Craig Dearden-Phillips: Charities and football clubs have an aim in common - uniting communities

In a piece written before Bury FC was expelled from the English Football League, Craig Dearden-Phillips reflects on the role of the club's community trust in making a difference

Craig Dearden-Phillips
Craig Dearden-Phillips

Almost 43 years ago, on 9 October 1976, a sunny Saturday afternoon, I attended my first live football game with my dad. I was seven years old. The match was at Gigg Lane, home of Bury FC, my local club.

Bury won that day, three-nil against Brighton & Hove Albion. But this coming Saturday won’t be so bright for Bury because, barring a miracle, insolvency and exit from the English Football League await the club.

By this weekend, Bury FC might no longer exist. No football will be played in the late August sunshine. Bolton Wanderers FC are also in a perilous financial position at the time of writing. 

"So what?" you might ask. "And anyway, why is he writing about a football club for Third Sector?"

I will tell you why in five simple words: Bury Football Club Community Trust.

BCT turns over £440,000 and reports 150,000 contacts with Bury residents each year, according to its 2017 accounts.

It works directly with 2,500 local people, operates in 45 local schools and helps inmates at Bury’s Forest Bank Prison with mental health and money issues. To support the active elderly, it helps Bury Relics, the over-70s walking football team.

What will happen to Bury FC Community Trust without the football club from which it draws its name is not yet clear.

My point here is that in very real ways football clubs – and the charities they partner with and sustain – are helping to hold the social fabric together in places such as Bury.

Beyond this, the town’s football club is a symbol of community and continuity: 134 years of it, to be exact. Attendances are not high, but Bury FC is a source of pride and local identity in a place where the old symbols – the factories and textile mills –are long-gone.

How Bury FC got to this place is a longer piece all about greed, mismanagement and shocking governance, with lessons aplenty for any organisation.

But today – the day Bury FC might cease to exist – let it simply be said that football clubs and their charities make a difference. They hold places together.

A fan captured the feeling in Bury when, at 3pm last Saturday as their last home match should have kicked off, he laid a single red rose on the centre spot where the players should have been.

This is why I am writing about a football club in Third Sector.

Craig Dearden-Phillips is an independent adviser to chief executives and boards, leads Social Club, a network of social purpose leaders

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