The Forgotten Fifteen

How Bury triumphed in British football's worst year

Craig Madden at Hartwood Hall Hotel in Chorley.

Craig Madden

The big one. Craig Madden was not just a vital member of the squad for this project, he’s one of the most important people to talk to in the history of Bury Football Club. The diminutive, nippy striker who signed from local homeless non-league side Northern Nomads went on to be the club’s all-time record goalscorer who, for many fans, defines events at Gigg Lane in the 1980s.

I’d interviewed Craig before on two separate occasions. Although I had plenty of quotes from these conversations about the pitfalls of driving around in a sponsored Lada (as he did whilst at Bury), I had little in the way of in-depth analysis of Bury’s triumph in British football’s worst year. Chancing my arm and thinking that the worst he could say would be ‘No’, I put an interview request in to Fleetwood Town’s press officer, who Craig was now working with in his capacity as assistant manager at the Cod Army. Again, it yielded a positive result and my hat-trick interview, with the man whose nickname arose when playful scamp Alan Whitehead told the public address operator at Plymouth Argyle that the C. Madden in Bury’s line-up was called Charlie, was on.

But Mr Madden wasn’t going to be the only person called Craig I’d be meeting at Chorley station on a balmy summer evening. One of the main driving forces behind the idea for the book as it germinated from a seed to a feasible idea was my friend Craig Clarkson. He asked if he could attend the interview too. I had no qualms about this at all. As someone who was there for this season, my mate would be able to steer the conversation down tangential avenues that I might not necessarily have considered. He could give a deeper, richer impression of what the occupants of the Manchester Road End were watching in the mid-1980s.

I also felt I owed Craig a huge debt of gratitude, which is why I didn’t hesitate to reply positively when he asked if he could come along and meet his Bury hero. When I bought my first ever copies of it in the early-90s, Craig was the editor of the Bury fanzine, ‘Where Were You At the Shay?’ (a title which drew inspiration from where Bury’s promotion in the 1984/85 season was sealed, despite the Shakers not playing that night in Halifax). I felt that everything I’d ever written about the club stemmed from his decisions to publish articles. His editorial judgment gave me the confidence to write something, frequently anything, loosely connected to Bury Football Club with the knowledge that someone might find it interesting. I can safely say that without WWYATS? you would not be reading this now.

The fanzine boom of the mid-80s was rough and ready with its typewriters, glue and grainy photocopiers, but it gave supporters a new and important voice. This has now been taken to the Nth degree on internet message boards, but it’s easy to understate the vitality that this offered back then. Whilst Craig himself did not set Bury fans collectively onto this road, he did so for me personally by being at the helm when I started to take notice of reading, writing and football.

He was as excited as a child on Christmas Eve when I met him in the car park at the station. We were both early for the appointment and in the time we had spare, Craig handed me a plastic bag that still had its ‘Football 86 album’ branding visible on the front of it ("Plus 6 free stickers"). I felt a similar surge of excitement to his at meeting Craig Madden and tentatively reached in. I pulled twenty-six brochures from the bag. My friend had dug out and lent me each home programme from the season, including from the Centenary celebration game against Manchester City which took place after promotion had been confirmed. I abandoned all cares about appearances and hugged Craig Clarkson in the car park of Chorley railway station in appreciation of his time, his gesture and his actions in speaking up in football’s dark days.

We made our way down to the ramp outside the station entrance to wait for the man himself but he was already there. Looking in ruder health than a man his age had any right to, Bury Football Club’s record goalscorer of all time greeted us through the open passenger window and urged us to climb into his car and we’d find a pub at which to do the interview. I think my friend Craig must have felt that this scenario had more than a touch of the Billy Ocean about it; Craig Madden had got out of his dreams and was telling him to get into his car.

Craig Clarkson meets Craig Madden

Madden is an easy man to talk to, what with him being so laid back he’s practically horizontal, and the conversation flowed easily between all three of us as we travelled to a Harvester-type pub on the outskirts of the Lancashire market town. Walking into the pub, the former footballer headed to the bar first and asked us what we wanted. Playing it safe with a request for a pint each, my friend and I went to get a table: "Craig Madden’s buying me a pint," muttered Mr Clarkson to no-one in particular, or more likely himself to reassure himself that this was happening, as we settled down.

With the digital recorder whirring on the table in front of us, Craig Madden treated my friend and I to what was less an interview and more the beginnings of a career on the after-dinner circuit. The born raconteur told his anecdotes superbly with warmth and humour. He also introduced the more unknown elements of his time at Bury – such as which clubs wanted to sign him and at which points of his Gigg Lane career – with a refreshing frankness. He had us both dissolving into tears of laughter with tales about the post-season trip to Ibiza that could never see the light of day in a book unless the laws of libel were so relaxed to the point that they no longer existed.

With the digital recorder whirring on the table in front of us, Craig Madden treated my friend and I to what was less an interview and more the beginnings of a career on the after-dinner circuit.

The programmes lent to me earlier that evening played their first important role in the project just minutes after being handed over as the two-and-a-half hour conversation developed. The former footballer studied the opposition line-ups, pen pictures and squad shots meticulously and was able to recall long-forgotten games in an instant. "I remember scoring past him..." he’d say, as the pixelated image of a goalkeeper at a pre-season photocall suddenly came to life as a ghost at a Fourth Division ground in his mind’s eye. It was exciting, humbling and fascinating to watch.

When transcribed, the interview ran to a colossal 18,000 words. As one of the dual strike-force alongside Wayne Entwistle who luckily remained injury-free across the course of the season, I knew before I got into his car that Craig Madden was always going to be one of the most important figures to talk to about the season. As we said our goodbyes back in that same train station car park three hours later, I knew that Craig Clarkson had been an integral part of the evening too. He’d done exactly what I’d hoped he would which made both Craigs as important as each other in making this particular interview a success.