While I was happy to work in the background in my efforts to secure football for Bury at Gigg Lane, I now feel obliged to make a statement to the supporters to help clarify my proposed plans and hopefully dispel any misunderstandings and rumours.
My name is Robert Benwell, I’m 35 years old and currently live in my home town, but have spent around 5 years of my adult life living in the North West. I have friends from the local area, some of whom having been attending Gigg Lane since they were young. I suppose you could classify me as a business entrepreneur; something I have been reasonably successful at. I am also a football fan who would like to play a part in resurrecting Bury FC to its former place in the footballing world.
I do realise I can’t undertake this task alone so I have sought the help and assistance of a number of respected members of the Bury FC community, including past directors and administrators of the Club prior to Mr Day and Mr Dale’s involvement. I would hope a number of these individuals will agree to taking up Board positions to help steer the direction of the Club.
Mr Dale currently holds the town’s Club hostage with a multi-million pound ransom. I, together with over ten other parties have looked at the current financial status of Bury Football Club Ltd and have come to the conclusion that in its current form, the debt and web of legal issues make any solvent bid not feasible. However, while the company Bury Football Club Ltd can’t be saved, I believe the Club is much more than just the entity destroyed by Mr Day and Mr Dale. The Club is the fans, the staff, Gigg Lane and even the local businesses. It’s the memories made, friendships forged and legacies that remain.
I suggest to you, these two individuals might have destroyed a company, but don’t let them destroy the Club you hold so dear. With a united front and belief, the Club can rise again.
In order for this to happen we must liberate Gigg Lane from the control of Mr Dale. Gigg Lane is crucial for the financial viability and long term future of any restructured Club. In addition, past precedent indicates keeping Gigg Lane will play a major part when determining which level in the football pyramid the Club will be initially placed.
While there are many commercial arguments for saving Gigg Lane, the reasons are far greater than that. The uninitiated may only see a football ground, however, what they fail to see is what it means to so many.
It means the heroes that are Mike Curtis, Lynne Kent, Joan Curtis, Gordon Sorfleet and Martin Kirby who continue to turn up to look after Gigg Lane unpaid, have employment again.
It means the local businesses that depend on the custom of fans on match day can stay in business. Jobs saved and families provided for.
It means businesses who supply and do business with the Club get that much needed revenue.
It means those fans whose attendance at a Bury match maybe the only point of contact with others in the community, get to continue that connection. This is a large part the Club plays in servicing the needs of the wider community in the town.
It means Joy Hart can watch from the stand that is named after her late father who was a legend of the Club. Paddy and many like him can sit in the same seat he has for the past 26 years that his grandfather who introduced him to Bury FC sat in and watch the team play on the pitch where his grandfather’s ashes were laid to rest. There are thousands of memories and legacies intertwined with Gigg Lane.
Without Gigg Lane all this and more is lost. If it isn’t secured in a timely manner, then it may well be lost forever. This should not happen.
For these reasons I’ve spent months negotiating with the mortgage holder of Gigg Lane, working out a deal and agreeing the details in readiness should Bury Football Club Ltd be placed into liquidation. Failing liquidation, I will be looking to work with the mortgage holder to repossess Gigg Lane and take it out of the control of Mr Dale.
I have also prepared a corporate structure that secures Gigg Lane in Trust, separate from a re-formed Club. This will put it off limits for potential future bad owners and make sure it can’t be gambled with again. It prevents the terrible events of Mr Day’s bad deals happening again and protects Gigg Lane for future generations.
In addition to negotiating with the mortgage holder I have also been in discussions with Forever Bury, the official supporters trust for Bury FC, to help understand what fans want and prepare a way forward.
I understand that fans through Forever Bury, held a portion of shares in Bury Football Club before Mr Day diluted those shares by his actions, to a much smaller percentage. In consideration of this fact and in an attempt to right that wrong from the start, I have agreed to donate a 10% non-dilutable share of the reformed Club to Forever Bury on behalf of the supporters.
I have also outlined to Forever Bury my strategy to have the Club majority owned by the fans, by diluting the initial investors’ shares over a number of years to no more than 32%. This will be done by fans, local businesses and investors being able to buy shares in the Club at a set time each year. Funds raised in this way will be put into the Club to provide investment as well as create an investment friendly business model where no one individual has overall control.
It would be hoped that such investment would help the Club progress up the leagues, develop new training facilities for both men and ladies teams, set up an academy and promote the Club within the community, but most importantly assist in the long term aim of providing a debt free sustainable football club.
I have also had discussions, which are ongoing, with both the Regional FA and National FA to assess ideas and strategies for securing the Club at the highest level possible in the football pyramid. Furthermore, we have discussed issues that need to be addressed to allow the Club to enter both the FA Cup and FA Trophy next season.
As a separate issue, I am aware other parties are attempting to take possession of the Club by adopting a different approach. I fully support any party trying to save the current Club and have reached out offering my assistance. I have also made attempts to have a dialogue with the Phoenix Group who are working toward forming a new club away from Gigg Lane.
With respect, I would like to ask the Phoenix Group not to disrupt the progress that has been made so far and allow supporters to judge for themselves whether they wish to support the vision I have outlined. I urge them again to combine our efforts and work toward securing football at Gigg Lane once again, on the basis of creating an investment friendly fan owned club for the future. Should their support require a position on the Club’s Board, then such a move is entirely possible. The bot-tom line is that we need to unite and work together, only then will we be able to celebrate together in the future.
I hope more details will follow in the coming weeks as further progress is made, including the appointment of directors.
Forever Bury have organised an open meeting for all supporters, taking place at the Elizabethan Suite on 19 December. I will be present at this meeting and will answer as best I can any questions supporters may have.
Thanks for your attention,