‘By the Fans, For the Fans’: Phoenix Club Bury AFC Win First Game

On Tuesday 30 April 2019, Danny Mayor jinked past several hapless Tranmere defenders and lifted the ball nonchalantly past a despairing goalkeeper.

It was this moment, on a warm Merseyside evening, which saw Bury F.C. promoted to League One. In front of a packed away stand at Prenton Park, the Shakers’ players celebrated a remarkable achievement. The promotion had come with a backdrop of financial uncertainty and the very players who had taken the club up a division were often paid late.

Led by one of the most promising managers in England in Ryan Lowe and with experienced forward Nicky Maynard in fine form, there was a glimmer of hope for Bury under an otherwise bleak period of ownership by Steve Dale. The positivity on the pitch was soon to be overshadowed by the rising uncertainty off it and by the end of August of that year the club had been expelled from the English Football League after a takeover bid fell at the eleventh hour. Lowe had left his post as manager and the side he had crafted at Gigg Lane found themselves scattered across the Football League.

Over a year has passed, and whilst a positive resolution is yet to be found for the original club with Dale still at the helm, loyal fans have launched a phoenix venture in the midst of the pandemic. Playing in Radcliffe, just three miles from the club’s spiritual home, Bury A.F.C. played their first league match last weekend. From taking on sides like Swindon Town, Notts County and Exeter City, Shakers fans now find their side facing off against Daisy Hill, Pilkington and Steeton. It is the latter who travelled to take on Bury A.F.C. in their first league fixture in the North West Counties Division One North, 12 months on from the first meeting of volunteers for the club.

In a closely-fought encounter, Bury A.F.C. found themselves trailing 2-1 as the clock ticked past the allotted 90 minutes. Bury, managed by Andy Welsh, who beat over 750 other candidates to the position, pressed on in search of an equaliser. In front of a 300-strong capacity, the most that is allowed under government guidelines for non-league clubs, the referee pointed to the spot after a coming-together in the box. Relief filled the air as Tom Greaves slammed the resulting penalty down the middle of the goal. Bury A.F.C. were not done there, however, with Greaves collecting the ball and returning it to the centre spot in pursuit of a winning goal.

The match rolled into the fourth minute of added time and A.F.C. launched one more attack. A corner from the right was swung in and Greaves catapulted himself towards the ball and bundled home the scruffiest of finishes you are likely to see this season. What the goal lacked in aesthetics, it more than made up for in significance. An eruption of noise greeted the goal, as fans spilled onto the pitch.

Whilst the top leagues become ever more sanitised, this was a moment of unbridled joy and raw emotion from a set of fans who have suffered more than most, in an area of the country that has faced more challenges than most during this pandemic. The club’s slogan ‘By the Fans, For the Fans’ was clearly not just a meaningless sound bite. It is a mantra which encapsulates the rectification of years of uncertainty, mismanagement and hopelessness. As the full time whistle signalled a first league win for the club, a year of hard work in putting a vision into practice felt worth it.

Speaking to Silver Linings, James Bentley, the author of ‘Things Can Only Get Better’ and ‘The Forgotten Fifteen’ suggests that Bury A.F.C. finally gives Shakers fans ‘a reason to look forward to Saturdays again’. He acknowledges the hesitance of some fans in accepting this new entity whilst the original club remains in existence, but the club that he and many others love has become ‘a living nightmare’ and believes the new club ‘should seek to emulate AFC Wimbledon,’ who Bentley notes faced a similar situation in terms of ownership.

He added that this fan-run project feels like a continuation in legacy because ‘Bury Football Club is not the bricks, the mortar or the chairman, it’s the spirit that every fan carries with them.’ Last week’s victory was a year in the making and highlights the importance of fan mobilisation and organisation in the face of corporate greed.