ANDY PREECE last night warned Wrexham manager Denis Smith of the dangers he will face in trying to steer a club in the grip of administration clear of the relegation zone.
Former Dragons striker Preece tried and failed to save debt-ridden Bury from the drop in the 2001-02 season when he was player-manager at Gigg Lane.
And as Wrexham staved off yesterday's winding-up order by applying to enter voluntary administration, Preece spoke of the constraints placed upon him as he attempted to guide the Shakers through their period of financial turmoil.
Smith, of course, has already experienced some challenging times during his three-year stay at the Racecourse, operating on an ever-decreasing budget against the backdrop of an acrimonious fallingout between former business partners, Mark Guterman and Alex Hamilton
And although Preece last night said he believed Wrexham would emerge from their current financial troubles a stronger club, he warned the situation would probably get worse before it started to improve.
"Being in administration is difficult," said the former Stockport and Crystal Palace forward. "You don't have to worry about bringing players in. That's not an option. Your main worry is players going out.
"Once the administrators come in, and you get offers for players, they will sell them. We had pretty good administrators at Bury as they would converse with me and the board. But I've known cases when that's not happened.
"You were always worried about who might not be there the next day."
He added: "I lost a couple of players and it was a matter of 'it has to be done to keep the club going'. You're aware of that, but the most important thing is that the club is still there in the future. So as a manager, you're gutted about losing players, but you know the most important thing is the football club in the long term.
"It's a tough situation but you have to get on with it."
Bury entered administration in February, 2002, and rookie player-boss Preece was unable to prevent them from falling from the old Division Two into Division Three.
Wrexham currently find themselves lodged safely in mid-table in League One, but if no one comes forward with a rescue package in the next two weeks - or owner Hamilton rejects any takeover bid - they could become first club to be hit by new Football League rules docking 10 points from any club which goes into receivership.
That would send the Dragons to second-from-bottom in the table, but Preece feels such adversity would strengthen the resolve of Smith and his players to climb back out of the danger zone.
And although the 37-year-old was unable to conjure up a miracle escape at Bury, he said: "We did get a strength within the squad where we all stuck together. We were all in the same boat.
"We got told that we would get paid. If you know that, then really you just get on with it and the administrators sort out the problems behind the scenes. The only problems the players have got is to get results.
"It is a difficult situation, but the administrators were always keeping us in touch with what was going on. They always kept us informed on how things were going on a day-to-day basis.
"Things didn't get out of hand." Preece enjoyed an open and honest relationship with Bury's administrators, realising they were doing the best job they could in an incredibly difficult situation.
"I think we were quite fortunate with the administrators we had. They were very good," he said, "They tried to keep things as they were.
"They looked for any area where they could get money in from elsewhere, without actually cutting from our travel arrangements and things like that. They'd look elsewhere before they came on to your side of it.
"They know the last thing they want to do is weaken the team or make things difficult for the team. If I had any questions to ask, they were there for me and answered them honestly. They would say 'if things don't happen in the next couple of weeks, it could be the end of the club.' Things were really bad at Bury."
The Shakers are now out of administration but Preece is no longer with them. He was surprisingly sacked last year, with the club claiming it was for "financial reasons" - something Bolton manager Sam Allardyce described at the time as "a pretty lame excuse".
Preece is philosophical about his departure and admits it merely illustrates how administration should never be seen as a "quick fix" option for resolving a club's financial problems.
The Shakers' largest creditor accepted just £500,000 of the £1.3m they were owed but the club had to enter into a Company Voluntary Agreement that sees them gradually pay off the money at £6,000 a week.
They also managed to raise £500,000 by selling their ground to a local businessman who leased it back at a favourable rate.
Preece, meanwhile, now plays for Carlisle United, but he has been keeping a close eye on the Dragons' plight. He signed for the club in March, 1990 before leaving for Stockport in a £10,000 deal in December 1991.
"You don't want to see any club go out of business, but especially not the one that helped you start your career," he admitted last night.
"I've got people I still know there, like Chris Armstrong, and it's not a nice position for them to be in. I just hope everything can be sorted out.
"I know things are bad there, but as soon as the administrators get in there I'm sure they will sort things out and, hopefully, other clubs will rally around in support, like they did when I was at Bury.
"The whole football community will hopefully rally round and make sure we don't lose the club. Every other club so far has been saved, so we want to make sure that happens again." By DAVID TRIGGS