A YEAR on, the anger still sticks up in the throats of Bury fans when they contemplate those responsible for their club’s tragic demise. 

Gigg Lane still stands in solemn state, without a matchday in 449 days. Yet many supporters are simply not ready to read the old club its last rites while it continues to exist, even in its haunted, skeletal form. 

Twelve months ago, Bury became the first club since 1992 to be expelled from the Football League, with EFL acting chair Debbie Jevans describing August 27 as “one of the darkest days” in the competition’s history. 

After months of butting heads with Shakers owner Steve Dale the league had issued a final ultimatum. And when a late takeover bid collapsed, the town was forced to come to terms with the fact a 134-year-old football club had simply had its lights switched off. 

Bury has existed in limbo since then. Dale attempted to re-apply for a place in the National League but saw his request roundly rejected by the Football Association. 

The owner’s communications are rare. He has repeatedly insisted that the two-time FA Cup winners can be resurrected, once considerable debts are unravelled, but all reasonable evidence points to the contrary. 

Others are intent on making a fresh start. And on a damp Wednesday evening at Daisy Hill, a welcoming but modest non-league outfit based just down the road from Bury’s traditional rivals, Bolton Wanderers, the first step of a long journey to redemption was taken. 

Even those responsible for creating Bury AFC admit the idea of a phoenix club was intended only to be used in an emergency. 

“It was never a protest,” said Chris Murray, the club chairman. “I originally got involved because I wanted to put pressure on Steve Dale to sell the club, worked with the fans’ group Forever Bury, but it got to the stage where it actually had to happen.  

Bury Times: Bury AFC chairman Chris MurrayBury AFC chairman Chris Murray

“It isn’t like we weren’t committed but we accepted we were everybody’s last option. 

“After everything that happened at Bury, we wanted to create a club that people can enjoy again. A community.” 

Emotions among supporters are still raw. A flag pinned behind the goal contained a defiant message: “They tried to kill us, we wouldn’t die.” 

‘They’ could point to a number of culprits, from Dale, former owner Stewart Day – who had piled up against the club an eye-watering amount of debt – and even the EFL itself. Football had failed the Shakers and fans find no solace from the fact that their club’s demise has fuelled a mood for change. 

“It’s too late,” said Rick Smith, one of the lucky few to gain entry to Daisy Hill after the 150 tickets sold out in less than half an hour. “They had their chance to save us, the EFL, but they sat on their backsides and watched us burn to the ground.  

“As for the other two. I don’t think you could print what I want to say.” 

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Smith’s sentiments brought nods of approval from those around him, fans who had spent decades drinking in the pubs around Gigg Lane on matchdays, watching the likes of Mark Carter, Craig Madden, David Lee, David Nugent, Andy Bishop and Ryan Lowe scoring goals at the Cemmy End. 

Those wounds may remain open until Bury’s fate is decided indisputably. In the meantime, a young team of new and mysterious players has been brought together in double-quick time thanks to the hard work of more than 300 volunteers. 

Sales of the new kit illustrate the appetite the town still has for football, despite all its hardships. More than 1,400 replica shirts have now been sold, and Bury AFC now has more than 800 paid-up members who will have a tangible say on what happens from here on in. As the club’s motto goes: By the fans, for the fans. 

In charge of the team, Andy Welsh, the former Sunderland winger whose experience in gelling together a newly-merged club in Ossett United was a big factor in him becoming the first-ever Bury AFC boss. 

“It’s a momentous occasion for this club to have its first game, whether it’s in front of 150 fans or five fans, it has taken a lot of work to get to this stage,” said the Manchester-born 36-year-old, who still looks quite capable of stepping out on to the pitch. 

Bury Times: Bury AFC manager Andy Welsh celebrates starting with a winBury AFC manager Andy Welsh celebrates starting with a win

“A few people have said to me they don’t like the word ‘project’ but the size of the club and what it already represents is what excites me about being here. 

“If I’m honest, until I spoke to the people here I probably wasn’t thinking about coming to a club lower than the level I was at. 

“I wasn’t really enjoying the professionalism of the level I was at with Ossett, things I couldn’t really control, but here I feel something different. 

“It’s a game for fans. And when I turn up I think ‘what do they want to watch?’ And that’s what drives me on to make this into a success.” 

Just trotting out in front of a smattering of socially distanced supporters at New Sirs felt like a big step, especially considering the devastating financial effect the pandemic has had on non-league football. 

Lockdown left everyone wondering what the future held for their club but for Murray there were material doubts whether his venture would get off the ground at all. 

“We’d got to the point where we had everything in place and ready to go, the only thing we needed was a manager and a kit,” he said. “But then Covid hit and we’re left wondering if it is really going to happen? 

“We were left watching to see if the FA were going to accept Steve Dale and Bury FC, almost with a view to packing up. 

“But then we got accepted into the North West Counties and you wake up one morning and think ‘oh, it’s real, this’, and have to get on with it.”  

Life in the North West Counties will be quite unlike anything followers of Bury FC will have experienced before. Indeed, even the chairman found himself running to fetch a ball in the first half which had entrenched itself in some brambles. 

This season will take in trips to Lower Breck, Cleator Moor Celtic and Golcar United – along with other splinter outfits like AFC Liverpool and AFC Blackpool, themselves formed by supporters who had become disenfranchised by what was happening at their club. 

Though the idea of Bury emulating AFC Wimbledon and securing the six promotions it would take to get back into the Football League is a romantic one, reality paints quite a different picture. 

“Today was a case of making sure I’d brought the kit, run the physio here, jackets for the managers, brought the cameras for the media team, organised the ticketing with the help of a few others – so it’s been busy over the last few days,” said Murray, whose day job is as director of a digital marketing company. 

“Nobody really knows who any of the players are, so we’ll have to educate them over the course of the season, and I probably won’t watch any of the match. I’ll probably be running around doing different things. 

“It’ll be a reality check at a lot of places we go, being that it’s been Championship, League One, League Two over recent years at Bury.  

“But they can walk around with a pint, have a smoke, so it has got that going for it.” 

The first 90 minutes of actual football passed by almost incidentally.  

Bury Times: Matty Williams celebrates scoring Bury AFC's first goalMatty Williams celebrates scoring Bury AFC's first goal

Full-back Matty Williams holds the distinction of scoring the first-ever Bury AFC goal, pouncing 22 minutes in to a 5-0 rout. 

“I was thinking before the game that if I managed to score I’d be a quiz question in years to come,” he laughed afterwards. “I’m delighted I could do it. We can’t wait for this season to start.” 

Bury AFC will base themselves at Radcliffe FC’s Neuven Stadium for the time being but the desire to relocate to Gigg Lane one day is not a trade secret. 

Murray accepts the phoenix club may have to be patient as it carves out its own identity and history, and that support for their cause within the town is not unanimous. 

“I think there are people who are coming around to the idea of it who were on the fence, simply because it’s happening,” he said. 

“You have to accept not everyone is going to get on board straight away but they will always be welcome to be a part of it. 

“The frustrating thing for me about only 150 fans being allowed to see the first game has got nothing to do with revenue, it’s about knowing there are people out there who want to see a game. 

“And that’s what it boils down to. We had to bring a club back for the people to watch.” 

In their last official outing on May 4, 2019, Bury’s players walked off the pitch having secured promotion to League One in front of 6,719 supporters. 

On Wednesday night, around 100 people applauded Adam McWilliam, Aaron Dwyer, Kristian Holt and Co off the field just as enthusiastically as they celebrated the start of a new journey, and the simple joys of having a club to support.