“Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that”. If you’ve never come across this quote from legendary Liverpool manager Bill Shankly, the chances are you’ve never read a hackneyed piece of football writing in your life. Still, some 29 years after Shankly’s passing, his words continue to ring true. The Scot perhaps didn’t expect the nature of football’s importance in people’s lives to extend to seemingly endless debates on social media over a striker’s actual age, or for directors at top flight clubs one day having to endure fireworks being lobbed into their back gardens, but away from the po-faced pantomime that is the Premier League, football is often the lifeblood to local communities, and its absence can be strongly felt.
Take Bury FC for example. In 2019, following years of mismanagement from cowboy owners who used the football club’s future as a roulette chip in a bid to make a name for themselves, the 135-year old Shakers were expelled from the Football League, and continue to face the threat of liquidation. For Bury’s supporters, the joyful escape of Saturday afternoon, where people go to clear their heads and spend two hours away from the tribulations of real life, is currently no longer an option.
Which leads us to this week’s guest. Peter Taylor is (or was) a long suffering thirty-something Bury fan who lives in the Forest of Dean, exiled 100 miles away from the club he loves and the area he grew up in. A freelance writer who has started through necessity to branch out from football, he does this on a part-time basis, balancing spewing forth thousands of words on a screen with being a stay-at-home dad to his four year old son. Peter is the creator of Bury Me in Exile, a site analysing the Shakers, along with football in England’s lower leagues, that was nominated for Best Club Content Creator at the National Blogging Awards in 2019.
AFC Wimbledon 5-1 Bury
19th November 2016
Looking back to just over three years ago, things are incredibly different now – both for me personally and, much more famously of course, Bury Football Club. Picture the scene: the Shakers are ensconced firmly in League One (but tilting badly). David Flitcroft had reluctantly been relieved of his managerial post by chairman Stewart Day, having suffered an embarrassing 5-0 defeat to AFC Wimbledon in an FA Cup replay – in truth, the job should’ve been finished at Gigg Lane a fortnight prior.
From my own perspective, I was a dad to a 13-month old boy, all whilst my own dad was dying. He’d had stomach problems all summer long without a firm diagnosis, which had only come in the form of the especially deadly pancreatic cancer a month before the match. Living as an ‘exile’ in Bedfordshire with those dual responsibilities across the generational divide, I wasn’t even sure I’d attend the match. However, it was a rare opportunity to see one in person and put some questions to Day as part of the Southern Supporters Group, a venture put together by the liaison officer.
In all honesty, I didn’t anticipate a repeat of the thrashing earlier in the week. I’d written an article for the official matchday programme at a time I was just dipping my toe in the water of striking out on my own as a blogger, having only previously posted long threads on a fans’ forum about players, tactics, and the like. In retrospect, it would’ve been a bit odd to have given my time and effort for the programme and not turn up to Kingsmeadow on the day.
I made the trip down from Bedford on the train by myself; that was something I’d become accustomed to doing, both since moving away from Manchester and in the aftermath of my mum having a stroke – we always used to attend games together. It was our thing at weekends for nine months of the year, every year.
The question I put to the chairman was about a fairly niche topic in comparison to most of the others, which were dominated by financial concerns – winding up orders, the level of debt, the wage bill of signings that had been made in the summer… and I asked about EPPP (Elite Player Performance Plan)! Essentially, it was (and remains) a mechanism for top flight clubs to hoover up talent from academies outside the Premier League for next to nothing, and I was trying to advocate including some of the most promising youth players in the first team squad to push their prices up. He prevaricated, such was his wont on difficult topics, and I had to fight quite hard to gain permission to record his response on audio!
Several of the fans who attended in the nearby pub then walked together to the ground, and we had a pint in the fanzone adjacent to the visitors’ terracing. I received the matchday programme and, owing to not being the tallest of chaps, elected to take my place on a seat, which was £24 (£4 more expensive than what would have been inevitably been a restricted view down the side of the pitch), hoping for at least a more defensively robust display under caretaker Chris Brass.
For 25 minutes, the score remained goalless, although it must be said that the hosts looked the more likely to change that… and so it proved. A ground cross from Bury’s left was allowed to run across goal, no-one picked it up or cleared, and Dom Poleon, who had previously had a successful short loan spell with the Shakers, put in the exact same sort of ball to the unmarked Chris Whelpdale to slot home.
A second was added during their very next attack a minute later. A woeful header by Leon Barnett was latched onto by Poleon, who ran on to smash in off the underside of the bar from close range. It was about then I was fearing a repeat of Tuesday night.
45 seconds later, it was unbelievably 3-0. Jacob Mellis played a beautiful pass… in the wrong direction, nullifying any pretence of an offside trap. It fell straight to Poleon, and he occupied and played Niall Maher, the only defender even close to him, like a violin, squaring the ball to Tom Elliott (another one time Bury player) for the simplest of finishes.
I was angry by then. Angry that I’d ‘abandoned’ my family to bear witness to this amateurish display. Angry at myself for being angry – I’m a pretty reserved person, especially at football matches. I don’t boo the opposition, rarely swear, or get particularly over exuberant on the rare occasions Bury trouble the scoreboard… but I was definitely angry at that very moment.
It got even worse several minutes later. A clear and obvious penalty was awarded on the 36th minute, and George Francomb did the rest. 4-0 down and it wasn’t even half-time. James Vaughan did pull one back on the 40th, nodding in at the far post from a rare lofted cross by Danny Mayor. That was the sole moment which didn’t make me feel terrible in that match. The body language on the pitch was atrocious, and senior players like Tom Pope were openly questioning their team-mates’ ‘efforts’.
The second half was a comparative non-event, although AFC Wimbledon did get a fifth to bring their tally to 10 against Bury in the space of two fixtures and one week. I didn’t begrudge the home supporters their easy win, I just couldn’t help but ruminate on everything that was happening at the time – it felt like all of it was collapsing around me.
That was the last game I went to before my dad died, and I’ll always remember it for that fact. One of the last things he said to me was that I had a way with words, and should make far more use of that, and that inspired me to start my blog and get more heavily involved with writing about football.
The fortunes of the two clubs have diverged even more since. The best scenario for Bury now is to emulate the work done by fans of AFC Wimbledon and get behind Bury AFC, the nascent phoenix club. Never again can the lies and largesses of the past, which were beginning to become self-evident in late 2016, be allowed to happen again.