You might recall my prediction at the start of 2018/2019, which now looks rather modest: it was simply a desire that the minimum target be for Bury to win more league games than they lost, even if the margin was only one. Barring a complete collapse, they’re likely to do much better than that. Fans’ expectations at the club have, on the whole, risen in the last decade, thanks in no small part in my opinion to former manager Alan Knill, now assistant to Chris Wilder at Sheffield United in a role reversal of their time at Gigg Lane.
Knill was by no means perfect, but what he did manage to achieve during his interviews was a perceptible shift in the collective mentality in BL9, which has barring one miserable season (no, not 2017/2018 – 2012/2013!), stayed around long after he departed eastwards for Scunthorpe United. It wasn’t ‘little Bury’ anymore, and rarely has been since. There’s a difference between knowing the limits of what can be achieved, and seeking to expand those confines even by just a little bit.
Few supporters, myself included, truly knew what this season would bring. There’s been tumult off it, but it hasn’t disrupted the harmony on it. The players and indeed the staff seem as one, especially since Steve Dale took over shortly before Christmas. That doesn’t mean the current state of affairs will continue in perpetuity, but I thought that now was a timely moment to reflect on what it’s been like for the past few months, and still might be up until May and maybe beyond, but in the words of others:
Before the season, I would have said anything more than relegation. However, now I’d say top 3 particularly after the last month, and hopefully a trip to Wembley, however I don’t think that’s needed to class this season as successful
— Aidan Allcock (@aidan2506) January 28, 2019
After first 12 games I said any less than top 3 and this team will have underperformed. Genuinely think we are (nip and tuck) best in the league along with Lincoln. Supremely talented team which Lowe has got firing.
— Kirk (@KirkcalvertKirk) January 25, 2019
It’s a question I also put to members of gigglane.com, the largest unofficial message board dedicated to the Shakers. The standard of responses were very high, and can be generally categorised into the following groupings:
- Winning the ‘right way’, i.e. entertaining hugely whilst doing so, and rarely (if ever) resorting to a win-at-all-costs mentality
- Restored/rekindled affection and love for the club, and a sharp contrast to last season
- Ryan Lowe – his honesty and selflessness during interviews is a marked departure from previous incumbents
- High satisfaction with how things have gone already, even if results taper off…
- … which contrasts with more than a minority stating that ‘anything less than finishing in the top three would be a disappointment’
- A pleasure to go to matches
I’ve included Barry Howarth’s comments verbatim, as I think he sums it up quite brilliantly, and always writes well:
“There are too many factors to take into account in predicting success or even defining what success is for a club like Bury. Unlimited finance is probably the one guarantee of success and even that isn’t particularly reliable.
However, there is one aspect of the management of the club that deserves some scrutiny and that is the management style of Ryan Lowe and its impact on the pitch.
Ryan isn’t a proven manager or even one that has had a qualified training background to the highest level. He has had little experience in management, his earlier spell care taking wasn’t exactly a wild success. However, there was one early indicator of his impact when we were left manager-less after Knill left us short of the line. There is no doubt that Lowe played a key part in driving the team to promotion – arguably after we we heading out of the race before Knill left. He did have some other strong characters and experience around but I would argue that it was Lowe’s natural positivity and emotional intelligence that made the difference.
Given last season’s debacle and the increasing creakiness of Day’s tenure, it has been a total revelation to see the way the team has performed and dealt with injury setbacks as well as off the field distractions. I can’t believe it is down to Lowe’s tactical genius, his managerial experience or his skills. Great leaders are defined by their behaviours and not by their skills.
Lowe presents as someone who is what you see – he is authentic. He is modest and open about his background and achievements, never pretends that he is what he isn’t (looking at you Clarkey!) and always always puts his players, his team first and foremost. Without wishing to sound over analytical, people have a choice in how to respond to events. They can be reactive (like this messageboard is sometimes when we lose!) in that we moan about mistakes, we get angry about losses or we slag off people who don’t seem to be up for the job.
In his first spell, Lowe did that when the team lost – “that’s not my team out there” – and you can only imagine the impact on the players. I called him out for it at the time but, being charitable to him, it was out of character and I believe heavily influenced by Clarke’s tenure which was all about blaming the players for what he, as manager, was entirely responsible for.
This year we have seen Lowe with his constant grin, his cheeky chappie attitude not ‘reacting’ to events and setbacks but choosing to be proactive in pretty much all the situations. This removes pressure from his players, gives them a confidence boost and creates an overall happy and supportive environment. This is immediately obvious on the pitch where we are playing with a freedom and positivity which I honestly can’t remember over such a sustained period since – errr . . . .
Football at this level has always been more about making the most of what you have. Teamwork is the single most effective indicator of that and anyone who can create teams who have self belief, are happy, work for each other and create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts is a good manager in my book.
For me, success on the pitch this season is not about promotion, play offs or even (god forbid) relegation but about demonstrating our values, our togetherness, our teamwork and building a Bury brand in the image of the manager. We can always bring in skills but attitude and behaviour is in short supply in the managerial pool.
Dale should do all he can to keep Lowe.”
It was inevitable that some would factor in the (cautious) optimism surrounding Bury since Dale became the chairman. Most supporters have seen false dawns come and go, and successful times become relatively short-lived. What can be agreed upon though, is that the current squad and brand of football is the best anyone has seen for decades… it’s now just a small matter of ‘getting to where we want to get to’, in Lowe’s own words. It’s sure to be quite the conclusion to 2018/2019!