25 April ~ The White Horse pub isn't there anymore. It stood on a street in Bury town centre called The Rock which is now home to a multi-million pound regeneration project. But although the towels were placed over the pumps for the last time decades ago, the product of a meeting there on the April 24, 1885 is still going strong. Bury Football Club is 125 years old this weekend.
The highlights of that century and a quarter came depressingly soon for fans of the club today. Promotion to the top flight was assured in the club's first season in the League after a Test Match win over Liverpool. Five years after that, and just 15 years after being formed, the Shakers – surely the best nickname in the country, coming from chairman JT Ingham's claim Bury would "shake" Blackburn in the 1892 Lancashire Cup - became the first FA Cup winners of the 20th century after a 4-0 win over Southampton at Crystal Palace.
Three years later came either the club's finest hour or the biggest millstone around its neck, largely depending on which end of Rochdale Old Road you live at. To win the FA Cup without conceding a goal in the competition was achievement enough, but to do so with a resounding 6-0 hammering of Derby in the final gave fans something to cling to in petty squabbles with neighbours during the lean years.
And as the decades rolled by, there would be plenty of those. Demotion to the second tier saw fans who had previously worn flat caps while stood on cinder banks reluctantly concede that the club had been punching above its weight and was now at its true level. Relegation to the Third Division in the 1950s was deemed inevitable as Bury stagnated while the game continued to grow. The same thought processes were at work following the drop to the basement in the Seventies.
Hope was briefly stirred in the mid-1990s when Stan Ternent led Bury to two successive promotions. But despite some memorable games, such as beating a calamitous Manchester City at Maine Road, the First Division dream ended under the almost universally despised Neil Warnock in 1999.
The new millennium brought a cash crisis that almost saw the club fold. I think we were lucky that fans of other clubs – particularly Brighton, who felt our pain – weren't being bombarded with pleas for cash as they are now or it would have been all too easy for them to mumble "sorry mate" at this beggar and let them go to the wall. Humiliating expulsion from the 2007 FA Cup aside, things at Gigg Lane are looking better. The annual scrap around the lower reaches of the bottom of League Two has been replaced with a continued presence in the top half of the table and the 125th anniversary season might yet culminate in a trip to Wembley for the play-off final.
We may be "little" Bury – probably a name attached subconsciously as we have the shortest name in the Football League – but we have done well across those 125 years. The money-hungry wolf was continually kept from the door by a steady trickle of raw youngsters who came to the club and left as more polished players who would go on to greater things nationally and internationally. Here's to the lads from the White Horse. We sometimes curse what you decided on that night, but there's not a Bury fan who wouldn't be without the club. James Bentley