2009/10: The season Richard Wilkins' Bury Town caught fire to ignite golden period at Ram Meadow
It is 10 years since Bury Town captured the Southern League title. RUSSELL CLAYDON caught up with some of the players involved.
Bury Town followers may have had a long wait of 41 years for their fourth league championship but when it arrived in 2009/10 it really was something special.
Not only did they break the 100-point barrier (102) but the 115 goals scored was the most across three divisions, leading to Richard Wilkins’ side being awarded the Southern League Merit Cup.
It wasn’t bad for a side, with only a few additions including Neil Andrews and Chris Henderson joining in the summer, who had been heartbroken at missing out on the play-offs having come seventh 12 months earlier.
Despite only losing four games from 42 (one 5-4), amazingly, their Zamaretto League Division One Midlands 2010 title went right down to the last game of the season.
But a 10th straight victory (3-0) was sewn up in the first half against Marlow infront of a still league club record attendance of 1,550 at Ram Meadow to ensure chasing Hitchin were left two points adrift.
A decade on from the wonderful scenes of fans spilling on to the pitch to celebrate with the players, it still evokes great memories from those who featured in royal blue.
For Ben Coker, who scored 19 goals from midfield and full-back roles, to top the club’s charts with Sam Reed and Lee Underwood, it was the launchpad to a professional career with Colchester United and Southend.
“Honestly, I still tell people it was one of the best times of my career,” said the 30-year-old current Lincoln City player who has been out on loan at Cambridge United.
“With that group it was so special. We were all so close and we used to all go out and do everything together.”
Goalkeeper Marcus Garnham described that team as ‘phenomenal’ but felt the influence of a wily old head, in former professional Gavin Johnson, proved to be pivotal.
“Most of us were just kids and if we did not have someone like Gav I do not think we would have been half the team we were,” he said.
“He just brought us together and was a tremendous character on and off the pitch.”
Underwood’s contribution, with all his 19 goals coming from his arrival from Tiptree in early December, was also widely praised from his team-mates as being key to holding off Hitchin’s challenge.
Strike partner Sam Reed, who was in his second full season since signing from Cambridge City, said: “He just came in and was like a breath of fresh air. We didn’t need much but just someone to kick us on a bit and he was that.
“It was a shame he went to America straight after that because he would have been brilliant for the club and I’m sure he would have gone on to do big things.
“He was a completely different player to what me and Kieran (Leabon) were.”
The campaign had begun with a bang with a 6-3 win at Atherstone Town before a Tuesday night 2-1 home win against Biggleswade Town.
Like the previous season, there was a great FA Cup run which narrowly saw the Blues miss out on consecutive first round proper appearances with a 2-1 defeat at Oxford City.
It came after memorable wins against Bedford Town, Matlock Town and King’s Lynn.
It left a hefty schedule of matches to catch up on though, but amazingly the team went unbeaten in their last 16 games to clinch the title.
The 0-0 draw at home to challengers Hitchin on the evening of March 23 showed another side to the great entertainers though.
Sam Reed recalls an air of invincibility took hold.
“After that Hitchin game we had 10 games to go and my brother (Lee Reed, who scored 16 goals) said to the whole team ‘seven wins will win this’.
“They (Hitchin) drew their next game and dropped their last game and we won 10 on the bounce which is just incredible.
“We were just going into games expecting to win towards the end.
“It was not being disrespectful to the other teams, it was just we were on a run and we knew how good we were and the strength in depth we had. The bench was always very, very strong so no-one felt you had to do it yourselves, you always knew the other players were there for you.”
Everything rested on beating Marlow though on a scorching late April Saturday.
“Kieran scored a hat-trick that day and it was a really weird second half,” said Coker.
“I remember thinking ‘we’ve won it’ and it was kind of like walking pace. It was a really weird end to the game.
“That night was a great night out in Bury and we had some really good nights in the town after our home wins.”
Garnham recalls: “We have heard half their team had gone to a wedding!
“Wilks said to us we just needed to focus and keep going doing our own thing and it will come. And it did.
“It was brilliant with all the fans.
“Wardy (Russell Ward) the chairman then let off fireworks at the end in 30 degree heat, so you could hear them but not see them! I won’t forget that.”
More by this authorRussell Claydon