2009/10: Richard Wilkins on how Blues kept going through punishing schedule of games to lift Southern League Midlands title
With 18 league games still to play, plus a Suffolk Premier Cup semi-final against Ipswich Town, across the last two months of their 2009/10 campaign, Bury Town’s claim on the Southern League title could have very easily slipped out of their grasp.
Their run to the fourth qualifying round of the FA Cup had been great for the club’s finances and morale once again, but left them playing catch up in the league.
But like all good managers, Richard Wilkins had found what proved to be the solution which saw them keep ahead of Hitchin in the race for the Zamaretto League Division One Midlands title and elevation to Step 3.
The goals were flowing in nicely from multiple sources across the team when former Colchester United captain Wilkins had the foresight to strengthen his attack for the run-in.
Lee Underwood was plucked from Tiptree for his predatory instincts in early December, and soon handsomely repaid his new manager’s faith in him with 19 goals. It left him level pegging with Sam Reed and penalty king Ben Coker in the end-of-season goal charts, despite only playing half a season.
But it was the rotation policy Wilkins was able to operate up front to such good effect that he believes was the key to managing a punishing run-in.
“We had some really, really good players,” he said. “Also we were playing a lot of Tuesday, Thursday, Saturdays as we had had a decent cup run and were behind with games.
“And that is where the squad came in. I remember the front three of Lee Underwood, Kieran Leabon and Sam Reed.
“I started two and there was a rotation every game with one coming off after 60 minutes for about the last dozen games.
“They all had pace and scored goals and we had to make sure we looked after them. They were pivotal to us.
“Players want to play and the fact you would turn up at a place on a Thursday knowing you were going to start as sub (is tough). But there was no moaning and the three of them knew what we needed to do. And I think that was the biggest thing for me.
“I felt it a few times when I was a professional footballer but I felt it during that period, probably the first time and I haven’t felt it much before.
“Everybody was 100 per cent focused. You could see it in their eyes.
“As a professional footballer you can see how people are going to play in a big game.
“I saw it in our players’ eyes over the last 10 to 12 games that they was a massive focus from every individual and as a team that we can do something special.”
That the Blues went on to go unbeaten through their last 16 games and win their last 10 straight, despite the heavy fixture pile-up, showed that something special did indeed come from a special group.
And this was just the start with some more memorable campaigns to follow after the club’s transfer back into the Ryman (Isthmian) League in 2010/11 and their first ever foray into the Premier Division at Step 3.
“Everyone in football knows the jump from level 4 to level 3 in the non-league pyramid is absolutely massive. And we were able not just to win that Zamaretto League but go into the Isthmian then and do really well for two or three seasons in the top five,” said Wilkins, who had built a squad over the years without splashing the cash, drawing from and developing Danny Laws’ West Suffolk College football school pupils he was working with in his day job.
“I think it just proved what a great squad it was. People come and go but that was a hell of an achievement because it is the biggest jump in non-league football, there is no question about it.”
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More by this authorRussell Claydon