond simply 22 people booting a ball around some turf. The tragic plight of Bury FC is one of the most brutal reminders of how the game transcends the simple act of the game itself.

The club was formed in 1885, elected to the league in 1894 and gained promotion to the top-flight by beating Division 1’s bottom club Liverpool in what was then known as a test match. It’s a club that has won the FA Cup twice and finished 4th in Division 1 in 1926 (5 points ahead of 10th placed Newcastle). It’s a club that won promotion to League One last season despite its staff not being paid for pretty much half of it. It’s the club of a much-loved friend whose life has been dedicated to it. It’s a club that has just been kicked-out of the league. It’s a club that I can’t bring myself to refer to in the past tense.

I am absolutely heart-broken and utterly devastated for the impact I know this will have on my mate. I recorded a podcast with James Bentley a few days before the news of the expulsion and I almost broke down listening to him. James has followed Bury the length of the country for 31 years, has written two fantastic books on two memorable seasons in the Club’s history and has seen the club play a huge role in defining who he is.

If someone tomorrow told you Newcastle United no longer existed, that it was being expelled from the league not through any fault of yours but through the shambolic mistreatment, avarice and mismanagement of an owner with zero feelings of guilt for the misery he wrought upon it, how would you feel?

Your team is more to you than just the football. It’s the memories of your first match. It’s the recollections you have of talking to an older relative about the players they got to see in action. It’s the time spent in the stands and on the terraces in all weathers, growing from child to teenager to adult with your family members and mates. It’s about reading every single match report you can after your team has won and watching the goals and highlights over and over again. It’s about the friendships you make and lose. It’s about joy, misery, anger, release. It’s your life, your community, your routine, your identity.

All those memories made and the ones you hope to make, all that feeling built over the years, all that knowledge and love that you want to pass on to the next incoming generation of fans all ripped away by the greed of people who’ll never understand what it means to you.

I know many of us have fulfilling lives outside of our football club but it’s no understatement to say that some would go into a state of mourning, shock and perhaps depression if what’s happened to Bury happened to our club. I think there are some fans for whom their club is such a vital part of their life that they’d be lost for quite some time.

It’s a time like this when you start to question just how it’s come to what football in this country is today, disgustingly unequal. The amount of money in the Premier League, the financial disparities between clubs in the top-flight and those in Leagues One and Two and the ease with which the charlatans who’ve led Bury to ruin can purchase clubs leaves more than a bad taste in the mouth, it feels immoral. Sky Sports et al pay vast sums of money to those clubs at the top and there’s no trickle-down effect. Clubs are walking financial tightropes and should they lose their footing just once there’s a chance they’ll never get back up. Surely the Premier League and FA have to look at that’s happened at Bury and analyse it to ensure changes are made that might stop it ever happening again.

Unfortunately I highly doubt that there’ll be any meaningful introspection, other than perhaps empty platitudes and lip service by some ‘important’ people, and there may well be another football community soon (Bolton?) left picking-up the pieces of a destruction brought on it by people who do not care for the jobs, friendships, lives and identities that they’ve disregarded without a second thought.

– Norman Riley

Podcast: click here 

Bury’s expulsion from EFL shows football’s regulations are meaningless – Barney Ronay, The Guardian – click here 

‘I don’t have a team any more’: Bury fans on the club’s collapse – The Guardian – click here 

Bury MP and fans groups call for inquiry into CVA and football regulation – David Conn, The Guardian – click here