BY RICHARD BEEDIE
The year 1985 was not a good one for English football; it was best known for the terrible disasters that were the Bradford City fire and the Heysel Stadium riot. Both events caused catastrophic loss of life for those unfortunate to get caught up in it when all they were doing was going to a football match. Aside from such disasters, the English game found itself in the grip of football hooliganism, with riots inside and outside grounds commonplace, none more so than at St. Andrews, Birmingham, where on the same day as the Bradford fire a stand-off between the home fans and those visiting from Leeds United saw a 12-foot wall collapse killing 15-year-old Ian Hambridge.
Against this backdrop of misery, in a quiet corner of east Lancashire, Bury F.C. were setting a remarkable record that in the modern game of squad rotation is unlikely to be repeated and it’s this story that first-time author, and life-long Bury fan, James Bentley sets out to tell in his book ‘The Forgotten Fifteen’.
The little Lancashire club achieved one of its rare promotions in 1985, from the then fourth division, under the guidance of former Burnley and Everton midfielder Martin Dobson. The ex-England international completing the task using just fifteen players along the way.
Bentley, little more than a toddler at the time the events took place, had been fascinated by his father’s tales of those fifteen heroes and set about telling their lost story some thirty years on. Bentley intertwines reports from the local newspaper with interviews with all but one of the fifteen – centre forward John Kerr having sadly passed away in 2006 – and the coaching staff along with memories of fans from the season, not forgetting the dark back drop of events elsewhere as he makes his way through the season chronologically.
As a Bury fan, a mere teenager at the time of the events, the book was always going to be of interest and doesn’t disappoint. As well as bringing back to life fond memories of a first promotion for me it brings a new perspective to events through the eyes and the words of a squad whose togetherness at that time shines through.
The author, given he wasn’t privy to the events at the time, tells the story of Bury and football in 1985 in general, with a remarkable depth and feeling that clearly comes from his lifelong association with club. Some may view the book as simply a jaunt down memory lane for Bury fans but I feel it conveys much more; It tells a story of a remarkable achievement – even in the 1980s – that can resonate with any football fan, whilst setting in context the modern English game and its current popularity around the world and how, not that long ago, it was very much different.
Whatever your team this is a book worth reading, as a triumph of team spirit and a history lesson to those fortunate enough not to witness the dark past to our beautiful game.