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Men's Football Chester fans tell Bury supporters this doesn't have to be the end

BURY fans need to prepare themselves for the worst, forget the past and concentrate on a fresh start further down the league pyramid but debt-free and in control of their own destiny.

That is the friendly advice from Chester, a club that went bust nine years ago and was expelled from the National League, only to rise again in the eighth tier five months later.

One of British football’s so-called “phoenix clubs,” Chester are now a fan-owned team in the National League North, the sixth tier, with an average home attendance last season of just under 1,800.

Like Aldershot, AFC Wimbledon and Hereford, Chester have recovered after an acrimonious and painful period in their history and are now looking to the future again, with their long-term target being a return to the English Football League.

It is journey Bury look likely to be starting soon, as they have until one minute to midnight tonight to assure the English Football League they have the funds to belatedly start their League One campaign.

With time running short, Shakers fans are pinning their hopes on a white knight arriving to buy the club from controversial owner Steve Dale and pump in the almost £3 million required to satisfy the league that they can pay their debts and complete the season.

The only man who had made such an offer, former Port Vale owner Norman Smurthwaite, was rebuffed by Dale on Tuesday because his proposal offered Dale nothing.

The Star understands there is another buyer in talks with the league but Dale’s demands, the club’s chaotic balance sheet and the ticking clock were conspiring against a successful outcome.

But Chester director Jeff Banks believes this is not necessarily the disaster it might seem.

Banks said: “My advice to Bury fans now would be to stay strong. If the worst happens, it might end up being the best thing in the long run.

“If they haven’t already started, start planning for the future and stop thinking about the past. It will take unity and a lot of hard work but it can also be a lot of fun.”

Chester were founded in the immediate aftermath of Chester City’s winding-up at the High Court over an unpaid tax bill in March 2010, having been expelled from the National League a month before.

The end had been coming, though, as fans had been boycotting the club in an attempt to force out the owners, the Vaughan family.

Banks, a volunteer who has doubled up as the club’s media officer and head of fan engagement, explained that Chester fans started to prepare for a fresh start after the Vaughan era at least five months before the club went bust.

First, the various fans’ groups united under one “City Fans United” banner, then they went to the city council, the stadium’s owners, to start talks over gaining the lease to the ground. Once that was secured in April, they were quickly able to start selling season tickets, attract sponsors and bring in a manager to find a team.

In the meantime, they successfully appealed against a Football Association decision to make them start in the Northwest Counties League, which would have been a drop of four tiers, and gained a place in the Northern Premier League’s Division One North West, the eighth tier.

And that would be the most likely destination for a reformed Bury, as, like Chester, their travelling support would be too big for most grounds in the ninth tier, and the eighth tier is actually expanding from seven divisions to eight next season, with the Northern Premier League keen to run three of them.

This means a new Bury would be easily accommodated at that level and could expect fixtures against neighbours Colne, Clitheroe and Ramsbottom.

As Banks said: “A club of Bury’s size should be able to get back up the pyramid before long and you can make new friends along the way.”

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