So, Bury have entered their 127th year as a professional football club. Each year delivering us twists, turns, plots, sub-plots, on-field and off-field dramas without fail. I’ve just about caught my breath from a memorable 2011 which saw as much joy and despair as any year in the club’s illustrious history – certainly a year to remember.
By the second half of the 2010/11 season, Alan Knill’s Bury side were again challenging for promotion out of the basement division mostly due to record breaking club talisman, Ryan Lowe. The on-form striker had scored in nine consecutive games, being the first Bury player ever to do so. All seemed well at Gigg Lane, though as the months passed and the importance on the remainder of the season’s games increased, Bury were stuttering at the finish line once again.
Belief amongst the Bury fans had plummeted and there were rumours manager Alan Knill was again flirting with other clubs like a cheap, ginger tart looking for a bountiful upgrade. After a poor 0-0 draw with Port Vale in April, the Bury faithful had become resigned to the fact that their manager was to leave with eight crucial games to go in the season – to the sinking ship of HMS Scunthorpe.
Angered, brimming with adrenaline and determined to succeed, the club and its fans united with the sole aim of firing Bury ‘back to the big time.’ Youth team manager Richie Barker was appointed as caretaker and from that day forth, the stuttering, tiresome outfit became an unstoppable juggernaut smashing teams into submission. It felt like Knill had created a siege mentality with his players over the years to get results. He had turned the players against the fans with a ‘go out there and prove them lot wrong’ attitude. Once the exuberant, chiselled face of Richie Barker had replaced the decaying, irksome figure of Alan Knill, the club and its fans became one and have not looked back since.
Bury managed to win five games in a row which would lead them to a vital top of the table clash against league leaders Chesterfield at the B2net stadium. An impressive 2,000 Bury fans made the journey that day which was well over half of the average home gate at Gigg Lane that season, for a game which was unlikely to see Bury promoted. Of course every Bury fan has that day engraved into their brains by now.
Bury won 3-2, Shrewsbury failed to win against Accrington, which meant the Shakers would be playing League One football in the 2011/12 season. It’s a tale Bury fans will never get tired of telling. Over a decade was spent in the bottom division which on one hand provided administration, abysmal football and quite shocking managerial tenures. Yet on the other, orgasmic victories, last game of the season ecstasy and ultimately, promotion.
The summer of 2011 saw Richie Barker appointed as manager on a permanent basis, however there were doubts over the appointment despite him achieving promotion from League Two. Some argued promotion was due to team spirit and experienced players alone; of course now we know that to be utter drivel. Barker went through the summer engaging in little transfer activity while players such as Kyle Bennett, Tom Lees and Nicky Ajose had left. That day in Chesterfield was now just a meagre reminiscence and crawling out of the woodwork came the Bury cynics; the first day of the season abruptly arrived to silence them.
Bury snatched a point at Huddersfield due to a late Ryan Lowe equaliser. It was a moment where, I’ll admit, I seemed to lose control of myself as my actions became that of a hysterical chimp infected with rage as Lowe’s shot rippled against the netting. My wild actions were solely due to my pessimistic expectations prior to the game. Only after it did realisation strike that Bury were a League One team.
Typically what followed the encouraging start to life in League One was transfer deadline day horror. Bury’s talisman, hero and top goalscorer, Ryan Lowe, was sold to Sheffield Wednesday while midfield virtuoso Damien Mozika was snatched by none other than Alan Knill’s Scunthorpe United. Heads were down by the beginning of September and what followed was a dreadful run of seven successive defeats – including a humiliating 4-2 defeat at the hands of minnow neighbours Rochdale.
During that September, Bury took a relentless pounding and were at times footballed to death by the opposition. It seemed they were doing an impression of playing football; a simply horrible month. You take the rough with the rough as a fan of a lower league side and this was very much a case of that.
Just as some were beginning to utter the words ‘Barker out’, he responded with a change in formation. A cultured, continental 4-3-3 lifted Bury out of the September rut as a number of loan signings were made to fit the new formation. Bury have not looked back since. Andy Bishop has seemingly been able to fill the boots of Ryan Lowe, Lenell John-Lewis has become a cult hero amongst some sections of the Gigg Lane crowd and loanee wonderkid David Amoo has been simply too good for League One.
The Mighty Shakers currently sit 9th in League One and are dreaming of a play-off push. I’ll keep my mouth shut about promotion at the moment, but if this squad can get through the January transfer window unscathed, survival is a certainty. There, I said it.
So what can we expect from Bury in 2012? Well it certainly won’t be dull.
Up the Shakers.
Written by Peter Keighery, We Are Going Up’s Bury blogger
Peter tweets at @PeterKeighery