Tuesday, 8 May 2012

5/5/12: Stevenage 3-0 Bury

The season ends not with a nervy visit to an unpleasant ground that I went to on exactly the same weekend the previous year, but by watching the results come through on Final Score as I stretch out on a huge bed in a top floor room in a country house hotel in Cheshire.

I pledged a few weeks ago that I’d make the trip to Stevenage only if Bury needed to win to stay up. After nervously confirming this course of action in the social club, Bury set about the task in hand with zeal that afternoon as they spanked Colchester 4-1 on Easter Monday. Though the grey clouds hadn’t totally dispersed by 4.45pm that afternoon, the sun was starting to stream through them; following a 1-0 win at home to Bournemouth later that week then a phenomenal 4-2 victory at play-off chasing Notts County, our League One status was assured and I didn’t have to make the trip to Hertfordshire, via Doncaster, like I did on the last day of last season. The £98 I saved in train fares would therefore be better spent on me and my girl at Nunsmere Hall in Tarporley where we sample different varieties of sparkling rose after dinner that followed a 3-0 defeat barely even registering.

With Janet asleep next to me, I look back on the season just gone. It’s what I waited nine seasons for. Bury had been in the basement since 2002, the year I started university aged 21; in that intervening time I’d graduated (eventually), started my professional career, seen it blossom in ways that I’d never have imagined, watched it shudder to a devastating end  before not being sure where to go next. In all of that time, I supported a club in the lowest professional tier in England. When I lost my job in 2009 I disregarded jobs elsewhere in the country if they meant I wouldn’t be able to get to Gigg Lane to watch games; even in the job that I held in Bury, I took precious day’s holiday from night shifts to attend matches against the likes of Morecambe and Torquay. Bury were my safety net and I didn’t feel as though I could move on while they remained in the bottom division.

Things should have changed but they haven’t, really. I still use Bury as a crutch that forms my mood for vast swathes of my life but I’ve learned not to involve other people in my feelings for the club since I started seeing Janet. She doesn’t need to have a bad Saturday night because I had a bad Saturday afternoon, which is why the half hour I give myself for a pint in the Hare and Hounds has come to mean a lot as I travel back from Bury to Styal. I stew in the front room as the karaoke blares from the back and I engage other supporters of other clubs in conversation. I always walk out of there glad that I’m a Bury fan.

I think the reason that this season has also fallen a little flat is because my dad hasn’t always been in the best of health for games and there have been times when I felt he’s simply not enjoyed himself there (and not in just in the mumble-grumble that follows a defeat.) He’s much better now, though, and next season will hopefully see a huge reduction in the number of games I watch alone. We had what could be the closest thing you could describe as a carnival atmosphere in Legends during the Oldham game the other week as the comments jockeyed between the two Johns, Jason, Terry, Paul, my dad and me. My old man looked at me, knowing I’d been dithering on buying a season ticket, and asked simply “Why would you want to stop enjoying this?” It was a piquant point and a question that I didn’t really have an answer to. I’m filling the form in later.

Then the highlight reel of the season started appearing in my mind’s eye: the comprehensive dismantling of Sheffield Wednesday at home, the torrid, win-free September, the funereal atmosphere in the social club when it looked like Ryan Lowe had been sold, the sense of self-loathing that would come in the instant following learning of a victory by a large margin, the two colossal defeats against Rochdale, fighting the urge to vomit in my crash helmet while bombing it around a go-karting track in rural Nottinghamshire when I should have been at Sheffield United,  the London trip, the Schumacher-Coke barney over the penalty at home to Yeovil, a great weekend with my family in Carlisle despite the result, the feeling of knowing safety had been secured, talking to Stan Bowles in the Hare after the game.

Any season looks great with the occasional flash of footballing genius played out in slow motion with a bed of William Orbit’s version of Adagio for Strings broodily setting the palette for it. But as I lay there in that bed, with that song on my iPod, with that sparkling rose coursing through my veins, with those games on my mind, it felt like it had been a good, solid season.

That was A Season With Bury.

Monday, 30 April 2012

28/4/12: Bury 0-0 Oldham

A game between two sides whose safety in the division is confirmed. It’s not going to be a cracker, is it?

For the first time in a good few months, I’m experiencing the build-up to a game with a crippling hangover. It was a colleague’s 50th birthday party on Friday night and Janet came to Bury for it. After showing our faces at the do, I promised my girlfriend I’d show her a Friday night in Bury town centre in all its glory. We first hit the Automatic Bar, where I used to work in its incarnation as the Met and where I was clearing tables on the day Jimmy Glass performed his heroics for Carlisle, before heading to the Blind Tiger. The latter was empty when we arrived so we thought we’d ask the DJ for a couple of tunes; he’d oblige, he said, but not until at least 2am. So there was nothing else for it but to chuck all manner of booze down our neck until he had the good grace to play Waterfall by the Stone Roses.

Friday nights in Bury always make me think of Bitten By the Tailfly off the first Elbow album, not least because the ambient noise on the fade-out was recorded on the walk from Sol/Viva to the taxi rank by the bus station. As the hangover really hit home at about 11.30 on Saturday morning, it was worth keeping in mind advice from Guy Garvey and co that also appeared on their debut – Don’t Mix Your Drinks.  But in my defence, who knew that Guinness, lager, a bellini and vodka and coke would make you feel ill? It was clearly the chicken rollo from Dixy’s that caused the problem.

Bury’s paranoia about trouble between the two sets of local fans manifests itself in the social club in the form of plastic pint glasses. I take a few quivering sips at my Guinness before almost spilling it by squeezing the rim too hard. The shakes step up their urgency a bit. I’m waiting for my friend Craig in the club, so I can give him back the copies of Bury’s fanzine Where Were You At The Shay (that he used to edit) which he lent me.

Craig arrives, but it’s not the one I was looking for; it’s the estimable Mr Morley instead. I’m as grateful to this Craig as I am to the other after all the nice things he’s said about the blog so we have a drink and I thank him. Other Craig arrives soon after and swaps the fanzines for a book which he says is very similar in tone to this blog which I’ll love.

Craig and I have a chat about The Book. He was there in 84/85 and he’ll be a key source, especially as he says he can get all the programmes from that season to me. There have been flashes of doubt about this idea ever since the first microbe of it ever surfaced, but Craig believes in it and as we say goodbye in the car park I feel on a high for it.

I’ve arranged to see one of the directors about the same subject this afternoon and after asking him when he’s free, he replies “straight away” and leads me into the secretary’s office. I realise that I’m going to have to self-publish the book but, in a display of balls-out cheekiness, I ask if the club might consider making a donation to the cost, what with it being a historical document about the club. Mark once again displays the transparency and acumen that have seen his arrival at the club come as nothing short of a revelation, and advises that I write to the board as a whole with the proposition.

There’s a peculiar atmosphere in the bar under the stand today. It’s not because it’s more crowded than usual, but because one very important person is missing. Pat, the lady who sold the Golden Gamble tickets in Legends and who had been a permanent fixture at Gigg Lane for more than 40 years, died the previous Sunday. Given the time I’ve been going to watch Bury and the time she spent there, it’s inevitable that she was one of the people I viewed *as* the club. Her crackling laughter isn’t there and there’s someone else serving the food. It’s palpable, but regrettably clich├ęd to say it too, that the bar won’t be the same.

Pat’s name is the last to be read out of the club’s supporters and former employees who died during the last season and for whom we have a commemorative minute’s applause. There are a few names I recognise in the list so take a moment to think of them – Adrian, Pat and Frank – whilst being a bit miffed that Bury aren’t wearing black armbands for Pat.

The game offers little in terms of entertainment. My Oldham-supporting mate Chris said on Twitter that the game is likely to be 22 men dreaming of a summer on the golf course and he’s quite right. The Oldham fans who’ve come in fancy dress must be considering it a bit of a waste of money to see Shaun Harrad fail to score from close range within the first minute while the rest of us who have season tickets to guarantee our attendance often fall into conversations amongst ourselves. David Worrall is, once again, Bury’s leading light.

There’s a moment of worry in the second half, though, when an Oldham player goes down apparently without any contact from a Bury counterpart. It’s undoubtedly worry that’s arisen in the weeks following the Fabrice Muamba case, but seeing a player lying prone on the damp turf makes my stomach churn. The game is halted for seven minutes but there is no collective worry that gripped White Hart Lane as Muamba’s heart stopped; fans goad each other in the Cemetery End-South Stand corner and the St John Ambulance crew take a startlingly casual approach to reaching the injured man, looking as they do likey’re on a Sunday stroll through the park. The club doctor takes to the pitch and the neck brace is sent for and Yousseff M’Changama is applauded as he leaves the field. He will go on to be released from hospital later that night.

Having settled on the turgid, Bury introduce Max Harrop for the injured Giles Coke. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by the Sheffield Wednesday loanee but Harrop looks dreadful, as does Phil Picken who’s returned to the side because of Andrai Jones’s suspension. A draw is pretty much the fair result, as both teams were as bad as each other, though Bury remain in the top half of the table.

I’ve to get the 135 to Manchester after the game as the trams aren’t running. The hangover’s clearing but I’m definitely in need of a pint after the stop-start through Whitefield, Prestwich and Cheetham Hill. In a break with tradition, I try the Millstone rather than the Hare and Hounds but soon come to regret my decision. It’s packed, I can barely squeeze to the bar and when I do I have an septuagenarian ex-landlady from Higher Blackley fondling my arse. I leave the pint two-thirds full and go to the Crown and Cushion instead. It may be that most vile of things, a “boutique pub,” but at least I can read the paper in peace there, despite almost setting fire to it with the table-top candles. I must never mess with my post-match routine is clearly the message from the football gods.

So that’s my last Saturday travelling back to Janet’s after the game. From hereon in she’s got me to herself for Saturdays for the next three months, stuff about The Book not permitting. I can start to relax on Saturday mornings now that A Season With Bury has almost come to a close.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

21/4/12: Notts County 2-4 Bury

The most nervous I’ve ever been before a football match was at Notts County in May 2006 as Bury went into the final game of the season knowing that they were one of six sides who could mathematically end up in the Conference by the end of the afternoon. It had been a wretched season that had offered precious little hope and these 90 minutes were to be the psyche-shredding conclusion to it, not least because our hosts were also one of the sides who could have been relegated. It was, to all intents and purposes, a case of winner stays up.

I’d been out in Manchester the night before with my mate Jonathan, who was up from London, and other northern-based mates. As was customary at the time, we hit Mojo on Back King Street hard before decamping back to Stockport, where I was living at the time, in the small hours. Jonathan wanted to come to Meadow Lane with me, I’d like to think to share the pain if Bury were to be relegated rather than to voyeuristically gawp at the macabre spectacle.

So it was, stinking hungover, that we caught a train from Stockport station that had already been crammed with Bury fans at the preceding station Manchester Piccadilly. There was no jovial atmosphere on the train as it sped across the Peak District; just a tense unease that was being diluted by strong gulps at cans of Fosters.

Nottingham played a strange role in my life in the first few months of 2006, to the point that I was all ready to move there in March. The plans had fallen through (as so often they do) but here I was again, on the same train station platform as I was only weeks previously, waiting at the same tram stops. I remember the wave of Bury fans getting off the train not being any trouble in the slightest, but the police looking hopelessly underprepared for such a large crowd.

The away end at Meadow Lane is colossal and we’d never really have a hope of filling it, but we gave it a good go that afternoon. It felt like one of those games where you know everyone, simply because you’re all on the ultimate same side.

It was unsurprisingly a nervy affair, but we incredibly made it to the break in front after Dwayne Mattis put us ahead just before the half time whistle. The tunnels under the stand reverberated with “Staying up, staying up, staying up” as more beer was deliriously consumed at the halfway point of a horrible mission.

Early in the second half, Bury made it two as Tom Youngs took one step towards making himself one of the most important Bury players of the millennium in my eyes as he coolly slotted home to give Bury a vital two goal cushion. He took the second step a year later at Walsall as, with Bury down amongst the dead men for the second consecutive season, he scored the only goal to cement our safety, just in case you were wondering.

But being a Bury fan, you learn never to relax. With the game ebbing away from them, Notts grabbed what should have been a consolation. As their striker snatched the ball and raced back to the halfway line with it, I started to feel faint. Six minutes later, they got a penalty which they scored from. The other three sides of the ground were equally as full and erupted. A pitch invasion burst into life at the far end and I felt sicker to my stomach than football had ever made me feel.

As it was, we both had nothing to worry about as Leyton Orient won at Oxford, promoting them and relegating their hosts in one fell swoop. The invasion that was shooed back into stands after their second goal streamed onto the pitch towards us at the end of the game, but there wasn’t a trace of hostility as their lot sang “Up with the Bury, we’re staying up with the Bury” at us. The sheer relief that they felt was matched on my train home as we sang Bury songs from years ago. I was honoured to have started the rendition of “Someone scored a goal, Mark Carter” and, after still having his number in my phone from interviewing him for the programme and being a few pints to the good, I rang him to revel in the joyous afternoon. He sounded perplexed but, I’d like to think, appreciative that he was still remembered fondly.

It’s this nostalgic, rose-tinted view of the setting for today’s game that means I’m not awfully keen on going back, because it could never reach such heights. Instead, I’m off to the artisan market in Wilmslow with Janet, who’s got me to herself for an entire weekend for the first time in weeks.A quick glance at Twitter before we leave Rose Cottage suggests that David Worrall has done something spectacular that has me itching for the Football League Show a good twelve hours before it’s due to be broadcast and I bounce into the Golden Triangle with a little bit more of a spring in my step.

After looking at the posh sausages that the breakfast tables of SK9 will be creaking under the weight of tomorrow morning, I turn to Twitter again and am amazed to see we’ve won 4-2. Spooling back, I learn that Mike Grella has continued his fine form with a couple more goals, Giles Coke has somehow contrived to score an own goal and Mark Carrington has grabbed one at the death. After spending much of my downtime during the week watching and being influenced by my Still Game DVDs, I emit a gentle “Git it up yaes!” next to the foccacia and sun-blushed tomato stall.

So we’re definitely safe and we’re even perched in the top half of the table. This never would have seemed likely in the last few weeks, so I toddle off to find Janet, devour my peri-peri chicken and squeeze her hand tightly before our evening’s entertainment at an Irish night, on the weekend before St George’s Day.

Monday, 16 April 2012

14/4/12: Bury 1-0 Bournemouth

I feel a sense cautious optimism about Gigg Lane today. Whilst we’re not mathematically safe from the drop, things look an awful lot rosier than they did a week ago today and even if we lose, we’ve bought ourselves some time.

It’s a day of chest-bursting happiness today for me, albeit with a few shivers thrown in as I’ve decided not to wear a coat, as I’m in Legends with my dad and two of his brothers. My uncle Ian, who I went to stay the weekend with when Bury were at Carlisle the other week, and my uncle Nigel who’s with his friend Paddy are all joining the two regulars. Nigel has recently retired and it’s great to see him without the stresses of work applying to him any more and he’s making a day of it as he phones me while I’m still walking through Manchester city centre to ask where’s a good place to watch the cup semi-final in Bury. I’m too busy ignoring a ‘betting for novices’ stand in William Hill’s as I go to put my Grand National bet on before I, ahem, fill my slip in incorrectly.

I take the customary pre-match pint in the Hare and Hounds, a place that’s buzzing because of the horse racing. A couple sit opposite me who are the picture of devotion; they lean into each other as they talk, they have their own phrases and the laughter is joyously warm. His face drops, though, when her mate arrives. It’s clear she’s only in town for the day and they’re catching up, but he’s relegated to the sidelines by someone he’s not all that keen on. I attempt a ‘raised-eyebrows-and-slight-smile’ in solidarity over the top of the Guardian Weekend magazine before getting the tram to Bury.

Bournemouth’s astonishing own-brand coach greets me on Gigg Lane before a surprisingly busy social club and my family. The optimism in there isn’t in any way cautious; it’s balls-out bravado as everyone revels in the fact we’re almost safe. Under the Main Stand it’s the same as I’m even able to blag a free programme.

Bury set about the game with a similar attitude to Monday’s and take the lead within ten minutes after that man Grella, starting again in a sensibly-unchanged lineup, gets his second in as many games. Three Bentley males, divided by 39 years and three different counties, hug as one. My auntie Andrea tells a story that when she received some unwanted attention in a club, her brothers came to her rescue. Her wannabe paramour left with the parting shot “You Bentleys, you kick one and you all limp” which sums up the love for my club and my family pretty well in the immediate aftermath of the goal. It’s ace being a Bentley.

The game escapes Bury for some periods of the match and we look a little under the cosh. Jonathan Bond, now settled into the team in his traditional green keepers’ kit, makes a terrific reflex save that befits his reputation in Brian Flynn’s eyes, after the diminutive Welshman told my old man at the Colchester game that he was a good signing. In all, it’s the kind of workmanlike performance that was sadly lacking on a lot of important occasions this season but it matters not as we’ve won and we’re onto 52 points. Two more than Barker’s target for staying in the division.

It’s another skip down Gigg Lane to a 135 then the tram to the city centre. The cold has gone and I’m bathed in a fuzzy glow, not least because after turning 3G off on my phone that morning, I have some battery left with which to tweet joyously. I also observe something heart-warmingly childlike it’s tickling me just thinking about it. A gaggle of 12-year-old nuisances get on at Heaton Park with a ginger kid, rusty spiked hair atop a remarkable semi-circular fringe, as their ringleader. He plays the big I am through the tunnel, into Bowker Vale, past Crumpsall and Abraham Moss but as the tram slows down for the depot he gets visibly agitated. “I’ve not got a ticket!” he hisses at one of his hoody mates as the tram slowly sets off again, with four new Metrolink uniform-clad passengers. Her looks petrified despite them not walking down the vehicle to check the law-abiders’ travel documents and as I get off at Shudehill, I almost drop the little git in it with them. I don’t, though. I go to the Hare that’s in the middle of a Free and Easy afternoon after the horses and I have a brandy to go with my Guinness. What a particularly wonderful afternoon.

9/4/12: Bury 4-1 Colchester

It feels odd to be looking forward to a game just 48 hours after a colossal spanking that you didn’t enjoy and which cost you a three figure sum to watch, but as I’m travelling to Gigg Lane this Bank Holiday Monday two days after the Easter Saturday defeat at Brentford, it’s undeniably how I’m feeling.

It’s a lovely train trip through the Cheshire plain in dog walking weather from Janet’s that morning and it sets me thinking of how gorgeous our ground looks in a bit of drizzle and with a slightly churned up pitch. Walking up the street after which Bury’s ground gets its name, Moments In Love by the Art of Noise flips onto the digital turntable on my iPod and the expectation is ratcheted up a notch. If I wasn’t listening to one of the more “challenging” artistes in my collection, straight from Paul Morley’s ZTT label, it could almost be Lowry-esque. Alas, I don’t have anything by Brian and Michael on my Jobs-box.

After playing the returning hero from the war in the social club with talked-up anecdotes of the Brentford game (“We were awful, just not at the races... a dreadful performance”) it’s into the ground. As predicted, it looks utterly gorgeous under a slate grey sky and with a soggy playing surface that the ball will do some skidding on today. There’s no sign of Andy Bishop on the teamsheet, prompting rumours of a behind-the-scenes barney after his showing at Brentford, so Richie Barker’s hand is forced into some juggling. American short-termer Mike Grella starts with Shaun Harrad up front. We’re through the looking glass into a brave new world here, people.

Redemption comes five minutes before the break. Bury have comfortably dominated the half against a team with nothing to play for (and whose only real ‘name’ is Kem Izzet, a status afforded solely as he shares it with his more famous brother Muzzy) and take the lead through Grella. Steven Schumacher’s free kick is nodded goal-wards by a towering Efe Sodje but kept out by a lacklustre defence only for the Yank to show terrific persistence and poke it over the line.

Minutes later and it’s two. A short corner is bundled home by Harrad and the gamble, such as it was, pays off with a two goal cushion going into half-time. I’m not the only wone who buoyantly skips downstairs for my brew. I don’t even complain about my Golden Gamble ticket being 700 away from the winning number. Truly, a special day.

Ten minutes into the second half comes that even rarer of things, a three goal cushion. Some terrific running by Giles Coke – a totally different player since the argy-bargy with Schumacher over the penalty versus Yeovil – sees him latch onto a beautiful through ball. He takes a touch before smashing the ball past their keeper and delirium sets in across three sides of the ground.

Delirium turns to bowel-churning fear, at least from seat J15 in the Main Stand, moments later when Colchester grab a consolation. The comeback appears to be on and I despise myself for having such little faith in my team that I’m worried.

I needn’t have been, as David Worrall restores the three goal cushion with a quarter of an hour to go. He controls a cross beautifully before firing a stunning volley into the corner, despite his looking-over-the-shoulder at the liner to check he wasn’t offside as he turns to celebrate. It’s a justified celebration as yet again he’s been man of the match and the reverse of the scoreline at Colchester is confirmed.

Easter Monday 2011 was a wonderful day, as Bury cemented the most unlikely of promotions at Chesterfield with that battling, never-say-die 3-2 win. The celebrations continued long into the night but they won’t be doing tonight, despite the result being the closest thing we’ve had this season compared to that. I am, however, taking a mutual friend of mine and my mates Jon and Mark to the Help Me Thro’ after the game which should be an experience. Paul has travelled up from the South East to see a 4-1, effort-free tonking and his reward is a few drinks in a rocking Northern pub on a Bank Holiday. I’m not sure he likes it, despite the beer now being comparable to southern prices at £3.50 a pop for a Guinness but at the same time I’m not really sure I care. I’ve inhaled a huge amount of endorphins in the social club before the taxi to my local and I’m happier than football’s made me for ages. We’re staying up.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

7/4/12: Brentford 3-0 Bury

It’s happening rather late in the figurative day, but the sole London trip for this season is on. It would be simplicity itself, on this damp Saturday morning, to get a taxi from Janet’s to Wilmslow station where I’d swan onto the sleek Pendolino and be swept into our nation’s capital with the minimum of fuss. It WOULD be simplicity itself if the train that my ticket to the metropolis is booked on went through Wilmslow, but it doesn’t, so I’ve to go to Manchester from Heald Green (where Janet, above and beyond the call of duty, gives me a lift to) before travelling back on myself on the journey south.

I can sometimes get a little anxious if travelling doesn’t go smoothly and I’m soon pacing the entrance to Piccadilly nervously as the clock ticks ever closer to 0855 and my mate Mark is still nowhere to be seen with the tickets. Gaz and I exchange worried glances and crude Anglo-Saxon about our mate – we love him really, we do! – as we wait. With the digital clocks on platform eight showing 0853, he casually strolls up to us. It’s like a rubbish version of 24.

There’s nothing to report on the journey aside from the train being perhaps startlingly free of Bury fans except us (well, me). Jonathan is waiting for us at Euston and after coughing up an eye-watering £7.70 for a zone 1-4 travelcard, we travel west via his suggested method of Euston to Green Park to South Ealing.

I’m fascinated by the Underground and pretty much London as a whole really. When I was younger this would manifest itself mostly in belligerence after a few pints wherever we went for a drink after the game (shouting, in an exaggerated northern accent, “It’s Amy Winehouse” at any girl with a beehive or “It’s Pete Doherty” at anyone in a pork pie hat) but I’ve calmed down a lot now. I could still never live in the place but at least I’m less rude about its inhabitants.

Our first port of call after getting off the tube is the bookies. The second is the Ealing Park Tavern, shortened to EPT. “We’re in-EPT!” laughs Mark as the first pints are ordered. It proves to be a grim prophecy of how the afternoon’s entertainment, the prospect of which being why I’m down here at all, will pan out.

After taking our lives in our hands by attempting to cross the slip road to a busy dual carriageway – it could be the Westway To the World for all I know, or care – we arrive at the first of the reasons why Brentford’s ground has a good reputation for a day out where the result often fails to matter; the first of the four pubs that sit on each corner of the ground. Here’s where, understandably, things start to go a bit fuzzy.

I can’t remember the order in which we “did the four” but we did them. As someone who only ever has a maximum of three before a game and who is ready for a snooze after four these days, there’s a lot of excited chatter with any Bury fans I recognise in any of the pubs followed by heavy eyes outside when the alcohol isn’t being topped up.

It doesn’t help that the football is so utterly lousy. Bishop starts up front alone for Bury while Jonathan Bond makes his debut in goal in what may as well have been a lions’ den. As I sit here typing a retrospective of my day four days later, it’s surely no coincidence that I only remember one poor Shaun Harrad effort from the entire game.

With the hosts having strolled to a three goal lead that won’t be caught up with, my friends – including Joe who trained it in from Ascot and Chris and Alan who we drink pre-match beer with – decide to a man that they’ve had enough on 75 minutes. Alan and I stay until the grim end upon which we retire to the others who are in the nicest of the four pubs, the Griffin. Chris tells us that he’s going to propose to his girlfriend that night; how rubbish must the football have been if it makes you make a life-affirming decision like that off the back of it? Only joking Chris.

I insist after three pints in the Griffin that we have to get the overground train from Brentford to Vauxhall followed by the tube to Euston, as my rubbish bladder won’t last the trip we made in the morning. Thankfully, my mates acquiesce so I can continue with the relaxed endorphins kicking around my head rather than slowly sobering up and feeling the fear whilst subterranean.

There’s no time to buy the usual good-food-purchased-while-drunk at Euston’s M&S so Gaz and I have to rely on Richard Branson’s frankly limited range of sandwiches, crisps and drinks. I plump for red wine which has a horrendous effect on my sinuses the next morning and a ready mixed gin and tonic in a can after thinking Gaz’s example looks sparklingly delicious. It’s not.

The night’s rounded off by gently taking the piss out of a couple opposite us who’ve been doing the hipster thing in the Smoke before heading home to Blackpool. They’re totally receptive to it and play the whipping boy role well, but chuckling at our own cleverness  through the fug of too much mixed alcohol, the nagging worry that even if Brentford don’t go up this season Bury might not be going there next, refuses to go away.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

31/3/12: Bury 2-0 Tranmere

Tranmere Rovers have broken my heart a couple of times. On the first occasion, in 1990, they beat Bury in the end of season play-offs; I don’t remember much about how we got to be in this position except for our place in the lottery coming about after beating Cardiff 2-0 at Bury in a result which also relegated the visitors to Division Four and for which their fans thanked us by trying to burn down the Cemetery End.

 My only memory of the bright Spring Sunday afternoon when Bury faced Elton Welsby’s favourites in the play-off first leg was that Gary Kelly’s lurid green goalkeepers top became a blur as it was being flung by its wearer across the face of the goal on numerous occasions. Our keeper played a blinder but thanks to Granada’s archive football programme The Rock ‘N’ Goal Years, made in 1995, I learned that his opposite number Eric Nixon did too. A brief clip in the programme devoted to 1989/90 not only shows the Stone Roses doing Waterfall on The Other Side of Midnight, it shows a low cross whipped in by Mark Patterson which Tony Cunningham stoops to dive and head goalwards. Nixon’s reflexes are sharp and he acrobatically tips the ball over as the occupants of a crowded, still-terraced Manchester Road End collectively throw back their heads and “Oooooh!” at the missed chance.

The second leg and the Liam Robinson/Kenny Clements fiasco has been erased from my memory banks. I can’t remember if I cried when my dad told me we wouldn’t be going to watch Bury at Wembley but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there were tears.

Five years later, after Bury had slipped into the basement and Tranmere had strengthened their position in the second tier, the two met again in the FA Cup third round. Bury were very much underdogs on that first weekend of the New Year but raced into a two goal lead. The second goal was probably the greatest goal Roger Stanislaus ever scored as he jogged down the left before wrong-footing Nixon – that man again – with a beautifully pitched side-footed lob. On the club video, commentator Paul Greenlees sounds a terrifying combination of elated and angry as he screams his celebration through gritted teeth. All we had to do was hold on for an hour and we were not so much ‘giantkillers’ as ‘surprise package of the round’ which would surely be enough to irritate our mate Elton.

It wasn’t to be. Tranmere threw everything at us as the nucleus of the first side who destroyed me set about doing the same. Even now, I still curse the names of Eric Nixon, Eddie Bishop, Johnny Morrissey... and Ian Muir. The diminutive striker got what I was praying would be a consolation on 82. On 88, as Bury’s players were flagging and after they failed to deal with a tame cross, he was left with a simple tap-in to draw the game level. My friend Alan has told me in the past he was in a bad mood for a week after Tranmere got out of jail that cold afternoon and I can well understand why. We lost the replay 3-0.

I’m feeling oddly hopeful as I make my way from Janet’s to Bury, though I’ve no idea why as this winless run is still stretching back to January. I have a leisurely pint in the Hare and Hounds after trying and failing to step over the threshold into Oi Polloi and have a look around before getting on a tram to Bury.

 An elderly lady gets on at Victoria and sits next to me. She takes a word puzzle on good old-fashioned newspaper out of her pocket and starts to play. This really tickles me for some reason and I start taking longer and longer glances at it, trying to work it out, and smiling to myself. She clocks me and asks for my help; together, we’re victorious and it feels like watching Countdown with my grandma on sick days from school all over again. It’s a lovely moment

With plenty of time before kick-off still to kill in Whitefield, I go to a pub I’ve not been to before, the Cross Keys, and have another. It’s as I’m walking away from there, towards the 135 bus stop, that I decide to conduct a little experiment. Lie Dream of a Casino Soul pops onto my iPod so I select it so it plays everything I own by the Fall as well as this number. Bury pts 1 & 3 sounds great thanks to the two pint wooziness and I’m now certain that we should play this before games as a rabble rouser, if only for the “I’m from Bury” refrain. We have two of the most celebrated bands in the British music press from our metropolitan borough in the form of Elbow and the Fall, yet we’re content to abandon any attempt at engaging this culture and stick with the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey across the Gigg Lane PA. Let’s be proud of where we’re from, eh?

My dad’s waiting for me with a letter as I walk into the social club. I’d recently taken out a claim against the Halifax for mis-selling me PPI insurance on my credit card and he thinks that this letter, which has been sent as a result of my solitary minute on the Which? website personalising their claim template letter, is a direct consequence of that. It is, and on the day we can order our season tickets for next season, I receive a nice little fillip that could pay for mine if I so decide.

There’s a good following from Tranmere in the stand which housed the vociferous hoime support in that 1990 play-off game. They have a banner that reads ‘RONNIE MOORE’S SEX PARTY’ which is less a statement of support and more the name of a horse in the 3.20 at Marple that Alan Partridge should be commentating on on The Day Today. I think the visitors may be less noisy today after looking at our team sheet; Trevor Carson starts his last game before his loan expires, while the man he usurped is all smiles in the bar, and Steven Schumacher starts too. There are few names I recognise in the visitors’ lineup, barring David Buchanan who makes his return to Bury after he tried – and failed miserably – to hold the club to ransom in the 2010 close season.

My pre-match optimism isn’t justified in the way Bury go about the first half. It’s not that we’re bad – we’re not, we’re really not – but we seem to lack that killer instinct. After coming out for the second half with the score still goalless, I just hope that more of the same means we can grab a precious point.

Cometh the moment, cometh the man, twenty minutes into the second period. Steven Schumacher’s free kick is floated into the box and Efe Sodje leaps, twists, and lazily, loopingly heads the ball home. It takes an age to go in and I’m perched in that curious half-crouch-half-sit position as I’m dying to celebrate but reluctant to until the net bulges. When it does it’s joyous.

Five minutes later, Andy Bishop hits a wonderful ball directly into the path of the rejuvenated Giles Coke who only needs one touch to control before smashing the ball past the Tranmere keeper. I canter down the aisle to Rowland and hug him tight again like I did after Ashley Eastham’s equaliser against Huddersfield; it was a glorious goal and it may just have cemented that win that, at certain points of the last 13 games, has felt bitterly implausible.

It really should be three as sub Lateef Elford-Alliyu takes far too long to deal with a gilt-edged opportunity before squaring the ball for Bishop who hits the post but it’s the 90th minute, we’re 2-0 up and there’s no way this will be a repeat of the 1995 FA Cup third round.

We’ve won, by jiminy we’ve won, and suddenly the bipolarity of my life as a Bury fan is at the top end of the see-saw. We’re staying up.