IT’S been a bad week for the English Football League with Bury becoming the first club to be expelled from the competition since Maidstone United’s demise in 1992.

There was better news just up the road as Bolton Wanderers were saved from a similar fate thanks to a takeover being agreed.

But there have been plenty of gloomy headlines and doom-laden discussions on the parlous state of many of the country’s lower-league football clubs.

There are still problems at Coventry City, Oldham Athletic and Macclesfield Town, amongst others, and it’s clear that the EFL needs to do more to prevent owners like Ken Anderson, Stewart Day and Steve Dale taking control of historic clubs like Bolton and Bury.

But a quick glance at the top of the League Two table shows you that there are some positive stories in the lower reaches of the League.

Exeter City and Newport County AFC, both fan-owned clubs, are sitting pretty in first and second place respectively after six games of the new campaign.

It’s very early in the season to be drawing too many conclusions from the league table, but both clubs have enjoyed a successful few years.

Exeter were beaten play-off finalists in both 2017 and 2018, while County made it to Wembley in May and have carried that momentum into the new season.

Wycombe Wanderers, run by the Supporters’ Trust since 2012, are also flying high in League One after winning promotion in 2018 and AFC Wimbledon continue to defy the odds just by surviving in the third tier.

Supporter ownership is far from perfect, of course, with most clubs finding it tough to thrive on fans’ contributions alone.

Exeter have prospered thanks to an incredible academy system that has made them millions in the transfer market in recent years.

And County’s coffers have been significantly boosted by their success in the cup competitions since Michael Flynn took over in 2017.

If he hadn’t masterminded the Great Escape from relegation that year, the future would have been bleak for his hometown club.

And without those remarkable runs in the FA Cup, it’s unlikely that the Exiles would be challenging at the top of League Two.

Bury themselves were supporter-owned until property entrepreneur Day bought the fans' stake in 2013 following financial difficulties, which had necessitated taking out a PFA loan to pay players' wages and the club being placed under a transfer embargo.

Day was hailed as a saviour back then but he went on to plunge the club into a debt that spiralled into a reported £14m before selling it to Dale for £1 last December.

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County fans know all about so-called saviours after Jerry Sherman’s ill-fated ownership led to the original club’s demise 30 years ago.

And that experience means Flynn has plenty of sympathy for everyone at Bury this week.

“It’s very sad for the fans, for the players and their families, and for the people behind the scenes who have put so much time and effort into helping the club,” said the Exiles boss.

“It’s sad to see a club with that history in this situation.

“We know all about it as a football club. It’s something that we know all too well.

“It’s obviously been mismanaged and I’m just glad that we’re being managed correctly and we’re not putting ourselves in a position where we could go out of business.

“Without knowing the ins and outs, the amount of debt that was floating around – or supposedly floating around – was astronomical and it can’t happen.”

Flynn also understands the anger towards Bury from critics who suggest they spent money they didn’t have to win automatic promotion from League Two last season.

“I don’t know too much about it, but if that is the case then it shouldn’t have been allowed,” he said.

“You’ve got to feel for ourselves, and for Mansfield definitely. They were in the top three near-enough all season.

“Is it right? I don’t think so, and it can’t happen again.”

Bury North MP James Frith is now leading a campaign for the Shakers to be reinstated in the EFL and allowed to play in League Two next season.

That, surely, cannot be allowed. It would be a kick in the face to the likes of County, Accrington Stanley, Aldershot Town, Merthyr Town and Hereford who all had to start again from well down the pyramid.

It took the Exiles 25 years to get back to the big time, but they have proved that there is life after death for clubs at the heart of their communities.

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