Thursday, August 17, 2023

Bury Alive - And Kicking


There won't be many amongst the footballing community who aren't chuffed to see Bury Football Club back, alive and kicking, at their spritual home of Gigg Lane. Crap owners certainly aren't a rarity in football but Bury fans had to endure successive crap owners which ultimately led to their expulsion from the football league in August 2019. Now, four years later, the club that is Bury FC is back, plying its trade six divisions below where it left off and able to do so courtesy of phoenix club Bury AFC, the two entities having agreed to merge in readiness for this new season. So, everyone is chuffed. Well, nearly everyone.

The recent history of and between Bury FC and Bury AFC is complicated and way more so than this blog will even attempt to do justice. From the outside looking in, it does appear that all parties wanted the best as far as football in the town of Bury was concerned yet a small percentage of members on both sides voted against the merger in a second such vote, the first having seen the proposed merger rejected. Had the second vote gone the same way then Bury FC would have been left as a club with a stadium but no team and Bury AFC a club with a team but no stadium, not to mention the forfeiture of lines of agreed funding subject to merger. So why anyone would have voted against the merger is a hard one to comprehend for the casual observer but one suspects that egos and entrenched positions may have played their part. Thankfully though, democracy can accommodate the egos and entrenched positions of a minority and so the newly merged entity that is the new Bury FC has started life this season in the North West Counties Football League Premier Division being the ninth tier (or Step 5) of the English football pyramid.

And started well they have too, having won their first three matches including the emotional return to Gigg Lane for the first match of the season when they beat Glossop North End 5-1 in front of a mahoosive near five and a half thousand crowd. They were well on course to make it four wins out of four last Saturday until an 87th minute equaliser by Chadderton preceded two more from the visitors to inflict a first defeat at Gigg Lane. You can't win 'em all but a second large home attendance suggests that the fans are loving having their football team - and stadium - back. They have been travelling in their numbers to the away matches as well. Ninth tier football may not be where the club wants to be for too long but it holds the prospect of an enjoyable season for the fans and who would begrudge them that after the last four years?

It is only in the last couple of weeks, following the reaction of the football world to the club's first match back at Gigg Lane, that I had been prompted to learn more of the recent Bury FC story. Looking at the fixture list and their fifth match of the season was at Padiham FC, just down the road from me. Like it was meant to be. And so it was that I strolled the near four miles, in the afternoon sunshine, into Padiham to watch Padiham FC versus Bury FC.

I set off early with a view to finding some nice pre-match ales which, as it transpires, is easier said than done in Padiham on a Tuesday afternoon. My intended destination was real ale bar Boyce's Barrel but I was forty eight hours too early as it turned out, the bar not due open again until Thursday. Hmm. The signed promise of cask ales saw me next enter the Starkie Arms pub but this was a fib which saw me turn around and walk straight back out again. The Kings Arms next door didn't even appear to be open so my hoped-for mini crawl was rapidly running out of possibilities. Last chance saloon was the Hare and Hounds, the pub closest to Padiham FC's ground (officially the Ruby Civil Arena but known to all as the Arbories). Last chance saloon it may have been but the Hare and Hounds came up top trumps with five ales on hand pump at £3.50 a pint or two for £6.00. Naturally I ordered two. Notwithstanding the availability of Reedley Hallows New Zealand Pale which is a staple go-to of mine, I plumped for the Moorhouses Moonbeam session IPA  which was a new one on me and it was lovely. Good decision. I sat in the beer garden at the back of the pub, in the sunshine, chatting to a couple of Bury fans whilst watching players and fans strolling up adjacent Well Street to the ground entrance. 

The Starkie Arms pub may have proved disappointing on the night but it was the Starkie family who agreed to sell land to the council back in the late 1940’s on which Padiham FC now play their football and the Starkie family’s coat of arms, featuring a stork, which led to the football club adopting the nickname of The Storks. With Bury FC nicknamed The Shakers, if these two clubs were ever to merge then they could be known as The Stalkers. Or maybe not.

The Arbories Memorial Sports Ground comprises both cricket (the home of Padiham Cricket Club) and football and makes for a very picturesque setting. The football ground is small, a bit tired but nonetheless a tidy little ground with a small and very smart club house and bar. Tonight's billy bonus for me was the availability of the aforementioned New Zealand Pale at the very acceptable price of £3.30 a pint. The understandable but always unwelcome plastic receptacle in which it was served was more than compensated by the excellent condition of the ale itself and the ability to enjoy it whilst watching the match. The ground has an official capacity (I believe) of just under seventeen hundred and whilst this figure wasn't threatened, Bury's one thousand or so supporters swelled the crowd to just over twelve hundred. Padiham took advantage by increasing the adult admission charge from its usual seven pounds up to ten pounds which might appear to be profiteering but nonetheless makes good business sense. No one seemed to be complaining. I certainly wasn't but there again I was four pints in by then.

As for the football, it was an enjoyable match with Bury always the better side. Two players particularly shone for me in the first half, Padiham's nineteen year old goalkeeper Harry Moss (on loan from Burnley) and Bury's number nine, twenty-one year old Abimbola Obasoto. Bury dominated this first period but with half-time imminent the score remained at nil-nil and pint number five was incoming. Having invested my £3.30 I turned away from the bar to a loud cheer which, as it transpired, was nothing to do with the wisdom of my investment but rather to acknowledge that Bury's Jack Lenehan had just put the away side ahead with (apparently) a twenty yard screamer. Hey ho. I settled down in the bar with my mate Mick to dissect the finer details of the match thus far, the simplicity of following non-league football in terms of pricing, ease of admission and the mixing of home and away fans and of course the ability to depart the bar with pint in hand to watch the match. Sixteen minutes later, intending to put the latter into practice, we were up and..................too late. Bury's Darius Palma had just put the away side two goals up.

Never mind. All was good with the world and we found a new vantage point for the second half, at the side of the pitch around twenty yards from the byline at the end towards which Bury were attacking. Bury continued to control the game although Padiham presented more of an attacking threat during this second period. Sadly for us, positioned in the anticipation of further goals for Bury, the one goal of the second half was a very late consolation scored by the home team's Charlie Disney-Ridge in the goal behind which we had been positioned in the first half. 

So then, Bury FC back to winning ways and deservedly so whilst Padiham's season has started in rather more downbeat fashion with just the one league win in five but it's early days for all right now. Bury's big fish status undoubtedly gives them a huge advantage in this league but, as they say, the proof of the pudding and all that. As Matt Badcock (staff writer at The Non-League Paper) writes in the Padiham matchday programme; "This is the time of the year for hope".

Four years ago, Bury's expulsion from the football league was akin to the club being buried alive. Not dead, just not living. But Bury FC and their fans are back, alive and kicking, and the football world is well chuffed for them. And I have to thank Bury FC for leading me to Padiham FC, another splendid little football club which happens to be pretty much on my doorstep. As this is the time of the year for hope, I sincerely hope that both clubs can enjoy successful seasons, however that success be defined. Realistically, Bury FC may well finish the season higher in the league than Padiham FC but one of the beauties of football is that you never know. Sustainability is the real prize. Football clubs really are community assets and Bury fans will recognise that more than most.