Month: January 2020

Review: ‘One Football, No Nets’ by Justin Walley

For full disclosure, I know the author in the sense we’ve had lots of conversations on social media before, but this doesn’t affect my review of his book.

I first purchased the work last September on the back of listening to some podcasts, and being vaguely aware of CONIFA, a sort of independent counterpart organisation to FIFA that holds its own ‘World Cup’ for nations not affiliated with the far more prominent governing body, mostly for political reasons.

The work takes place during a 12-month expanse, beginning with Walley’s appointment as national team manager of Matabeleland, an area covering three provinces on the western side of Zimbabwe. In a turn of events that becomes a recurring theme throughout the 362 pages,  it was far from straightforward for him to land that role, and perhaps just as importantly, it was effectively an unpaid one.

Life in Bulawayo was (and doubtlessly continues to be) a rollercoaster; travelling to and from there is an epic journey in its own right, taking Walley the best part of three days from the UK or his base in Latvia, but once in situ, he becomes accustomed to its very particular culture and way of doing things. Indeed, the first third of the tome is still under the brutal regime of the late Robert Mugabe, and his many informants, obvious (the military police) and not.

Taking training is often affected by the prevailing and well-founded fear as much as it is by the logistical and financial problems faced by the young players, fellow coaching staff and Walley himself. Co-founders of the MFC (Matabeleland Football Confederacy), president Busani Sibidi and technical director Busani Khanye, jump off the text as larger than life characters, and the relationship he had with the two men, with its many ups and downs throughout the fraught and fractious process to fundraise and obtain visas really draws the reader into a world that bridges the gap successfully between alien and relatable.

Whilst ensconced in Bulawayo, Mugabe is dramatically wrested from power, and the atmosphere immediately preceding and subsequent to his ‘resignation’. Walley’s near-daily recounting of that major historical event demonstrates in no uncertain terms the grip the dictator had on Zimbabwe as a whole, and how decades of repression affected everyday life. His testament of the days afterwards is especially palpable, and almost makes you forget you’re reading a book ostensibly about football, but which actually manages to achieve much more than that.

Of course, that’s not to say everything immediately improves once Emmerson Mnangagwa takes office. The title takes its inspiration from literally only having a single functioning football for training, and most of the places they are able to practice are on unmarked pitches without nets. Thankfully, the situation does remedy itself, partly down to the author and the Busanis’ crowdfunding efforts (when electricity and internet access were present), a network of people back in Europe… and a certain Bruce Grobbelaar.


Growing up in the 90s, the Liverpool legend was more known to me as a figure of comedy at best (through numerous goalkeeping gaffes) and the match-fixing scandal that rocked the sport at worst. I saw him turn out for Bury in his single appearance for the Shakers at Birmingham City in 1998, and although I have heard interviews in the interluding period since, it’s this book that hugely helps to redeem him to people like me.

Walley tentatively contacts him, and once a rapport is established after feeling like he was being ‘cased’ as to whether he was genuine in a motorway service station back in England, things really take off. His contributions are huge for the project to get Matabeleland to London for the CONIFA World Football Cup, from sourcing gear to personally intervening in the visa application process when it appears that the British Home Office, not the authorities in Zimbabwe, threaten to scupper months of diligent hard work and fundraising.

Even when they do all belatedly make the journey over, events are no less dramatic. Walley is far less prepared for reasons outside of his control than his compatriots for the tournament itself. Many of his best-laid plans, training drills and recruitment went awry in Bulawayo, which undermined him from the outset, and there are plenty of entries dedicated to the effects the difficulties he faced had him (especially feelings of depression), his long-distance relationship with his girlfriend whose Schengen visa expired partway through the period described, and the MFC.

In their first outing, Matabeleland win one and lose two of their group games, playing a further fixture to determine their overall rank of 13th. Walley reflects that the ‘lowly’ position belied their true performances, especially given that their vanquishers both made the semi-finals.

The author is extremely well-travelled, having visited 150 countries and counting. This is an important aspect to remember when reading; as someone who has personally known several people in my previous life working for a large conservation charity who had a tickbox competition amongst themselves to see who could blag another new stamp here and there to their already heaving second passports, Walley honestly and skillfully avoids the pitfalls of both a kind of perpetual fatigue and cynicism from doing so, and their opposite number, a wide-eyed reverence for anywhere that isn’t home.

It’s a difficult balance to strike, and the section dedicated to his adventures and escapades in Russia for the showpiece tournament serve largely as a rebuttal to the growing mistrust and paranoia from the UK and elsewhere about the largest sovereign state on the planet. Moreover, he is at pains to point out the friendliness of the populace from Moscow to Kazan, remarking several times on the lack of fellow England supporters at games (who were mostly put off by FCO advice and constant negativity in the media), as well as the good-natured bonhomie between supporters of competing teams.

The diarised format of the prose does admittedly take you out of the immersion on occasion; on the flip side, it adds a layer of authenticity that would be harder to replicate months or years after the fact, and I found myself reading sections into the small hours several times. Even if I hadn’t spoken to the author before, he’s the kind of person I’d like to meet. His take on the world is individualistic (yet not) and unvarnished (yet carefully considered). His passions for travel, football, and just appreciating the simple things in life make him a sympathetic ‘character’, even if you parse that away from the political turmoil he was privy to at very close quarters.

I’d recommend this book, regardless of whether you care one iota about the beautiful game. It’s not a prerequisite to enjoying it, nor are the terms too technically minded to have you reaching for Google or highlighting the text on an e-reader. It is, at its heart, a celebration of the kindness of strangers, the company of a relentlessly positive outlook of a group of young men in the face of real adversity, and a frank account of personal struggles and triumphs. Make this your next purchase – it’s worth every cent, penny, or Ecocash mobile transfer payment!


Buryball, Chapter 17: Tied Up in Notts

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

The new year brings FA Cup fever to Pilsworth Park, welcoming Danny Cowley’s Huddersfield Town in the third round of the competition.

(1885 Bury score first):

Huddersfield Town (h) <FA Cup 3rd Round>: 0-2

It didn’t take long for the Premier League visitors to assert themselves – Karlan Grant nodding in at the far post in the third minute from an Ebere Eze free-kick. The former Charlton Athletic striker ought to have doubled his tally later in the first half, but his lob drifted wide, and he continued to find space and squander chances in tandem. A decent opportunity did fall the Shakers’ way after the restart, only for Jack Butland to display plenty of bravery to shut down Dylon Meredith when clean through. This was in sharp contrast to his opposite number Charlie Andrew, whose rush of blood to the head ended any hopes of a replay, giving Grant the simplest of finishes. Far from overawed by the occasion, my young squad acquitted themselves well, having a decent number of shots and parity in possession.


Scottish centre back Cameron Taylor was the subject of transfer interest north of the border. Cheekily, all three clubs wanted him on a free, so they were rebuffed. One of the main aims of Buryball is to sell players on for a profit to then reinvest in the infrastructure and squad; his contract is up in the summer, but there’s no reason to let him go in January if the offers don’t improve.


Chesterfield (a): 1-3

The game in hand caused by the cup exploits meant a difficult looking trip to Derbyshire, and the early battles were won mostly by the Spireites, culminating in a low Joe Rowley volley into the corner. Coming so soon after the Huddersfield game was clearly having an effect on performance levels, and Flynn Clarke doubled the hosts’ advantage with 20 minutes remaining. Leading scorer Kelsey Mooney did halve the deficit from an innovative through ball by Meredith, only for Josh Benson to put through his own net to compound matters.

Dulwich Hamlet (a) <FA Trophy 2nd Round>: 2-1

Ah, Dulwich. I’d love to go to a match there in real life. Anyway, the FA Trophy offered a timely diversion away from the travails of the league, and I freshened up the tactics and personnel in response. The south London outfit were having some joy on the counter, doubtlessly aided by the late switch to a new strategy that’s yet to be fully bedded in during training. Stanley Asomugha had looked a threat for them all match long, and finally capped off his display with a peach of a shot inside the post. The tie looked destined to condemn 1885 Bury to another defeat, but Romário Vieira had other ideas, lashing in a loose ball with five minutes remaining. In the dying seconds, a penalty was awarded. Mooney dispatched with aplomb, and victory had been snatched away cruelly from The Hamlet.

Ebbsfleet United (a): 2-1

A quiet affair burst into life in the 35th minute; Mooney nodded in at the near post from a pinpoint Akeem Hinds cross. John Goddard levelled on the stroke of half time for the Kent side, smashing in from a full 25 yards out. An evenly fought contest appeared to be petering out in the second period until a Dion McGhee free-kick bamboozled Jordan Holmes in the home goal for the breakthrough moment.

Wealdstone (h): 2-1

A welcome return to home comforts served as a testing ground for the third round of the FA Trophy, pitting the struggling Ruislip-based club against my charges. A first half with the lion’s share of possession didn’t really yield much in the way of clear-cut openings, but Mooney showed his growing aerial prowess after the restart to claim the lead. A penalty was then conceded against the run of play, which Joe Parker made no mistake from. A spot kick was quickly awarded at the other end – the pendulum swung back in the Shakers’ favour as a result. Simeon Oure thought he’d provided clear daylight between the teams 60 seconds subsequent to that, but his strike was chalked off. The very same thing happened to Michael Gash with time ticking away, preserving the precious three points.

Notts County (a): 1-1

An onerous journey to promotion favourites Notts County looked a little less so with Mooney’s 17th of the campaign from a route one pass. Veteran Wes Thomas shanked wide for the Magpies, but they got their reward when James Cook dallied on the ball inside his own area.


jan 2021 table

Still just about inside the play-offs, but the sheer number of close competitors at the end of the month is eye-opening. 15 games to go, and still in a cup. What will happen in February?

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.

“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.

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!

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.


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…

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!


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.

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…


(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.

October 2021 Table.png

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:



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.




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.

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.


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…