James at Bury FC
James at Bury FC

Updated 24th August 2019

I have been in regular contact with the owner, with fans, with the English Football League, with Bury Council, with the Mayor of Greater Manchester, with fellow MPs and with many others since the crisis at Bury FC began.

I pulled together a Rescue Board of all interested parties to discuss the best way forward to rescue the club and put it on a solid footing going forward into the future.

I have made clear to Steve Dale that the club needs new ownership and urged him to proceed with a sale to a suitable party, who we will have the chance to scrutinise beforehand. I have been in direct conversation with a number of prospective buyers.

I wrote to the judge who was due to consider Bury FC’s case in June seeking a further adjournment and this was secured until the end of July. The CVA offered some respite but the EFL’s decision to penalise Bury and cancel a number of fixtures did not help our cause and I wrote to them to challenge their position. I wrote again to the EFL following their announcement of a two-week window before the club would be expelled from the league. Mayor Andy Burnham also wrote in support of my efforts.

Yesterday (23rd August) we were given an extension by the EFL as one of the buyers I have been speaking with for the last few months, C&N Sporting Risk, reached a tentative deal with Steve Dale to purchase the club.

There’s still a lot of work to do and I’m not confident that the EFL have given us enough time to get all the necessary work done, and I’ve communicated this to them. Nevertheless, it has been a monumental effort to get this far and I commend everyone involved.

For now, we must trust that the new owners and current owner work in their best interests and ours to get this over the line. I’ll continue to fight on all fronts for our best interests and am in frequent contact all day with all parties on this. It is now or never. Keep the faith and up the Shakers.

Listen to my latest interview with BBC Radio 5 Live (19th August) about our efforts to save Bury FC

My letter to EFL Chair Debbie Jevans, 19th August 2019

 

Debbie Jevans CBE

Executive Chair

English Football League

19.08.2019

Dear Debbie,

I write to you in your capacity as Executive Chair of the English Football League, in what feels like the latest but perhaps last chance to save Bury FC from extinction.

As the club’s Member of Parliament and on behalf of every one of my constituents and Shakers fans everywhere, I am compelled to appeal to the EFL for more time to resolve the huge issues facing us and get the club sold.

In what is now the week that time has been ordained to run out for the Shakers, following your 2 week league expulsion order being placed upon it; I am asking in the strongest and most humblest of terms that you and the EFL board grant the club and our wider community efforts for sale, a further extension from Friday 23rd August should no sale be achieved before then. Suspending the expulsion order, in effect, will allow for suitable, credible and sustainable alternative ownership to be sought. This call for time was legitimately acknowledged as reason before a court of law by a judge when considering an earlier winding up order from the HMRC. So I ask please that the same be agreed by the EFL.

Football is never just about the kick off or full time whistle. It enriches life and living in Bury. For many, it’s a livelihood too, provided they are honestly paid. Our club has been part of the consciousnesses and identity of our town for an almost unprecedented 134 years. It is part of our town’s cultural capital and history. All this is set to be destroyed but we can and must resist.

The club, our fans and the wider community are united in our determination to save Bury. A club, rich in heritage, finds itself poor on prospects, off the pitch. Promoted then demoted, distinction now extinction faces us in what are the worst of times. We’ve an owner exploiting the situation promising to sell but not selling up. And we’re the latest club to fall victim of a wider unease and behaviour in lower league football that needs addressing, though that is for another day.

I commend the seriousness of your leadership in which you yourself have made an immediate impression on the EFL, that clubs must abide by the rules and regs of the game. I will not repeat comments here that I’ve shared with you privately about what has gone before. We both know that Bury’s plight is not without context or recent history and that the late proof of funds, still overdue at time of writing, by Bury’s owner should have prevented ownership in the first instance. Instead, this now presents as the end of days for the beloved Bury FC.

Bury FC has never expected to be bailed out, and any such calls miss the mark, but we don’t expect our club to be timed-out on protocol when so much is at stake with so much still unanswered. It simply isn’t acceptable for a clubs transfer of ownership to not receive the due diligence obliged to be given and that this oversight on proof of funds then is reason for expulsion now. I agree you cannot normalise this behaviour, but I believe the history warrants an exception in this case to be made. I also fully acknowledge you have already cooperated and worked hard in what are highly unfortunate circumstances to this point but as the administrator of the game, I urge these mitigating circumstances be a factor in your further decision making in this case.

The terms on which this extension be granted are of course yours entirely to make, if granted at all. I do suggest though that extension – or suspension of the expulsion order as it is – be granted on explicit agreement that new ownership be actively sought and demonstrated. Terms might also include stipulating the end of working with the current ownership or explicit reference to a preference for sale and new ownership.

Example might be made of recent media rounds undertaken by the current owner. Otherwise, we risk closing as a club with the owner claiming victimhood – compounded by indulgent media rounds and barbed attacks on players, staff and fans alike at a time he should be concentrating fully on relinquishing control of the club. To date, interested parties tell me they are still awaiting vital information from the owner in order to compile a credible bid. The EFL’s intervention at this point in terms for an extension can protect Bury FC from its outgoing owner, maintain its membership in the league and remove the threat posed to all your other members whilst this remains unresolved. Furthermore, please consider agreeing an EFL delegate to liaise with interested parties in confidence to confirm evidence of their capabilities to own and run the club – essentially conduct your due diligence ahead of time as a pre-qualification to own.

Though I vouch for none, I believe in the legitimacy of interested parties preparing credible bids provided cooperation be forthcoming from the current owner. I also understand the Council are liaising with you on interim provisions.

The complexity of the current situation with Bury means that any potential buyer will need a significant amount of time to fully assess the financial state of the club, to understand and ensure they are fully aware of everything they would inherit.

From my confidential conversations with one prospective buyer, I know the documentation they have requested to be extensive. Any such response will need to be assessed legally and evaluated, a process which takes time.

I am privy also to the emergence of historic and more recent financial dealings with the club that I believe require investigation. Where Parliamentary Privilege can assist in disclosing this information, a further extension will also enable this. For now, briefly, these include (but are not restricted to):

  1. I) Lending agreements that have seen close to 50% of the Principal Sum being paid as an ‘introductory fee’ to unnamed third parties, yet being required to be repaid as part of the loan by Bury FC.
  2. II) The inclusion in the CVA of a circa £7m debt to RCR Holdings, despite it only being incorporated on the 16th July with £100 of share capital. This date of incorporation was just two days before the CVA was passed (on the 18th July), which RCR Holdings played a significant role in facilitating the passing of, due to the size of their debt. In my eyes, this raises serious questions as to the relationship between Mederco (and their administrators), RCR Holdings and the current owner, which again I believe will require time to be investigated by both yourselves and any prospective buyers.

I am convinced that without the situation facing Bury setting precedent, Bury will be the first victim in a new order of behaviour pursued by unscrupulous owners. Where, with the pursuit of a Creditors Voluntary Agreement they in fact and instead improve their own margin for sale. And that this is added to the playbook as yet more standard ill practice. Just as with Bury, the non-settling of an any such agreed CVA and non-payment of these debts is merely the warm up for a bigger financial deal in the offing. All the while, the football, the fans and the club are collateral damage in a brutal financial speculation.

So I urge you to ensure Bury is not sacrificed on the altar of example nor can it be a sleepwalking victim of the wider issue where an absence of timely due diligence and toxic intent means the loss of a club that matters so dearly to so many.

I shall be glad to discuss any and all aspects of this letter with you and thank you for your consideration on my request.

Yours sincerely,

James Frith MP

Member of Parliament for Bury North

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