RICH BEEDIE on a goal by current player-manager Ryan Lowe that meant a lot to him personally, as well as aiding Bury’s automatic promotion push
For many Bury fans Ryan Lowe is Mr. Bury F.C. The man, currently tasked with the near-impossible task of keeping Bury in League One this season, as manager, has long been admired by the Gigg Lane faithful for his enthusiasm, passion and most of all his goals. One, in particular, on Easter Monday 2011 – perhaps above all others – cemented the relationship.
To understand the significance of the goal you need to look back a little. For clubs like Bury successes are rare, so when they come they are very special indeed. This goal brought the East Lancashire club promotion for the first time in 14 years. Bury had last gone up in 1997 in something of a golden period for the club that saw back-to-back promotions, a place in what is now the Championship and a never to be forgotten win at Manchester City. Sadly, the good times didn’t last and by 2002 Bury were back in the fourth tier, with the club almost folding along the way after benefactor Hugh Eaves had been found to not necessarily have been using his own money to fund the club.
Defeat in the play-offs followed in 2003, then successively lower finishes in the following years saw non-league football a strong possibility until the arrival of Alan Knill in 2008. He replaced the sacked Chris Casper and led the club to mid-table safety that year and another tilt at the play-offs the year after, automatic promotion just a missed Phil Jevons penalty away. As ever with Bury and the play-offs it was to end in heartache with Shrewsbury Town putting them out – undeservedly – at the semi-final stage, keeper Luke Daniels their hero in extra-time and the subsequent penalty shoot-out. A late-season fade the season after extinguished any hopes of going one better and put the pressure on Knill to deliver the year after.
The former Bury defender was clearly feeling the strain when, following a goalless draw at Port Vale at the end of March 2011, he quit for Scunthorpe United convinced things were going the wrong way again – despite still being third in the table.
Bury turned to youth team coach Richie Barker, and a triumvirate of senior players – including Lowe – to try and guide the side to that elusive promotion the club, and its fans, deserved after so much anguish in the previous 14 years. Barker started with a comfortable 3-0 home win over Oxford United, and won the next four too. A sixth successive win, at the B2net Stadium that Easter Monday, would finally see the success they craved. One tiny obstacle: opponents Chesterfield needed the three points too – to clinch the League Two title.
On a personal note I had more riding on promotion than probably the rest of the 2,000 fellow Shakers gathered in Derbyshire that day. Sure, I had been through the same on and off-field anguishes that the other Bury fans had endured over those previous 13 years but more specifically for me the six months leading to that moment had been the most difficult of my life, and it was nothing to do with football. I had lost my mother, who I had always been close to, sepsis taking her in the November, a week after my 40th birthday. The family was also coping with ongoing illnesses that would see us lose both of my in-laws before another year had passed. My mum’s death had shaken me to the core and more than anything I needed something to smile about again, more than anyone in that stadium that day. Ryan Lowe delivered that reason.
The game lived up to its billing, and was a real see-saw game. We took the lead twice, only to be pegged back both times, and entered the final throes level with neither side settling for the draw.
With just three minutes to go Bury won a corner on their right, at the end where their support was gathered. Peter Sweeney swung it in and as the ball flicked off the head of Tom Lees in the middle Lowe was already peeling away, beyond the far post. The ball dropped to him perfectly and from just outside the six-yard box fired a beautiful shot back across the goal. As the ball hit the far corner of the net the away end exploded as one. There is an iconic picture, that hangs on most Bury fan’s walls, from that moment with a leaping Lowe in front a packed away stand, player and fans united in joy.
There were to be no more comebacks for Chesterfield, the day was Bury’s, and mine with a silent thanks to the heavens for the intervention I like to think Mum had a hand in. The agony for Bury fans was over, and for a brief moment that year I had reason to smile.