I’m not one for any overt displays of nostalgia. Arbitrary points of time don’t particularly interest me; even so, with everything that’s gone on at Bury Football Club in the decade that’s already receding in the rear-view mirror, it feels as though one last, lingering look is warranted at the very least.
Plenty of other sites and publications have of course done a Team of the Decade for their respective clubs or a division as a whole. What very few of them will have done, however, is actually consider how the assembled XI would play as a collective. It’s normally just a case of shoehorning in the best individuals with scant regard for anything else.
I take a different stance, of course. The Shakers were ‘blessed’ with some of the most talented players in their modern history during the 2010s, for better or worse, and I’ve blended them together into a coherent lineup, even at the expense of omitting some of my favourites during that expanse of time:
The first thing to note is that the formation bears a very close resemblance to the ‘Plan A’ employed by Ryan Lowe during the successful promotion campaign in 2018/2019. The second aspect you’ll notice is that yes, some loanees are included. I’ve never had any qualms about regarding them just the same as permanently registered players – the expectations placed on them in my eyes have always been the same.
In goal, it has to be Nick Pope. Tall (even by a ‘keeper’s standard), a great communicator, and an assured presence behind his defence, his huge number of clean sheets during his spell in the second half of 2014/2015 were the foundations on which that surge into the last automatic spot in League Two were built on. Tactically speaking, his distribution from his hands and feet allow the defensive line to be higher than it might otherwise be. Calmly pinching crosses and dead balls out of the air can help to relieve pressure and start counters.
A three-man central defence allows the utilisation of wing-backs. Whilst the more traditional full-back role has evolved most of all in recent years, few in white and royal blue have had the balance right. Although criticised on more than a few occasions for his defensive shortcomings, Chris Hussey in full flow down the left flank was a joy to behold, and had the added string to his bow of being able to take extremely dangerous free-kicks (direct and indirect) and corners. Yes, he wasn’t always consistent in that regard, but that’s why he continues to ply his trade in the lower leagues (in the best sense possible). He always offered an outlet under David Flitcroft, keeping the play wide and working in tandem with his closest team-mate regardless of the shape. His low crosses were also a big asset, and well-suited to the strikers I’ve chosen.
Jimmy McNulty as the left-sided centre back would naturally shift wider to cover Hussey’s bursts forward. Another leader in a defence full of them, he mixed a good range of passing with his natural instincts to stay close to the forward and mark tightly. A reliable passer, he’d lay the ball ahead of Hussey to run onto, or hit a crossfield ball to the right to avoid the press.
Tom Lees remains in the highest echelons of temporary signings by the club. Belying his young age during 2010/2011 (the first of a trio of promotions in the past decade), he rarely lost an aerial battle in either box, and was almost always the primary target to be on the end of a dead ball. He won Players’ Player of the Year during that stint, embodying everything that was positive about that squad. Not the most imposing stopper, he made up for that with excellent aerial reach, scoring five in 50. By the end, he looked the most mature of the stable of centre backs, which is no mean feat at the age of 20, typically before someone in his role would even hold down a regular first-team place at any tier.
On the right of the triumvirate is Nathan Cameron. The charismatic ex-Coventry City player endured a terrible first year in south Lancashire, with regular calls from the stands and on forums to be released… but it was clear he had something. Flitcroft kept him on over the summer of 2014, and from then on, he blossomed into one of the very best, playing his way out of trouble with a quick turn to fool an opponent, using his body as a shield, and mopping up danger both ahead and behind the rest of the unit. He ws also very good on the ball itself, offering a level of close control and cool finishing more typically befitting and associated with a striker. The only issue he had was ultimately with injuries, dashing hopes of a career higher up in the Championship.
It’s fair to say that Matt Doherty was one of the very few bright lights during the relegation season of 2012/2013. In an era of there being two substitutes being on the bench, players turning out for free, and what little youth there was in the ranks being sidelined by Kevin Blackwell, the Irish youngster from Wolverhampton Wanderers swam as so many others sank without a trace. With three footballing centre backs behind him and Pope’s distribution to count on in this XI, he would support the forwards just as much as Hussey, with the added bonus of having a strong left foot in addition to his right, better positioning, and more (controlled) tenacity in the tackle. Excelling with late runs into the area to commit a defender away from other threats is another huge filip to have in a team built for committing men forward in numbers with greater assurance ‘at home’.
The last loanee is one Jordan Rossiter. He had extremely well-documented injury problems in the years prior to his shock move from Glasgow Rangers to the northern point of the Manchester conurbation, but he quickly assuaged the doubts lingering over his fitness (never his ability), becoming the missing piece of the puzzle in Lowe’s jigsaw. A peerless knack of being in the right place to intercept and shut down counters, he could also be the orchestrator of attacks of his own, being particularly adept at floating 30 or 40 yard forward passes to an unmarked teammate in space. Every midfield needs the right balance, and with such a fearsome competitor at the base, it would again give others the confidence to push on.
Danny Mayor… will we ever see someone like him again in a Bury (A)FC shirt? Does it matter? It’s more important now than ever to appreciate what and who came before. He, like Cameron and Rossiter, has had fitness issues in his career that have perhaps prevented greater individual success… but take nothing away from him. He’s had his share of personal accolades, doing more than everyone else to drive the team forward in whichever season he was at Gigg Lane. Anything less than dribbling half the pitch beating two or three players almost felt disappointing, such was his propensity to do it successfully. A creator who gradually shifted more and more central from the left, his rapport with Hussey (and later Callum McFadzean) were huge factors in opposition scouts attempting to mark him out of the game. Like a mirrored version of Arjen Robben, you knew he’d cut in and use his stronger foot to aim for the far corner more often than not. More often than not, his nemeses were powerless to prevent it happening. Some supporters think of him as the most exciting player in the last 30 years, and he would dovetail beautifully in this setup with Hussey and…
Steven Schumacher. My first instinct was to include Jay O’Shea, but in a clear example of not crowbarring someone in for the sake of it, I believe the assistant to Lowe at Bury and now in partisan Devon with Plymouth Argyle offered a bit more between both boxes. He too was fond of a long-range effort, of creating something out of nothing, of dictating the tempo… but as someone who others looked to more for on-field leadership, which of course has now translated into the dugout and training pitch. His vision was vital three seasons in a row, complementing Peter Sweeney‘s deeper playmaking instincts well. A one-in-six record from over 100 appearances for the Shakers cannot be sniffed at, and it was self-evident that he retained a deep fondness for the club in between his spells upon his return.
The finely tuned balance in midfield made it even more difficult to choose the two strikers. Lowe himself, Tom Pope, and Nicky Maynard all narrowly missed out. Present for only one season, James Vaughan was the epitome of a precociously talented individual who had experienced lengthy spells of unavailability that ultimately saw him go from club to club in search of consistency. Alongside the Port Vale legend, he certainly found it in more humble surroundings than he was used to. It didn’t take long for him to carve out his niche, proving his efficacy outside the area as well as in it. A propensity to try the spectacular (and succeed), he also liked to drop off the apex of attack and then run in behind the defence. The sheer variety of the shots taken and subsequent goals scored would ensure he was a multi-faceted threat.
Leon Clarke rarely has the body language which screams ‘full of effort’. If there was a phrase that would sum up his career that I continue to follow, it’s languidly clinical, with firm emphasis on the ‘languid’ part. Even so, he was often tasked with ploughing a lone furrow up top. Not precisely a classic target man, he honed his movement to a fine art, often deceiving his marker in the process. His goal in the memorable 3-1 victory over Sheffield United at Bramall Lane remains both a personal favourite and also an excellent summary of his strengths and character. He chased a hooked ball forward from Hussey, shrugged off the close attentions he was receiving (almost bouncing off him), controls it with his left knee and lobs the ‘keeper with his right foot. The audacity of it could only be carried off by someone with his personality type and matching skillset. As the focal point in this lineup, he’d be aided greatly by Vaughan’s unselfish runs, the support he’d receive from Mayor and Schumacher, and the accurate passing from Rossiter and the wing-backs. He never got that level of consistent service during 2015/2016 in real life, but still left the club with a one-in-two record.
Strictly speaking, this isn’t a representative Team of the Decade, having only known of, and very closely followed, the exploits of the female Shakers for a few years. However, easily their most successful jaunt was in 2018/2019. Suffering a very similar fate to the men – having to withdraw from the fifth tier after a glorious championship/promotion season, it should nevertheless not take away from their achievements, and many of them have since found other clubs at a similar standing or higher up the echelons…
Tess Duxbury often orchestrated attacks from goal, rolling or throwing the ball short to the expressive defenders to take the game to the opposition. Aymee Openshaw, who more often than was vice-captain, would sweep forward in support the five-woman midfield, angling her runs to always provide an option to float crosses to the far post from deep or close to the byline. Jordanna Holgate would cut off any space in between the lines, stepping out of defence to help the line continue to push up. Her central defensive partner Becca Dolman would drop deeper, helping to keep the shape on the rare occasions the Shakers weren’t dominant in possession. Leah Dolan mirrored Openshaw’s forays up and down the flank.
As a key component in the team and one half of the double pivot, Alisha Marsh intelligently split her duties between defence and attack, being a creative force from midfield and frequently troubling the scoresheet, but also being an effective screen in front of the back four. Chloe Davies also had licence to join in the approach play in the final third, often striking from range.
On the right, Sophie Rowlands had an uncanny ability to sweep home at the far post, whilst also working especially well in tandem with Dolan. Captain Lucy Golding reminded me of a female Wayne Rooney in the sense that she wanted to be at the centre of every attack her side made, and more importantly, had the confidence from without and within to be the taliswoman. Her free-kicks from 40 yards out would often end up in the net, and her finishing was simply unmatched – her hunger for goals rarely sated. Her contributions on and off the pitch to Bury are immeasurable.
Jordon Bailey‘s combined goals (22) and assists (23) actually totalled higher than Golding’s efforts. Her pace and work rate would almost always succeed in pulling defenders out of position to combat her, which would in turn create gaps to exploit, helped in no small measure by Caitlin Clancy‘s movement, stretching the play laterally to aid her teammates’ constantly penetrative runs into the final third and beyond any unsuccessful offside trap sprung.
What will the next decade hold? Who will be the heroes on the terraces, and just where will those terraces be? I don’t have the answer to any of these questions, but any club adorning the name of Bury, seeking to embody the town, and embody a modern approach to running a football club is the only way any future articles like this will continue to be written by yours truly. I don’t want the women to be treated as a footnote in whatever comes next – they deserve far more than that, whatever their identities are. It’s also likely there’ll never be anyone with the same level of talent as a Rossiter or a Mayor for the men in most people’s lifetimes reading this now, but that’s no reason to turn away from a non-league adventure if fans are finally put first. Here’s hoping that comes to fruition in the coming months…