IT STARTED with a crisis.
Bury Town were down on their luck, down on cash and almost down and out.
It was March 2002 and Russell Ward – still settling into his role as the chairman – had to go into the visiting changing room at Mildenhall Town and tell his Bury players that they were no longer going to be paid.
“There was nothing left,” Ward admitted.
It is a far cry from August 2011, as ‘Mr Bury Town’ celebrates his 10th anniversary as chairman and can speak of his pride that Bury are one of the best-run football clubs in East Anglia, if not the best.
The way the Ram Meadow outfit is run has drawn praise from the likes of James Scowcroft — now a Bury player, but someone who has been involved with professional clubs for several years.
However, in the early days of Ward being chairman and even before, when he was a director for five years, the club suffered a torrid time.
But this was partly how the local businessman came to be involved with the football club 15 years ago.
“I saw a piece on the back of the Free Press that said there was a crisis meeting at Ram Meadow on the Sunday night and I just wandered down to see what was going on,” he said. “I was involved in local football and I just wanted to see what was going on at Bury Town.
“I went in, sat at the meeting and then had to go home and explain to my wife that I had become a director of the club.”
Ball boy, barman and vice-chairman, Ward has since done it all, but he never intended to be chairman, until it materialised the club were faced with a six-figure debt.
“One of the first things I had to do was fight fires because there were people after money,” he said. “I was very lucky that Ron Kent came and helped me.
“Ron is a very well respected ex-local businessman and along with his help we got the finances under control to a certain extent – I couldn’t have done it without him. Although there were still some severe debts, we managed to pay some bills and get some money in, which got us through to March.”
The players may not have been paid from then until the end of the season but Bury survived, although they were not out of the woods, and it was some time before success returned, on and off the field.
“We got through to the end of the season, but for the next two or three years there were some sleepless nights,” added Ward. “A lot of hard work went in – there was a lot of dedication from people behind the scenes – and, while we are not the richest club in the world, we are now in the black and I am very careful with how we spend our money.”
Bury are also hoping to move into a new ground in the Moreton Hall area of town, with the help of St Edmundsbury Council, but they could have ended up homeless in the 90s.
Their relationship with the council had deteriorated and an eviction notice was pinned on the gates of the ground.
Ward said: “The previous chairman had a run-in over some issues, we hadn’t paid the rental rates as a protest against the council and there was an eviction notice slapped on the front of the gate.”
However, Ward said the Blues’ relationship with the council is now ‘100 per cent’.
And as Bury prepare to embark on their second consecutive season in the Ryman League Premier Division, they hope one of the major achievements of the season will be gaining planning permission for their new home, which will also act as a base for football across Bury St Edmunds.
n Next week, Ward discusses what makes Bury tick financially, recent on-the-field success and their aims and ambitions for the season, including a push for promotion to the Blue Square Bet Conference leagues.