Twenty years ago Bury were enjoying life in what is now the Championship whilst the mighty Swans languished in the forth tier of English football.
The Swans enjoyed a 52.7% increase in their attendance that season as John Hollins brought excitement to the city, an FA Cup run and agonising play-off final defeat. For Bury, the novelty of their second season in the higher league reduced and they saw their attendance drop nearly 20%.
As it turned out, both sides enjoyed similar average attendances that campaign of around 5,300. The path which both sides have taken over the past twenty years have been very different but up until then, the size of the clubs were fairly comparable.
From when recorded attendances began (or I can find them in 1921) up until 1999 (20 years ago) the Swans had an average attendance of 10,430 whilst Bury averaged 8,461 and the difference is even less if we take the Toshack years out of it.
When the Swans clinched promotion up at Bury in 2005 with a first minute Adrian Forbes goal, the future of both clubs were already unfolding. 7,575 fans watched the game that day, over double the season average of 3,032 at Gig Lane (swans averaged 8,669 that season partly because of promotion but also the Lee Trundle effect).
Over the last twenty years, the Swans have averaged over 14,000 whilst Bury slightly over 3,000. Success breeds success, failure leads to further failure and it is depressing to witness the demise of a club which until relatively recently was our equivalent.
I’m a Vetch boy at heart, as many are. I miss the rust dropping on me like rain, the feeling of walking up those steps, the Vetch burger, pasty, everything about it. But it is very easy to overlook the importance of the Liberty in seeing this change of fortunes.
The Swans spent three full seasons in the third tier of English football between 2006 and 2009 and averaged 13,450 over this period. The previous time that we spent three consecutive seasons in the third tier was between 1994 and 1996 where the Vetch averaged 3,391.
Performances on the field plays a huge factor in getting people through the turnstiles, no doubt about that. Historically the Swans average 19,238 in the topflight, 13,371 in second tier, 7,780 in the third and 5,189 in the forth. So there is a clear and obvious link between how successful the side is and how many people want to watch them but the Liberty or more importantly the ambition that it shows plays a far bigger role.
Those of us missing the nostalgia of the Vetch need to remind ourselves of the reality at times. Clubs like Bury have become stale in modern football. They haven’t enjoyed the topflight for 90 years as money plays an increasingly important factor in a clubs success.
Gigg Lane is basically the same size as the Vetch was and is the 63rd largest stadium in English football right now. Only Bournmouth and Luton have smaller stadiums but play in a higher league than Bury (did). Bournmouth have the benefit of a rich Russian owner whilst Luton have been through financial turmoil, relegation from the football league and a re-branded consortium ownership.
Not investing or improving a stadium suggests a complete lack of ambition, fans tire and players and managers with further aspirations can be put off. Unlike Swansea, Bury face immense competition from other fanbases locally and no doubt fans flicker from club to club. 30 years ago, Wigan, Bolton, Huddersfield, and Bury all averaged between 3,500 and 6,500 fans each week.
Asides from Bury, all have reached the promise land and enjoyed over 20,000 packing their new stadiums at times. Boltons financial troubles are there for all to see but they still managed 14,000 in their relegation campaign last season while Bury had a 20 year high of just over 4,000.Football is a business but as much as we like to support our local team, we also want to see a purpose to that support, a dream.
Wigan and Bolton are seeing difficult times but the stadium and recent history shows a belief that better times can come and I expect that they will at some stage.The good news is that Football clubs rarely go bust and I doubt Bury will.
The problem that creditors have when a football club owns them money is that in reality they don’t have assets.
Take Swansea City Fc for example, what assets does the club have? asides from the players the only real assets are the academy and the training facility; each costing say 10 million between them. But who would buy them? What is it really worth?
The creditors at Bury face the same issue. There is a hold on Gigg Lane but who would buy it? What is it really worth to anyone other than to the football club?
We see this time and again in football. A club acquires a debt, £4.2 million in the case of Bury and then the creditors look to get it back but they never do.
Gigg Lane is worthless. I fully expect the creditors will take 5p out of the pound and the fans will chip together to raise £260,000. Tony Petty has received bizarre praise for the turnaround in fortunes of football in Swansea and probably rightly so.
From the moment Petty arrived life wasn’t boring anymore. Bury could face a similar future.The meandering trudge through football seasons which Bury have done for the last 90 years is no more, something is now going to happen.
I have faith football will return to the Town and at Gigg Lane, likely to be in the Conference, with a consortium of fans, with an average crowd the largest that we have seen for generations.
Football is facing financial issues but the issues are with the creditors; the real lesson doesn’t need to be with the football club but with the banks. Don’t lend money to a football club because you will never see it again.
It is healthy to remind ourselves of where we have come from as a club and Bury is a great example of this. If it wasn’t for the Liberty and Swansea City council building it then we could easily be going through the same fate.