A fortnight ago, it became even more abundantly clear that the immediate future of Bury Football Club in its current form is under serious jeopardy. Owner Steve Dale, the only director left, made a Company Voluntary Arrangement to the ridiculous number of creditors – for the full shameful and disgraceful list, download the document here. In short, the proposal, if accepted on the 9th of July, will see those entities classed as football creditors paid in full as per the EFL’s rules. The rest will have to make do with 25%, and the total debt would then be reduced to a touch under £3m (former chairman Stewart Day’s company Mederco are excluded from the scope). The biggest mystery is the mention of Dale himself being a creditor… to the tune of £3.6m. I have seen no documented evidence of the loan in the public domain, and the accounts are now ridiculously overdue. It would however, go a long to explain Dale’s reluctance to sell up.
One possible outcome of the proposal being accepted is that the EFL, the self-styled ‘competition organisers’ will see fit to deduct the Shakers 12 points ahead of the new season, but frankly, that’s the least of many fans’ worries. 2019/2020 is already a write-off… and that’s the best case scenario. Manchester City have served notice to evict their neighbours from Carrington, even though as the CVA confirms, the rent had been a nominal amount. It simply hadn’t been maintained. That move will leave them without a training ground, and the news has further damaged whatever was left of Bury’s reputation.
Only circa six senior players are still in situ, and no pre-season preparation has even taken place yet. Expect that number to decrease even further in the coming days. The U18s, whose salaries are funded from elsewhere, are in better nick. As ever, their fate is somewhat contingent on the continuing machinations above them. With Ryan Lowe and several other key staff and players firmly ensconced in much more stable surroundings at Plymouth Argyle, the ‘search’ for a replacement was finally over yesterday. One of the most needlessly bombastic and asinine managerial announcements I’ve ever read, Paul Wilkinson’s credentials are steering Truro City to relegation… into the seventh tier! I can only presume there was a clause in his still-fresh contract with the White Tigers that allowed him to join a pro outfit without compensation.
What that move does is meet the most minimum requirement to creditors that there’s a ‘plan to move forward’. Very few supporters truly believe the appointment amounts to any more than that, and it is still far from clear if or how Wilkinson will be paid, let alone cobble together a large enough squad to fulfil the fixtures, which start in earnest a month from now. I maintain my belief that they won’t be. Others have voted with their wallets, requesting refunds for their season ticket purchases already. Obviously, I don’t live close enough to attend regularly, but until Dale has sold the club, I won’t be financially supporting Bury in any way; not through merchandise, not through ticketing, not through iFollow (which I cancelled a fortnight ago before it automatically renewed), or by any other means.
Enthusiasm is at an all-time collective nadir, and since Lowe’s own departure, there has been no official confirmation from the club about the subsequent leavers, which also means that none of them have been thanked for their selfless service last season. Plenty of observers are predicting Bury won’t even reach a positive number of points (should they even be afforded that opportunity). The anguish the ongoing howling shambles is inflicting upon the remaining staff and fans is unprecedented, and goes far, far beyond being upset and angry at witnessing many of last season’s heroes depart. Yes, there have almost always been financial problems, but never anything close to this. More are coming round to the depressing realisation that a phoenix club might be the least worst option as things stand.
The state of limbo has left me feeling like a frog slowly boiling in a saucepan, and more pertinently, utterly uncertain how to proceed with this blog, too. In the short term, I’ll be focusing on the women’s teams, reviewing football related books… and hopefully, not seeing the work I’ve prepared for previewing every club in League One and Two go to waste.
It’s frankly impossible to carry on in the same vein as the previous analyses this campaign to conclude 2018/2019. Well-documented off-field issues on here and elsewhere did spill over to matches themselves. Without taking anything away from the sides that beat Bury during April, it’s difficult not to wonder whether some of those might have been prevented had the players been paid, and had manager Ryan Lowe not gone above and beyond his remit to motivate non-football staff, as well as a downbeat squad.
Fortunately, a mixture of an unbelievable rekindling of the team spirit, fans and club being as one (with the usual caveat), and promotion rivals Mansfield Town and Milton Keynes’ equally woeful form ensured the Shakers made it over the threshold with a game to spare. Requiring a point from a daunting looking trip to Prenton Park, Lowe’s heroes rallied from a relatively poor first half display by their standards to deservedly equalise in the second period, restricting the division’s top goalscorer James Norwood much more successfully than had been the case in the early exchanges. The enforced substitution of Eoghan O’Connell for Will Aimson after 38 minutes proved to be the catalyst to regain a foothold in the contest.
It was perhaps poetic that Danny Mayor was the one to get the all-important leveller. Just like with Tom Soares’ effort four years prior on the same ground, the actual finish wasn’t pretty, being hit against a defender’s leg, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who cared at that very moment or in the days since. Besides which, his turn on the halfway line to create the opening all by himself was a bittersweet reminder of his peerless ability to conjure something out of nothing, and that it will likely not be seen in white and royal blue again.
Rightly, the euphoria and imbibing of several shandies by everyone involved at the club once promotion was confirmed lasted well into the week. Although the final fixture at home to Port Vale was largely academic, a second 1-1 draw in the space of five days had two rare moments: firstly, sections of the home support applauding an opposition goal; Tom Pope took to Twitter after the match to acknowledge that:
Congratulations @buryfcofficial on the promotion and thank you to the fans for a lovely reception considering I didn’t give you the best of me you still gave me an incredible reception for which I’m truly grateful! Hopefully I’ll see you in a couple of years 👍🏻👍🏻
Secondly, Jordan Rossiter, rarely seen in deep in enemy territory, was left completely unmarked outside the area to arc a beautiful left-footed shot into the far corner. In a career dogged by injury, that goal marked only his third in senior football. Having come through his loan spell constituting 16 games unscathed and his reputation enhanced, Glasgow Rangers boss Steven Gerrard will doubtlessly be ecstatic that the gamble worked.
The result meant Bury clung on to runners-up spot behind champions Lincoln City, six points off the Imps and with a superior goal difference to MK. Suffice it to say, whilst on paper, the grand total of 22 wins and 79 points is nothing special (and is indeed ‘worse’ than previous successful campaigns), the circumstances in which the last 10 or so games were played out under makes it the most remarkable of the 11 promotions in the club’s 125 years in the EFL. It’s also reasonable to suggest that many followers of other teams are far from happy about the nature of it, which isn’t going to go away anytime soon. I’ll make an attempt to address this at the end of this post.
Ben Mayhew’s xG timelines illustrate that there was very little to choose between the Shakers and their opponents, almost without exception:
Ryan Kidd’s side wrapped up their highly commendable season with a derby defeat to a very strong Rochdale outfit, which meant they finished just outside the top three. Nevertheless, the greatest success of the term was in the FA Youth Cup, reaching the quarter-final stage against all odds before being understandably outclassed by Liverpool.
The likes of Joe Adams, Callum Hulme, and the well-regarded Femi Seriki were on all the bench for the senior setup on Saturday. Whether by accident or design, it’s hard to envisage these instances not increasing in League One; the budget will almost certainly be cut much further than what happened last summer (if the club survive the winding-up petition). That should also entail a smaller roster and perhaps a little less reluctance on the part of Lowe (should he stay) to give some of the more promising talents meaningful gametime.
As you can see from the Twitter thread above, the academy are still proceeding as normal for next season. The Carrington training complex, divisive among Bury fans as it is, remains a vitally important component of the underage structure, and that should not be dismissed out of hand so readily if the club are to really cut their cloth. The Shakers could do a lot worse than attempt to emulate the likes of Crewe Alexandra if they want to remain a beacon to players released from higher category institutions, as well as developing their own in-house for a fairly streamlined pathway at present to at least the fringes of the first team.
It would be extremely remiss not to mention at the huge success achieved throughout the different women’s sides.
In his first season with the U18s, Chris Honor led his charges to two cup finals and a top-three finish in their division.
The reserves managed to best higher tier opposition in the form of Nelson on on penalties during their Lancashire FA Plate Final encounter after mounting a thrilling comeback in regular time. Kimberly Tyson was particularly impressive up top, showing calmness under pressure for a cool finish for the second goal in the highlights package below:
Colin Platt’s team also came third in their pool, and they will hoping for an even better term next season.
The senior side under the auspices of Scott Johnson have gone from strength to strength ever since he was handed the reins just weeks after the campaign got underway, culminating in a title win and promotion at Gigg Lane itself on Sunday. For club stalwarts like captain Lucy Golding and Aymee Openshaw, the trophy has been a long time in the making, and it will be intriguing to see how they cut their teeth in the North West Premier Division, the fifth tier of the women’s pyramid. A very young squad overall, the potential is most certainly present for them to push higher in the next few years. It’s something I’ll be paying even closer attention to on this blog and when my podcast launches later this summer…
Whilst the celebrations of the past week were taking place, there was of course a very notable person in absentia. Owner Steve Dale has not been seen at the club recently, and his last set of ramblings on the official site dated the 25th of April made stark the grave situation facing the club, even if like me, you don’t take all the figures and needless anecdotes mentioned at face value.
At the time of writing, there are just eight days to go until the adjourned High Court appearance. Director Matt McCarthy mentioned in a more recent local radio interview that there are some interested parties looking to purchase the club from Dale. Simultaneously, there’s a new initiative that’s launched called ‘Buy Our Bury’. They’re looking for pledges from supporters with the aim of making the BL9 outfit fan-owned.
Correctly in my view, they’re not assuming that any successful takeover from Dale will transpire. Even if one does, I firmly believe it’s in the interests of any would-be party to have a conversation with BOB to help spread the financial burden of operating a full-time professional team in the domestic game. If you can, I’d like you to pledge an amount to the campaign. If not, please share the website with your friends. It might make all the difference.
Is this it?
I’d like to take this opportunity to address anyone who’s read up to this point and feels that the men’s team have ‘cheated’ their way to promotion: You’re half-right… but the culpability rests mainly with people no longer at the club – Stewart Day and Lee Clark. The vast majority of the alleged higher earners on the books have barely been used, if at all, by Ryan Lowe during 2018/2019 for various reasons. Does that assuage the overspending by the club for years? Not in the least.
All clubs in the Championship, 2/3 in the Premier League are losing money. Oxford announced their results this morning & had £4m trading loss. Championship income £530m & Wage bill £590m is the problem pic.twitter.com/sqQoUzLFf4
Should there be a punishment for clubs like Bury that have continued to spend beyond their means? Yes, I think so. However, we have seen all too keenly and all too frequently as of late that the EFL are not fit for purpose, and there’s nothing in their current rules and regulations to combat this. Every side in the Championship during 2017/2018 made a loss, in spite of the far higher level of income being part of the second tier ensures. That pattern is largely repeated in the lower reaches, especially when you take out money made from player sales. Again, that in no way excuses the reckless behaviour in the Gigg Lane boardroom during the past six years.
There is the chance that the new owners will wipe out the debt owed to all the creditors, and whilst in many senses that would constitute the best possible outcome for everyone, it could easily be seen as a ‘cheat code’ that draws a definitive line under the past with no repercussions whatsoever. I have a lot of sympathy with that argument, but until there comes a time that one or more high profile club goes bust, I just can’t foresee the EFL doing anything meaningful to clamp down on rogue owners and a flagrant disregard for the long-term futures of clubs. Financial Fair Play (FFP) hasn’t had the desired effect, and is not enforced in the same way throughout the divisions. You only have to glance at how they have handled the even bigger shambles due west at Bolton Wanderers to glean an understanding that massive financial reform is well overdue… but is the collective appetite there for it? What’s next on the blog?
Regardless of the outcome of the High Court case, I’ll be doing a detailed analysis on every player used in the second half of the season; discussing the retained list (if it’s released in the conventional sense…); putting together my alternative take on League Two Team of the Season; detailing my night at the Football Blogging Awards, which takes place this Thursday at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester; lastly, I hope to have at least one Q&A in the pipeline… and that’s far as I can look with the club’s future still up in the air.
It won’t have escaped even the most casual observer’s attention that this has been a(nother) horrific week in the long and storied history of Bury Football Club. The two comfortable home defeats back-to-back have paled into complete insignificance because of off-the-field events yet again. From a financial perspective, the Shakers have rarely ever been healthier than merely ‘treading water’, certainly in my quarter of a century following the side. I’ve been become accustomed over the years to phrases like ‘cash-strapped‘ and ‘begging bowl‘. Before previous chairman Stewart Day came along however, you could at least look at the accounts and say that the debts were comparatively tiny to what they have now become – at the very least, an increase of tenfold since the summer of 2013, together with numerous CCJs and winding-up petitions, one of which will be heard next week on the 10th of April. I know precisely where I lay the blame for all of this, but I’m not here to talk about him – I’ve done that before and received vociferous criticism – the past has informed the present, and in turn has set the likely course for the future.
Equally however, the near-ubiquity of the money worries under different administrations has understandably hardened many supporters of other clubs to Bury’s plight, coming as it does with greater frequency all the while. I don’t expect or ask for sympathy from anyone, as it’s my belief that a fundamental change needs to happen both within and without the club in the domestic game as a whole. Once more, the change I speak of does not absolve any custodian of the club from their responsibility to restore prudence to the books, and it is simply unacceptable that the players and staff have not been paid their wages for March.
Late last night, current chairman Steve Dale penned a long statement on the official website, which warrants being put on here as it addresses some, but not all, of the vital issues:
“I’ve become aware of some recent speculation about our club and, although I usually prefer not to address or give credence to rumours, I feel it’s reached a point where it’s time to address the main causes of speculation and to offer first-hand information around some recent events.
Firstly, I would like to highlight how our dedicated players, staff, and directors have all rallied round to support our club to ensure its future. Fans, followers and the community, can rest assured that Bury Football Club is here to stay.
Unfortunately, though, I can confirm that there is some element of truth in the circulating information relating to the club’s financial affairs. Due to a number of unforeseen issues, the financial position of the club is significantly worse than what was discovered during our due diligence process prior to the acquisition. The full extent of the problems inherited from the previous ownership of the club have become apparent over time, and this has undoubtedly led to our current difficulties. It is certainly a testing time, but we can overcome it. We will overcome it.
To address some of the gossip pertaining to my own position, I can assure you that this remains the same as it has been from day one. On the pitch, I have always been clear that I can add nothing; from that perspective, the club is in the highly capable hands of our Sporting Director, our Manager, and the players. We’re currently sat third in the league, and so I consider them to be doing their jobs extremely effectively. If in any given week the team loses a bit of form, showing them support and enthusiasm will help them rise to the occasion, as they have so many times before. The disdain that has been shown in light of recent results, however, is not only disappointing in the extreme, it’s disheartening to a team who have performed exceptionally all season. Fair weather fans are not true fans.
On the financial side, I made a commitment to get the club on an even keel, at which point my job would be done and a new, younger custodian could take over. That is still my aim, and what I’m working towards, although this process is slower than I would have liked due to the new issues that have arisen. Whilst many in my position would have walked away having unearthed the true position of the club (as some of my advisors have urged me to do), that’s simply not my style. But nor am I a never-ending ATM machine. Fiscal prudence and fans through the turnstiles are what will ultimately safeguard the future of our club. The former of which we’re working on, and the latter of which we need your help with. The continuity of any club is only viable by the support and attendances of its followers. Supporters are the blood we need through our veins, so bring as many family and friends as you can, get behind the team and have a great day. This will serve as a valuable contribution to securing the future of our club in the immediate term, as well as for future generations.
Another point I would like to address is my non-appearance at the game on Tuesday night. Unfortunately, my illness has rendered it impossible for me to be as able as I once was. On Tuesday, I left my house at 5am and didn’t return until 8.30pm, having had back-to-back meetings and a 9-hour round trip in the car. All of which was to safeguard the future of our club. Upon my return, I was understandably drained and so I was unable to attend. When I’m able to, I attend all of our matches, including our ladies and youth team. This isn’t a chore to me, I enjoy every match I watch and am an avid supporter of every team at Bury FC. It, therefore, saddens me to have to address speculation about my commitment to the club, which has been unwavering from the start.
The final point I want to address is the extreme unpleasantness experienced after the match on Tuesday evening. Whilst people are allowed and, indeed, fully expected to have their opinions, the actions of a select few individuals after the game was shocking, unnecessary and completely inexplicable. The threats and abuse (much of which appears to have been based on false information) endured by directors and staff, who have been going many extra miles behind closed doors, was a disgrace. To be clear, any further behaviour of that nature will result in anyone involved being banned from the club indefinitely.
I would like to take the opportunity to give my sincerest thanks to our true fans, those who stick by our club no matter what, as you are the future of Bury FC. We will turn the current circumstances around, and your support whilst we do so is invaluable. Thank you.
Finally, I would like to wish all the other clubs in similar, or far worse situations to ourselves, all the best of luck.
Perhaps for legal reasons, he doesn’t make an obvious mention of the salaries owed; there are plenty of other things to pick out from it, though.
Firstly, I am decidedly not assured about the future. It’s gone well beyond a rallying cry for me. I don’t point the finger at Dale for that, but it signifies the culmination in my experience of rhetoric over action. I’ll only be ‘moved’ with a demonstration of the latter, starting with paying what is owed to all the employees of the club. I must then see that there is a proper plan in place for managing the debt and making the business (because unfortunately in many respects, that’s precisely what it is) solvent.
The ‘easiest’ way of doing that is by cutting the wage bill of the playing staff, which is precisely what I’ve been advocating for quite a while, and I’m far from a lone voice in that respect. If that means staying in the fourth tier (or lower), so be it. It’s far more preferable to the age(s) of false boom, bust and even more bust. The reality of that might mean far more emphasis on bringing through academy prospects than is already placed, or even demoting the status to Category 4, which would effectively cut off everyone below the age of 16, and see the club more as a beacon for talent discarded by teams higher up the pyramid to have a realistic, short pathway to senior action. This would be far from ideal in many ways, but we’re not in the time for ideals.
The way I interpret the paragraph about due diligence is that, put simply, it was rushed, most likely out of necessity for the club’s existence, which has probably led to the latest malaise. I’m glad he specifically mentions prudence in the statement and he is also right to say that, coupled with more fans attending, will certainly help in the short-term. The football that has been played has been the best in my lifetime – no doubt about it, and I don’t need to use any stats whatsoever to back it up. At this point, I find it incredible that Ryan Lowe and the players got booed by some fans. No-one’s disputing that it was a poor performance and result on Tuesday,
I would like to see a different ownership model in the future. You only have to glance around the EFL and below the elite in the Premier League itself to get a flavour of how the odds are forever stacking up against clubs, despite how much money is awash in the sport. Whether this model is fan-owned, several different substantial investors (thereby spreading the risk), or an amalgam of the two, I’m unsure, but the dangers of being in thrall to a single benefactor or someone masquerading as one have been plain for all to witness. Very few owners at any step on the ladder see a return on their investment, so it’s usually better if the parties involved have an existing affiliation with the area and club whilst not being blind to the potential pitfalls involved.
In an age of rolling news and social media, the gap between that statement and the previous one felt like an aeon had passed, when in reality, it was a little over two and a bit days. Into that yawning chasm stepped 1,001 rumours – some that transpired to have a kernel of truth to them; some that were fanciful to say the least; worse still, some of them were really ugly, and manifested themselves as referred to in the statement. On the one hand, it’s inevitable that with feelings running so strongly for so many, a few will become desperate in their search for answers. On the other, I totally condemn any abuse and threats made for the very simple reason that they’re completely unnecessary, and make any positive outcome much less likely.
In the midst of the radio silence yesterday, I could ruminate on little else but the fate of my club, so I penned this tweet:
If the worst does happen, it will be much more than just people currently employed by #buryfc affected, although my heart does go out to them. It will affect the physical and mental health of many of the supporters in the future – I don't think that's actually being dramatic.
I stand by what I said. Yes, a ‘phoenix club’ could rise up (and it would be something I’d like to have involvement in), but it wouldn’t really be the same. So much more would be lost than a member of the EFL for 127 years and counting – people’s livelihoods for one thing, and much of fans’ identities, too. The closure of the current club would be like a death of a loved one. I know that’s hard for those not really interested in football to fathom – ridiculous, even… but the sport is so omnipresent, so interwoven in fans’ lives that it is no exaggeration at all to hint at the devastation it would bring.
Thankfully, I’ve been told that the recently incorporated women’s team will not be part of that unthinkable scenario. As with the rest of the sides and other work that the Trust do, they have been run on a sound financial footing, only spending what they actually receive. It could catch on. More to the point, the women’s game as a whole is experiencing a lot of growth in England, and there is a realistic plan for the female Shakers to be a small part of that. As such, I have made a commitment to provide equal coverage of them in the future, both on this blog and on the podcast, which will launch in the summer. Exciting times lie ahead for them, at the very least.
Turning back to the men, the players going above and beyond what can reasonably be expected of them by agreeing to perform until the end of the season, regardless of whether they are paid in that juncture. Talk of promotion is very much a tertiary concern for me now; like anyone else, I would celebrate if it does happen, but it would be a Pyrrhic victory without the securing the club’s future and making substantive changes to reduce the likelihood of this ever happening again.
There are of course factors outside the club’s control that are making things more difficult. I can think of 10 sides this season that have faced major problems of one sort or another, with the EFL ignorant, powerless or both. The instances are increasing year-on-year; substantive changes must also be made to how clubs operate, how to slow or reverse the trickle-down effect of wage inflation, as well as the ‘Fit & Proper Person Test’, which is one of the biggest laughing stocks in the game at present if you’re a lover of very dark humour.
As the title of this post suggests, I don’t have a crystal ball. I have no real insider knowledge. This might even be my last entry on this blog about Bury Football Club as we know them today. As someone who’s trying to pivot their career into football writing, a lot of that is reliant on the continuing existence of the club I support from a distance. I can’t say with any certainty that I’d still find the passion to write if they ceased to exist.
Tightening Up… at Both Ends (aka Scott Wharton’s Impact and Easing the Burden on Nicky Maynard)
There can be no question now that the pressure is for the first time this season on Ryan Lowe’s men to ensure that the deserved 3-1 home reverse against Swindon Town last weekend does not come to signify anything more than a defeat in a highly competitive division.
Prior to the encounter, Bury had experienced an uncharacteristic spell of clean sheets, most typified by the emerging importance of Blackburn Rovers loanee Scott Wharton on the left side of the centre back three. The 21 year-old has largely been an assured presence in a previously weaker area of the XI, winning a greater proportion of aerial challenges and being more accurate (and shorter) with his passing than was expected of him under Danny Cowley at likely league champions Lincoln City.
No single shape in football is infallible, and the attacking thrust firmly emphasised by Lowe will almost always ensure the opposition in any given match have opportunities to give tough examinations of Wharton and his partners on the counter. When teams like the Robins push up their wingers to the same level as the nominally lone striker, it can often leave the defence in a three-on-three mini-game of sorts, and they can’t win every single one of those battles, especially when the frequency of those situations is as high as what was witnessed on Saturday.
On the flip side of the general tightening up at the back, at the other end, neither the goals nor quite the free-flowing movement was demonstrated in March; Macclesfield Town aside, the Shakers could only muster three more strikes in the month. You’d perhaps expect it to decrease at least a little as the scramble for points necessitates a more conservative posture from sides they play against, but it can’t have also escaped people’s attention that besides Wharton’s own commendable couple of efforts and a Jay O’Shea penalty, no-one else troubled the score-sheet except Nicky Maynard, who continues to gamely fight for second place in League Two’s top goalscorer charts with Kieran Agard and Tyler Walker of promotion rivals Milton Keynes Dons and Mansfield Town respectively.
Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be that big of a problem. Most clubs are reliant on one or two players to regularly get the goals to help them achieve their aims, but that just hasn’t been the case in 2018/2019, and the onus is really now on others to step up to assist Maynard. Caolan Lavery’s form has taken a nosedive since the derby with Oldham Athletic; Byron Moore might now be needed elsewhere (thanks to Danny Mayor); Dom Telford pulled up in the warm-up before the game at Grimsby Town; lastly, Gold Omotayo’s recent cameos from the bench have unfortunately not done much to inspire confidence.
Mayor’s three game suspension, which I’ll discuss at length further into this article, also means some of the trickery will inevitably be lost from the starting lineup, so more of the chances might need to be created between the striking partnership themselves, which has frequently rotated alongside Maynard.
Ben Mayhew’s xG timelines ably demonstrate a distinct drop-off in the Shakers’ supremacy during a month where the performances were less than sparkling:
Neil Danns’ Gold Cup qualification
Looking away from Gigg Lane for a moment, I thought it was certainly worth mentioning captain Neil Danns’ exploits for Guyana during the international break. A win for the Golden Jaguars over Belize in the final CONCACAF Nations League fixture ensured their participation at this summer’s Gold Cup, the first major tournament in the country’s history. Danns scored one spot kick and missed another, but there was no question that he massively contributed to their success under the guidance of Michael Johnson, the former Birmingham City and Derby County centre-back.
At 36 and with his contract up in the summer, there are inevitably question marks as to whether Danns will go into that tournament still a Bury player, but either way, I’ll be keeping a close eye on the action, which kicks off on the 15th of June. The draw will be held in Los Angeles in nine days’ time.
‘Replacing’ Danny Mayor for three games
Back to matters closer to home. There can be little doubt that at 2-1 down to Swindon, the Shakers still had a decent chance of restoring parity, despite being largely second best throughout the match. That task was made mightily more difficult by an idiotic lashing out by Mayor in response to a very poor challenge (to say the least) by Canice Carroll. No-one, and I include myself in this, is expecting a professional footballer to stay cool 100% of the time, especially when you’re fouled as often as the inside forward is. The stats have him in the top 10 in the fourth tier for fouls suffered, and then of course are the instances where he still gets kicked and nothing is given by the referee, which happens most often to the most dangerous players.
I have seen some people on social media suggest he and others like him should be offered more ‘protection’ by the match official. In practice, how would that actually manifest itself? Are they supposed to identify the ‘danger men’ before the game kicks off, and give the offender a red card regardless? No, there must be objectivity. Anyone that persistently targets and subsequently fouls an individual will eventually be sent off. If it’s a ‘team effort’, then in one sense, it shows just how much of a threat Mayor poses to them, and there has to be an acceptance on some level that that’s how it’s going to be.
The rush of blood to his head was thankfully not defended too strongly by Lowe in the post-match interview, who privately must have been incandescent about the incident. A good manager recognises that there are different personalities within a squad; Mayor is the epitome of an introvert off the field who, once he graces the turf, usually feels confident to express himself with some sublime pieces of skill and to beat his man repeatedly on the dribble.
His self-imposed absence comes at the most crucial juncture of the entire campaign, and provides Lowe with a huge tactical quandary in the next two weeks. There is no obvious candidate to replicate what Mayor brings… because they just don’t exist. That’s not a disparagement of anyone else on the roster, merely a reflection of the current predicament.
As a consequence, I decided to pose the question to fellow supporters on Twitter:
So… Danny Mayor will be suspended for three matches. Who do you put in his place? #buryfc
The versatile 30 year-old possesses the positional know-how and pace to bypass his marker and cut inside on his stronger right foot. As teams sit ever deeper during the run-in and hit Bury on the break, which Cambridge United are bound to do tomorrow evening (and I don’t blame them), Lowe is going to require someone to reliably carry the ball forward into the final third to both minimise the chances of that occurring, and to try to get in behind resolute backlines.
Moore has already proven to be a capable option in the left channel, and his presence would ensure that the transition to attack can still take place without having to resort to more direct methods, or pushing up others too high. It is the closest role he will receive under the 5-2-1-2 to his most natural place on the wing, and he is highly accurate when crossing the ball, drilling it into the box or shifting onto his right for a deeper far post effort.
The case against:
The aforementioned form of strikers not called Nicky Maynard. Moore, who has a one goal every four games on average during 2018/2019, has been adept up top, operating wider than most forwards would in a conventional pairing. With Telford possibly still out for a little while yet, his services might best be utilised alongside Maynard, rather than being tasked with supplying him.
His instincts are firmly on the attacking end of the spectrum, which is a double-edged sword in a system designed to take the game to the opposition in numbers. Will he really sit back to allow Callum McFadzean to hurtle up the flank on the outside, rather than drift inside? The conclusion I draw is that he’s much better when focused as high up the pitch as possible, and in a side already lacking ball-winners, he is even less defensively-minded than the man he’d be replacing.
The case for:
The skipper’s (temporary) restoration to the XI would ensure a true three-man midfield. Even before Mayor’s dismissal, it was plain to see that Rossiter was doing all the leg-work in the middle, which the more adventurous sides in the final seven games could easily exploit if afforded the opportunity to do so. It would also allow O’Shea to concentrate more on late runs to the edge of the area, and less on having to help out the Glasgow Rangers loanee (or less often, anyway). Danns is by no means a ball-winning midfielder, but you can guarantee his maximum effort to cover as much ground between the two boxes as possible.
It would also give more balance to the midfield, which would go hand in hand with a greater degree of flexibility. There might yet be situations in the three games ahead where Bury need to hold onto a lead, and I’d sooner trust Danns to hold fort than the other candidates discussed in this section.
The case against:
You’d be asking an awful lot of the wing-backs, both to provide the width and the attacking thrust.. McFadzean would more or less have to go it alone down the left flank, with the most attack-minded of the midfielders usually operating closer to Nicky Adams. The vice-captain, for his part, has not enjoyed the best time of it in recent games, but to expect totally consistent displays from individuals who are ultimately plying their trade in the fourth tier is a misguided one.
Would there be enough guile and creativity in the lineup? As much as I love O’Shea, he’s what I’d categorise as a goalscoring attacking midfielder, rather than as a playmaker. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s likely that it will be a case of having to break down two banks of four/five. Without someone to carry the ball from deep and do the unexpected, there’s an air of predictability in the approach play.
The case for:
Regular readers of this blog will know I mention Joe Adams from time-to-time, and for good reason. Rewarded for his displays in the youth side with a pro deal until June 2021 (currently the longest contract of anyone at Bury at the time of writing), he could just be the option few opposition scouts would anticipate playing. Lowe has often spoken with praise for him, whilst understandably being cautious about throwing him at the deep end. Still only 18, the Welsh U19 international is top scorer for Ryan Kidd’s youngsters this season, bagging 13 goals without ever playing in a conventional striker’s role.
He has the pace and the dribbling ability to beat his man and get in behind, but equally as importantly, he is strong with both feet from crossing situations, meaning that as his marker, you don’t know for sure which way he’ll go, and the Shakers could really do with that level of uncertainty in the opposition ranks without Mayor.
The case against:
As much as the manager is an advocate of developing talent, it would constitute a huge risk to thrust him into the starting lineup at his age, and in the situation the club find themselves in. Like Moore, his positivity could easily lead to counterattacks, and there’s also the small matter of whether he’s still injured, having had to drop out of the last Welsh squad he was called up for a fortnight ago. Like Telford, you don’t tend to get estimated return dates from Lowe during interviews, perhaps in an effort to keep his next opponents guessing.
Even if fit, there’s a time to properly ‘blood’ academy graduates, and it differs on a case-by-case basis. He might have a much bigger role next season in what is likely to be a squad reduced in numbers by a smaller playing budget (regardless of division) and the continuing lack of an U23s setup.
The unbeaten run, and ‘negative’ predictions
As the title of this post states, nothing lasts forever, which is especially true in football. The recency effect of less than scintillating displays, coupled with the defeat, has led to the return of negativity, and in greater amounts than I’d have expected. To go 14 matches without leaving a ground pointless is a superb achievement in any league, and the circumstances behind the remarkable turn-around in fortunes under Lowe.
In my preview of the game for Steven Fyfe’s blog for Saturday, I said Bury would lose to Swindon… and so they did. I caught quite a bit of flack for prognosticating ‘doom’, even being asked after the event whether I was happy that my prediction was correct! The answer to that should be blatantly obvious – no. However, I’m not going to do what I see supporters of almost every club do and say they’ll win if I don’t believe it will happen. I knew the threats that Richie Wellens’ outfit had at their disposal, I knew how he’d got them playing a more progressive style of football, and any guess at a result is just that – a guess.
I also play for fun a Predictions Game over on FL2 Blogger, and over the course of the campaign, excluding the rearranged game with Cambridge tomorrow, I have had Bury winning 18, drawing 15, and losing just six of the 39 games, which would leave the Shakers just two points shy of reality. So much for my negative predictions…
The remaining seven fixtures, and the big-game experience in the core squad
Attention now turns to the run-in, with that loss allowing MK to leapfrog Bury into second place. Wins for Mansfield and a white-hot Tranmere Rovers side, themselves with a game in hand on the rest of the pack, has ramped up the stakes for tomorrow evening. It should also be mentioned at this point that I did a bit of research into the ‘big games’ members of the Shakers’ core squad have been in during their careers, and one of the possible advantages of having an older than average dressing room is that there is a wealth of experience of successes (and failures) in promotion tilts through both the automatic and play-off routes, with three-quarters of the 20 used players this calendar year having had at least some memory to fall back on before 2018/2019.
I also decided to poll fans as to how many points they think will be accrued in the remaining seven matches:
The top end of that bracket would be sufficient for a club record points total of 86, beating out 2014/2015’s vintage under a certain David Flitcroft by one. But it won’t be easy to emulate.
Firstly, Colin Calderwood will be hoping for a big reaction of his own from a lacklustre display by the U’s in their own backyard, succumbing to a last-gasp defeat in injury time to top seven hopefuls Colchester United. Their own status in the EFL is still under jeopardy, with Notts County’s big win at the weekend cutting the gap to six points. The visitors have pace on the counter, principally in the guise of Jevani Brown, as well as the tall presence of target man Jabo Ibehre, who, whilst far from prolific this campaign, is exactly the sort of player Bury have struggled to contain.
Carlisle United are in no sort of form, and now find themselves outside the reckoning by three points. Well beaten by Tranmere, they will nevertheless target a win at Brunton Park this coming Saturday. Jamie Devitt is one of the best players in League Two, and you wouldn’t put it past Hallam Hope adding to his considerable goal tally against his former side.
The aforementioned Colchester come to BL9 on the 13th, and will probably be within a victory of the top seven at worst by the time the crunch fixture rolls around. The other U’s are the most puzzling outfit in the league, equally as capable of doling out thrashings as they are at receiving them. They should set their stall out to attack more than most have at Gigg Lane this season, with pace to burn on the wings and one of the best central midfield partnerships in the division – Sammie Szmodics in particular could cause damage.
Rodney Parade is a tough place to travel to, and Bury can expect little benevolence from Newport County on Good Friday. With 11 wins and just three losses at home, Michael Flynn’s charges are also still eyeing a late play-off surge, with two games in hand in which to reduce arrears. Jamille Matt had the beating of Adam Thompson in the reverse fixture, and both Padraig Amond and Ade Azeez are good options to call on if the Jamaican needs more support up top.
Easter Monday will pit the Shakers against probably the only side in their remaining games with ostensibly nothing to play for. Northampton Town have enjoyed some improvement under Keith Curle, but nothing too dramatic to convince observers that they’ll be challenging at the top end in 2019/2020. Nonetheless, they showed their defensive mettle in the earlier stalemate, and have some canny operators in midfield to ensure anything but smooth sailing.
For me, the key aim remains avoiding needing to go to Prenton Park on the penultimate weekend needing a result to seal promotion. Tranmere’s winning streak is no fluke, and whilst I think it’s almost certain that it will be snapped before the last game in April, they still look ominous at the moment, and I see little reason why their performances will taper off. Resolute in goal and at the back, unassailable top scorer James Norwood is backed up by a supporting cast in similar rich veins of form – the likes of Ollie Banks and Connor Jennings must be shut down to get anything from the game.
Port Vale ought to be all but home and dry on final day, but veteran Tom Pope will want to add to his century of goals (and counting) for the Burslem outfit. There is major concern off the pitch, but I don’t think it will prove the distraction some would like to believe on it. Again, Bury really don’t want to go into needing the points to cement a place in the top three…
Double glory for the women’s sides?
Scott Johnson’s side are now firm favourites to win the championship and with it, the only promotion place available. A 13-0 shellacking of Morecambe Reserves yesterday underlined the quality throughout the team and on the bench. Four wins from the remaining five will guarantee 2019/2020 in the North West Premier Division, and the same number of games will take place in double headers against Cammell Laird 1907 and Preston North End, each instance being inexplicably played after the first game, with only an hour break…
The very wet weather in the middle of the month caused the Reserves’ Plate Final against Nelson at Leyland to be postponed until this coming Sunday. Defeat to Stanwix Juniors put paid to Colin Platt’s slim hopes of promotion, but he will be hoping that strikers Sarah Knight and Kimberley Tyson can upset their higher tier opponents, and bring some silverware back home for a positive end to a very encouraging season under his leadership.
EFL Trophy, and competing against third tier sides
Let’s begin with a negative – losing last night at home to Portsmouth 3-0 in the semi-final, with a place at Wembley the prize on offer. I made a brief radio appearance (10 minutes or so into the clip), full in the knowledge from reading local news sources that Pompey boss Kenny Jackett would break with the pattern he’d established in previous rounds of the competition, and name what was essentially the visitors’ strongest available lineup, and was even able to leave the likes of Jamal Lowe on the subs’ bench for the first half.
There were some parallels to the FA Cup tie against Luton Town to how the game eventually panned out – the hosts were on top for large expanses of time, didn’t get the crucial opener (not for lack of trying), and a shrewd tactical tweak changed the course of proceedings. Yes, one or two decisions were a little contentious, but Bury didn’t really have an answer to the Hampshire outfit’s higher press, and there’s no shame in that. The scoreline was on the flattering side, but I think Ryan Lowe and his players will have learned a lot from their experiences pitting their wits across two different cups against six League One sides, winning and losing half of them, and more impressively, scoring 13 in the process.
You can also see as a fan particular areas where the current squad could be improved if they gain promotion back at the first time of asking. There’s little reason to suggest at this moment in time that the manager will make big changes in the summer tactically or personnel-wise, and I’m certain that between him and Director of Sport Lee Dykes, they’ll have identified well in advance of the window re-opening a cluster of targets to bring through the doors to augment an already talented group, as well as offering some of the most promising U18s deals (which I’ll get on to later in this post). As soon as the first team’s division is confirmed for 2019/2020, I’ll put together my own ‘wishlist’ of realistic signings, and how they could specifically improve a system that’s unlikely to drastically alter.
The immediate efficacy of Jordan Rossiter
Understandably, there were question marks over his loan capture from giants Glasgow Rangers, owing totally to injury concerns, rather than his undoubted ability. He didn’t start against Crawley Town on a half-frozen pitch, but did make his bow at the opening of the second period, and has barely put a foot wrong since. Captain Neil Danns has had to be largely content watching on from the sidelines during February, and it’s not hard to see why in the two videos below:
In a regular XI where previously seven of the 10 outfielders were unquestionably attack-minded, the addition of Rossiter into the mix probably takes that figure down to a much more conservative six-and-a-half. One of the most basic tenets of being an effective professional footballer is to always seek the ball, even in tight situations. As the clips more than ably demonstrate, he does just that, which can be a decisive factor in breaking the opposition’s high press onto the defensive trio.
He covers the gaps in deep areas, recycles the ball to teammates, plays smart passes that can look deceptively simple, very rarely wastes possession, intercepts with gusto, and despite his injury record, he relishes putting in the tackles. I did have some concerns that the introduction of a player in that role might have slowed down the high-octane style Lowe has employed, but I don’t think that’s been the case at all.
A running total of five games is a small sample size, but his completed passes average stands at 84%, and was as high as 90% at the weekend, attempting 70 in total just by himself. At St. James Park, he seemed omnipresent, breaking up promising Grecian attack after attack on no fewer than 15 occasions, as is abundantly clear above.
Additionally, he’s been named man of the match for the past three games in a row. Not only is that remarkable because of being new to the club and his position, it also makes him stand out even more during a season where the Shakers have been praised far and wide for their attacking endeavour, which has at times not left sufficient room for column inches or credit for the likes of Adam Thompson, Will Aimson, or anyone else tasked primarily with defensive duties. I have seen some criticism of the back three as a whole, some of which is valid, but some of it goes over the top, and pointing to the goals conceded column doesn’t tell the whole story.
After the long-awaited derby day triumph against Paul Scholes’ Oldham Athletic™, he received glowing praise from his temporary boss, with Lowe describing the deal to bring him south of border for six months as:
"The best bit of business I've ever done, or ever likely to!"
A cynic might suggest he’s only had three transfer windows in temporary and subsequently permanent charge to make such a claim, but if you’ve seen (m)any of his interviews, you’d understand he’s usually very reluctant to heap too much adulation onto one player, let alone come out with a statement like that. The addition of ‘ever likely to’ at what is still the very early stages of his managerial career is actually the most telling part of that sentence, and underlines the great value he can bring during his short spell.
He has endeared himself to supporters in such a ridiculously short space of time – the winning combination of maximum effort plus real ability will never not do that, but it’s certainly made me, and plenty of others, believe that he will be the key player from now until the end of 2018/2019.
The versatility of Byron Moore & Callum McFadzean
Has anyone in the current squad played in as many different areas as Byron Moore over the past seven months? I solely regarded him as an out-and-out winger in a four or five-man midfield upon his arrival, but it soon became apparent that Lowe had other plans for the 30 year-old, especially as the usual shape of the side doesn’t even accommodate that position. A cursory glance on Wyscout illustrates he’s played in every outfield role for a decent chunk of time, with the sole exception of centre back!
Up until the Portsmouth match, he had looked quite adept in the left wing-back area, but I’m unsure the combinations down the left with Danny Mayor and Callum McFadzean weren’t a little too cavalier, and at certain intervals, the first two would try to operate in a very small space in that channel. Expecting absolute consistency from any individual in the fourth tier, especially one that has had so many jobs to do, is unrealistic. His wide skillset has meant, however, that his manager has been able to call on a core squad of 20 in the second phase of the season, assisted by an unusually empty treatment room, and very few disciplinary issues of any kind on the field.
Whilst not quite on the same Swiss Army knife level as his teammate, McFadzean, by his admission better going forward than the other way, has been deployed as the left-sided centre back on numerous occasions, usually in an effort to push everyone else even further up the pitch when chasing a game. It seemed to have the right effect last night for most of the first half. However, it did then get exploited by a resurgent Pompey with Jamal Lowe’s introduction, with all three of their goals coming from that area. With Scott Wharton cup-tied and possibly still out with a knock, he was probably preferred to Chris Stokes due to his greater pace, possibly at the cost of a little more experience and solidity.
Nevertheless, both Moore and McFadzean were largely unheralded when they signed in the close season, and yet have turned out to be invaluable to the team, improving as the campaign has unfolded.
Nicky Maynard, the poacher
Unlucky not to add to his tally of 17 goals in all competitions last night, he came up against an inspired Craig MacGillvray between the Portsmouth sticks with an arcing effort that seemed destined to nestle into the bottom far corner. His otherwise fruitful month was characterised by four efforts that could only be labelled as a ‘poacher’s’ – just about getting enough on the ball to poke home against Crawley Town; an inadvertent one-two with Exeter City’s Dean Moxey for a truly scruffy strike; bundling the ball over the line for his first against the Latics, and then capitalising on some woeful defending for his second within the six-yard area.
Even if that was the case, it would still speak volumes about his positioning to peel off his marker, and setting his body correctly in anticipation of a pass or inadvertent opportunity. Ugly goals they might have been of late, but the aesthetics matter not, and he’s certainly demonstrated he’s capable of the spectacular, too.
Another unbeaten month in the league & 12 games left…
Once more, Ben Mayhew’s xG timelines demonstrate the different ways Bury have remained unbeaten in the four league games contested during February:
The table is starting to take shape with just a quarter of the campaign left. Long-time leaders Lincoln City drew 1-1 last night with Exeter City, in a result that probably suits Bury more than a decisive outcome either way. I’m not going to go into much depth here about how I think things will pan out for all the runners and riders – I’ll save that for a separate post a little into March.
The Lancashire outfit will need to bounce back from their disappointment quickly, with three matches in the space of a week, beginning this Saturday with the visit of Macclesfield Town to BL9. Under Sol Campbell, they have risen a place but are still in the relegation zone, taking 20 points from a possible 45 during his tenure. Winless in five, they have nevertheless been very competitive in every game, and have only suffered defeat by a margin of more than once in that period – away at Mansfield Town, which is no disgrace.
That fixture is swiftly followed by a journey down to the Jonny-Rocks Stadium to face Cheltenham Town. On a four-match winning run in Gloucestershire, they have taken vital, maximum points from the teams around them as a consequence. Although they were soundly beaten 4-1 in the reverse fixture, the scoreline was harsh on Mike Duff’s men, who looked especially dangerous down both flanks when floating crosses in to Luke Varney. It’s at this juncture where teams in or around the bottom six often start picking up ‘unexpected’ scalps, and nothing can be taken for granted.
On the 9th of March, the outspoken Dino Maamria will welcome the Shakers to his corner of Hertfordshire. Stevenage are nothing if not wildly inconsistent, and it’s still not out of the question for them to put some form together to trouble the top seven. The obvious qualities Queens Park Rangers loanee Ilias Chair possesses will need to be somehow kept in check; Lincoln didn’t manage to do that, and were very nearly three points worse off for that one failure in a recent clash.
Cambridge United are badly struggling for goals once more, having only notched on a single occasion in their last five outings at the time of writing. A more than respectable January (drubbing by Milton Keynes Dons aside) gave way to a decidedly barren February, and they were extremely fortunate to best Port Vale for their solitary win. That said, Colin Calderwood should look to how his predecessor Joe Dunne disrupted Bury back in November by employing a high press and a mid-block in defence, and emulate that as best as he can to obtain something from the match.
Michael Jolley’s Grimsby Town are on an upward curve since the beginning of December, and like Stevenage, are an outside bet to gatecrash the play-off positions. Admittedly, their January results were poor on the face of it, but most sides would count even one win in four against the top teams as commendable, which came over MK at Blundell Park, despite being a man lighter for more than half the game. Unbeaten in February, they will be a much tougher prospect than they appeared to be back in the nascent part of the season.
Similarly, Swindon Town are experiencing a renaissance of sorts under Richie Wellens, who’s making more out of the technical players at his disposal. If anyone currently lower than ninth is going to be in the reckoning come May, they would be my pick. For the most part, their run-in games are against fellow mid-table sides who will potentially have little to play for by then. Triumphs over MK and Forest Green Rovers in the past month demonstrate that they have the capability in one-off games to compete with the ‘elite’ of the fourth tier, and are the most technically comparable side to Bury in terms of style and mentality. It should be an intriguing game to round off March, and the complexion will be much clearer by the end of it.
FA Youth Cup
There is at least one Bury side still in a cup competition (actually two, but I’ll get to that in the section below!). Ryan Kidd’s youngsters have a mouth-watering clash at Gigg Lane, hosting Liverpool U18s in the quarter-final stage. Should they manage to find a way through one of the best academies in the world, they’ll be on home soil once more to Watford or Leicester City in a single leg, which is the first change in format for 40 years. The two ties have already been played in the ‘other’ half of the draw, and Bury now stand alone as the only Category 3 and lower tier representatives in the competition.
The magnitude of next Wednesday evening’s occasion shouldn’t be underestimated, and I’ll be talking to two people who have kept close tabs on the Reds’ fortunes under new boss Barry Lewtas this season for this blog.
Few will be expecting a shock home win, of course, and as someone who takes a very keen interest in youth football, it’s always tempting to overstate some of the current crop’s potential, even though I try to remain as objective as possible. That said, they are at the late stage for good reason; Callum Hulme and Joe Adams have been offered (and accepted) pro contracts, and I suspect at least four of the other second year scholars will receive similar terms, if that hasn’t taken place already away from the public eye.
Below them, there is now a reliable stream of quality coming through, which is testament to the work Kidd, Mark Litherland, Graham Hastings, and others have put in over the last half-decade. Put another way, there’s good reason Femi Seriki was mentioned unpromptedby Lowe before last night’s match, where he suggested that the versatile 15 year-old right-sided forward could be in line for his senior debut before the season is over. There was also a reason why he was on the bench earlier on in the course of the EFL Trophy…
It’s difficult to avoid language that makes the boys sound like commodities to be pinched off the club for a pittance, but such is the pervasiveness of EPPP, it’s an onerous task to do so, and even harder to keep them from the watchful gazes of scouts at teams with larger resources. That’s why it’s important to cherish the current group aiming for glory next week. I expect them to line up in a positive 4-3-3 to try to go beyond the midfield diamond that’s a staple of the Reds’ lineups in 2018/2019. They can’t afford to be boxed in to their own third of the pitch, but should hopefully have a sizeable backing in the stands to aid their cause.
Two women’s sides challenging for trophies
Lying in second place but with only a single promotion spot on offer, Scott Johnson’s senior women’s side face table-toppers Blackpool away this Sunday, having beaten the Seasiders 10 days ago at Carrington. Even a draw would still be advantageous, as they are currently seven points behind with three games in hand. Victories in the other seven fixtures would ensure promotion to the fifth tier of the female pyramid, and whilst that is a tall order, the four other confirmed matches for March are against opposition they’ve already either beaten comfortably, or who are struggling at the other end of NW Division One North. The three leading scorers in the white and royal blue are having their own tussle for supremacy – captain and taliswoman (if it isn’t a word already, I’ve coined it now!) Lucy Golding leads the way with 14 to her name despite playing a deeper role, but Jordon Bailey (13) and Caitlin Clancy (11) are both hot on her heels, having notched match-winning braces in the last two matches.
The reserve side lead the way in their smaller pool, and thanks to some walkovers and clubs withdrawing, they only have one league match left to contest. A win over Stanwix Juniors would ensure them of at least second, but much like the senior outfit, they need top spot for promotion. Colin Platt’s charges would still be reliant on Sunday’s opponents slipping up elsewhere, as their goal difference is vastly inferior to the Carlisle natives. Later on in the month, they have the Lancashire County Plate cup final against higher tier opposition in the form of Nelson on neutral ground in Leyland. If you’re in the area on the morning of the 17th of March, they’d certainly appreciate you coming down to watch them lift some silverware!
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.
As regular readers will know, I don’t get up to south Lancashire very often. Indeed, my ‘annual pilgrimage’ normally has to suffice, as well as a handful of away trips local to my current place of abode. This can sometimes make me feel a little disconnected from the rest of the Bury fanbase, but Saturday’s match against promotion rivals Milton Keynes Dons went quite some distance to rectifying that.
I forwent the opportunity to explore the town centre in order to meet up at the Social Club with people more recognisable to me by their online handles on Twitter or the message board than their real names, and I could belatedly give depth to them in the flesh. My friend Andy Ashworth, someone who gave me no small amount of support during my non-football related depression last season, introduced me to fellow imbibers in the bustling sports bar (given a new lease of life under Steve Dale) as the person behind this blog, and the reactions were truly heartwarming. His father Cliff joined us a little later on, and upon making my acquaintance took my hand and shook it, praising my work. I must confess that it meant a little more coming from a man who’s undoubtedly experienced many things, and been witness to almost all of the highs and many lows in the club’s modern history.
Why am I mentioning this, you might ask? For various reasons, going to matches has been quite a solitary affair for me. Sometimes, I’ll travel with my dad-in-law, but as a lapsed (and priced out) Arsenal fan, his interest is more in the quality of the fare on show, rather than the day-to-day machinations of the Shakers, so mentioning the strengths and weaknesses of players or the ‘heavy metal’ system Ryan Lowe has employed in 2018/2019 that he doesn’t see in some form week in, week out, can be a little lost in translation.
I took my seat in the South Stand, not far from where I used to hold a season ticket with my mum all the way through the Icarus-esque rise and fall during the mid-90s to mid-00s, and even before kick off, the atmosphere was much more vocal than I’d become accustomed to throughout much of that period at Gigg Lane.
A cursory glance at the visitors’ teamsheet made it clear that Paul Tisdale wasn’t going to acquiesce to my preview, choosing to draft in Peter Pawlett behind the deadly duo of Chuks Aneke and Kieran Agard, instead of shoehorning him or one of the other forwards into the nominally left-sided role vacated by the (temporary) absence of Rhys Healey. Further back, he strangely opted for Joe Walsh over the recently impressive Mathieu Baudry, choosing to deploy the former in his first game for two months as the right-sided centre back, despite being predominantly left-footed.
The early minutes saw MK largely sit back and invite their hosts onto them in the hopes of using the pace of Agard on the counter. As early as the sixth minute, this strategy had to be tweaked a bit because of a hamstring injury to George Williams down the right flank. His replacement Conor McGrandles has taken on that position reasonably frequently during the current campaign, but I’d argue that forced substitution changed the tactical complexion of the encounter just as much as any subsequent to that. Good in the air as he was, he was largely penned in to his own half by the attacking proclivities of Callum McFadzean and Danny Mayor.
Even so, the rest of the pitch had an open feel to it from the off, with Pawlett enjoying no shortage of room in which to manoeuver. Under a small amount of pressure from Agard, Chris Stokes made what turned out to be the first of several costly errors during the game, lumping the ball with his weaker out for the needless concession of a corner. A well-worked routine saw the returning Jordan Moore-Taylor climb highest of all to dispatch Jordan Houghton’s cross, drawing first blood for the Dons.
The goal only seemed to encourage an even more attack-minded approach for Bury, and it seemed as though they’d get their reward for beginning to pepper Lee Nicholls’ net when Jay O’Shea dusted himself down after Houghton’s clumsy challenge to take the penalty; although it was struck well, his opponent pulled off a superb save to ensure his side’s lead was preserved. Momentum was still mainly with the home side and by this point, the majority of the build-up play was squarely focused down the left flank. From another patient move to work the ball into the area, the Irish playmaker bravely stepped up to make amends just after the half-hour mark when captain Neil Danns went down a little dubiously adjacent to Walsh, who certainly had some justification for his protests when reviewing the highlights. Nevertheless, the spot kick was calmly guided into the far corner, and the Shakers were level… for all of three minutes.
Once more, the inability to defend from set pieces proved to be the BL9 outfit’s undoing. A throw-in was played to Agard, and his hold-up play invited Stokes to foul him, giving away another cheap chance for the side in red and gold to profit from… which they duly obliged. Dean Lewington, having much more success than his compatriot McGrandles, turned his hand (or, rather, foot) to expertly angling a tap back from Houghton into Joe Murphy’s far corner, which the latter could do little about, seeing the ball too late as it flew past the two-man wall.
After half-time, things became more desperate for Lowe. Lewington was allowed too much space to pick out a wicked cross by Nicky Adams, and with Agard waiting on the six-yard line to nod home, Stokes did the job for him. In his defence, he had to get something on it, as the striker was queued up right behind him. Facing towards your own goal with the pace of the ball as it was, it’s very difficult to steer it away from danger with your head. A dejected looking Stokes was summarily substituted, and he must be fearing for his starting place if Lowe was basing his judgement on that match alone.
Now 3-1 down, Lowe rolled the dice. On came the divisive Eoghan O’Connell for Danns, whose job was twofold: a) to sit a bit further back than his teammate had to deprive Pawlett of the ball, and b) when possession was regained, to pick out a white shirt with greater urgency than had hitherto been the case. Byron Moore’s introduction at the same time ensured the balance in defence wasn’t altered, with McFadzean, who has experience of centre back at former side Guiseley, tucking inside to accommodate the probing forays forward of Moore.
The effect wasn’t immediate, and it took a couple of timely interventions by Adam Thompson to keep the gap in the scoreline surmountable. Once that danger had ceased and an hour had elapsed, it was almost all Bury from then on. Pawlett’s withdrawal for Lawson D’Ath had no obvious positive effect on proceedings, and perhaps diminished the influence they had in midfield areas.
In a sign of what was to come, the uncontrollable Mayor flashed a presentable effort just wide. With less than 20 minutes remaining, the home support, which hadn’t given up hope of salvaging something from the game by any means, were able to cheer Dom Telford’s crucial strike to halve the deficit. Fed by O’Connell, the diminutive striker still had a lot to do, but his change of pace left Walsh unable to catch him as he drove towards the goal, angling a left-footed shot into the far corner. O’Connell, for his part, didn’t misplace a single one of his 26 passes after coming on.
The increasing hope in the stands was visibly translating itself onto the field, with goalscorer Telford calling for more noise. O’Connell strode forward, and tried to replicate his spectacular curling effort against Stevenage, but the flight of the ball was a touch too high. Then, it was Mayor’s turn to conjure up something special. Teed up by Moore’s backheel after a charge to the edge of the penalty area, the inside forward cut inside and took his shot a little earlier than is his custom, which went through the legs of Nicholls. It would be harsh to place much blame on the custodian for it, as he had little opportunity to anticipate the direction of the effort. 3-3, and already a classic.
It was at this point that Andy asked me whether I’d take the point as it stood, which I stated I would. Although I hadn’t seen the best of Agard or an off-colour Chuks Aneke, you write off MK Dons at your peril, even in an encounter they had largely been second best in on the overall balance of play. Osman Sow was called upon to add more physicality to their forward line in the dying minutes, with the defence now hitting it longer to stem the pressure they were under.
However, it was former Don Nicky Maynard who had the final say. Another quick ball into the area from O’Connell found its intended target, but the marksman could only conspire to somehow to poke wide when unmarked. It felt like that was the chance to fire Bury into what had appeared to be an unlikely lead, but thankfully, that wasn’t the case. The presence of Gold Omotayo, on for Telford, was actually quite an important moment, as it offered a prominent outlet in both boxes, esepcially from any late corners. As it was, he had an understated role in the winner. Goal side of McGrandles, the Swiss target man blocked off the wing-back’s means of getting anything on Adams’ cross-cum-shot, all while his shirt was being firmly held. The direction of the ball was definitely changed slightly but vitally by Maynard. Cue bedlam.
As I stated above, Gigg Lane is not known for generally having a vibrant atmosphere, although some sections of home supporters do do their best. The scenes I witnessed and was very much a part of after Maynard’s winner are some of the most joyous I’ve seen in my entire life, only matched by the sound of the full-time whistle.
None of the highlight packages, my video above, or even the best efforts of the commentary team on the iFollow stream, can do either moment justice. It’s the sort of experience you have rarely, particularly as a Shaker, and I’ve only a handful of occasions in my lifetime that even come close at the ground:
Tony Rigby’s amazing play-off semi-final winner against Preston North End in 1995
Being one of the fans on the pitch at the end of the 1995/1996 season, awaiting news of whether Bury had stolen the third and final promotion spot
The title win in 1997 against at a sold-out ground
The 2-1 derby win over rivals Bolton Wanderers in 1999
Jon Newby’s injury time winner against league leaders Millwall in 2001… and sharp exit from the wrath of angry visiting fans!
You’ll notice that most of those are 20 or so years ago. Whilst that is partly down to my relocation, it’s also true to say that more of the recent glorious memories supporters have had have come away from home, including both of the promotions in the last decade. Gigg Lane really was rocking.
Whilst Tisdale’s men had not been at their swaggering or imperious best, they had still more than demonstrated that they are automatic promotion bedfellows for good reason, being 3-1 up (without being at the top of their game) for a lengthy spell. They have the means if necessary to recruit in the remainder of the transfer window, and will surely be targeting Healey for a return. On Saturday’s evidence, they could’ve done with a bit more cutting edge from open play, but I’m sure they’ll be fine regardless of the outcome of that potential re-signing.
I wrote an article last month, cautiously welcoming chairman Steve Dale’s takeover, as well as offering some ways to get stakeholders back onside. Fans have suffered over the years from the club’s poor financial reputation in more ways than one, as well as false dawns and promises of others, no matter how benevolent their intentions were. A fans’ forum was held on Friday night, clips of which will no doubt be published by the club later this week. I wasn’t there, but I’m told he, new director Matt McCarthy and CEO Karl Evans were actively encouraging the participation of the supporters during it.
Plenty of words have been said about reconnecting the club to its community, even in the month Dale has been in situ. Thankfully, they have already been proven by actions, including a succinct note on the official website and the chairman’s presence at yesterday’s women’s cup match. The club is much more than the senior men’s team, and even though they are still small steps, to have that recognised so early on will go a long way to making good on that promise, and it’s coupled with a perception that everyone’s now pulling in the same direction. Tough obstacles (both on and off the pitch) still lie in wait, and even if Lowe fails to achieve the target he’s privately set himself and his group of players, it feels good to be an active participant in all facets of Bury Football Club again.
Firstly, can you tell me a bit about your background and what made you want to play competitive football?
I started playing football when I was 8, mainly on the streets as there wasn’t much available for girls at the time in the way of competitive teams. I was always encouraged to play sports such as netball and rounders at school but I loved the challenge, competitiveness and physicality of football. A local boys club set up a girls team so I took the opportunity to join. After spending a few years developing my skills, winning various league’s and cups and hitting my highest record yet scoring 52 goals in one season including 2 goals in Holland, I decided to rise to the challenge of a higher level of football. I’d spent time at Manchester United and Bolton Wanderers before being awarded a scholarship at UCLAN to support me with my studies and on completion I moved to FC United of Manchester before settling at Bury.
What made you choose to play for Bury?
Bury has always attracted players from around Greater Manchester and beyond – it’s a well known club in girls and women’s football. The positive culture and ethos at the club is what attracted me, they do things the right way. The club ensures that all teams are equipped with highly qualified and experienced coaches which is what leads to so much success.
How would you describe your role as captain of the first team? Is there more to it than the casual observer would think?
For me, it’s all about being a great role model and motivator. We’re a young side and I think some of our youngest players need someone who is going to guide them and support them as they step up to senior football. Even for some of our most experienced players they can sometimes feel nervous in the run up to a big game and this is where myself, vice-captain Amy Openshaw and our management work together to motivate, inspire and encourage the players.
How would you describe your (the team’s) style of play to anyone who’s not had to see you before?
We’ve become a very passing side over the past 2 years. We like to build from the back and we can be quite patient in the build up. Once we’re in the attacking third we utilise the speed of the strikers and attack goal with some force.
How would you summarise both the first team and your own individual 2016/2017 season as a whole?
Last season we set ourselves a target of a top half finish. Finishing third and reaching the League Cup Final greatly exceeded this target. The players worked hard in training and this definitely showed on the pitch. Our technical ability has improved greatly and the bond between all players really enhances the link up play you see on the pitch.
Personally I think I’ve had a good season. I had set myself a target to score 10 or more goals and I finished with 17 which I was quite surprised with as a centre midfielder.
Are there particular players coming through the ranks that you think could be ones to watch in 2017/2018?
We’ve had players join us this summer from Manchester City and FC United of Manchester who are very promising.
Do you think the senior side have a realistic chance of promotion in 2017/2018?
Absolutely! We were so close last season and the players understand what we need to do going forward. The Club have just appointed Matt Graham as the new First Team manager who comes with a lot of experience having coached and managed in the Women’s Premier League. I’m confident that with his knowledge and expertise he will take us to the next level.
What is your long-term aspiration within football?
We’re definitely seeking promotion this season. We’d also like to be in a position where we can compete comfortably in the FA Cup and progress into the Women’s Premier League.
What’s it like combining playing with being the treasurer of the women’s side of the football club?
I like to keep the two things separate. At training and on a match day my focus is working hard, playing great football and leading the team. I deal with the business side of the Club on other days and the two roles never seem to overlap.
At the very start of the close season, I mentioned the possibility of interviewing some of the players and management at Bury. What I deliberately didn’t specify was who I wanted to speak to, obviously because things can change quickly and you can’t always be certain you’ll get a positive response. I’d rather promise nothing and ‘deliver’ nothing than come up empty-handed. In any case, my first attempt was successful. Paul Iannnoccone, who has two roles at the club: manager of Bury Ladies FC and head of football at The Football College was only too happy to field my questions.
I sought out Paul deliberately to be the first because I don’t feel enough attention has been paid to the wonders he has worked with the women’s teams at the club in the short period of time he has been their manager. It is my personal belief that my support of the club encompasses all the aspects of it, not merely the part that is most prominently in the public eye. This includes the ambition to attend at least one women’s match in the not-too-distant future.
Although there has been a football club in Bury covering open-aged women for 21 years, it has not always had such a close association with what most think of as ‘the club’. It has only been relatively recently that the links have strengthened and hopefully will continue to do so in the not too distant future.
I wanted to know what had persuaded him to take the reins at the club and to do that, we had to start at the beginning of his burgeoning interest in the sport.
Q: In your own words, can you tell me a bit about your background and what inspired or led you into football management?
A: I played until I was 15 at a pro academy in the north-west. I was very ill as a young child and had over 40 surgeries on various different issues with my stomach. When I was told at 15 that I could not play anymore by my doctor, I knew I had to stay in the game because I loved it so much. I took up coaching pretty much straight away. My parents and grandparents have always supported me and my late granddad especially taught me so much about the game. I hope I’m making him proud with my career in the game now.
Q: You were a coach once before at Bury as an apprentice in the Football In the Community Programme. What made you want to do your apprenticeship there?
A: I did my work experience there while I was at high school. When I was finishing my GCSEs they got in touch and asked me if I would be interested. I knew I wanted to be a coach so it was ideal for me. I got great experience there from a young age and it set me up for the rest of my career to date. I owe a lot to the guys I started with at Bury. Steve Raynor, Seb Piper, Calum Rushton and Matt Clarke. I can’t thank them enough for the start they gave me in football coaching.
Q: You were then at nearby Radcliffe Borough. What was your experience like with them and did their FITC programme differ much in their approach to Bury’s at the time?
A: It was a part-time programme there. Very different to Bury in terms of the amount of schools they were in and amount of work going on. However, it was another great experience for me and the club really worked hard to get into the Radcliffe schools and support the local community.
A: A project ran in a troubled area of Oldham to get youths off the street and into playing football instead of getting up to no good.
Q: What was your experience like in the United States? How did ways of coaching there differ from in England, especially with girls and women playing football being much more prominent and ‘mainstream’ for lack of a better term?
A: Coaching in the United States made me the coach I am today. My time there in the pitch 12 hours a day, seven days a week taught me more than any coaching course ever could. I was lucky enough to coach elite nationally ranked teams there and travel the country for the most prestigious tournaments. Over there, driving four hours for a game was normal, even at U12s! Parents were so committed to getting their kids to training and games. The end goal for them was a college scholarship, which I’m proud to say most of the players I coached achieved in the end.
I worked with some wonderful players and met some amazing families who I still keep in touch with to this day. Also, my boss in the U.S. is the most influential person on my career to date. His mentoring has shaped my coaching style and I still to this day find myself saying things that he says! I can’t thank him enough for all that he taught me. Any future success I have as a coach will always be dedicated to him.
Q: You came back to the north-west with various age groups in Accrington Stanley’s academy. How did it feel to be part of a club that is constantly punching well above its weight at all levels?
A: I have nothing but great things to say about Accrington Stanley. I was made to feel so welcome there and everyone is pulling in the right direction. The club and academy works so well because of the staff on the ground running it. I had the opportunity to work with the U10s and the U14s and it gave me professional academy experience, which long-term is a potential interest of mine to get into full-time. All the staff at the academy are great people and I made friends for life there.
Q: Finally, we get on to your return to Bury. As Head of Football at The Football College for one of your two current roles, can you describe in a bit of detail how the Player Pathway Programme works?
A: As Head of Football, my role is to coach, manage and organise all the football within the college. I oversee six teams across two campuses that play in the ECFA College Leagues. I take a lead coaching role on our Youth Shadow Squad that are directly underneath Bury FC’s youth team. The Player Pathway Programme is specifically designed to identify players for the next level of football. I look at the players we have in the college and identify clubs at various levels for them to go into and then I contact those clubs and get them in for trials which leads to them hopefully signing.
I have pushed players into North-West Counties and Evo-Stik clubs so far and will continue to do so. Exceptional talent is run through our academy before being pushed on anywhere else in case the academy want to take that player on. It’s a great model to get our young lads playing high level football.
Q: As manager of Bury Ladies FC, I think it is reasonable to say that you have transformed the fortunes of the senior side. What changes have you implemented since being appointed that explain the side’s rise?
A: There are a number of fundamentals I demand day-to-day. It started with discipline and structure. When I came in, I immediately demanded commitment. Players must be at training in order to play on a Sunday. Many teams at our level do not have that rule in place. Then there’s respect. Every player must listen to what I want and implement it while giving 100%. Some players have had to leave since I came in due to this. They could not give me what I wanted. However, the players I have now I trust with everything. They are the ones that have bought in to this way of working, this structure, this commitment.
When your players trust you and you trust them, it makes everything on the pitch evolve quicker. I look at every one of my players now in the eyes and I know they will do what I ask them to do. As a coach, there is no better feeling.
In terms of actual coaching, I have a philosophy that I believe in and stick to no matter what. I want my players to be very technically proficient, keep the ball for as long as possible through the thirds, and attack with pace and creativity. Off the ball my players must be organised, disciplined, know their defensive jobs and most of all, run. If they cannot run, they cannot play for me. If they want to smash the ball long, they cannot play for me. I feel as though the group I have now truly believe and enjoy how we play football. When the players believe and enjoy, it makes coaching them an absolute pleasure.
A: It’s important. In order to compete, we must improve every year. We are big believers in promoting from within as we have a fantastic youth structure underneath our seniors. However, the young players are not always ready to jump straight to senior level, the commitment and the demands of that. Some of our youth players like Aimee Hall and Ellie Whittle have come straight in and been outstanding. Others have struggled. It’s about finding the right moment to expose those players coming through to this level and something we still need to work on.
In terms of signing new players, we want players who want to come here, who want to play for me and play for this club, and want to be part of what we are aiming for. Someone like Leah Tibbott is a perfect example. Leah has been unbelievable this season after joining us from Manchester City. She has bought in 100% to the philosophy and our ways of working and will only improve season by season. If we can get more players of her quality with similar attitude and approach, we won’t go far wrong.
Q: What lessons can be learned from how the season panned out, the cup final defeat to FC United of Manchester in particular?
A: I think we had an amazing season. Our goals in pre-season were to finish in the top half and win more games than we lost. That would have been fantastic based on last season. However to finish third and get to the league cup final was a massive overachievement considering the young age of our squad.
The lessons that can be learnt… there are a few. We dropped points in games that we should have won. We went there with the wrong mentality, thinking that we had beaten those teams before so would again. We need to have a stronger more focused mentality. We are very young so will learn from that. We showed how good we can be by beating the champions of our league 4-1 and on that day we were unbelievable.
Also, the quarter-final of the cup against Bootle who were unbeaten at the time and then the semi-final against Manchester Stingers who were a division above. Those performances will live long in the memory of all players and staff. We need to believe in ourselves and our ways of working but also know that every single 90 minutes is just as important as the last. The cup final was a fantastic spectacle, a joy to watch for the neutral fan. Many people said after the game it was a credit to women’s football, and it truly was. We prepared for the final better than I’ve ever prepared a team for any single game. We knew everything about them, how they would play, how we needed to play. They were just simply the better team on the day. There’s nothing more we could have done. FC United are an outstanding football team with superb players all over the pitch. I’m so proud of the difficult game we presented to them and the respect from their fans after it. They knew they had been in a game. My young players coped so well with the large crowd and if we ever get to another big final in future, we can safely know we have had that experience early in our journey together, and that will stand us in good stead.
Q: Speaking of the journey, what is your ultimate ambition as manager, especially taking into consideration your richly deserved five-year contract?
A: The ultimate ambition is to take the team to the Women’s Premier League. Nothing would make me prouder. Being a home-town lad who was raised right here in Bury, to bring the women’s team into one of the most prestigious leagues in the country would be a dream come true. We have a long way to go. The WPL is two promotions for us. And in our regional league only one team goes up from Division 1 North and up from the Premier. So, basically it means winning two titles.
My contract is for five years but I am not looking at that as an end. I want to achieve as much as possible in that timeframe and hopefully by then I would deserve another contract. I love working with these players, and this club and I hope it continues for many more years.
Q: Lastly, what do you think are the barriers facing women’s football in England when it comes to how it’s perceived as a whole, increasing the level of funding in the sport and the exposure to challenge stereotypes and negativity/apathy from some quarters?
A: I’d like to think the stereotypes of old are starting to wane away. The quality levels of the WSL and the fanbase is taking off. Our English Women’s team are excellent to watch and compete on the world stage. I know from spending time at St. George’s Park recently that the FA are putting a lot of time and effort into the women’s game, as are other countries. I think in the next five to 10 years you will see fewer and fewer barriers and if I can play a small part in helping that, I’ll be delighted.
People just need to simply understand now that what has been perceived for so long as a men’s sport… it’s no longer the case. The women’s game is blossoming and there are many out there that can see that and thankfully, those people are backing it all the way.
It was very clear to me that Paul is very passionate but considered person when it comes to talking about the sport and his work at Bury as a whole. If you’ve watched even a short clip of one of the matches on YouTube, you will have been witness to his constant encouragement of his players, regardless of whether they have done something well or made a mistake and conceded a goal as a result of their (in)actions.
He strives for the very best and you can’t help but feel deeply enthused by his mentality and how he conveys his thoughts. I will certainly be keeping a very close eye on how things pan out next season and beyond: there will also certainly be more articles on this blog on the women’s teams in the future, so watch this space for those.
Analysing The Shakers, League One & Two, and Local English & Welsh Football