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.