The Forgotten Fifteen: The Story Of Bury FC's Promotion Winning Side

Bury player-manager Martin Dobson used just 15 players across the whole of his side's promotion-winning campaign in '85. After searching far and wide, I tracked the remaining men down to hear their stories.
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Img: Bury FC

Img: Bury FC

We’ve all got our favourite iterations of the teams we support. United fans hark back to the vintage of 1967 or 1999, while City fans wistfully wander back to the 1968 or 2012 title-winning sides, or to 1999 when they needed a penalty shoot-out to win the play-off final in the third tier.

As a Bury fan, my preferred era to daydream about is the 1997 Second Division championship-winning team, but it wasn’t Messrs Ternent, Lucketti, Rigby and Kiely that I wrote my first book about.

Bury were promoted from Division Four in 1985. I knew about this, even though it happened before I started watching the Shakers in 1988, because I was a keen student of the club’s history. I even used to write a page in the programme, called The History Boys in deference to my love for Alan Bennett, in which I interviewed a range of players from the 1950s onwards.

Img: Bolton Evening News

Img: Bolton Evening News

What I didn’t know, and what I later found out when the BBC’s Football Focus inspired me to find out more about the 1984/85 season after their coverage of the 25th anniversary of the Bradford fire, was that Bury player-manager Martin Dobson used just 15 players across the whole of the promotion-winning campaign.

Dan Walker’s script on that Saturday lunchtime’s edition of the programme went into sobering detail of what a horrendous state the British game was in in the mid-80s. Hooliganism at Millwall-Luton, Heysel, Chelsea-Sunderland, Birmingham-Leeds and Burton-Leicester all came as the sport descended into chaos.

In the wider country, the miners’ strike was in full force. The IRA nearly succeeded in assassinating a British head dog state with their bomb at the Grand Hotel in Brighton. ‘Today we were unlucky. But remember, we only have to be lucky once’ was their postmortem that was a spine-chilling as Threads, which brought home the horror of nuclear paranoia and what would happen if the red button was pressed.

Img: Bolton Evening News

Img: Bolton Evening News

This whirlwind of social history formed the backbone of my interest in Bury’s 1985 success, but it was to be the fourteen men who were still alive who’d flesh it out. Some had already been interviewed before and so a phone number for them was already locked into my sim card. For the remainder, the quest was very much on.

Leighton James was successfully found and recounted how he left Sunderland in the First Division for Bury in the basement. As if it wasn’t remarkable enough that he left third-tier Bury for the Dutch first division and AZ Alkmaar, Joe Jakub revealed that he played in the same side there as Louis van Gaal.

Andy Hill, one of my favourite ever Bury players, described how he was recommended to Bury by physio and former Manchester United manager Wilf McGuinness. Winston White was found in Antigua and remembered how he played in the ‘Black players versus White players’ exhibition match that made up former West Brom man Len Cantello’s testimonial. It was a meeting that disappointingly took place in a Starbucks in Birmingham rather than a beachfront bar.

Img: Simon Egan

Img: Simon Egan

I travelled to Italy to see the goalkeeper David Brown, to Durham to see Kevin Young and to Manchester to see the assistant chief executive of the PFA John Bramhall. I’ve found much out about these players who previously only existed as a photograph on the wall of the Gigg Lane social club and it’s been very much the voyage of discovery.

Not just about football either. Spooling through microfilm reels at Bury Library led to me finding out about a hidden tragedy from my town’s dark days too, as running through the edition from immediately after Christmas 1984 told me about a house fire that killed nine people on Christmas morning.

If all this sounds too Orwellian for you, there’s plenty of light. It’s a peek back to a time when although DeLoreans were the futuristic-looking cars on cinema screens, Bury’s star striker Craig Madden was driving a Lada Riva 1300 which he received from Bolton Car Centre while Trevor Ross drove a Fiat from the local dealership.

Players didn’t jump into a sports car with a pair of huge headphones slung around their neck after games in 1985. In fact, more than one told me that Dobson made them go into the same social club where the photo of the team stoked my interest years later, and have a drink with the fans who paid their money to watch them play.

Maybe that was the subconscious reason why I wanted to write the book in the first place. To do my own harking back, like those City and United fans, to a time when clubs and supporters had a much stronger bond despite British football’s swirl into madness. 

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