The Forgotten Fifteen

How Bury triumphed in British football's worst year

John Bramhall in his office at the headquarters of the PFA, Manchester.

John Bramhall

It was in a confident mood that I left Durham and Kevin Young for Manchester, John Bramhall and the second interview of the day. Despite there being an irritating niggle at the back of my mind, that I needed all of the trains to run on time and that if they didn’t my schedule would be thrown into disarray, I was able to at least partly relax. My train pulled across Durham’s viaduct ready to take me back across the sodden Pennines that I’d crossed heading in the opposite direction only hours earlier.

John Bramhall was an easy interviewee to find, being, as he is, the member of Bury’s 1984/85 team still in perhaps the highest profile position in the game. When I worked on BBC regional television news and a story broke involving the backroom aspects of football, the first number we would always turn to for a quote would be chief executive of the Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA), Gordon Taylor. John Bramhall is his assistant.

So it was that on a quick phone call to their offices off Oxford Street in the city centre, I was put directly through to John. He was the man who starred as a no-nonsense defender in 1984/85 and who, the season after, earned Bury a 1-1 draw at top flight Watford in the FA Cup fifth round. He agreed to the interview request and a date and time was set.

In his office, we drank tea and covered the 1984/85 season’s success at breakneck speed as kick-off time to that night’s game steadily approached

As my train slowed into Stalybridge, the first stop back in Lancashire since leaving Huddersfield, my phone flickered back into life. It rediscovered a signal that had been absent as we passed in between the desolate hillsides. There was notification on the screen of a voicemail from the PFA; someone from the association must have called whilst I was out of reception range.

I feared the worst and dialled into the voicemail service nervously. As it turned out, there was nothing to worry about. With England’s first game in Euro 2012 just hours away, John’s PA wondered if I’d mind bringing our chat forward to my earliest convenience. The players’ union wanted to shut up shop as early as possible, to allow everyone to cheer England on as they took the first step towards an inevitable quarter final defeat. Having got on an earlier train than planned anyway, owing to paranoid thoughts of being stuck in sidings at York when I should have been knocking on Bramhall’s office door, I was only too happy to oblige.

Rather than traversing the city centre on foot with my collected research weighing me down, I decided to get a tram from Piccadilly to St Peter’s Square. I’d then cut across Oxford Street at Don Giovanni’s, before finding the PFA’s smart offices behind the clamour of the main road that stretched down towards the student corridor. Naturally, the first tram that arrived into the Metrolink stop in the bowels of Piccadilly was heading for Bury. I had a three-in-four chance of the first vehicle which arrived being one I wanted - and Metrolink had fluffed it for me. It’s no wonder I’m not a gambler.

John Bramhall's workplace.

After eventually getting on a tram going in the right direction, I alighted at my planned stop and made for Oxford Court. I’d been to the PFA’s well-appointed offices before, six years ago, when I spoke to both Bramhall and Taylor about their twin times at Bury as a whole, rather than the one specific season. Consequently, I couldn’t remember where exactly in the plush piazza their office was. I was preparing to spend a few minutes squinting at brass plates until I found the place I was looking for, courtesy of John emerging from a parked car. Recognising me from that first meeting, he beckoned me over and showed me past the heavy front door.

In his office, we drank tea and covered the 1984/85 season’s success at breakneck speed as kick-off time to that night’s game steadily approached. Within three-quarters-of-an-hour, we were done and free to go our separate ways to watch England grab a creditable draw with France. It had been a good day all round, as one-seventh of the playing staff I needed to talk to had now been ticked off the list.