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Back at last: Bury FC’s first season back at Gigg Lane proves the community spirit lives on

For a town which is home to one of the world’s oldest professional football stadiums, and a team over 135 years old, having it all ripped away was the ultimate heartbreak. This season, despite not ending in promotion, proved that the mighty shakers don’t go down easily.

Bury: a small market town north of Manchester, famous for a few things… Bury Market, black pudding, and the topic of this piece: the Shakers.

Bury FC was founded in 1885 in true northern tradition, in a pub, where all the best decisions are made of course.

Their stadium, Gigg Lane, was built for them and is one of the oldest in the world. The sound of the fans cheering on their team used to ring out across Bury, heard for miles.

But in 2019, Gigg Lane fell silent and wouldn’t welcome the sound of the fans cheering on their team again for another four years.

Bury FC were playing in League Two, the fourth tier of English football, when they began to experience significant financial difficulty. The club fell into a large debt to creditors, including Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

The then-owner, Stewart Day, subsequently sold the club to businessman Steve Dale, for only £1.

It was under the ownership of Dale that the club fell to ruin, and eventually came to exist only on paper. The below timetable lays out the significant events that led Bury FC to where they are today.

This season saw the return of Bury FC for the first time since 2019, after a merger with the phoenix group Bury AFC meant the club could begin their campaign in the North West Counties Football League.

The merger was not easily won, however, with the decision only clearing after a second round of votes from AFC (Shakers Community Society) and FC (Bury FC Supporters Society (Bury FCSS)) fans.

David Triggs, who sat on the interim board during this period, said: “As soon as it came about that Bury FC supporters society and the benefactors were buying the ground, it was clear to anyone really that a merger was the only real viable way forward, I think to the vast majority of people.

Bury FC in action during a night game

“You had one group of Bury fans that had a club, a place in the league and was playing football every week and then this other group that had a ground but didn’t have a club to play there. When people would ask me, ‘Oh what’s happening with Bury?’ and I’d explain it to them they’d look at me opened mouthed like… how have we ended up in this situation?”

Both sides required a 66% vote of agreement for the merger to be confirmed and when Bury FCSS fell short by just 3%, the merger failed.

David said: “It was really, really fine margins and it was properly gutting, to be honest, it felt like ‘where do we even go from here?’

“I think it was good that we looked to do the second vote, I think people had personal opinions that may have clouded what was probably best for the town, but we agreed to give it another go when it became clear that there was no viable way forward without a merger.

“The second vote went through, but the issue was then that we basically had six months less time to prepare everything for the season. That period on the interim board was absolutely crazy. We were at it every day, and we all have day jobs and have families, and there were days that made you want to pull your hair out almost.

“We were basically just putting out fires left right and centre, so that we could get football back at Gigg Lane against Glossop.

“It was amazing, it made the last couple of months and all the stress we’d all had feel so worth it. To see that many people back at Gigg Lane watching Bury FC was what it was all about.”

Fans have once again flocked to Gigg Lane to cheer on the mighty Shakers, the sound of their chants ringing out across Bury once more.

With funds reduced, the club is run heavily on a volunteer basis, with the board, matchday preparation and more completed almost entirely by generous Bury FC fans themselves.

Two of those volunteers are Andrea Allcock and Bradley Seymour. Both have been Shakers fans for a long time and have both returned to Gigg lane this season as fans and helpers.

Andrea said: “The Glossop Game was really special, even though its been ruled out, but just having all those people back, and seeing people who didn’t come to AFC and some who weren’t really bothered either way, but some people were quite anti-AFC and them being able to feel like they could come back has been so good.

“It’s shown it’s not a journey that’s ended, as the dust settles, people will come back and there will be more of us. The number of families and women at Gigg Lane has been more than I can ever remember. We seem to have a lot of young families coming for the first time and that’s been really good to see.”

Bradley added: “I think it feels like the town’s really got its football club back. I’m from just outside Bury, and now I’m going into the centre and I’m seeing kids with their Bury shirts on, I don’t think I’ve seen that in the last three years.

“It feels like it’s back: you go into the town centre before a match and it feels like there’s a real match atmosphere, whereas previously it was like just having breakfast, a coffee and maybe meet a mate, I didn’t feel like the town had a football club, but there was just a club called Bury.”

The pair were also involved in the AFC side before the merger, which Andrea said she really enjoyed but said it felt “really different”.

She said: “Following AFC felt probably more typical of a non-league experience, you’re at a ground that’s more typically non-league, we didn’t have as big a numbers etcetera. That’s made quite a difference this year, and we’ve had to adapt again and it has caused some issues, but its brought a lot more positives.

“AFC was brilliant, I really enjoyed it and I met so many people, I didn’t know Brad before I watched AFC and I can say that about probably another 50 people who I didn’t really know, only to say hello to.

“So for me at least, it was a positive experience, it came at a time when I really needed it to come back to football, and so I’m glad that we’ve brought some of the ethos from that with us.

“It’s been difficult, and there’s always things you can do better but the basis is there, that we’re that friendly, community club, we’re getting there, but we’re not perfect.”

The day after Andrea and Bradley spoke with me, was the playoff final of Bury versus Wythenshawe Town. The match ended in a Bury loss on penalties (1-1 full time, 3-2 penalties) meaning the side faces another year in the same league.

After the match, there was an instance of fighting that broke out among the Bury fans, which has been slammed by both fans and the club themselves.

Bury FC released a statement following the incident saying: “Bury Football Club wishes to condemn some of the supporter behaviour at our Play-Off Final at Ericstan Park on Saturday afternoon.

“We are a community club, and some of the scenes experienced in both the stands and again unfortunately on the pitch, are not acceptable.

“It cannot be stressed enough that any poor behaviour reflects on the club in a negative way and has led to severe punishment already during the season.

“We are handing over the investigation of these matters to Greater Manchester Police and will liaise with the FA on these matters in due course.”

Greater Manchester Police has since appealed for information to identify the men filmed involved in the fighting.

However, despite the behavioural issues, it would be untrue to say the majority of fans in the Ahakers community don’t create a community atmosphere.

One clear example of this, can be seen in the actions of the fans surrounding the Isle of Man game.

The club were due to play FC Isle of Man away on 17 February, with kick-off set at 6pm.

However, when the team and the fans travelled to Manchester Airport that morning, for 7am flights, disaster struck.

Both the team’s Loganair flight and a EasyJet flight almost entirely full of fans were turned back thanks to the infamously difficult weather on the island after thick cloud cover and fog made it impossible for the planes to land.

But the fans were determined to make it: some rushed to catch the 2pm ferry from Heysham, paying £100’s in taxis to arrive at the ferry port, 71 miles away.

The players also showed their commitment, staying at Manchester Airport for a number of hours, and then racing for a re-arranged flight the next day, on minimal sleep, at 7am.

The team went on to play the match, at 11am that day, likely sleep deprived, and won 2-0, thanks to two goals by Sam Burns.

You only needs to look to the social media posts showing the celebrations by the fans after the game, to prove that Bury FC is more than a football club, it’s a community.

Bradley said: “Isle of Man’s probably one of my favourite moments this season. Andrea and I both went over last season, with AFC, but there’s another aspect this time, there had been a really divided fan base and I think Isle of Man was the first time I felt like a united fan base.

“There was a lot more people, people who were against coming previously and we were all one. It was a really good, harmonious atmosphere.”

Another instance the fans showed their commitment and community spirit, was in the home fixture against Padiham. Towards the end of the season, the clubs pitch had began to decline in its quality.

David Triggs said: “This first season was always going to be a learning curve behind the scenes, and we just rolled our sleeves up and got stuck in.

“From the merger, I think it was just over a month till we had our first pre-season game at home.”

The pitch at Gigg Lane had little time to be prepared for the return of competitive football, and it began to show. By the time the Padiham game rolled around, the pitch was unplayable.

Bury tried to solve there problem quickly to get the game on, by adding patches of turf on top of the waterlogged areas in an effort to create a safe, playable surface, but it was no hope.

But in true Bury fashion, as with the Isle of Man game, the show must go on. Behind the scenes, Bury scrambled to call in a favour with old friends FC United of Manchester, who Bury had allowed to use Gigg Lane for nearly 10 years.

So, with a new venue secured, bury fans once again made the journey to watch the Shakers.

The match clocked an attendance of 3,521 fans, and though it ended in defeat for Bury, was a riveting game with Comber smashing a goal into the top right corner from a free kick in the 97th minute.

Bury continued to face a multitude of issue with the pitch, despite the club’s best efforts to resolve it. They did manage to host their last home game of the season smoothly however, the playoff semi-final against Charnock Richard.

4,099 fans attended the game, which bury won 1-0 thanks to a screamer of a goal from new signing Tanaka Cherera.

The win led Bury to the playoff final against Wythenshawe Town. The game became the subject of controversy when fans argued that the ticket allocation Bury had been given was unfair.

In an aid to ensure the fans could still support their team and experience the match day feeling, Bury hosted 1,100 fans at Gigg Lane, where they had set up a big screen to stream the match.

The stream eventually failed though, with Bury saying the signal at Wythenshawe had proved difficult.

Luckily however, while the technicians worked to revive the image, Bury fan and Sky Sports journalist Sanny Rudravajhala was on hand and took the mic to keep the fans updated.

Sanny read out the penalty outcomes while fans scrambled to access the stream, which Bury had made free and openly available as a result of the problems.

However, despite the heartbreak of the loss, Bury FC are far from disheartened.

Work is underway in the installation of a 3G pitch, and the club will be opening this up for the community.

David Triggs said: “This 3G pitch will be enormous for the town to have a facility like that, in that setting and that stadium… I just think if I’d have had the opportunity to go and train on my football team’s pitch, or to have my games on a Saturday or Sunday morning at Gigg Lane, it would have been- I can’t even put it into words, I’m excited now at the thought pf it even though I’m nearly 30- that’s just going to be completely revolutionary for the town.

“Despite the disappointment [of the loss of promotion], I think we’re in a really good position and I’m excited to see what the next few years hold.”

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