How the fate of two football clubs unfolded on one historic day…
At Newsquest’s publishing centre in Greater Manchester, two of the team’s football clubs have been under the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Adam Lord, sports editor at the Bolton News and Bury Times, reflects on a “crazy” week…
As sports editor of both The Bolton News and Bury Times, I’ve come to learn a thing or two about brinkmanship.
Over the past few months both Bolton Wanderers and Bury FC have flirted with takeovers, new dawns, false dawns and possible outright extinction.
And on Tuesday, August 27 it would all come to a head. The future of Wanderers, a founding member of the Football League, and The Shakers, 134-year-old two-time FA Cup winners, would have one last chance to secure their future — and we would have one of the most important roles to play as the drama played out in real time.
After months of back and forth, the English Football League set a 5pm deadline for both clubs to satisfy them of their immediate future. Bury had been given an initial reprieve the previous Friday, a dramatic day that was covered in The Bury Times’ live blog from 8am until midnight.
Both the sport and news teams got in early and launched live blogs on both the Bolton News and Bury Times websites. They instantly flew to the top of Chartbeat as fans from around the country watched with bated breath.
Chief football writer Marc Iles and myself, kept the blog full throughout the day but verifiable news was hard to come by. And as the clock ticked beyond 5pm with no concrete resolution, editor Karl Holbrook requested a late print deadline — giving us till 11pm to print.
The wait went on…and the hits flooded in as fans grew increasingly anxious.
As we waited for official news, Marc worked on a ‘holding’ backgrounder for the Bolton News and Karl put together a front page based on what we knew.
Then, as the late pages were sent with no official confirmation, the dreaded news landed minutes later. Bury’s 125 years in the Football League was to come to an end– devastating news for all those with any connection to Gigg Lane and a real wake up for football’s current model.
As for Bolton they were told they would suffer the same fate if their takeover was not sorted within 14 days, administrators already having warned of possible liquidation days earlier.
The news was broken on The Bolton News and Bury Times websites, creating another record-breaking day for the publishing unit and shortly after midnight me, Marc, Karl and, senior audience and content manager Steve Thompson, could sign off on a long day just after midnight.
The following morning brought the Bury Times deadline, and they the first seven pages of the paper were ripped up to cover the momentous moment both the club and town’s history. To show solidarity with the distraught fans, Karl changed the paper’s masthead from red to club and included the club’s crest in the masthead. The move was covered by the Press Gazette and Hold the Front Page, as well as receiving many generous comments from fans.
While juggling the incredible situation at Gigg Lane, news was coming in that Bolton’s protracted takeover by the Football Ventures consortium was finally completing thus bringing an end to months of uncertainty punctuated by legal battles, court cases and little concern for matters on the field.
More pages were turned around at short notice to give Wanderers fans the news they had craved for so long on their newsstands on Thursday, the paper a tough juxtaposition to that picked up by the suffering Shakers.
Wanderers reporter Marc quickly bagged an exclusive with the club’s new owners another frantic but rewarding day.
The interview then drew in the best part of 40,000 views online, with new chairwoman Sharon Brittan opening up on not only her plans for the club but also the death of her sister partway through negotiations.
The opposing outcomes then brought different challenges in the days that followed.
With no management or squad to speak of Wanderers embarked on a relentless few days with Marc at the centre of things.
Keith Hill and David Flitcroft arrived as the new management duo on Saturday just hours after a 5–0 defeat at Gillingham, Marc battling dodgy connectivity to keep fans updated on a lengthy train journey home.
Monday brought transfer deadline day, now a standout day of any sports desk’s diary, but this one ended with an unprecedented nine new players at the University of Bolton Stadium.
Having been Newsquest’s most read author with 1.44 million page views in August, Marc started September with another 160,000 from one live blog alone. That was also another night that was tight to the print deadline.
Any celebration of Bolton’s plight has been tempered with what was happening less than 10 miles away.
It is now a case of backing the fight that continues for the future of The Shakers. There are hopes of a potential Football League return and if not, life as a new club in non league awaits with fans, politicians and the wider community inspiring as they battle to preserve something so dear to them.
Whatever the future holds for either what has been made clearer than ever is just how much these institutions mean to their communities — and the role we can play in supporting that.