Transfer deadline day is usually a time for Bury fans to make a good brew, kick back and relax, safe in the knowledge that nothing remotely interesting is happening in the corridors of power at Gigg Lane. In fact the lights are normally off and everyone has long gone home.
Except not these days. Quite the opposite in fact. But then, a lot of things are different these days.
On March 1st 2002 Bury Football Club went into administration. At the time, many Shakers fans thought that would be the end. For those hard working supporters who worked tirelessly to raise extra funds and ensure that it wasn’t, the following decade was close to a nightmare. Attendances dropped, bad managers were appointed, the football got worse and the club became a laughing stock, thrown out of the FA Cup and marooned permanently at the bottom end of the League Two table each year. With no cash to buy anyone, any talented youngsters brought through (e.g. David Nugent and Colin Kazim-Richards) were then promptly sold off on the cheap to help keep the club afloat, adding further insult to injury. However, thanks firstly to Alan Knill, but most importantly the squad he then assembled – all of that seems a long time ago now.
Last season’s glorious promotion, the Shakers’ first since 1997, was a reward for every supporter who braved the cold to help shake a bucket nine years ago and keep the club alive. The team spirit, hard work, determination and unity shown by the players all last season was never more in evidence than in the final eight games. Following Knill’s untimely (and controversial) departure to Scunthorpe, the squad under young caretaker boss Richie Barker pulled together to produce six straight wins and seal a long overdue return to League One. That form has also carried over into the new season – at half time last Saturday Bury were sitting third in their new division, having already knocked out Championship side Coventry City from the Carling Cup.
During the last two years, the focal point for the new brand of fantastic free flowing football played at Gigg Lane has been one man. Any good side needs a prolific goalscorer, and Ryan Lowe is certainly that. He was the fans favourite, a cult hero, a Shakers legend… call it what you will. He’s already scored seven times this campaign, and was League Two’s player of the season last year with 28 goals in all competitions, bringing his Bury record to 53 in 100 – including this, the last minute goal which sealed promotion at Chesterfield back in May.
The news broke late on Tuesday night that he’d asked to leave the club following interest from Gary Megson and Sheffield Wednesday, and just like that, he was gone. Sold for a fee believed to be around £150,000, albeit undisclosed. Like any fan, I was angry, upset, gutted (what do I do with my Ryan Lowe promotion poster?) but when the dust settles, the club had no option. The last thing you need is such a key player left knocking around unhappy and damaging team morale, so forcing him to stay does no good to anyone. The same goes for central midfield lynchpin Damien ‘Mo Mo’ Mozika, who has re-joined Knill at Scunthorpe in similar circumstances, although seems to have won himself no admirers by handling the affair with his usual display of utter petulance.
Fair play to director Mark Caitlin, who came out with a full, frank and open explanation of events on the club’s messageboard this week. There has never been a stronger mutual respect between the fans and the board at Bury than at this present moment, and they deserve tremendous respect for immediately helping Barker bring in three new faces before the window slammed shut on Wednesday night.
Heading the opposite way from Hillsborough, 25 year old midfielder Giles Coke, who has been brought in on an initial two month loan spell from the Owls. Coke scored the only goal against the Shakers in a Carling Cup fixture last season, and he should help bridge the gap left by Mozika’s absence until the return of skipper Steven Schumacher from a calf injury. Barker and his assistant Peter Shirtcliff worked with Coke previously at Mansfield (Barker played alongside him then) and he should inject energy, steel and hopefully a few goals from the middle of the park too. Also coming in on a short term loan deal is Shane Byrne, an under 19 Republic of Ireland international who featured heavily for Leicester’s youth team in both defence and defensive midfield last season, and he should help give options within an already depleted squad.
The big news from Wednesday though was the arrival of Ryan Lowe’s ‘replacement’, 26 year old striker Shaun Harrad from Northampton, who boasts 85 career goals from 195 appearances. By signing on an undisclosed fee for the next three years, Harrad becomes the first player the Shakers have paid money for since Glynn Hurst back in January 2007. As you can tell from Ben Trasler’s recent blog on his departure, Cobblers’ fans were less than impressed with him being let go in the first place, and the fact he’s confirmed he rejected two other League One clubs in order to sign for Bury is genuinely very exciting, and a testament to the direction of the club and the job that Richie Barker is doing. In my eyes giving Barker the job full time in the summer, though not entirely popular (‘the cheap option’ according to many) has already been more than justified, and he gets more and more impressive with every interview I watch. If Harrad can settle in and find his shooting boots alongside the back-to-full-fitness Andy Bishop, there’s no reason why the club can’t overcome the loss of Ryan Lowe, and move forward stronger for the rest of the season.
Looking back exactly twelve months, the Bury squad were preparing to travel down and play Barnet in front of 1,563 people at Underhill. On Saturday, they go to Bramall Lane to face Sheffield United in front of around 20,000.
2011 has been a great year.
Up The Shakers!
Written by Mark Crossley – We Are Going Up! Podcast Host and Bury Blogger
Mark tweets at @markcrossley