Across the three seasons that I interviewed former Bury players for the matchday programme, Andy Hill always proved to be rather elusive. As the cool-headed right-back from when I started watching Bury in 1988, he was an important player in my personal history of supporting the club. I always wanted to talk to him but could never pin him down, despite the fact he still lived locally.
I gave up my page in the programme after the 2008/09 season once my contact list had grown perilously short. Not long after, my mate Rob came through with a number for Hill by virtue of him having gone to school with his son, Scott, and the two still keeping in touch. It wasn’t enough to persuade me to reboot ‘the History Boys’ but I was still suitably miffed when I accidentally deleted the text containing the number.
As the idea for The Forgotten Fifteen began to germinate, I had to call on my friend again to get the number once more. Rob passed Scott’s number and also his Twitter ID on to me and we exchanged a few messages. Gloriously, after a few drinks on a Saturday night during the close season when there was no other football to occupy me, a text arrived from Scott with Andy’s number.
The following day I called Andy but only succeeded in reaching his voicemail. I didn’t hear back from him until the next day, when the text notification on my phone alerted me to a message from the first ever Bury player I saw play with a number 2 on his back. I texted back immediately and arranged a suitable time to call so we could speak to each other. It was agreed that I’d ring that lunchtime.
On a blazing sunny day, I sat on the steps into the offices of the factory where I was working and rang one of my first football heroes. Andy outlined his general free time of each week and after consulting my own diary we settled on a Sunday afternoon, June 17th, at the Village Hotel in Bury.
As I waited for the day in question to arrive, I busied myself with more research and more interviews for the project. I also met Scott for the first time in the Hare and Hounds in Holcombe Brook. He brought with him a treasure trove, a battered suitcase that was stuffed with memorabilia from his dad’s career that his granddad had kept hold of. I must have looked a sight, sitting in the pub with a daft look of glee on my face, going through photographs of football matches played almost 30 years ago. Scott kindly lent me the photos and programmes and the scanned images proved a thrilling, very real cornerstone of my research.
His solid-as-an-oak handshake cemented the notion I had of him as being a guy you want on your side
As the week leading up to the interview progressed, I interviewed three other former players spread across hundreds of miles. I met Kevin Young in Durham, John Bramhall in Manchester later on in the same day, then Winston White in Birmingham two days later. Before being lulled to sleep on the train after saying goodbye to Winston, I fired off a text to Andy asking if we were still OK for our meeting.
It turns out that we weren’t. Neither of us had realised that the June 17th was Fathers’ Day. It was to be Andy’s first as a grandfather and a day that still retained its importance to me and my dad too, so a mutual re-arrangement was on the cards. We revised our plans to the following week and switched the venue to the Mason’s Arms in Ramsbottom.
The Mason’s is still refreshingly as it was and largely untouched by the gentrification of Rammy, which lent the venue a similar charm to that which Hill possessed as a player. It was a no-nonsense meeting place for an interview with a no-nonsense defender. His solid-as-an-oak handshake cemented the notion I had of him as being a guy you want on your side and his interview went on to prove that, as he spoke with terrific affection and humour about his time at Gigg Lane.