Bury are dropping through the leagues and fast. Chris Bainbridge explains why his club are struggling so badly, and how the somehow managed to avoid relegation to the Conference this term
Bury have had a dramatic decline in the past three years or so. What are the main reasons for this?
Money, money and money – a lack of it. Bury’s surge to Division One was bankrolled by millionaire stockbroker Hugh Eaves, but then he got caught up in a scandal. We were forced to sell a raft of good players (such as Dean Kiely, Paul Butler and David Johnson) just to keep going. Two relegations and a spell in administration later, we’re now well on the way to rebuilding ourselves as a community-based club through the “Forever Bury” supporters’ trust. But we now know through bitter experience the dangers of relying on one person. Chelsea beware...
Who are your main rivals and has this changed?
Tradition and geography dictates that “we all hate Bolton Wanderers”; this shows little sign of fading, despite the fact that Bolton are now further away, both geographically and, sadly, in terms of league position. Nowadays we have to make do with Rochdale, which can be good fun but just isn’t the same. We should also mention Manchester United – not in a playing sense, but as the main poachers of young fans both here and throughout the land.
Could Bury do more to attract fans in the region?
With Manchester United, City, Burnley, Bolton and Blackburn all less than half an hour away, Bury have struggled for support for decades. Having said that, the club should really be doing more to attract fans, especially the kids – more cut-price deals, or even a free match once a season, like Oldham’s recent “Celebration Sunday”. The main reasons our crowds are so poor now though is because we’ve had to endure five whole seasons of dire, negative football, first under Neil Warnock and then under (the vastly overrated and overpaid) Andy Preece. Graham Barrow and Kelham O’Hanlon have started to turn results around and if they can keep it up we may see the fans start to drift back.
What have been your best and worst moments?
Best moment: I’ve been lucky enough to have been present at a number of promotion celebrations over the years, but winning the Division Two championship in 1997 was
the best ever: the ground full, 2,000 more locked out, an easy 2-0 win over Millwall, followed by a long, long night of celebrations. Worst moment: Bury went into administration in March 2002 and, although we’ve had some close calls at various points in our history, everyone was convinced that this time we’d had it.
Milestones & Millstones
1895 In their first League season, Bury romp to the Division Two title.
1900 Bury win the FA Cup for the first time, beating Southampton 4-0.
1903 The “Big One” – Bury thump Derby County 6-0 to set the record winning margin in an FA Cup final.
1924 After a few years in Division Two, return to the top flight, pipping Derby on goal average. Gigg Lane is rebuilt with a capacity of 41,000.
1961 Bury clamber back into the top half of the League, skippered to the Division Three title by Bob Stokoe.
1963 Set for an improbable return to the top flight when, placed second in Division Two, the worst winter since the last Ice Age kicks in. By the time matches resume in March, Stokoe (below) is injured. Finish seventh.
1965-1972 Despite producing stars such as Colin Bell, Alec Lindsay, Terry McDermott and Jimmy Kerr, suffer a first relegation to Division Four. Tipped to follow Accrington into obscurity.
1974 League’s youngest manager Bob Smith assembles a squad of young stars and classy veterans to storm to promotion. Striker Derek Spence later becomes Bury’s first international for decades, for Northern Ireland.
1985 Escape Division Four again, with player-manager Martin Dobson’s tiny squad. Stars include Dobson’s old colleagues Leighton James and Trevor Ross.
1990-92 Backed by Hugh Eaves’ money, miss out on promotion to the old Division Two in successive play-off semi-finals. Days before the 1991 final Eaves gets cold feet and puts the entire squad up for sale; 12 months later we’re in the basement.
1995 A first Wembley appearance ends in a 2-0 defeat by Chesterfield in the Division Three play-off final.
1996-98 The Ternent years: Back-to-back promotions and then survival at our “natural” level, Division One.
2002 After the collapse of Hugh Eaves’ business, administration.
2003-04 Lose eight straight games and the Conference looks a distinct possibility. Crowds dip below 2,000. But Graham Barrow and Kelham O’Hanlon turn things around and take us to safety.
Stan Ternent – Took over in September 1995, with the Shakers second from bottom in the League. We stormed up through the divisions, clinching automatic promotion to Division Two at the end of his first season then the Second Division title. Our most successful manager (since the Boer War, anyway).
Neil Warnock – Appointed to follow in Ternent’s footsteps. The mediocrity that followed was too much for many. He tried to curry favour with the press, but was never likely to succeed with the fans – especially after wearing a Sheffield United club tie when we were playing the Blades on Sky...
From WSC 207 May 2004. What was happening this month