Month: December 2019

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.

==========

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.

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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 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…