It is for us all to ensure there is a sustainable, responsible model at the heart of the beautiful game.
The collapse of Bury FC and its ejection from the English football league was a tragedy. The victims were the fans, our town, Bury FC‘s place in the football league, our historic contribution to football, its 135 year legacy and the enormous possibilities of a footballing future.
Whether a romantic or just practical; the whole mess played to a sense that others decide the fate of how lives are lived or limited in towns like ours.
One of the greatest losses is one of the best things about match day; the match day ritual. No one’s ritual is exactly the same but they all share a great deal. These rituals determine what we wear, who we walk to the game with or who we watch it next to. It’s about what pub we visit on the way for the chats and the chants. It’s about anticipating kick off and the starting line-up before taking a punt or a flutter, whether backing your own quiet faith that the right-back will score from a set piece or a certain view that the luxury midfielder will score as the team breaks on the counter.
The trio of Bury FC pubs were sustained by home and away loyalties over decades. Despite strong community efforts to mimic these experiences, these have faded since with Covid and the changed expectations to be elsewhere now there’s no home fixture.
Efforts continue to unite a divided fanbase and resurrect a club in the heart of Bury with the spirit of football at Gigg Lane. Fans have each taken different responses to the club’s demise and we all hope that the town’s progress between the council and the government will ensure a strong foundation for this comeback and build on the extraordinary efforts of Bury AFC since.
I think football still owes Bury a huge debt and a second chance. Supporting Bury FC and protecting it from extinction was a lonely place for all of us involved during its fateful final months. It’s why I believe the focus must be on the need for an independent regulator in football. And that attention is better spent here rather than on the political gratuity that attacks the betting and gaming sector whilst ignoring its significant commitment to responsible, safer gambling. For these are among the providers of the match day ritual. They enhance the experience for so many fans whilst making huge contribution to the sustainability of the sport at all levels, with tax revenues and sponsorship, including £40m a year to the EFL.
The association between football and having a bet is long-standing, with a collaborative approach to preventing harm which is of much greater benefit than the kind of blanket bans some talk of that would further undermine the finances of so many other clubs.
Perhaps in a new reimagining of football clubs the match day ritual will feature in the make up and design of the community club; for the fans, by the fans. Because when Saturday comes, it isn’t for the few to tell the many how they can spend their time or their money but instead it is for us all to ensure there is a sustainable, responsible model at the heart of this wonderful game. And back it.
James Frith is the former Labour MP for Bury North