Bury have been expelled from the English Football League after a late takeover bid to save the 134-year-old club collapsed.
The two-time FA Cup winners were handed a deadline of 5.00pm on Tuesday evening to complete a sale to sports analytics firm C&N Sporting Risk or face having their membership rescinded.
Supporters spent the morning cleaning the stands at Gigg Lane, hopeful that the ground would host their first fixture of the new season after a string of postponements.
But C&N withdrew their interest around 90 minutes before the deadline, citing “complexities” which could not be resolved in the limited timeframe.
Steve Dale, Bury’s owner, passed details of three other potential bids to the EFL as the deadline neared, sparking hope of an extension and a stay of execution.
However, despite taking the latest takeover interest into account, the EFL confirmed late on Tuesday night that Bury would be expelled and become the first team to drop out of the league since Maidstone’s liquidation in 1992.
League One will be a 23-team competition for the remainder of the 2019-20 season, with three rather than four teams relegated. Only one team will be relegated from League Two.
“Today is undoubtedly one of the darkest days in the League’s recent history,” said Debbie Jevans, the EFL’s executive chair. “The EFL has worked determinedly and tirelessly to avoid this outcome and it is with a heavy heart that this situation has been forced upon us.
“No one wanted to be in this position but following repeated missed deadlines, the suspension of five League fixtures, in addition to not receiving the evidence we required in regard to financial commitments and a possible takeover not materialising; the EFL Board has been forced to take the most difficult of decisions.”
Bolton Wanderers, meanwhile, have been given 14 days to avoid expulsion from League One themselves as their prospective takeover drags on.
Talks between owner Ken Anderson and Football Ventures (Whites) Limited stalled over the weekend, leading administrators to claim that the club could be liquidated imminently.
Unless a deal can be resurrected in the next fortnight, Bolton will suffer the same fate as Bury on 12 September.
“Despite further exchanges with the administrators over the course of the Bank Holiday weekend, and right up until today’s deadline of 5pm, a resolution to ongoing impasse in negotiations regarding a completion of sale at Bolton Wanderers has not yet been found,” the EFL said.
“The EFL board has therefore taken the decision to lift the suspension on the notice of withdrawal, which was issued as per the EFL’s insolvency policy when the club entered administration in May 2019.
“As per the league’s articles of association, this will now give the club 14 days (11.59pm on 12 September, 2019) to meet all outstanding requirements of the league’s insolvency policy or its membership in the EFL will be withdrawn.”
While Bolton may yet survive, Bury face the prospect of liquidation and reformation as a phoenix club. At the very least, the club will need to apply to rejoin the English football pyramid in the lower leagues.