‘You just feel lucky you’re not a fan of Bury Football Club’
- Credit: Jed Wee
The last time Norwich City played at Gigg Lane, Bury and its supporters were on a high. Things have taken a terrible turn for the worse, as CHRIS LAKEY reports
It was raining, City lost and, to cap it all, the engine fell out of the car outside Bury Town Hall.
Memories of that night, in January, 2008, when City lost an FA Cup replay 2-1, haven't been good.
Now, with the demise of the hosts after they were expelled from the Football League, comes the realisation that however bad it was, you just feel lucky you're not a fan of Bury Football Club. The rain and the two-hour wait for a pick-up truck were minor irritations in comparison. And at least we have a football club to watch.
Fans won't and don't care much about anything but cheering on the team that carries the name of their home town or city on a crest on the shirt. It's as simple as that. We moan about owners and opponents, about the riches of the Premier League to the fag end grounds of the lower leagues and beyond.
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It's what makes us cry at the good times and the bad times, through our pride, be it bursting or wounded.
But the Shakers shake no more. They are dead, buried under the financial pressures of providing the most base of sports.
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And there, but for the grace of the footballing gods, we go too.
It doesn't matter who you support, your club could have been Bury. Or Bolton. For every successful and acceptable owner, there is someone who is overly ambitious, lacking knowledge, lacking funds, lacking common sense... there are many reasons why owning a football club doesn't guarantee you a ticket to glory.
That FA Cup replay at Bury is just 11 and a half years ago. Today, Bury's gates are padlocked, while City's are open for business. Big business.
The two have been contesting games at various levels since 1934, when City beat the visitors 4-1. In all there have been 35 games between them - in the league, City have won 15, Bury 11, with six drawn. The FA Cup third round games of 2008 were their only meetings in the FA Cup and they played each other just once in the League Cup - the last time they met, in August, 2013, when City won 6-3.
Mostly, they have been fairly unremarkable affairs, although the City double of 1965-66 will take some beating - 5-2 at Bury followed by 3-0 at Carrow Road.
That final game was settled by goals from Martin Olsson, Anthony Pilkington, Johan Elmander (two), Leroy Fer and Steven Whittaker. Add up their modest transfer fees and you'd probably have more cash than you'd need to have bought Bury FC. That's how far apart the worlds are.
Bury will come back, in a new guise, with a slightly different name, but at a much lower level of football. You only have to look at the National League North in which King's Lynn Town (itself a phoenix club) play to see what happens - their fixture list includes games against Darlington (this weekend, as it happens), Hereford, Gateshead and Chester, who have all traded under another name, before the going got tough and they had to start over again.
Maybe one day soon Lynn will be playing AFC Bury...
Looking beyond the wreckage at Gigg Lane, Football League boss Debbie Jevans restated her commitment to the governance review she has started, which she hopes will focus on how clubs manage their costs.
She also said she would listen to all suggestions, including the growing calls for an independent regulator for football. Ultimately, however, that could only come about if club owners back it or it is imposed on them by government. Neither seems particularly likely.
"My understanding is that (HM Revenue and Customs) has said the insolvency of clubs is currently at the lowest level it has been in the modern era," she said.
"Whilst not taking this situation lightly, there are a lot of well-run clubs out there. We are going to take the lessons from this and move forward and do everything we can to make sure it doesn't happen again."
Whatever she says will do little to appease those fans who have stood bleary-eyed outside Gigg Lane this week as the major TV networks dialled BL9 9HR into their Sat Navs for the very first time.
Hopefully their getaway to the safety and warmth of Old Trafford or the Etihad wasn't hampered by a dodgy engine...