ON the morning of the darkest day in Bury FC’s history, hundreds of supporters gathered at Gigg Lane to prepare for a game that will never arrive.

As the deadline for owner Steve Dale to sell the club and avoid expulsion from the Football League came and went, fans worked in vain to prepare the ground in the hope that Saturday’s scheduled fixture with Doncaster Rovers would be given the green light.

As fans arrived en masse armed with buckets, cloths and cleaning fluids, optimism was high that a sale would be agreed on time.

Fans young and old set to work in the sweltering summer sun, with many speaking of hope and optimism that the dark cloud enshrouding the club would soon be lifted.

Little did they know that those hopes would be dashed in the most devastating fashion only 12 hours later as the news of the Shakers’ expulsion was confirmed by the EFL.

Among those responding to the club’s appeal for help in sprucing up the stadium was Bury fan Brian Whittaker and his wife, Libby.

A season ticket holder at Gigg Lane for 41 years, Mr Whittaker was doing his bit to help out by cleaning dust and dirt from seats in the club’s Les Hart Stand.

“It is a shame what is happening, but the turnout today just shows how many people care,” he said.

Also getting their hands dirty were 16-year-old Ella Mitchell, and her dad, John, and brother, Charlie, aged 12.

Three generations of the Mitchell family have followed the Shakers, a connection that Ella says compelled her to help out.

She said: “My family has been coming here for years and this summer has been dreadful.”

Volunteers began arriving at the stadium from 9am to commence work, including cleaning all 11,640 seats and sweeping all four stands.

Dave Giffard, the chairman of fans trust, Forever Bury, who were helping to co-ordinate the clean-up efforts, said: “The response has been brilliant.

“Everyone is coming together and it is fantastic that the wider football family is coming along to help.

“The staff have been trimmed to virtually nothing. The ones that have stayed and kept the club running have done a fantastic job trying to keep the place going, but usually there is an entire maintenance crew working on the ground. None of that work has been done so they asked if we could help.”

It has been a long and tortuous summer for Bury supporters as the club faced several winding-up petitions, an exodus of players and staff, and the suspension of the first six games of the new season after the EFL insisted Dale had failed to give them the financial reassurances they required.

Already handed a 12-point deduction, Bury were also placed under a transfer embargo, preventing them signing any players.

The club initially faced a deadline of Friday to agree a takeover or face expulsion, but were handed a lifeline at the eleventh hour when it was revealed a takeover bid from C&N Sporting Risk had been accepted.

On Saturday morning, the EFL issued another deadline of Tuesday for the prospective owners to get the deal over the line.

The Shakers’ desperate plight made national and international headlines last week when former club director, Joy Hart, chained herself to the Main Stand at Gigg Lane in protest over Dale’s ownership.

Mrs Hart attended the clean-up and said she was proud of the publicity the stunt achieved.

“The reaction to it was tremendous,” she said. “There are people from all over the world who know who Bury Football Club are now.

“The turnout today is wonderful, but that is just Bury fans to a tee. Everyone getting their hands dirty and just getting down to it.”

Amid the turmoil the Shakers have found themselves in, one of the most encouraging aspects to emerge from it has been the support from the wider football community. 

That same spirit was again evident on Tuesday as fans from clubs across the north of England, including Blackpool, Bolton Wanderers and Huddersfield Town, clubbed together to help out.

Among them was Leeds United fan Paul Whitehead, who had brought his own bucket and sponge along so that he could muck in.

The 54-year-old, who lives in Unsworth, said: “I just wanted to help out.

“I have seen Bury play Leeds a couple of times and they have been cracking games. It is a small town and there is so much pride here at having a Football League team.”

With parliament in recess, Bury South MP Ivan Lewis also gave up his time and joined volunteers in cleaning seats around the ground.
He hailed the community’s response “as the most sensational in a long time”.

He added: “These supporters have shown how much this club means to them. The outpouring of emotion and love has been incredible.

“It shows football is so much more than money and business, it is about community.

“Out of adversity often comes hope, and people from all backgrounds have come here today to clean the ground up. It says so much about the town.”

But as the deadline loomed, the atmosphere turned from hope to despair as news filtered through of the takeover collapse.

At the end of a day filled with so much optimism, the hopes and dreams of a community were left in tatters.