The story of Bury AFC – a phoenix club born in 2019 – has been far from smooth so far, but their supporters continue to impress down in England’s 10th-tier.
By Amos Murphy
Bury AFC enjoy Bank Holiday fun at Daisy Hill FC
Stretched around almost two-thirds of Daisy Hill’s New Sirs ground, a mass following of Bury AFC supporters flooded the outer banks of the pitch.
A gallery of Bury inspired flags could be found plastered across the back wall, with homages paid to current boss Andy Welsh, all the way to Rot-Weiß Oberhausen, a semi-professional German club playing in the Regionalliga West.
After a quietish start to proceedings, with supporters gradually filtering their way through a rather slender turnstile, before picking up refreshments from one of the various pop-up stalls, the atmosphere began to pick up amongst the visiting support.
Sporadic beats of a drum would punctuate a lively first-half; a sound that would echo throughout the surrounding area come full-time, with buoyant Bury supporters dancing their way out onto the street, after watching their side pick up a valuable 2-0 victory.
A fall from Football League grace
Of course, Daisy Hill vs Bury AFC is a fixture that should never have happened. A clash in the 10th-tier of English football, between a historic, but humble non-league side in Daisy Hill, facing a side that were formed out of the demise of former Football League stalwart Bury FC.
The story of Bury FC is already well documented. A 130-year-old institution that disappeared overnight, as a result of gross financial mismanagement at board level and utter incompetence from the governing bodies.
Bury AFC were born in December 2019, with manager Welsh was appointed in July the following year, before the club played their first-ever match in August 2020 – a comfortable 5-0 victory away to none other than Daisy Hill.
Much like many other clubs in the non-league pyramid, Bury were left frustrated when the 2020/21 league season was null and void, and despite the Lancashire club topping the table when the campaign came to a close, the system used by the NWCFL to determine automatic promotion places included the results from the season prior, of which they hadn't competed in.
Fast forward just over 12 months’ time, and a maiden promotion for Bury beckons, with Welsh’s men currently top of the North West Counties Football League First Division North table. As the song goes, Bury are on their way…
A new Bury AFC voyage
A League One club at the time Bury FC were expelled from the Football League, Shakers supporters have gone from playing the likes of Sunderland, Portsmouth and Ipswich Town, to Bacup Borough, Holker Old Boys and Pilkington.
Clubs with just as much character and history, but perhaps, in the eyes of Bury supporters, not as much glamour - as was perfectly demonstrated through one supporter’s shout during the Bank Holiday Monday clash at Daisy Hill.
Having spotted an unusual spectator behind the opposite goal, one Bury fan turned to his group of friends, before pointing straight ahead and giggling: “You know you’ve fallen down the leagues when there’s an actual dog on the pitch”.
Whilst in good humour, therein lied an honest examination of the situation many Bury supporters found themselves in.
Yet, despite their sharp fall through the football pyramid, the Bury faithful have taken to life in non-league, with their away following one of the strongest throughout the pyramid.
Of their 15 away matches this season, only one has dropped below an overall attendance of 300, with that game itself being an FA Trophy First Round clash against North East-based Sunderland Ryhope.
With Bury’s core group of followers comes the opportunity for fellow Step 6 clubs to maximise their gate receipts, beyond numbers usually seen at that level – none more evident than the 1005 capacity crowd at New Sirs for the Daisy Hill clash, a club who have averaged under 100 for each home game so far.
The Battle for Bury
Despite what from the outside appears to be a fully-functioning and healthy phoenix club, Bury AFC have been unable to bury the toxicity that plagued the final years of Bury FC’s existence.
For some, the emergence of AFC has helped fill the void left behind by the club they used to follow, whilst for others, they cling to the hope that one day an iteration of Bury FC will return.
At the epicentre of this battle taking place in the heart of a humble Lancashire town is Gigg Lane – the home of Bury FC for 134 years.
In December 2021, the UK Government pledged £1 million to help Bury (FC) supporters buy back Gigg Lane, as per a campaign ran by Est 1885 – a supporters’ group headed by former AFC chair Chris Murray, whose objectives focused around seeing FC return to Gigg Lane.
Such events, saw AFC release a statement acknowledging the project, even suggesting a possible name change themselves.
The future of football within Bury, the town, remains volatile, with supporters, players, staff and even an entire football club, once again, facing uncertain roads ahead.
But whilst AFC Bury remains in operation, the support they have garnered at the foot of England’s footballing pyramid will continue to attract commendation, even if there might be a couple of matches with a dog or two on the pitch.