The Forgotten Fifteen

How Bury triumphed in British football's worst year

Chris Cutler at the Manchester Airport Marriott.

Chris Cutler

Chris Cutler is a name not immediately known as a member of Bury’s 1984/85 promotion squad, unless you spent much of that season studying the substitutes’ bench or reserve team round-up in the programme. He wasn’t one of the star names who’d followed his old mate Martin Dobson to the club in the 1984 close season, nor was he one of the better-known remnants of Jim Iley’s time in charge. He was a striker who, perhaps understandably, never really had a look-in as Wayne Entwistle and Craig Madden raced to more than 40 goals between them. He wasn’t even pictured in the celebratory dressing room shot, taken after the final game of the season. He was, I discovered, a quietly unassuming and also a very nice man.

After initially hoping (wrongly) that he may have been related to former Bury goalkeeping coach Neil Cutler, I’d heard murmurings that after retiring from the game Chris had gone on to take a teaching degree and was working at a school in Chester. I had no real way of confirming this so turned to the internet to try and establish some facts. Sure enough, after my first Google search, I found his place of employment by virtue of the former Shaker’s school team – which he managed – having reached a cup final.

I called the school’s switchboard and asked the nice lady at the other end of the line if I could leave a message for Mr Cutler. After explaining the subject, she let out a little "Ooooh!" of intrigue that one of her colleagues might be featuring in a book followed by a promise that she’d pass the message on as soon as possible.

A call from Chris came through later that day, confirming that he’d happily be interviewed for the project in the coming weekend. He’d be travelling to Manchester from Cheshire and he suggested that we meet at one of the airport hotels that would be on his route. "How about the Four Seasons?" he asked. I agreed that it sounded fine to me and I hung up.

On searching for the hotel online, I got a bit panicky when no results of a hotel of that name in that location were being returned. I turned to Twitter for clarification and was told by several, nerve-soothing Tweeters that Marriott had taken over the site previously known as the Four Seasons. Now knowing exactly where I was going, I could relax.

I arrived at the hotel just as the crew of an Emirates jumbo were finishing breakfast. Chris was waiting for me, instantly recognisable as a lean, lithe former sportsman. As I unpacked my various artefacts of the season and put them on the table between us, he asked a question that I felt was touched with a tinge of sadness. "So why do you want to talk to me? I mean, I hardly played any games that season, did I?"

The question stopped me in my tracks for a fraction of a second. I wanted to talk, I explained, because although you’re right in that you didn’t play many games, you played in that season regardless. This wasn’t about satisfying my OCD in making sure that I got hold of everyone no matter how minimal they may have felt their contribution to be. It was about looking at the collective’s achievement and reviewing it individually. Everybody had their part to play back then and everyone will have their tale to tell now.

It may have been a bit Braveheart in its reasoning but Chris looked reassured at this explanation. As the clatter of cutlery and crockery reverberated around us, I got a footballer’s eye view of the season and the frustrations it caused by watching largely from the sidelines. I also found out where Chris was on the afternoon the promotion celebrations from the pitch continued in the dressing room and why he wasn’t on what would later become, to me at least, an iconic photo. Again, there was another slightly blue note in the reason.

He may not have considered his role in the season important, but to the project, as the third interviewee, Chris Cutler was vital.