Buryball, Chapter 16: Murder on the Orient Express

“Buryball? Eh?” Confused? Read Chapter 0 for a short precis. You can then find a direct link to each subsequent chapter from there.

The close of 2020 sees some big fixtures – two cup competitions, and the small matter of trying to exact revenge for the cruel loss in the derby with Oldham Athletic…

(1885 Bury score first):

Aldershot Town (a): 0-0

Goalkeeper Charlie Andrew proved his worth on numerous occasions in the first half in a keenly fought contest, saving bravely three times in one-on-one situations. Fatigue was certainly a factor in the second half, and the Shots asserted their territorial dominance without troubling the scoresheet. A point gained?

Kidderminster Harriers (h): 1-1

The pattern of play mirrored the previous match, and again, the custodian was to thank for keeping the Shakers in the tie. Dion McGhee made a shocking miss before immediately making amends in his own box, blocking a goalbound shot superbly with his body. Then, with the seconds ticking away, the visitors got what appeared to be the decisive opener from yet another dead ball situation, Lewis Earl getting on the end of an outswinging free-kick. However, one final attack resulted in a penalty dispatched by top scorer Kelsey Mooney. As you were.

Leyton Orient (a) <FA Cup 2nd Round Replay>: 2-0

James Morris wasted a presentable chance to give 1885 Bury an unlikely lead down at Brisbane Road, firing wide with only the ‘keeper to beat. Josh Lillis then deflected an Ellis Hudson shot into his own net, and McGhee hit a scorcher into the top corner from range! 2-0 up in the first half did bring its own dilemma – should I stick with the gameplan or shut up shop already? I decided to carry on as I was, given there aren’t exactly ‘goals’ in the squad. Morris then could and should’ve put the game beyond the O’s, but again couldn’t find the finish required. By that stage, the hosts had flooded the midfield areas, so I brought on James Cook to sweep up in between the lines. Into the third round we go!

Bradford Park Avenue (a) <FA Trophy 1st Round>: 2-1

The elation of the midweek game meant I wasn’t overly fussed on whether progress was made in the FA Trophy; thankfully, the board were of a similar mindset, so it was a chance for some of the fringe talent in the squad to impress. Hudson rifled in the opener from 30 yards, but Liam Hughes quickly replied from a set piece. The latter was shoved over in the box for a penalty that Andrew saved from Ntumba Massanka. Stand-in captain Cook (there must be a pun there somewhere) headed home from McGhee’s smartly taken free-kick

Oldham Athletic (a): 0-1

Of course, what most supporters would really like most of all is to get one over The Latics, who went into the derby in the sole automatic promotion place in the National League. David Wheater, somehow still on the books at Boundary Park, flashed a header wide in the 10th minute. McGhee had the beating of the veteran for pace on the outside, but could only direct his shot straight at Gary Woods. Another combative and even contest saw substitute Johan Branger-Engone’s strike consigned to history, courtesy of the linesman’s flag… but he put paid to that temporary frustration with a sublime 30-yard piledriver. Another narrow loss, and just barely hanging onto seventh spot…

Barnet (h): 0-0

Ah yes, that traditional, local Boxing Day fixture, made all the worse by a truly shocking kit clash that has to be seen to be believed. The Bees did have the lion’s share of the chances with a pauper’s share of the ball. James Morris thought he’d broken a run of 13 appearances without scoring as the match entered injury time, but it was cruelly disallowed on a personal and collective level. Amazingly, the same fate befell Alfie Pavey for the London outfit a minute later, ensuring the stalemate was preserved.

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“Let’s nip down to JD Sports at half-time, eh?!

Solihull Moors (h): 1-1

To round off 2020, I’d dearly like a goal in the fifth tier. That would be great… and so I got it, but it was Solihull Moors in the shape of Dylan Crowe who opened up the game, and were courteous enough to provide one at the right end, too – Leon Malone stabbing into his own net from a McGhee cross. Despite 21 shots, that generous gift was all I had to show for my side’s efforts.

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Still there… just…

2021 will bring Danny Cowley and Premier League Huddersfield Town to Pilsworth Park… but will the new year also bring more consistency in front of goal? Check back next week!

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Buryball, Chapter 15: Into the Cocked Hatters

“Buryball? Eh?” Confused? Read Chapter 0 for a short precis. You can then find a direct link to each subsequent chapter from there.

FA Cup fever has gripped a small corner of Greater Manchester south Lancashire as 1885 Bury make their first-ever appearance in the ‘proper’ rounds of the most famous domestic cup competition in world football. Can the Shakers overcome fellow National League outfit Woking and get a plum draw away at Stevenage? Let’s find out.

(1885 Bury score first):

Woking (a) <FA Cup 1st Round>: 2-1

The dress rehearsal was a damp squib, but thankfully, the clash in Surrey was anything but. Right-winger Simeon Oure confidentially volleyed in a cross-field pass from Ben Forrest to give me the lead. The latter was then pushed in the back by the brilliantly named Christ Junior Tiéhi on 20 minutes; Kelsey Mooney made no mistake from the penalty. The hosts weren’t able to mount a concerted response until the second half, and goalkeeper Calvin Andrew’s frailties at his near post were once again exposed and exploited by the opposition – Ola Ogumwamide the beneficiary. He did much better from a route one ball to deny Jack Parkinson a barely deserved equaliser. The Surrey side pressed and harried for that breakthrough, but it never came to pass, and the £36.000 prize money will cover the wage budget for a couple of weeks.

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Unfortunately, free-spending Billericay Town were able to poach my assistant Anthony Johnson, with my pleas to stay falling on deaf ears.The search for an able replacement began in earnest…

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Goodnight, sweet prince…

The second round draw was made, pitting my young charges against 16th-placed Leyton Orient in the tier above. There’s a squeak of a chance of getting through…

24 year-old Lewis Moore agreed to be my assistant; seemingly, his playing career as a goalkeeper for Brentwood was cut short by injury, but he has the pedigree to be a brilliant coach. Maybe he’ll be a bit more loyal because of his age, too!

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Dover Athletic (a): 0-1

Sixth versus seventh at the Crabble Stadium, and Rhys Hilton’s chance to impress up top, having wept and brayed until I caved in to give him an opportunity. It was Oure who looked the most likely to notch early on however, hitting the inside of the far post from an Akeem Hinds cross. Benedict Cumberbatch’s nephew Kurtis (Narrator: not really) went close for The Whites with a sighter from distance just before the whistle blew for half-time. The hosts did open the scoring after the restart from a simple header by Mason Rubie, and very little was mustered in response – not a single shot on target all game long, in fact.

Harrogate Town (a):  0-1

Falling out of the play-offs in the aftermath of the last fixture was not what I wanted, and another trip on the road (this time to lowlier opponents) was the chance to make amends. Mooney, restored to the side in place of the hapless Hilton, had a strike chalked off for offside in the early exchanges, but once again, a set piece wasn’t defended brilliantly, allowing Warren Burrell to give the North Yorkshire outfit the advantage. There was a distinct lack of urgency to peg them back, which was beginning to be extremely concerning, and even changing shape wasn’t the remedy I’d hoped.

Barrow (h): 2-0

Luke Jephcott was inadvertently doing his level best to give me some hope, picking up a second yellow card after just eight minutes for the visitors. The under-performing Denilson Carvalho did draw the Shakers first blood from a swift attack down the left, turning in a Dion McGhee square ball across the box. Luke Ward stretched the gap, nodding in at the far post. In the second period, the centre-back had his hopes of a brace dashed by the most marginal of offside calls, but the win was secured.

Leyton Orient (h) <FA Cup 2nd Round>: 1-1

Probably the highest profile game of the short life of the phoenix club to date, and Josh Benson grabbed a goal from central midfield, drilling in from the edge of the area. Parity was restored through the evergreen Lee Angol with 13 minutes on the clock, latching onto a loose ball to crash home. The journeyman striker had the only other presentable chance of the match late on in the second half, smacking the outside of the post. However, a replay will be required, giving both teams the added incentive of seeing who they could face if successful in the third round…

Stockport County (h): 1-0

A big local derby at Pilsworth Park swung the way of the Shakers, George Baker’s effort squeezing in with quarter of the match elapsed. The Hatters were never really in the contest, losing the midfield battle and any impetus to hit on the counter.

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Back in the play-offs, albeit having played a game more…

The draw for the third round of the FA Cup would see my side hosting Premier League opposition in the form of Huddersfield Town under a certain Danny Cowley. A brilliant incentive to go to Brisbane Road in December and upset the odds… can I do it? Find out on Thursday!

Buryball, Chapter 14: Back in the Saddle

“Buryball? Eh?” Confused? Read Chapter 0 for a short precis. You can then find a direct link to each subsequent chapter from there.

It’s been a little while, hasn’t it? Let’s refresh our collective memories – the phoenix club, having scraped promotion from the sixth tier via an extended play-off programme, are now firmly ensconced in the upper echelons of the National League after a dozen fixtures… despite not being full time professionals or massively strengthening the squad. Can the performance levels be maintained? Let’s find out…

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(1885 Bury score first):

FC Halifax Town (h): 0-1

A rip-roaring start to this once perennial Lancashire-Yorkshire clash. If there’s one player who’s appeared in Shakers colours in recent years who will punish a lapse of concentration in defence, it’s George Miller… and he just so happens to be on loan at The Shay from Barnsley… and he just so happened to do precisely that with merely 29 seconds on the clock. The miasma cloud took a long time to lift, with Mark Halsey’s nephew continuing to run the show but not add to his tally. Under-performance continued well into the second period, and substitute Fergus McAughtrie should’ve slotted home at the far post to undeservedly level the tie up.

Kidderminster Harriers (a): 3-1

An opportunity to make amends quickly came on the road. Midfielder Josh Benson, who’d been banging on my door for a while to start, took his chance expertly, rifling into the corner from range with just eight minutes elapsed. Right winger Simeon Oure’s effort then squeezed in courtesy of the underside of the crossbar. Reuben Collins was then the unfortunate static object the ball ricocheted off from a dead ball for an own goal (and third) on the stroke of half-time. McAughtrie messed up an easy chance for a second match in succession, allowing Luke Rooney to volley in for a consolation at the other end.

Oldham Athletic (h): 2-3

Now this is the sort of derby you rarely get below the EFL. A capacity crowd were present to witness the first ever battle between the near neighbours outside of the top four tiers; the Latics had been miserly in defence, only conceding six in 14 games. The visitors to Pilsworth Park started the brighter, pinning their more western adversaries back into their own third for the opening quarter of the fixture. Robbie McKenzie headed in from a Marvin Kokos corner to underline that dominance, and quickly added a second from the penalty spot. An uncharacteristic rocket from assistant manager Anthony Johnson was required during the break, and it seemed to be having very little positive effect… but Zak Mills inexplicably turned in a cross from Oure under no pressure whatsoever to halve the deficit. Denilson Carvalho blasted in the equaliser from 20 yards, profiting from some superb vision from McAughtrie. Mills thought he’d scored a second own goal, but a combination of the offside flag and McKenzie’s hat-trick spared his already numerable blushes.

Tamworth <FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round> (h): 1-1

A favourable home draw against lower division opposition, coupled with no expectations from the board to progress, were the platform on which a more relaxed, controlled performance took shape. Sole striker Kelsey Mooney shook off his recent travails in front of goal by nodding in a Carvalho cross. Omar Damba did sweep in from a rare Tamworth counter, and so it stayed, in spite of Mooney’s best efforts, rattling the woodwork on three occasions.

Tamworth <FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round – Replay> (a): 2-0

A trip to Woking in the first round proper awaited the victors of the hastily scheduled replay; Dylon Meredith picked up from where Mooney left off, smashing the post yet again. Thankfully, Oure broke the deadlock, picking his spot at the far post from a Ross Woodcock centre. Mooney pounced on a defensive error to increase 1885 Bury’s lead, but missed his chance for a brace, seeing his spot kick turned around the post by Jasbir Singh

Bromley (a): 3-2

Centre back Ben Forrest powered in a header from a corner for his first goal for the club with barely a minute played, but Taylor Gardner-Hickman emulated his adversary from a free-kick. The latter completed a quick attack to give the home side the lead, and the Shakers were reduced to 10 men to compound matters – James Yates dismissed for pulling Alex Newby back. However, substitute George Baker had other ideas, fooling the ‘keeper by aiming for the far corner from an acute angle. Amazingly, Rhys Hilton then ran through from a route one pass to cap off a remarkable turnaround.

Wrexham (a): 0-3

A whole suite of changes were required due to suspension and fatigue for the trip to North Wales. The hosts saw an early penalty saved by Charlie Andrew, who stayed in the middle of the goal to stop smartly, but subsequently let himself down, allowing a JJ Hooper pea-roller to tricke in underneath his outstretched arm. Chris Bush grabbed a second and Gustav Mogensen a third, and they were just rewards for the Dragons’ total dominance.

Woking (h): 0-0

In a dress rehearsal of sorts for the upcoming FA Cup encounter, another penalty was cheaply given away, but once more, Andrew was equal to the task. Otherwise, it was closely fought, but not greatly entertaining.

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Another decidedly mixed month, but still in the top seven after eight gruelling fixtures (six of which were in the National League itself). How will November, with only five scheduled matches, treat the Shakers? Find out next week…

Bury 2010-2019: Team(s) of the Decade

I’m not one for any overt displays of nostalgia. Arbitrary points of time don’t particularly interest me; even so, with everything that’s gone on at Bury Football Club in the decade that’s already receding in the rear-view mirror, it feels as though one last, lingering look is warranted at the very least.

Plenty of other sites and publications have of course done a Team of the Decade for their respective clubs or a division as a whole. What very few of them will have done, however, is actually consider how the assembled XI would play as a collective. It’s normally just a case of shoehorning in the best individuals with scant regard for anything else.

I take a different stance, of course. The Shakers were ‘blessed’ with some of the most talented players in their modern history during the 2010s, for better or worse, and I’ve blended them together into a coherent lineup, even at the expense of omitting some of my favourites during that expanse of time:

Men

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The first thing to note is that the formation bears a very close resemblance to the ‘Plan A’ employed by Ryan Lowe during the successful promotion campaign in 2018/2019. The second aspect you’ll notice is that yes, some loanees are included. I’ve never had any qualms about regarding them just the same as permanently registered players – the expectations placed on them in my eyes have always been the same.

In goal, it has to be Nick Pope. Tall (even by a ‘keeper’s standard), a great communicator, and an assured presence behind his defence, his huge number of clean sheets during his spell in the second half of 2014/2015 were the foundations on which that surge into the last automatic spot in League Two were built on. Tactically speaking, his distribution from his hands and feet allow the defensive line to be higher than it might otherwise be. Calmly pinching crosses and dead balls out of the air can help to relieve pressure and start counters.

A three-man central defence allows the utilisation of wing-backs. Whilst the more traditional full-back role has evolved most of all in recent years, few in white and royal blue have had the balance right. Although criticised on more than a few occasions for his defensive shortcomings, Chris Hussey in full flow down the left flank was a joy to behold, and had the added string to his bow of being able to take extremely dangerous free-kicks (direct and indirect) and corners. Yes, he wasn’t always consistent in that regard, but that’s why he continues to ply his trade in the lower leagues (in the best sense possible). He always offered an outlet under David Flitcroft, keeping the play wide and working in tandem with his closest team-mate regardless of the shape. His low crosses were also a big asset, and well-suited to the strikers I’ve chosen.

Jimmy McNulty as the left-sided centre back would naturally shift wider to cover Hussey’s bursts forward. Another leader in a defence full of them, he mixed a good range of passing with his natural instincts to stay close to the forward and mark tightly. A reliable passer, he’d lay the ball ahead of Hussey to run onto, or hit a crossfield ball to the right to avoid the press.

Tom Lees remains in the highest echelons of temporary signings by the club. Belying his young age during 2010/2011 (the first of a trio of promotions in the past decade), he rarely lost an aerial battle in either box, and was almost always the primary target to be on the end of a dead ball. He won Players’ Player of the Year during that stint, embodying everything that was positive about that squad. Not the most imposing stopper, he made up for that with excellent aerial reach, scoring five in 50. By the end, he looked the most mature of the stable of centre backs, which is no mean feat at the age of 20, typically before someone in his role would even hold down a regular first-team place at any tier.

On the right of the triumvirate is Nathan Cameron. The charismatic ex-Coventry City player endured a terrible first year in south Lancashire, with regular calls from the stands and on forums to be released… but it was clear he had something. Flitcroft kept him on over the summer of 2014, and from then on, he blossomed into one of the very best, playing his way out of trouble with a quick turn to fool an opponent, using his body as a shield, and mopping up danger both ahead and behind the rest of the unit. He ws also very good on the ball itself, offering a level of close control and cool finishing more typically befitting and associated with a striker. The only issue he had was ultimately with injuries, dashing hopes of a career higher up in the Championship.

It’s fair to say that Matt Doherty was one of the very few bright lights during the relegation season of 2012/2013. In an era of there being two substitutes being on the bench, players turning out for free, and what little youth there was in the ranks being sidelined by Kevin Blackwell, the Irish youngster from Wolverhampton Wanderers swam as so many others sank without a trace. With three footballing centre backs behind him and Pope’s distribution to count on in this XI, he would support the forwards just as much as Hussey, with the added bonus of having a strong left foot in addition to his right, better positioning, and more (controlled) tenacity in the tackle. Excelling with late runs into the area to commit a defender away from other threats is another huge filip to have in a team built for committing men forward in numbers with greater assurance ‘at home’.

The last loanee is one Jordan Rossiter. He had extremely well-documented injury problems in the years prior to his shock move from Glasgow Rangers to the northern point of the Manchester conurbation, but he quickly assuaged the doubts lingering over his fitness (never his ability), becoming the missing piece of the puzzle in Lowe’s jigsaw. A peerless knack of being in the right place to intercept and shut down counters, he could also be the orchestrator of attacks of his own, being particularly adept at floating 30 or 40 yard forward passes to an unmarked teammate in space. Every midfield needs the right balance, and with such a fearsome competitor at the base, it would again give others the confidence to push on.

Danny Mayor… will we ever see someone like him again in a Bury (A)FC shirt? Does it matter? It’s more important now than ever to appreciate what and who came before. He, like Cameron and Rossiter, has had fitness issues in his career that have perhaps prevented greater individual success… but take nothing away from him. He’s had his share of personal accolades, doing more than everyone else to drive the team forward in whichever season he was at Gigg Lane. Anything less than dribbling half the pitch beating two or three players almost felt disappointing, such was his propensity to do it successfully. A creator who gradually shifted more and more central from the left, his rapport with Hussey (and later Callum McFadzean) were huge factors in opposition scouts attempting to mark him out of the game. Like a mirrored version of Arjen Robben, you knew he’d cut in and use his stronger foot to aim for the far corner more often than not. More often than not, his nemeses were powerless to prevent it happening. Some supporters think of him as the most exciting player in the last 30 years, and he would dovetail beautifully in this setup with Hussey and…

Steven Schumacher. My first instinct was to include Jay O’Shea, but in a clear example of not crowbarring someone in for the sake of it, I believe the assistant to Lowe at Bury and now in partisan Devon with Plymouth Argyle offered a bit more between both boxes. He too was fond of a long-range effort, of creating something out of nothing, of dictating the tempo… but as someone who others looked to more for on-field leadership, which of course has now translated into the dugout and training pitch. His vision was vital three seasons in a row, complementing Peter Sweeney‘s deeper playmaking instincts well. A one-in-six record from over 100 appearances for the Shakers cannot be sniffed at, and it was self-evident that he retained a deep fondness for the club in between his spells upon his return.

The finely tuned balance in midfield made it even more difficult to choose the two strikers. Lowe himself, Tom Pope, and Nicky Maynard all narrowly missed out. Present for only one season, James Vaughan was the epitome of a precociously talented individual who had experienced lengthy spells of unavailability that ultimately saw him go from club to club in search of consistency. Alongside the Port Vale legend, he certainly found it in more humble surroundings than he was used to. It didn’t take long for him to carve out his niche, proving his efficacy outside the area as well as in it. A propensity to try the spectacular (and succeed), he also liked to drop off the apex of attack and then run in behind the defence. The sheer variety of the shots taken and subsequent goals scored would ensure he was a multi-faceted threat.

Leon Clarke rarely has the body language which screams ‘full of effort’. If there was a phrase that would sum up his career that I continue to follow, it’s languidly clinical, with firm emphasis on the ‘languid’ part. Even so, he was often tasked with ploughing a lone furrow up top. Not precisely a classic target man, he honed his movement to a fine art, often deceiving his marker in the process. His goal in the memorable 3-1 victory over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane remains both a personal favourite and also an excellent summary of his strengths and character. He chased a hooked ball forward from Hussey, shrugged off the close attentions he was receiving (almost bouncing off him), controls it with his left knee and lobs the ‘keeper with his right foot. The audacity of it could only be carried off by someone with his personality type and matching skillset. As the focal point in this lineup, he’d be aided greatly by Vaughan’s unselfish runs, the support he’d receive from Mayor and Schumacher, and the accurate passing from Rossiter and the wing-backs. He never got that level of consistent service during 2015/2016 in real life, but still left the club with a one-in-two record.

Women

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Strictly speaking, this isn’t a representative Team of the Decade, having only known of, and very closely followed, the exploits of the female Shakers for a few years. However, easily their most successful jaunt was in 2018/2019. Suffering a very similar fate to the men – having to withdraw from the fifth tier after a glorious championship/promotion season, it should nevertheless not take away from their achievements, and many of them have since found other clubs at a similar standing or higher up the echelons…

Tess Duxbury often orchestrated attacks from goal, rolling or throwing the ball short to the expressive defenders to take the game to the opposition. Aymee Openshaw, who more often than was vice-captain, would sweep forward in support the five-woman midfield, angling her runs to always provide an option to float crosses to the far post from deep or close to the byline. Jordanna Holgate would cut off any space in between the lines, stepping out of defence to help the line continue to push up. Her central defensive partner Becca Dolman would drop deeper, helping to keep the shape on the rare occasions the Shakers weren’t dominant in possession. Leah Dolan mirrored Openshaw’s forays up and down the flank.

As a key component in the team and one half of the double pivot, Alisha Marsh intelligently split her duties between defence and attack, being a creative force from midfield and frequently troubling the scoresheet, but also being an effective screen in front of the back four. Chloe Davies also had licence to join in the approach play in the final third, often striking from range.

On the right, Sophie Rowlands had an uncanny ability to sweep home at the far post, whilst also working especially well in tandem with Dolan. Captain Lucy Golding reminded me of a female Wayne Rooney in the sense that she wanted to be at the centre of every attack her side made, and more importantly, had the confidence from without and within to be the taliswoman. Her free-kicks from 40 yards out would often end up in the net, and her finishing was simply unmatched – her hunger for goals rarely sated. Her contributions on and off the pitch to Bury are immeasurable.

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Lucy Golding always carried herself as someone who could go higher than the fifth tier of domestic women’s football, and she continues to prove that in spades at neighbouring Bolton Wanderers

Jordon Bailey‘s combined goals (22) and assists (23) actually totalled higher than Golding’s efforts. Her pace and work rate would almost always succeed in pulling defenders out of position to combat her, which would in turn create gaps to exploit, helped in no small measure by Caitlin Clancy‘s movement, stretching the play laterally to aid her teammates’ constantly penetrative runs into the final third and beyond any unsuccessful offside trap sprung.

2020-2029?

What will the next decade hold? Who will be the heroes on the terraces, and just where will those terraces be? I don’t have the answer to any of these questions, but any club adorning the name of Bury, seeking to embody the town, and embody a modern approach to running a football club is the only way any future articles like this will continue to be written by yours truly. I don’t want the women to be treated as a footnote in whatever comes next – they deserve far more than that, whatever their identities are. It’s also likely there’ll never be anyone with the same level of talent as a Rossiter or a Mayor for the men in most people’s lifetimes reading this now, but that’s no reason to turn away from a non-league adventure if fans are finally put first. Here’s hoping that comes to fruition in the coming months…

Buryball, Chapter 13: Blue Mooney Rising

“Buryball? Eh?” Confused? Read Chapter 0 for a short precis.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12

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Hey, hey, hey! We’re moving in the right direction now!

(1885 Bury score first):

Hartlepool (a): 0-1

The north-eastern outfit easily bested my side in the FA Trophy last season when the teams were a division apart. Reece Deakin’s second minute strike looked like it was going to further cement Pools’ superiority. Kelsey Mooney’s ball-stealing abilities were in full display, but his thievery could only find the inside of the far post. The contest petered out during the second half, and it marked the first loss on the road of the campaign.

Maidenhead United (a): 0-0

A similarly soporific affair, although Amari Morgan-Smith fluffed his chance to give The Magpies the lead in the early exchanges of the second half.

Yeovil Town (h): 0-0

The very first televised match of the phoenix club’s existence putted the Shakers against recent EFL competitors Yeovil. Under the lights and cameras, Mooney smashed the bar from 10 yards out in the third minute, and then, once more, the contest became a damp squib.

Barnet (a): 2-1

Finally, some goals! The Bees had two thirds of the shots but only one third of the strikes. Callum Reynolds sent Charlie Andrew the wrong way to give the London-based club the lead, but a flowing move that ended in a sighter from range by Dylon Meredith broke Bury’s duck. Baker then intercepted a loose pass and punted forward for Mooney to round one-time loanee Scott Loach to bag the winner.

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Work in the background is once again underway to improve the youth facilities and recruitment – these constitute key facets of Buryball, with the emphasis on improving infrastructure and bringing through the club’s own talent over signing from elsewhere.

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Torquay United (h): 1-0

A red card for a tackle from behind by Armani Little was as good as it got for The Gulls, who didn’t muster a single meaningful shot on goal. However, the Pilsworth Park faithful were made to wait for their side’s advantage to manifest itself; substitute Fergus McAughtrie blasted in during second-half stoppage time to ensure the profligacy of late didn’t rear its head in this one.

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Still in the play-off hunt…

A middling month with few goals scored or conceded is still enough to be in the top seven beyond all expectations. Will it last? Find out tomorrow.

Bury AFC: Definitely NOT A-Okay

I’ve been doing my best to not venture onto football social media recently, with far more of the discussion based around the run-up to the general election here in the UK than any other topic. Personally, I like to keep these things entirely separate.

However, I was alerted earlier yesterday to the following post during my self:

Understandably, many onlookers, including some Bury fans, were and remain confused. I received several private messages asking me what the hell was going on. The simplest way to break it down is as follows:

Thanks to the adjournment at lunchtime, Bury Football Club (Ltd) still exist for the next fortnight at least. I have been told by more than one source of a rumour that Steven Wiseglass, the insolvency practitioner who supervised the CVA back in the summer, will also be appointed as the liquidator when that inevitable event occurs. He would effectively be reviewing his own earlier work, which is as (un)ethical as it sounds.

Forever Bury, the club’s Supporters’ Trust, were, rightly or wrongly, entirely focused on saving the club in its current guise, often acting as mediators and the first point of contact for any prospective buyers. After expulsion occurred in August, quite why anyone without sufficiently deep pockets and an affiliation with the area (if not necessarily the club itself) would still seek to get involved is open for debate. For the past five years or so, they’ve been at turns totally supine and only good for organising beer festivals. The new blood, which was badly needed, came and was rendered moot by the very recent events.

Step forward one Robert Benwell. A quick five-minute search on Google and Companies House reveals all you need to know with a high degree of confidence in him. These pieces of evidence were less apparent when he suddenly appeared on the largest online forum for Shakers fans, asking whether they would ‘invest’ to secure the business’s future. The reception was positive at first, until too many people started to pose too many awkward questions, having been thoroughly burned by the likes of Stewart Day and Steve Dale.

Obviously, this wasn’t enough to dissuade Benwell from his current course of action. Many of the fans who signed up in good faith to become members of Forever Bury over the summer (‘Lifetime’ ones to the tune of hundreds of pounds) are now outraged that they were neither consulted, nor asked to vote on backing Benwell’s attempts to salvage what he can post-liquidation. Nor were some of the board members, including the vice-chair. It is important to note at this juncture that if any sale happens after liquidation, the resultant entity cannot be called Bury Football Club – it wouldn’t be the same thing.

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A phoenix club, but not the phoenix club, further clouding what little certainty exists

Current Forever Bury chair Dave Giffard has gone against the Trust’s own constitution with this move, and the statement released last night is wholly inadequate. The repeated references to NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) and the overall ‘divorced from reality’ tone have done precisely zero to assuage fear and anger.

All of this has seriously threatened to derail the momentum behind the phoenix club. Whilst I’d never suggest everything has been seamless in its initial setup, the communication has been professional, constructive feedback has been taken on board for the most part, and qualitative research on the future direction of travel has been undertaken. The headline to take away is that the vast majority of respondents voted overwhelmingly in favour of a club being at least 51% owned by supporters like themselves.

As has been repeated to nigh-on infinity, the fanbase is fractured, and individuals currently fit into one of these five broad groupings:

  1. People who want the original club to survive no matter what.
  2. People who are suspicious of the motives (‘egos’) of anyone getting involved with any entity. A lot of this is directed at the phoenix club, but not wholly.
  3. People who don’t mind which form the club takes for 2020/2021, but their red line is seeing them turn out at Gigg Lane.
  4. People who are fully behind the phoenix club.
  5. People who just want to watch football again.

Ostensibly, I am in the fourth category, and I have had an extremely minor role on two of the working groups. I voted for 1885 Bury as the new name, just like my save on Football Manager 2020. In real life, there is still time to have your say at the time of writingI haven’t seen anyone in favour of the FB-backed Benwell venture since it came to light. The overarching mood is just one of wondering when suffering supporters will stop being dumped on. Zoë Hitchen’s superb #WeAreBury exhibition in November and the coordinated efforts to help out local pubs affected by the expulsion whilst bringing fans together should be commended.

Before long, however, a resolution is needed. People have their individual red lines. Not everyone will go along with a phoenix, or indeed return to watch the old club in majority private ownership. Not everyone is prepared to travel outside the main town for a possible ground-share. Not everyone will accept that a new entity’s name cannot be Bury FC for the foreseeable future. Not everyone will accept non-league football in any guise.

This is the legacy of decades of sailing close to the wind, which ratcheted up under Day and was perpetuated most cruelly perhaps by Dale. Yes, there are other people and bodies partly responsible or negligent, but they’re the main ones.

I’d like to see the ones who are left coalesce around a shared vision. A 51%+ fan-owned club is my personal red line. There are other ownership models which might make a return to the EFL more likely and quicker, but that no longer in my mind is the most important ambition. I have never known an era in my lifetime where Bury weren’t one or two steps away from oblivion, even when operated by people with the requisite skills and passion. A majority fan-owned club is not a panacea in and of itself to financial strife, but it does mean that there is far more scope to influence proceedings, and far less scope for living beyond its means.

I’ve had enough of the depression, the listlessness, the anger… all the negativity associated with Bury in one form or another. Still, the debates rage. Still, the fingers get pointed. Still, football in the town is used for party political purposes in the midst of the worst, most vitriolic election campaign I can remember.

I gave up a more stable income to become a freelance writer (if you’d like to support my work, you can find out how here). I was sincerely hoping that Bury would be the main subject, one way or another. My way of scribing might not always illuminate my love of the club, but it’s there… just now not unconditionally. Having accepted the ‘death’ of Bury FC as an inevitability quite early on, I am more than prepared to walk away if once again, overall control is given to a person or persons with no love for the club. Football in England is need of massive reform, and hoping against hope for a benevolent dictator at best is something I can no longer countenance.

Buryball, Chapter 12: All I See is Red

“Buryball? Eh?” Confused? Read Chapter 0 for a short precis.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11

The big day arrived. What would lay in store during the course of the 2020/2021 season? Can my charges cock a snook at the board and the pundits predicting an almighty struggle to stay in the National League?

(1885 Bury score first):

Ebbsfleet United (h): 1-0

A more dominant and encouraging performance than the slender margin of victory suggests. Three times the number of shots, restricting the visitors from Kent to not a single clear-cut chance, and overall, bedding in the new faces very well. Kelsey Mooney, the star striker signed from Hereford, looked threatening throughout, and capped an impressive debut with a cool half-volley into the far corner from a clipped ball by left-back Akeem Hinds, a fellow newcomer, this time from Rotherham United. However, Luke Ward, a centre-back recruited from Shrewsbury Town, was dismissed late on, which did take the gloss off an otherwise consummate display.

Solihull Moors (a): 4-2

Games come thick and fast in the fifth tier, but the Shakers were unchanged, save Ward’s enforced removal. Mooney picked up from where he left off the previous weekend, rising highest to head home a Dion McGhee corner. The former Manchester United youngster provides real competition for Denilson Caravlho in the advanced playmaker role behind the sole striker, and was helping to fashion plenty of opportunities for Mooney. In the second half, Gaël Bigirimana, once of Newcastle United, smashed into an empty net from distance to level things up briefly; Dylon Meredith restored the advantage five minutes later from a raking Harold Essien cross. George Baker scored the pick of the bunch, however, volleying in from 25 yards out from a poorly headed clearance.

Essien then thought it was a great idea to experiment as to whether 1885 Bury could get a second win on the bounce a man light, scything down Paul McCallum. The resulting free-kick was blasted in by Bigirimana for his second of the match. A late penalty on the counter whilst trying to absorb pressure was put away by Mooney to settle some nerves.

Chesterfield (h): 0-0

Ah, Chesterfield. Many are the recent high-profile encounters with the Spirerites, all of which of course were contested at a higher level. Not that it meant much after two matches, but this too was a (rather unexpected) top of the table clash at Pilsworth Park. The first 45 yielded just one shot on target between the two sides, but the lion’s share of chances were created by my young XI. The second period followed much the same pattern, but it was hard to be disappointed – seven points in the first three was a far better return than anyone was hoping for or indeed expecting.

Eastleigh (a): 1-1

Baker rattled the bar from outside the box on the five minute mark, and Essien cleared off his own line… before bringing down Ben Williamson. Byron Harrison hit the spot kick against the woodwork, Meredith crashed the outside of the post on the counter. Whirlwind stuff. Ross Woodcock, who’d been begging for more starts, became the third player to get sent off in the opening four matches. That didn’t perturb Meredith from venturing forward and slotting in at the near post. Steven Ziboth evened things up for The Spitfires with quarter an hour left on the clock. Réda Johnson received his marching orders, although it didn’t affect the outcome ultimately.

Notts County (h): 0-2

Another big club in the doldrums. The Magpies came out swinging from the first whistle, which was capped off by Wes Thomas finishing under Charlie Andrew. The journeyman poacher made sure of the victory for the visitors, profiting from a mistimed header by Akeem Hinds. The young full-back’s day went from bad to abject when he became the fourth individual to be sent off. Must be something in the water on the industrial estate…

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This is just ridiculous!

Wealdstone (a): 4-1

The brilliantly named Michael Gash smacked in a rebound for the Ruislip-based outfit in the ninth minute, but The Stones were soon brought back to earth with a cheaply given away penalty. Mooney, returning to full fitness, did the honours for 1-1. Despite having to operate for the vast majority on the back foot, a great lay-off by Ellis Hudson set up Baker to complete the turnaround. Denilson Carvalho was on the end of a deep Fergus McAughtrie cross to bag a third, and the Brazilian squared for Mooney to lash in a fourth. Further chances were spurned to increase the gap, but it was great to be back to winning ways in an even contest.

Havant & Waterlooville (h): 2-0

A quiet opening to this one. Mooney and Meredith both went close with efforts that whistled past the post, and a superb passage of play saw Woodcock become the latest member of the ‘hit the bar’ club. Baker followed suit. 20 shots in the first 45 because of a late flurry hadn’t yielded a goal. The deadlock was broken from another penalty (Mooney dispatching), and Carvalho finished the good work by Essien to put the icing on another delicious cake of a display.

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Nosebleed time!

Well, well, well. Fourth in the league after seven games, and that’s been on merit. What next for 1885 Bury? Find out in Chapter 13 later in the week!

Buryball, Chapter 11: The Revolving Door

“Buryball? Eh?” Confused? Read Chapter 0 for a short precis.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10

The very first thing to do following promotion was to discuss with the board the club vision. The negotiations didn’t go well, so the goal remained simply staying up in the National League for the foreseeable future.

You might have noted that there was very little mention of the Buryball rules in previous chapters. That won’t be the case from now on; my request to improve the youth category from four to three was approved, costing £350,000 – this follows the mantra that investment in infrastructure is to be favoured over new players and helps with the development of academy prospects into the first team, rather than relying on young loanees from clubs higher up the pyramid.

The next key issue was whether to turn fully professional; a quick scan of the division the Shakers were going into showed that the number of part-time outfits are on the wane: Maidenhead United, near neighbours Stockport County, and Woking are the only others who will be semi-pro (unless they change their status, too). In any case, the request was rejected by chairman Richard Mason, so the task will be that much harder to stay in the fifth tier. Additionally, he only offered me a one-year extension to my contract, so I’m still not exactly held in his highest esteem.

Improvements were required in the backroom staff, one of which was a popular and familiar face in a new role of Youth Development…

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“He should never have left!”

He immediately went on a course to get his National A Licence, which will be important with only a small team of people behind the scenes.

The revolving doors were in full swing on the playing front, too; with plenty of the wage and transfer budgets remaining, I decided to add more depth to the first team squad, plus work towards implementing a full U23s roster as a halfway house to develop talent further.

One of the strangest moves though came about because of just how upset Owen Gallacher, a striker who just arrived as a free agent from Nottingham Forest, was at seeing Kelsey Mooney join from Hereford on the same day. Almost straight away, a bid came in from SPFL third tier outfit Raith Rovers for £43,500. Whilst I’m not, strictly speaking, operating the Moneyball policy of always selling someone for more than they’re worth, given that something I am doing is sticking to the mantra that I cannot make a net loss in any season through transfers until the Premier League is reached, it just made sense to go ahead with the quick-fire deal!

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Oh well. Easy come, easy go…
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Not favourites for relegation… hold on a minute, Oldham are in the National League?!
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Obviously, they’re expecting whoopings across the three competitions…

This is how the senior setup now looks:

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Ebbsfleet United will be the first visitors to Pilsworth Park after promotion. Can the young Shakers confound the pessimistic expectations from the fan-owned board? Find out tomorrow with Chapter 12

Buryball, Chapter 10: Tonight Alex, We’re Going to the (Honey)ball

“Buryball? Eh?” Confused? Read Chapter 0 for a short precis.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9

Crunch time  – it’s the play-offs…

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(1885 Bury score first):

York City <National League North Play-Off 1st Round> (a):

In the very first minute at Bootham Crescent (possibly the last-ever match played at the historic stadium), the Minstermen could’ve taken the lead. Winger Elliott Durrell, having previously been a free agent following a long spell at Macclesfield Town, floated a dangerous ball in for opposite winger Alex Kempster – his header ought to have been a goal, but he instead conspired to rattle the crossbar. Top scorer James Morris’ lob dipped but still cleared Anthony Patterson’s own goalmouth. The custodian then got down well to save from a long run and shot from Shakers winger Simeon Oure. York were having more of the chances as half-time sounded, but honours were still even.

Morris could’ve done more on the counter when set free by Dylon Meredith just before the hour mark – Patterson stood firm to deny him a crucial opener. The second half as a whole was a far more attritional affair, as could be expected with the stakes so high. Extra-time was needed…

Straight away, Kyle McFarlane hit the side netting from a favourable angle for the hosts. That aside, it was tighter than ever.

Their full-backs were understandably getting tired, so I set sub Ellis Hudson and Oure to attack them more directly in an effort to make a breakthrough. With time ticking away, Josh Eccles thought he’d won it for the men in red and blue, only for Liam Landers to pull off a crucial save.

Penalties!

James Morris – O
Elliott Durrell – X
Denilson Carvalho – O
Tom Crawford – O
Jason Fletcher – 
O
Sean Newton – O
James Cook – O
Josh Eccles – O

It all came down to the last pair of takers…

Alfie Raw – O

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AWWWWWWWWWW  YEAAAAAAAAH!

Even so, there are still two (potential) matches to play, and because of the seedings, the next/final one will also be on the road…

Darlington <National League North Semi-Final> (a):

Much like the previous match, a goal could’ve been scored after mere seconds. Alfie Raw, the hero from sudden death, thought he’d done just that…. but not all the ball had crossed the line. It did 15 minutes later – James Yates laid it on a plate for Morris to rifle home his 25th and most important strike of the campaign. Cameron Taylor charged down a Quakers shot soon after to preserve the nascent lead. A well-worked move from a corner for the hosts resulted in the equaliser – Jack Bainbridge squeezed a shot in at the near post. Meredith bended an effort in from the edge of the area, but it whistled wide. Oure was then forced off with an injury, which brought a close to the first half.

His replacement Hudson ought to have done better with a presentable chance from a Morris lay-off, only to see it fly over the crossbar. The latter profited once from a full-back’s whipped cross to restore the advantage with less than 20 minutes on the clock. I decided to try to see the tie out, bringing on Alex Honeyball in a switch to a five-man defence, tasked with smashing everything that comes his path clear. It appeared to be working… until the dying moments. Ben Hedley used his noggin to take another game to extra-time!

In the second period, Morris got the matchball – a free-kick from deep by James Cook flew over the Darlington backline, and the hitman showed ice-cool composure to hit a low volley into the far corner. Challis Johnson was brought on to keep things that way as a target man, looking to relive the inevitable pressure that would be wrought on the Shakers. It didn’t come to pass! The final awaits!

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One… more… time…

Southport <National League North Play-off Final> (a):

Oure shook off his injury in time for the big decider, and supplied the perfect corner for Morris, but Sandgrounders custodian Alex Handford was equal to it. Carvalho had his own off-target effort that had Handford rooted to the spot. Efforts were raining down on the hosts at Haig Avenue, and Southport didn’t have one to their name in the whole first half.

Oure’s return to the fold proved to be pivotal – an errant header in the penalty area fell kindly to him, and the French 19 year-old showed maturity beyond his tender age to put 1885 Bury minutes away from what had almost always seemed to be an unlikely promotion over the course of the season. Hudson could’ve sealed it from a direct free-kick, and was unfortunate not to see his curler hit the target. Morris then missed a sitter… and was duly punished. Kieran Glynn’s 30-yard piledriver dashed dreams of fifth tier football.

Former Lincoln City ‘lump’ Matt Rhead twice wasted gilt-edged opportunities to give the Lancashire outfit an undeserved lead, and Morris had a clearly offside goal chalked off in response.

Penalties!

Matt Rhead – X
James Morris – O
Tommy Smith – O
Denilson Carvalho – O
Russell Benjamin – O
Ro Vieira – O
Senior – O
Cameron Taylor – O
Morgan – O
Alex HoneyballO

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YES! YES!

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… And the board, delighted as they might be, still only rate my management as a ‘B-‘, despite promotion!

Check back next week for the tumult that will need to happen over the summer to ensure a swift return to the sixth doesn’t occur, including whether turning fully professional can happen within the confines of the Buryball rules in Chapter 11…

Buryball, Chapter 9: Stumbling and Mumbling

“Buryball? Eh?” Confused? Read Chapter 0 for a short precis.

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8

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Ah, a C+ from the board. Again. Hello darkness, my old friend…

(1885 Bury score first):

Kettering Town (a): 0-0

Narrator: ‘Absolutely nothing happened.’

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The temerity! 16/1 to be sacked next!

AFC Telford United (a): 0-1

Not quite the same dirge on show in Shropshire. The hosts took the lead on the half-hour mark, Alex Petrovics blasting home from near the penalty spot. Aaron Williams was then dismissed for Telford with just 10 minutes remaining, prompting an all-out assault on their goalmouth… but without reward.

Hereford (h): 1-3

Gibraltarian international Alex Gosling rifled in from an early free-kick, which was the instigator for a flurry of attacks on the Bulls’ own goal. Stephen Dawson, famously formerly of Bury twice, believed he’d grabbed a second, but it was disallowed. Unfortunately, Hereford have their own version of James Morris – Kelsey Mooney increased their lead with his 22nd of the campaign. Denilson Carvalho got one back on the break, but Reece Styche made sure of victory with a simple finish from a Dawson cross (!).

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26 shots, 14 on target… lose 3-1… *Sigh*

Leamington (h): 1-0

A much-need victory. The same shot dominance as the previous fixture, but without the poor goals given up so easily. Morris found form once more, bundling in from a Carvalho free-kick. Ross Woodcock, playing on the right side of defence for a change, was sent off for a second bookable offence in injury time, but it didn’t cost the Shakers too dearly.

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Kidderminster Harriers have run away with the title. Still on course for a play-off spot…

Altrincham (a): 2-2

In true FM-style, a previously goal-shy striker scores against the side you manage. Lewis Archer had gone 15 miserable games for Altrincham without joy, but found it in just the fourth minute against 1885 Bury, heading home from a right-wing cross. Dylon Meredith replied with an absolute howitzer from the corner of the box. A superb passage of play with interchanging passes between the attack-minded four ended with Simeon Oure slotting home for a short-lived lead; naturally, Archer got his brace soon afterwards, rounding Lewis Landers to level things up.

Darlington (h): 1-2

Okera Simmonds punished Landers for mistiming rushing from his goalmouth by netting for fellow play-off contenders Darlington. Meredith was felled for a penalty in first half stoppage time, and Morris duly obliged, sending the ‘keeper the wrong way. Simmonds then made a mockery of the offside trap on the hour mark to restore the visitors’ advantage. Two games to go, and the play-off position is now looking precarious.

Bradford (Park Avenue) (h): 1-1

Winner Luaba was doing his level best to make his teammates with a truly bizarre own goal that I’ve had to upload and share with you, such is its insipidness. Thankfully, Ellis Hudson grabbed an equaliser with the last kick of the game to all but ensure participation in the play-offs, but with no real form to speak of.

Southport (a): 0-1

Oh dear. George Newell bundled in after three minutes, and the tired old refrain of huffing and puffing from early in the season is back with a bang/whimper (depending on your disposition). James Cook had a goal chalked off in injury time, which is also all too frequent. Something will have to change if promotion is to be gained…

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Squeaked in…

On Friday, you’ll be able to find out just how the play-offs went in Chapter 10. York City will have to be overcome, and they’re just the first hurdle…

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