Craig Hignett gives his thoughts on Bury's Football League expulsion and shares personal experiences as Hartlepool United manager

‘You can’t deal with it as a manager’ – the financial chaos that has engulfed Bury is an all too relatable one for Craig Hignett.

Thursday, 5th September 2019, 7:05 am
Pools' owner Raj Singh (left) and manager Craig Hignett (right)

Following up from Wednesday’s column piece discussing Bury’s untimely expulsion from the Football League, Hignett turns to his experiences during his first spell as Hartlepool United manager and how he tried to deal with a situation not too dissimilar to the events that have unfolded at Gigg Lane.

The wheels really started to come off at Pools during the 2016-17 season under chairman Gary Coxall as players and numerous creditors weren’t paid on time.

That season would end in relegation for Pools as they exited the Football League for the first time in their history, albeit in a far more dignified fashion than Bury did just last week.

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Former Hartlepool United chairman Gary Coxall (right)

When reflecting on that troubled spell, Hignett recalls players phoning him up in a panic asking when their wages would come through. Not exactly something they teach you when your do your coaching badges.

“You can’t deal with it as a manager,” Hignett admitted.

“People phoning up about mortgages saying the bank is after them because they haven’t been paid.

“Your manager head comes off and your human head comes on, you feel for people.

Supporter seen at Bury's Gigg Lane ground following a decision by C&N Sporting Risk, saying it was unable to continue with its takeover of the club on August 27, 2019 in Bury, England (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

“You stop being a manager and start being a human being.”

Bury midfielder Stephen Dawson is having to sell his house after owner Steve Dale confirmed only half of the player’s contracted wage had been paid.

Hignett said: “It’s all right saying well you’ve got 50% of your wages haven’t you? Yeah, but I didn’t sign for 50% of my wages, I want 100% of my wages to keep what I’ve got.

“All players no matter how much you earn, will live to their means. So if I’m at Bury and I’m earning whatever I’m getting a week, I’ll live to that.

“It’s not a fortune, don’t get me wrong but you’re going to be able to buy a house, put food on your table and buy things for your kids.

“The minute you get in the Premier League, suddenly that 150, 200 grand house becomes a five million pound house and you get the cars to go with it. As soon as you lose your job, that’s all gone.”

While Pools have had a happy ending of sorts – Hignett is back as manager and doesn’t have to worry about his players being paid late – Bury haven’t been so fortunate.

“Where will they go from here?” he questioned. “They’re in the lap of the gods, will they go Conference North? Will they be a phoenix club? There’s so many things up in the air for them.

“To lose a club like Bury with all the history that they’ve got just goes to show if it can happen to them then it can happen to anyone.

“It’s disgusting, they went up last year but it’s all for nothing. I know a few of the lads and they’ll be absolutely devastated to lose their job like that.

“And the people who have worked for the club for years and years, for all of them to lose their job because of mismanagement on a massive scale is absolutely heartbreaking.”

The money being thrown about in football attracts all sorts of undesirable characters who are somehow able get their clutches on clubs. But what can be done to prevent further instances like Bury, Pools and countless others?

“We need more stringent rules, how can you have owners like that who’ve let it get to that point?” Hignett declared.

“At the moment the fit and proper persons act isn’t fit for purpose, it’s just a ticky box. ‘If you tick these boxes you can have this football club, promise me you’re not lying’, ‘no I’m not lying’, ‘all right then, it’s yours’!

“If you can’t afford it and you come out early and say you can’t afford it then that’s different. But to let it go on and on trying to cheat your way through it if you like, is wrong.

“[Dale] is all right, he’ll get out of it and walk away. One of the statements was that he didn’t even know Bury had a football club so to allow someone like that in charge of a football club is unbelievable anyway.

“I can’t see why a person owning a football club should be able to get what they want without any thought for the football club itself.

“They’ve got no worry about what will happen to Bury tomorrow or the day after, as long as they’ve got out then that’s fine for them.

“He’ll say he’s lost all kinds of money, he hasn’t lost any money don’t worry about that. He’ll get out of it all right so it’s shocking really.

“When you look at the money in the Premier League and look at the money that’s involved with saving Bury or Bolton, people turn to the Premier League and say they should do something, but why should they?

“It’s up to you to look after your own club otherwise it’s open to even more abuse by even more unscrupulous owners who’ll come in and think ‘we’ll if I can’t pay for it then the Premier League are going to bail us out anyway’ – it’s wrong!”