EXCLUSIVE: The bold decision that has kept Bury's women's team alive and kicking
In a week that has seen Bury Football Club expelled from the English Football League, the women's team are alive and kicking, preparing for a first ever season in their regional Premier Division.
And today, the vital decision that saved the women from suffering the same fate as the men's team can be revealed.
Nine months ago when Steve Dale took over Bury for £1 from chairman Stewart Day he took the decision to finance the women's team.
Prior to then the side were being funded by Bury FC Community Trust - a registered charity which, although being affiliated with the football club, maintains financial independence because of its status as a charitable organisation.
But when Dale came in and agreed to pay for transport, players' weekly subs - totalling £240 for each player every season - and an assurance that a number of games would be played at the near 12,000 capacity Gigg Stadium - a proposal worth £25,000 - the Division One North side took him up on the offer.
Diana Golding, who has been the chairperson of Bury FC Boys, Girls and Women for a decade, felt it was something which, at the time, could not be passed up by a grassroots set-up.
Speaking exclusively to NewsChain, Golding said: “We’d met Steve Dale.
"He came down to women’s matches and when he was there he always talked the talk, said ‘this is what we’re going to have, this is how good it’s going to be’.
"At that time you believe what they’re saying because at the end of the day he owns the club. Why would you not believe what he’s saying?"
For several months the team benefited greatly from the arrangement.
They played three games at Gigg Lane and were promoted to the Premier Division of the North West Women's Regional League after winning the title - losing just once in 20 games.
“Up until May everything was great. By June and July it was a complete mess," she said.
But following the success, the extent of Bury's financial problems became public in May when it was revealed that the men's players had not been paid for 12 weeks.
On top of that, their first five fixtures of the new league campaign were all postponed after Dale failed to explain how the club was going to pay its debts and fund the season.
In turn, Golding and the rest of Bury's grassroots committee had to decide whether to stick with Dale and hope the club came through the turbulent period, or pull the plug on the partnership and revert back to charitable funding.
Their decision was to prove their salvation.
Golding, 50, has been voluntarily involved at the local level of Bury's grassroots football for 16 years as a manager, coach and chairperson - all unpaid roles.
Both her daughters also played for the club - one of whom moved on and now plays for Bolton Wanderers.
So, in order to ensure the women's team remained well-funded and stable, she and the committee decided this July they would no longer rely on Bury FC.
She said: “Bury said they could not finance the team, they couldn’t promise any games at the stadium - they couldn’t even get the men at the stadium, never mind the women.
“If we’d have left the team under Bury FC, we couldn’t look after its future. We were not going to allow it to crumble, so a committee decision meant it came back under the trust."
What followed in July was an exodus of eight or nine players, the majority of whom Golding believes would have stayed had they not been given unsustainable promises by Dale when he took over the running of the side.
"If we hadn't done what we did at Christmas time when Bury FC took over the women's team, they (the players) would have just continued to play this season," she said.
"They probably still would have got promoted because that's the level the team had got to over the last few seasons anyway. They were always paying subs, so they would have continued to do so.
"There would have been no fallout, no upset, and therefore apart from the couple of players we would have lost through natural progression, we would have maintained our existing team."
A number of the players who exited Bury Women still have not found a new team more than a month on from their departure. But having felt let down, they are unwilling to return.
And it is the shallow promises from those at the top of Bury FC which have left Golding disappointed by the whole situation.
“That’s the bit that hurts the most.
"Everything we’ve tried to achieve is going down the swanny. And then players are upset. They don’t fully understand the structure of the club so they turn their anger on us, the previous manager, Bury FC.
"And then you get a bit of bad press even though at the time we were just trying to do the right thing and save the team."
But the resilience of Golding and the whole women's outfit meant they were not going to give up and accept defeat easily.
They put out a Facebook campaign for players, while a number of ex-Bury women came back into the fold to link up with the younger girls coming through.
“We’re very optimistic," added Golding.
"Everybody who knows grassroots football knows every now and again you get a bit of a setback, you work through it, and come out the other side.
"Worst case scenario, we get relegated and we're back in the position we were in anyway (before Dale took over).
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"If we do drop a division, so be it, because we're going to build and we'll get back to where we were the year after.
"There's a lot of good people at this club, and that's where we draw our positivity from."
Bury Women begin their campaign against West Didsbury & Chorlton AFC Women on September 4.