Bury Town Away: a lovely brewery town, only two hours away by train, with a great little football ground which allows ales on the terraces. So surely, given the guarantee of such a good day out, there was a big crew boarding the 10:45 from Kings Cross? Sadly not: only three of us bothered to make the journey. Still, three’s company and four’s a crowd (or something like that), and so we gamely soldiered on and made a day of it anyway.
Matt was trying to make up for the lack of numbers by encouraging an early start to the drinking, offering me a Carlsberg at precisely 9:30 on the train into town from Kingston – “you may as well, they’re cold, and if they get warm they’re going to be horrible” – which I politely declined, knowing I’d be in a dire state if I started drinking at that ungodly hour of the morning. After a worrying 10:30 phone call – “err, I’m sort of in a taxi at the moment” – Henry managed to get to Kings Cross in the nick of time and the three of us boarded the busy 10:45 train to Cambridge. As everybody knows, the normal rules of social etiquette are suspended on weekend train services, and as a result of this peculiar British tradition, none of us felt remotely guilty when cracking open the Carlsbergs at 11am. Although Matt was right: they were horrible. A quick change at Cambridge later and we were out of the air-conditioned train at Bury St Edmunds and into a lovely, warm Suffolk day.
Our first stop on the short walk into town was the Old Cannon Brewery, because it ticked every box. Great ales? Check – it’s a microbrewery! Good food? Check. And most importantly of all on what was possibly the last day of summer: Beer Garden? Check. Once we’d all settled down in the sunny courtyard with a pint and some grub, it was time to talk through the season so far and what we could expect from those in hoops later on. The general consensus was that Dowse had already done the hard bit at this level, having successfully put together a side that’s dangerous going forward, and that we’d improve defensively as the season went on. As far as the day’s game went, Matt in particular was worried we’d miss McCollin, whereas Henry was more worried about the lack of a proper left-back. Sadly it turned out they were both right.
Time was marching on, and so we departed the Old Cannon and walked into the pleasant market town, as no visit to Bury is complete without a pint in the Nutshell, which claims to be the UK’s smallest pub. Apparently that’s disputed, but even if it’s not actually the smallest it’s still an impressively tiny boozer, and as the local by-laws mean you can’t even step a foot outside the door with your pint, it certainly feels small enough once there’s more than half a dozen people inside.
The notes of various currencies from around the world stuck on the walls and ceiling gives it great character, although it was noticeable how tight-fisted all the American visitors were compared to locals and Europeans: a one dollar bill isn’t really much of a “gift”, is it, Uncle Sam? A top notch pint of IPA from the very local Greene King brewery was the reward for squeezing in, and the three of us spent the next twenty minutes or so enjoying our pints while laughing at full-time S*tton’s struggles in the Conference South. What price the two clubs swapping divisions in May – and how hilarious would that be?
A combination of the warm day and some slightly over-enthusiastic ale drinking necessitated a stop for an ice cream on the way to Bury’s ground. It turned out that this was a seriously good ice cream van, and although Matt’s rum and raisin didn’t have the desired sobering effect on the big man – “This has got so much rum in you’d get children drunk on it…in fact, I think you’d get me drunk on it” – he was sorely tempted to go back for more.
After paying £10 to get in to get into Crown Meadow – the same ridiculous price that it is at Kingsmeadow – the three of us realised we’d been so keen not to repeat the mistake of 2010 (when we’d managed to miss the opening 10 minutes of the entire season) that we had enough time to get a drink from the bar and soak up some more sun before kick off. Sitting down in what passed for Bury Town FC’s beer garden (a pub table in the corner of the ground) was proving to be so relaxing that we somehow contrived to miss the start of the game, and duly scuttled round behind the goal K’s were attacking a couple of minutes in.
It was immediately obvious that our group’s poor attendance was mirrored in all the other small groups who make up the K’s travelling support. For a sunny September Saturday, this was a really tinpot away following, almost as small as the followings of the clubs we like to mock for their lack of numbers at away games. There were just 17 (SEVENTEEN!) behind-the-goalers, and no more than 25-30 standing down the side. I’m not criticising – it’s still a bigger away support than most at this level, and my attendance record is dire compared to many of those ‘missing’ on Saturday – but I can only hope this was a one off, because part of the fun of following K’s away from home is the knowledge that there’ll be a sizeable number of like-minded souls inside the ground. Such a large proportion of our hardcore fan-base travels away from home week-in, week-out, that as a new Kingstonian fan you feel as if you ‘should’ travel away as well. That’s certainly why I started going to away games 10 years ago, in an era when K’s had a phenomenal away support, and I really hope this game wasn’t the first signs of that tradition dying out. Is this an overreaction to one game? Possibly – but there were games last season where our following was less than impressive, and this away day really did have everything going for it. We need to up our game, or even better, attract some new fans…now there’s a novel idea.
When the surprise at the lack of numbers had abated, those of us who were there put in a concerted effort to up the decibel level in the early stages. Given that there were only 17 of us (have I mentioned that?) singing, I’m not sure any of the noise made it out onto the pitch, but we felt we had to try: the locals don’t bother, so it’s up to the away fans to create the atmosphere. K’s started well, passing the ball around in the middle third and looking for attacking opportunities. As the minutes ticked by, K’s began to control the game, but were unable to create any clear-cut chances as a result of all the possession; Bury were seeing less of the ball but their more direct approach seemed to be more threatening.
We’ll never know how this interesting clash of styles would have turned out, as Byron Napper got himself sent off in pretty stupid fashion. His first challenge on Bury’s right-winger was nothing more than mistimed, and he was perhaps unlucky to be booked. He followed this up minutes later with a second poor tackle (in almost exactly the same part of the pitch), and the referee had a long conversation with him to let him know that any more bad challenges and he’d be off; before Dowse could even think of subbing him, he’d dived in AGAIN with the worst challenge of the three, leaving the ref no option but to give him a red card. This was stupid Sunday league stuff, and he really did let his team-mates down. The rest of the half was monumentally average, as K’s reshuffled into a 4-4-1 and held on until the break.
Half time brought an annoyingly narrow miss in the lucrative 50/50 draw, and trip to the bar for a much-needed drink for the second half, in preparation for an expected Bury Town onslaught against our ten men. Such an onslaught never really arrived, however, partly due to K’s resilience, and partly due to Bury’s shortcomings. K’s kept the ball well, and kept their shape even better, frustrating the opposition and negating their man advantage for long periods. Bury were unable to move the ball around quickly enough, and didn’t seem to possess the flair and individual artistry needed in the final third to break down our determined back line. Annoyingly, their winning goal was a particularly poor goal to concede with ten men, a header from a corner. In fairness, Bury were by far the better side after the goal, as K’s had to look to come forward and lost shape as a result, but due to a couple of good Rob Tolfrey saves Blues didn’t manage to add to the scoresheet.
At the other end of the pitch, Bury were fully in control. The closest K’s came to an equaliser was a 25-yard Matt Pattison free-kick which was tipped behind by Marcus Garnham, the always-affable Bury ‘keeper, and as such they held on for the win, despite the K’s players’ best efforts. Bury were exceptionally well organised, and it’s worth dwelling on this point. In the professional game, calling another side “well-organised” is a back-handed compliment, implying that they’re limited, short of ideas and defensive in outlook. It’s the adjective Arsene Wenger uses to describe Stoke when he doesn’t want to pick a fight with Tony Pulis. In the semi-professional game, it’s just about the biggest compliment you can give the opposition: these lads only train together for two evenings a week, and you’ve got to be a seriously good coach and tactician to get a group of players gelled into a cohesive defensive unit with that limited amount of time working together. But would Bury have been so comfortable against K’s with eleven men? And, to take the point further, would Bury have been so comfortable against eleven men spearheaded by Andre McCollin, Wade Small or Mark Nwokeji? Sadly we won’t know until the return fixture.
After pausing to gawp at the most unusual (and most burnt down) part of Bury’s ground, which we’d somehow missed the first time round, it was time for a pint in the bar and a chat with a couple of Bury regulars, who were impressed by our passing style, but mainly by Rob Tolfrey. One old boy reckoned that “we’ve just seen the two best keepers at this level today”, and it was hard to disagree with him. After a long interrogation about the absence of Bobby Traynor – “he was top class, that boy, you’ll miss him” – we all agreed that both sides would be up there at the end of the season. Bury are simply too good defensively to fail to make the top 5, and if K’s can compete with such a good side with ten men for an hour, missing our best three strikers, then I’ve still got faith that we’ll be up there too.
After a dash to Tesco for the all-important supplies for the journey home, all that was left was to board the train back to London slightly deflated by the result, but happy with a good day out nevertheless. Next up, three weeks (hopefully) in a row of cup football. Bring it on.