Bury have gone, Bolton are in trouble, but if you’re indifferent to it all and don’t think a similar thing could happen to your club then think again, because it could…
For a good portion of Tuesday afternoon, Sky Sports News had a clock counting down to 5pm, on their giant dystopian background screen, the one that is usually taken up by the great big transfer totaliser which celebrates the vast spending of big football clubs as if spraying cash across the world is some sort of achievement.
There was a grim irony to that, given this particular clock was ticking down the hours, minutes and seconds to the deadline for both Bury and Bolton, 5pm being time both had to salvage their existence, lest nearly 300 years of footballing history disappear in a cloud of financial chicanery and opportunistic chancers.
Still, at least the background to the clock was a sombre maroon, rather than the garish yellow they usually go for. That would have just been disrespectful.
— GiveMeSport Football (@GMS__Football) August 27, 2019
These situations bring out the best and the worst in people.
On Tuesday a group of Bury supporters arranged a drive to help clean up Gigg Lane, so that if they were saved the ground would be ready for their scheduled game against Doncaster on Saturday. People showed up to scrub and clean, bringing their own cloths and mops and buckets, to make the place presentable, to essentially try to give a social institution a little dignity in entirely undignified circumstances.
But it wasn’t just Bury supporters that were there. Fans of Huddersfield and Bolton came to help out, of Leeds United and Torquay, Portsmouth and Wolves. “We’ve been in their position not so long ago,” the Pompey fan told Joe.co.uk, whose whole family had come down. “You have your rivalry at three o’clock on a Saturday, but after that we need to help each other out,” said the Leeds fan.
"We've been in Bury's position not so long ago and it's a horrible place to be in."
— FootballJOE (@FootballJOE) August 27, 2019
They were there because they could be there, but also because they recognised that this isn’t just about two football clubs in financial trouble, two social institutions disappearing, two sets of employees losing their jobs.
They were also there because they know this could happen to them. For the Bolton fans, it very much is happening to them. Leeds and Portsmouth fans know this feeling. For the Huddersfield fans, and really any club of a similar size, this sort of situation is only a bad owner or some sort of unforeseen calamity away.
Even the biggest clubs could easily find themselves in trouble. Leeds went from the Champions League semi-finals to several periods of administration in just a few years. It’s easy to forget that Chelsea were in genuine danger before Roman Abramovich arrived. A decade or so before Leicester won the Premier League, they were close to going out of existence. There but for the grace of god go we all.
And yet you’ll still find people who are indifferent to this, or indeed openly revelling in these twin calamities.
You can search for your own examples, but a personal favourite comes when you search ‘Bolton Glazers’ on Twitter, and up pops a selection of Manchester United fans essentially declaring they’re happy Bolton are in trouble because a few of their fans took the piss when the Glazers took over. The Independent’s Miguel Delaney wrote a lengthy piece about the precarious nature of football in the lower reaches of the Football League and a few Arsenal fans replied in mirth because Sam Allardyce’s teams were a bit mean to their boys ten years ago. There are plenty of others, if you want to take a look, although I don’t recommend it.
Sure, you can say this is Twitter, this is the internet, it’s only a handful of people. But it’s still people, it’s still people calling themselves football fans expressing their delight that other football fans might not have a club to support.
Maybe this is the natural extension of rising hyper-tribalism, of defining yourself by your club so that any perceived slight against that club becomes a personal insult, which transforms into years-old grudges. Maybe it is just people who enjoy being terribly edgy on the internet. Maybe this is just people being dicks.
This is a time where there should be universal solidarity between football fans. Which, happily enough, there is plenty of. But whenever there are people out there who appear to take pleasure from the demise of clubs, like some form of super-schadenfreude, that’s diluted.
If you’re not angry about the demise of Bury then you should be. Angry at Steve Dale and Stewart Day, angry with Shaun Harvey and the EFL, angry with everyone who has allowed this to happen. With every club that disappears thanks to greed, mismanagement, indifference or any of the other reasons that these historic institutions get in trouble, a little bit of football is eroded away.
And even if you have a blithe indifference to things that you think are happening far away, even if you don’t care that a little bit of this football island has fallen into the sea, you should know very well that it could be your little bit that goes next. Like cancer or a hurricane knocking down your house, this is one of the things that people think won’t happen to them. But it can, and it might happen to you, sooner than you think.
If you think you don’t care about what’s happening to Bury and Bolton then you should. Hopefully because you have some sense of decency, but also because your club’s badge could be on Sky Sports News, with a countdown clock ticking over the seconds to the team you’ve supported all your life disappearing into the ether.
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