What does this summer have in store for Bury FC?
The Shakers got off to a flying start to 2015/16, sitting as high as 4th in the League One table come mid-October. However, a shocking run of one win in ten games over the winter months saw David Flitcroft’s side’s play-off hopes dashed, as they slumped into the bottom half of the table. After a series of underwhelming performances in the final few games of the season, Bury ultimately stumbled their way into finishing 14th in their first season back at this level. Throw a run to the fourth round of the FA Cup into the mix, and, all in all, a decent season for the club, right?
Despite first glances, though, this has been a complex twelve months down at Gigg Lane. Firstly, sections of Bury’s loyal core support have, over the course of the season, made it known that they are not particularly happy with the present management team. The peak of this discontent came in February, in the final game of Bury’s wretched ten game winless streak, as they were trounced 6-0 away at Coventry City. Flitcroft left the Ricoh Arena field to a chorus of boos, and many supporters expected chairman Stewart Day to wield the axe in the days that followed. Surprisingly, Day kept faith in his man until the end of the season, but after a torrent of abuse was again aimed his way after March’s dismal derby defeat at Rochdale, Flitcroft will be firmly aware that he has some way to go to win over the majority of supporters.
Furthermore, the worrying state of the club’s finances has become increasingly evident of late, with The Bury Times announcing that the club had made a disconcerting annual trading loss of £2.9 million for the 2014/15 season, when they won promotion from League Two. This has justifiably led to concern amongst Bury supporters about whether the club, operating on average gates of just 3,751, will be able to keep hold of its key players this summer. Standout performers, such as Danny Mayor, Nathan Cameron and Leon Clarke may be shifted on over the summer months, something that is likely to rile Flitcroft’s detractors even further.
Completely incongruous to such reports, however, comes the news that the club are looking at a move away from Gigg Lane, to a new stadium in “close proximity” of their current location. Understandably, the news that the club’s directors are so blissfully nonchalant to the precarious financial situation that the club appears to find itself in is deeply unsettling to supporters.
On the rare occasion that messages come out of the club directly, they appear to be so overwhelmingly positive and bordering on propaganda, that many supporters have viewed them with suspicion. An observation made by many followers of the club is that the relationship between club and fan base is as distant as it has ever been in recent memory, with many feeling that they are constantly left in the dark regarding how the club is being run.
The sale of Danny Rose to Mansfield Town for an undisclosed fee this week has raised even further questions about what is going on behind the scenes. Although he looked raw at times, Rose is still only 22 and was perceived by supporters as having a lot of potential. His enthusiasm and desire have endeared him to the Gigg Lane faithful, who saw him as a good foil to the more powerful Clarke. The announcement that he was undergoing a medical with The Stags this week came completely out of the blue, and has triggered worries about the club having to offload its key players.
So what does the rest of the summer hold in store for Bury FC and its loyal core of supporters that have endured many a false dawn down the years?
The primary aim for the club this summer will be, as stated previously, to keep hold of its star players. After a disappointing campaign, last year’s League Two Player of the Year, Danny Mayor, is unlikely to attract too many suitors above this level and is therefore likely to remain with The Shakers. Club captain Nathan Cameron is also unlikely to leave after a knee injury saw him miss the last three months of the season. Another man that Flitcroft will be desperately hoping he can persuade to stay at the club over the summer is striker Leon Clarke. The 31-year-old found the net 18 times last season, 11 more than the club’s next top scorer, and without him a relegation battle would almost certainly have been on the cards.
With the club already announcing the departures of club legend Ryan Lowe to Crewe Alexandra and fan favourite Rose to Mansfield, as well as six other players including Danny Nardiello, Reece Brown and Chris Eagles, the squad already appears to be thin on the ground. It is also possible that full back Joe Riley will leave while Chris Hussey has already joined Sheffield United, a fall out with with Flitcroft has lead them both to the exit door.
Strikers Tom Pope and Hallam Hope are another two that do not appear to be a part of the manager’s plans, and therefore could be deemed surplus to requirements. Whilst Hope has not featured for the club since last October, and is therefore unlikely to be missed, Pope has made 36 league appearances this season. However, after a bright start, scoring 5 goals in his first 11 games, he has struggled to link up with Clarke, as was originally hoped, only finding the net once from November until the end of the season.
As for incoming players, it is likely that Bury will be operating on one of the lowest budgets in League One next season. David Worrall is one player who has been heavily linked with a summer move, though, for what would be his third spell at the club. The winger came through The Shakers youth system, making his debut at the tender age of 16, before leaving the club to join West Bromwich Albion. He then returned to the club in 2010, making 143 appearances before leaving for Rotherham United three years later. After Worrall announced his intention to leave current side, Southend United, when his contract is up in summer, it is believed that Flitcroft has had his eyes on bringing the 25-year-old back up to the club for a number of months now. It is far from a done deal, though, with The Shakers rumoured to face strong competition for Worrall’s signature from losing play-off finalists Millwall, but Flitcroft will be hoping that a move back to the North West proves too tempting for the player to turn down.
If one thing is for certain this summer, it is that Bury need to find themselves a goalkeeper. After Chris Neal’s loan deal ended, and Rob Lainton’s contract was allowed to expire, the only contracted player between the sticks for Bury is 18-year-old goalkeeper, Jack Ruddy. Flitcroft found it difficult to settle on a number one last season, with seven different goalkeepers featuring for the club over the course of last season. The man he did appear to settle on, Neal, signed a two year deal with Fleetwood Town this week, despite stating that he would jump at the chance of a permanent switch to Gigg Lane if the opportunity arose. One potential solution for Flitcroft is his former Rochdale teammate, Matt Gilks, who is currently looking for a new club after being released by Burnley. However, wages may prove to be a stumbling block in the move for the Scottish international, who is also attracting interest north of the border from Hearts.
Another position that may require strengthening is in attack, with Bury relying heavily on Leon Clarke for goals this season. With the departures of Lowe and Rose, Bury will be losing twelve goals from their side, and as a result, will be hoping to bring somebody in to assist Clarke on the goals front. Flitcroft is likely to cast his eyes towards free agents, and Manchester-born Ishmael Miller could be one potential option. Miller has struggled for goals during recent spells in the Championship with Blackpool and Huddersfield Town, and a step down a level may provide the boost that his career needs.
The atmosphere amongst Bury supporters at the moment is one of apprehension. Despite an acceptable first season back in League One, made to seem much worse by a lack of communication with supporters, and the prickly way that the management team dealt with any criticism, many who watched The Shakers at the back end of the season certainly got a sense that things were going backwards. Offer any Bury supporter 20th position, and therefore League One safety next season, and they would more than likely snap your hand off at the offer.
Whilst not much is known about the extent of the club’s budget this summer, it is almost certain that Flitcroft will not be able to tempt new signings with the same wages that he was able to last summer. Despite the doom and gloom though, Bury do still have some quality players at their disposal, and if they can keep hold of them, as well as conducting some astute business in the transfer market, there is still a possibility of the club steering themselves clear of another relegation battle in 2016/17.
Featured Image – All Rights Reserved by Barry Zee.