The Forgotten Fifteen

How Bury triumphed in British football's worst year

Joe Jakub in the Queen's Head in Chester.

Joe Jakub

Directory Enquiries Online is an astonishing website. To think that so many telephone numbers are available online for a mere subscription fee must rankle with those who are convinced the government are spying on our every move. But to the researcher tasked with getting in touch with different people for whatever reason, it’s become something of a godsend. So it proved when trying to find a number for Joe Jakub years ago, for an interview for Bury’s matchday magazine.

Sensibly, uses the same principles as the 118 numbers when determining which telephone numbers it makes available for public consumption. So if you’re ex-directory in the paper copy, your number doesn’t show online either. Joe’s number didn’t fall into this category after I searched the website for him using his birth name Yanek. I called him and got enough for my 500 words for the matchday magazine.

The chat I had with Joe for the programme was only brief, but it was good natured. With his delightful Scottish burr, my subject sounded like a character from one of my favourite sitcoms, BBC Scotland’s wonderful Still Game.

Flatteringly, Joe remembered me when I called for a second time to enquire after his interest in this project. He replied instantly that being interviewed again would not be a problem and we put our heads together to find a mutually suitable date for me to travel to North Wales, where the Jakubs had settled after Joe saw out his career with Chester City.

Joe Jakub, the engine room of the side who everyone said could run all day, had turned the ignition key – and we were off

Happily, I was due in the ancient walled city next to the River Dee in a few weeks time. A friend owned a bar and comedy club there where he was going to host his birthday party and I had already booked into a swish hotel so I could make a weekend of it. It seemed a shame to be so near to the man who would be the first interviewee for the Forgotten Fifteen and not talk to him, so Joe and I agreed to meet underneath the Eastgate Clock on the Saturday afternoon. Neither of us said we’d wear a red carnation in our lapels so we could spot who the other was. Face to face interviews are naturally a different beast to their counterparts on the phone and I felt tremendously nervous as I waited under what is apparently one of the most photographed clocks in the world. I was still unsure if the project I was planning even had a feasible lifespan, never mind the prospect of interviewing former Bury players who I’d never seen play. I would be relying solely on research rather than my own clear memories for my line of questioning.

As it was, Joe Jakub soothed those nerves instantly. It turned out that he was the smart-looking gentleman walking with his wife who I’d passed on a circular walk, taken to kill time before the rendezvous. That Scottish twang that tumbled effortlessly down the phone line helped me relax as we introduced ourselves, as did the short walk to a pub where he went straight to the bar and got us a pint each. He was carrying a plastic bag that contained pristine programmes from when the matchday magazine was nothing more than pamphlet which frequently contained information such as supporters’ club domino match results rather than in-depth features on day-to-day club life. It felt like such a privilege that he’d gone through his collection and dug out some relics for the sole purpose of this meeting which provided a very timely fillip to the self-belief needed for the entire project.

After an hour of Joe’s memories of playing under Martin Dobson and the story of how he came to leave Bury for Holland, we parted with a friendly handshake. It had been a much more exciting interview than I’d ever given the idea credit for; the project had begun and I couldn’t wait for the next chat with someone, anyone, from Bury’s 1984/85 season.

Joe Jakub, the engine room of the side who everyone said could run all day, had turned the ignition key – and we were off.