Bury AFC bowed out of the Emirates FA Cup at the weekend at the Final Qualifying Round as the last NWCFL standing in the competition, a case of so near yet so far. It has been an epic debut season in the World's Oldest Cup Competition for the Premier Division side, starting at Hallam in just the second week of the season and ending before a club record home crowd of 2069 and a lot of memories along the way.
Full-time York, flying high in the National League the top of the Non-League game, opened the scoring in the 9th minute when Olly Dyson netted from the edge of the box with some ease through a sea of Bury legs. Many wondered how many it would end up being. However they took time to steady the ship and gradually they took a foothold in the game and refused to be dominated. Having weathered the storm, they began to put attacks together and Connor Comber had a shot saved, then hit one from some distance, which hit the junction between the post and the crossbar. York had another chance but the half finished at 0-1.
Heavy rain pre-match had had little effect on the excellent surface and it held up well during the showers which came down for much of the game. Bury kept pushing and probing against their higher ranked opponents, constantly building momentum as they surged forward, seeking the equaliser. It looked to have come towards the 70th minute when a cross found Harry Brazel and he headed into the York net, however his joy was short-lived as the assistant referee flagged him offside – a tight and controversial decision!
Bury did not have to wait long to get on level terms and the lively Lewis Gilboy scored with a well-placed shot from out on the left, beating York goalie Ethan Ross at his far post. The crowd went into overdrive and York appeared to have no answer and Bury threw everything forward looking for a winner. Sadly, against the run of play and with only four minutes of normal time remaining, they were caught out and York dashed upfield where captain Mitch Hancox scored from about 25 yards out to take the spoils back to the Minster City.
Not even six minutes of added time could produce a leveller for Bury, who could feel very proud of themselves for getting so far in this season’s competition. As mentioned, the run started at Northern Counties East League side Hallam and a 0-0 draw, with Jack Coop writing his name in the Bury history books by scoring the clubs' first ever goal in the competition as they won the replay 1-0. Northern Premier League West side Widnes were next, with second half goals from Chris Rowney abd Anton Smith securing a 2-0 win, with Bury then selected to be screened live by the BBC in the next round as they took on another Northern Premier League side in North Shields.
They conceded their first goal of the cup run but goals from Niall Cummins and Connor Comber saw them through 2-1. Next up was an away trip to Northern Premier League Premier Division side Lancaster City, two divisions higher, with Bury securing a replay after Lewis Gilboy scored in a 1-1 draw. The replay was a special night, falling behind early on before Connor Comber and a Ben Wharton swung the game Bury's way. Lancaster levelled, but a second half double from Lewis Gilboy and one from Anton Smith made it five, with a late consolation making the scoreline 5-3.
The draw was kind to Bury with Northern Premier League West Clitheroe waiting in the Third Qualifying Round. Again they conceded early but Connor Comber secured a 1-1 draw with a goal at the start of the second half. The third replay of the run saw Bury win 2-0, goals either side of half time from Benjamin Wharton and Lewis Gilboy seeing them through to face Bury.
Chairman Marcel de Matas was understandably proud of his team saying "We have beaten four clubs from higher leagues on the way and very nearly took a Step 1 club to what would’ve been a well deserved replay. This year’s FA Cup has been a fabulous experience for our club.
"Everybody at our club should be immensely proud of what we’ve achieved, not solely the players, who have been a credit to the NWCFL but also our volunteers, without whom we would not have been able to put on a matches of such magnitude, particularly the match against York City.
"Our success in the competition has really raised the profile of the club and we’ve seen new supporters taking their first steps into the non-league scene, with some supporters of the historical Bury Football Club attending for the first time and enjoying the experience.
"Our exploits in this season’s competition have exemplified greatly what it is to be a fan owned club, with everybody playing their role in reaching such an advanced stage of the competition.
"I think we’ve really shown that we have talented and capable squad in progressing against higher league opposition. Hopefully we’ll now take that form into the league and be there or thereabouts come the end of the season."
Matchday Secretary Andrew Corns echoed his Chairman's view, saying "I think everyone connected with the club are not too downhearted following our FA Cup defeat . In fact it is the complete opposite, the fans Facebook page were all of a similar tone about the immense pride with the team, Andy and the coaching team.
"York players were commenting how hard it was with the game plan that Andy had put in place and the way our players performed. The match officials said exactly the same, saying you couldn’t tell that there were four divisions separating the two teams.
"New faces have come along this season and hopefully those extra people who came to the York match will have seen a performance by the team that they liked and will return again.
"The performances in the FA Cup have been great and the players can take a lot from those performances and Andy will want them to transition to the league performances with the fans behind them as the 12th man".
Speaking after the game, Manager Andy Welsh could not quite believe it saying "It's crazy that we have just played in the FA Cup 4th Round Qualifying in what was our 9th game in the FA Cup this season.
"We as a club are so proud to have beaten higher opposition and stepping out in front of a sell out crowd against a team four divisions higher, from the fans, players and staff, this would not have happened without all the voluntary work that goes in which underpins not just our club but every North West Counties League Club.
"I think we gave an excellent account of ourselves and I hope everyone outside of our club can see that both on the football side and off the field.
For the final word we bring in Glyn Jones, a League Management Committee Member, who has been at a number of Bury games in the Cup as well as Saturday's game against York. He said "The York game was a marvellous exhibition of David against Goliath. York scored early on and threatened to dominate, but Bury eventually got a foothold in the game, rebuilt their confidence and the second half was all one way traffic.
"They looked to have equalised, only for the goal to be disallowed for offside. Not to be denied they pushed forward again and levelled through Gilboy and then threw everything against York to try to win the tie. York caught them on the counter-attack late on to win it themselves, with one of the few chances they had in the half.
"Bury were devastated, but their fans were over the moon that they had done the club and the town proud, before a record crowd of 2069. They were all heroes and the fans applauded both sides off the field at the end. Well done Bury."