After days of will-he-won’t-he, heaps of unfathomable drivel gushed on internet forums and frivolous silence from the club, Richie Barker has completed his switch from Bury to Crawley Town. Mixed feelings are probably the most accurate way to describe the reaction. Bury have been through this before; players and managers leaving at the most inconvenient of times has become the conventional procedure over the past couple of seasons.
Stage 1: the denial. Bury chairman Brian Fenton usually assures fans through a media outlet that the manager or player in question is not leaving. Stage 2: the departure. Inevitably the manager or player leaves for, generally, a club of a similar level to Bury. And stage 3: the hyperbolic panic. Fans begin to realise their beloved football club is doomed for all eternity. Except on this occasion stage 3 is missing. Despite delivering promotion from the ineluctable basement of League Two that has conquered the soul of countless ‘fallen giants’, and then finishing a respectable 14th in League One the season after, many still see Barker as an overrated and quite frankly, lucky manager. It would appear some Bury fans are trying to have it both ways when lauding Barker for motivating a sinking ship to promotion, and then claiming it was the previous manager’s work once Barker leaves. Football supporters hypocritical? Never.
What made Barker unpopular was his attempt to widen the tactical minds of Bury fans by introducing a formation that wasn’t a flat 4-4-2. The Spanish revolution of modernised world football has caused a ripple effect on the rest of Europe yet the lower echelons of English football didn’t get the memo. Barker did and by attempting a fluid 4-5-1/4-3-3 he immediately clashed with a few narrow-minded supporters. The players at Bury are similar to the fans in that they couldn’t adjust to Barker’s advanced tactics which meant a run of poor results using the formation. With more time and little tweaking Barker could have got that right, but he was pressured into going back to basics. 4-4-2 is all we know here at Bury and if you try to change that you will be blamed and ostracised!
The general consensus when Alan Knill left Bury for Scunthorpe with eight games remaining was, he completely disrespected the club by not only leaving at the time he did – to the club he left for – but also most felt throughout his whole tenure at Bury he created a players vs the fans siege mentality that meant his squad had to win to prove the fans wrong, not to entertain and satisfy them. When Barker took charge all of that changed. A new team spirit came to fruition which ultimately got the club their first promotion since the late 90s, and by finishing 14th the season after Barker had given Bury their two highest finishes in over a decade. Although Knill got together a good group of players, he never actually achieved anything at Bury, whereas Barker has achieved everything he could not with a weaker squad and on a smaller budget. All of this has to be acknowledged. On the surface the two manager’s departures may appear similar, but the discrepancies are there for all to see.
Who next for the Shakers? Wrexham’s player-manager Andy Morrell appears to be the fans’ choice at the moment – and mine. Yet somehow I doubt a Conference manager would want to manage a League One Bury team. Wrexham are one of the ‘sleeping giants’ that League Two engulfed so Morrell may see Wrexham as a bigger and more exciting project and taking the Bury job may be a premature risk in his short managerial career. Not to mention the compensation fee Bury would have to pay as well as Morrell not wanting to hang up his boots just yet. Personally the idea of Efe Sodje managing Bury both terrifies and excites me: it certainly would not be a sensible choice and would most likely end in tears, but just imagine it! Our policy seems to be ‘check who the youth team manager is’ but at this moment there aren’t many options.
Thank you for the good times Richie Barker.
Written by Peter Keighery, We Are Going Up’s Bury blogger
Peter tweets at @PeterKeighery