The Forgotten Fifteen

How Bury triumphed in British football's worst year

Gary Buckley at the Ostrich in Prestwich.

Gary Buckley

In a similar way to Chris Cutler, Gary Buckley was a squad player who found his chances limited after manager Martin Dobson found what he considered to be his best eleven and settled on it, unless his hand was forced. And also like Chris Cutler, when Buckley stepped into the team due to suspensions or injuries he did what was asked and aided Bury’s ultimately successful promotion charge.

I had literally no idea where to find Buckley after looking at his briefest of Wikipedia entries. With him having such an ‘everyman’ name, using the online directory enquiries was likely to be a laborious, fruitless task. A Google search brought up a connection with a Salford amateur team so I sent a quick email to the webmaster of the site outlining why I’d like to speak to the former Manchester City midfielder. It’s an email that to this day hasn’t had a reply.

A few years ago, a ‘Where are they now?’ feature about the promotion side appeared in the League Paper. It wasn’t especially comprehensive but it featured a few lines about each player and their movements since retiring from playing. The journalist obviously knew Buckley’s whereabouts so I sent him a 140-character message on Twitter asking for his help. After being asked why I wanted to know, which I expected, the reporter sent Buckley’s number as a public reply in response, which I definitely didn’t expect. Before asking the reporter to delete the incriminating tweet, I noted the number down and dialled.

The Google connection appeared in an instant to be correct as a man with a Salford accent, so rich and treacly you could stand a pencil in it, answered the phone. Gloriously, he was the man I wanted him to be and we arranged to meet in one of the most peculiarly-named pubs in the Metropolitan Borough of Bury. The Ostrich faces out onto the vast expanse of Heaton Park; nine days after mine and Gary’s meeting there, it would be filled with Stone Roses fans in gumboots ahead of the reunited band’s first show in 16 years on UK soil.

Gary’s few appearances in the season were covered with remarkable clarity but his lack of first team opportunities was not the hindrance to the interview I thought they may have been

Gary called while I was still en route to our appointment to tell me what he was wearing so I would recognise him. His pronunciation of ‘Sergio Tacchini’ was a further example of his roots, but it also hinted at a love of brands from the casual era that were being worn on football terraces during the season in question. To go with the ‘flick’ haircut he sported in the mid-80s, it began to occur to me that the only reason Gary wasn’t on the same terraces in a Pringle sweater was because he was on the pitch instead. It’s an image that was at odds with how he appeared on the promotion celebration photograph. In it, he’s surrounded by his match-muddied teammates (after he wasn’t in the squad for the home match against Peterborough) in crisp white shirt and smart tie.

Sure enough, the man in the blue polo shirt made his way through the small knot of post-work drinkers to the table where the man with the football match reports and photographs was sitting. As Gary began talking, the theory that had begun forming on the 135 bus to Heaton Park was borne out by Buckley’s wonderful Jack-the-lad tales of being a professional footballer in the mid-1980s.

Gary’s few appearances in the season were covered with remarkable clarity, but his lack of first team opportunities was not the hindrance to the interview I thought they may have been. Instead, it was interesting to hear about the day-to-day running of the club and treatment for injuries from Wilf McGuinness, rather than misty memories of a defeat at Hartlepool United or Wrexham. The social aspect of the squad was also expertly recalled to the point that, after the interview, we headed to a different pub to see the landlord who’d served the Bury team when they drank together too. Unfortunately, Keith wasn’t in the Waterloo on Manchester Road, a pub that would be closed within six months, but I’d like to think that Gary’s desire to see him hinted at a keenness to remember his part in Bury’s success – and the good times with colleagues that he played a part in.