In an increasingly urbanised locality, the town of Bury has in the past few years regenerated its centre, which has in no small part encouraged new residents to become part of the community, especially from Manchester’s overspill. However, it still has unique facets; an accent distinctly different from other satellite towns on its doorstep, famous exports known well beyond the borough boundaries, and moreover, a football club that has been through more than its fair share of strife throughout the 134 years since its founding.
Understandably, new owner Steve Dale’s takeover back in December was, and continues to be, met and held in cautious optimism. Supporters far older than I, writing as I celebrate my 33rd birthday, have seen silver-tongued figures come and go like the waxing and waning of the moon making promises they either couldn’t keep or worse, had little intention of keeping. I’m not for a moment lumping him in with those, but it does go a great deal of the way to explaining a deep scrutiny of anyone who arrives at the club in the future that doesn’t back up their words with actions.
The statement from the chairman today, which I encourage you to read before continuing with the rest of this article, is pitched at the right angle. There’s nothing contained within it that I feel overreaches what people at the club can realistically achieve.
The relationship I’ve had personally with the club has gone through several different phases; first, between the ages of eight and 12, I witnessed a meteoric rise on the pitch, an era not repeated in either the decades preceding or following it, which has been done justice in fellow fan and scribe James Bentley’s weighty, nostalgic tome.
The downward spiral almost immediately following the mid-90s is also well-documented, and of course led to periods where the club’s future was in serious doubt, including being in administration. Getting teased about it at school by a friend that happened to be an Accrington Stanley fan lent a bizarrely ironic twist to a situation completely out of my hands, and it still rankles me to do this day to see financial instability used a stick by some to beat followers of other teams with. It was also a period where it felt like the seeds were being sown at many other sides in England; the savviest amongst them were starting to realise the paramount importance of forging stronger links with their towns and cities whilst coinciding with a booming economy, and not necessarily just at elite level.
That’s not to say that Bury didn’t do anything; far from it. For my GCSE work experience, there was only place I wanted to spend my two weeks: whatever I could at Gigg Lane. As part of that, Football in the Community, as it was known then, would go into schools to do various talks and play short matches during P.E. lessons, although the overarching subject range was fairly narrow by contemporary standards. Even so, it felt good to be even the smallest cog in the machine I loved for a brief moment in my life.
Fast forward a few years and I’m in quite a bad place at university; without the money to regularly attend games despite only living in Rusholme, it was also when the first team were at their poorest on the pitch, barely surviving the dreaded drop to non-league in successive campaigns. Before the advent of social media, I was quite restricted in that position how and when I could interact with the club.
11 years ago, I had to make the decision to follow my parents down south to Bedfordshire. Suffering from both anxiety and depression, the era under Alan Knill brought some comfort; his interviews often gave me hope that a perpetual struggle wasn’t going to be on the cards. He left just before promotion was (finally) achieved in 2011, and since then, the first team has yo-yo’ed between the bottom two tiers.
Though at times criticised fiercely for various reasons, the club’s outlets on Twitter and Facebook in more recent times have slowly but surely improved beyond recognition with the current media team, and in turn have helped to build bridges between a club and fanbase that had been seemingly been growing apart on the power of their own inertia. CEO Karl Evans’ presence, receptiveness, and responsiveness on social media were one of the few positive constants of an otherwise shambolic 2017/2018; although not directly linked to that, my depression came back with a vengeance at the turn of last year and almost wiped out my longstanding, long distance affection for everything Bury F.C., even though I was writing about some aspect of it twice a week.
Thankfully through counselling, it started to ease off again. One of the main aims of my writing has always been to promote what the club does. For example, it wasn’t that long before interviewing current women’s captain Lucy Golding that I wondered to myself ‘why don’t Bury have a women’s team?’, only to find out through a lot of digging that they did.
The point of providing a potted life history of sorts, and how it has intertwined with the club, is to demonstrate that through events not restricted to, but mainly orchestrated in the past few months have made me feel part of it again, even though I live well over 100 miles away. I have seen the warmth and openness that fellow exiles have been treated with; I’m not saying that these qualities weren’t present before, but I think there has been a marked difference between the two parties since the new ownership.
Things are going fantastically on the field for almost every category under the banner of the club – the men’s team are two points off top spot and one game from only a second appearance at Wembley in history; the women’s senior team, after their superb win over leaders Blackpool last Sunday, also have a real chance of promotion, and will soon make Gigg Lane their new home and have been brought fully under the structure of the club, which I maintain is the best combination of news for quite some time in BL9. The U18s have made waves by making the furthest foray into the FA Youth Cup since 1966, and face the might of Liverpool in a fortnight for a place in the semi-finals. The female reserves under Colin Platt’s leadership also have an outside chance to reach the division above.
Going full circle, the statement is very timely. The iron has been struck whilst it’s scorchingly hot in many respects. It’s impossible to divorce completely success on the field with success and good sentiment off it. The tireless work of the Trust arm of the club has never stopped, but it is finally now getting the publicity that the staff there deserve.
Dale’s ambition from the outset has been to bind the club and town together. His words on the website today represent the first important step in achieving that aim; increased prominence and coverage of the women’s teams, disabled (Ability Counts) outfits, underage teams of all genders, and walking football will go a long way to plugging some of the current gaps.
The last two paragraphs are the most telling, and they relate back to a feeling I’ve held for a long time (and not I alone, I might add) that Bury simply haven’t penetrated the consciousness of the borough to nearly the fullest extent yet. I’m excited to see what happens in the future.
What can I do from my vantage point, as the writer of this blog? I want to continue promoting all aspects of the club wherever possible, and reserve the right to constructively criticise when necessary. I’ll continue to do tweets about stats that include all the available information like the one below:
I want to talk to more people involved in various departments of the club, as well as fellow supporters. It’s to that end that I’ll be launching a podcast in the summer to take things to another level, and to discuss things in a slightly different format than this blog allows. I’m not in the foreseeable likely to be able to go to every game; that’s why I want to make the most of when I do, and to watch from afar when I can’t, and hopefully produce some good content.
I’m very pleased about the direction Bury are heading in. As a fourth generation fan, I’d like my three-year old son to be the fifth if he develops an interest in football. The announcement today makes that just little bit more likely, and that’s something that could be repeated across the town. The future generations are out there that will support the club in one way or another, I’m certain of it.