PLAY-OFF defeat to Lowestoft Town last season may have been heartbreaking to everyone involved with Bury Town, but it may not have been the worst thing to happen to the Blues.
Since taking over as chairman in August 2001, Russell Ward has helped lead Bury out of a financial abyss to a position where they could become the main tenants of a new community football scheme in the town.
That move would see the Blues play in a ground up to Football Association regulations for the second tier of non-League football, whereas Ward estimates it would cost the club £50,000 to spruce up Ram Meadow for Conference North or South football.
“At the time, I was disappointed to lose to Lowestoft in the play-offs, but you look at the bigger picture and we’re still building the club,” said Ward. “There have been other clubs that have gone up and come straight back down the next year. That’s not what we want.
“There would also have been improvements needed to be made to the ground. I would imagine it would have cost us £50,000 to get the ground up to standard by the end of the year otherwise we would have been relegated.
“That would have been £50,000 virtually thrown away because we are looking to move at some point. To tie promotion in with a move would be the best option.”
Off-the-field success has mirrored the progress made on the field, with Bury’s early financial problems coming when they were relegated back to the Ridgeons League.
Since then, Ward has guided them into the black, while manager Richard Wilkins has created a team good enough to be competing at the very top of the Ryman League Premier Division, finishing third last season.
“We’ve steadily built,” said the chairman who also owns his own business in the town, West Suffolk Motor Factors. “We have players who have been with us since their college days — Lee Smith has also come back to us, who was with us in his early playing days.
“They are all good players who I feel could play at a higher level, but we want them to play at a higher level with us.”
He added: “The highlight has got to be when we were champions of the Zamaretto Midlands Division. It was one of those seasons when everything fell into place.”
Despite the success, Ward refuses to get carried away, and although there is clearly a dream to be playing Conference football one day, he will not sacrifice his principles to get there.
“We won’t go out and make rash statements about what we’re going to do,” he said. “We just get along and do our own thing.
“Yes, we would like to get promotion this year. If we did get promotion and it was Blue Square Bet North it would be really tough, but it depends how the league pans out.
“We’re not going to go out and say we’re title favourites — we’re just going to have the best season we can as we have always done.
“Finance plays a big part in the football club and we won’t break the bank for anything.
“While I’m in charge, that’s the way it will be.
“You see clubs with money thrown at them and it’s always short-lived because as soon as the person walks away the club invariably is worse than when they came.
“If someone came along and wanted to get involved with Bury Town, they would have to have the right credentials behind them and the right background — someone who has an interest in Bury, not just because they have lots of money.”
n Next week, in the final article of this three-part series, Ward talks about moving forward, the proposed new ground and how Bury Town have become more integrated with youth football.