Tuesday 14th March 2017, League One
With it looking fairly unlikely at this late point in the season that Rovers would be going either up or down in the league this year, I wasn't massively looking to go to any more away games. However legendary Gas Marie Curie fundraiser Matt, aka The Rovers Ram, very kindly offered me a spot in his car and as I had the afternoon off work anyway it seemed that I wouldn't get a better opportunity to tick off this far-flung and historic league ground.
Based in the Greater Manchester town of Bury, the Shakers had most of their success prior to the World Wars winning a duo of FA Cups in 1900 and 1903. Bury were so successful in the first half of the 20th century that they didn't leave the top two divisions of the football league until 1957, an impressive 63 seasons. Since then they've been a lower league outfit but they did have a brief stint in the Championship in the late 90s. Rovers had a long-shot chance of reaching the play-offs, sitting in 8th place, 4 points from 6th-placed Millwall but with games in hand for the teams around them. Bury on the other hand were facing a relegation scrap, in 19th place, two places above the drop zone, 3 points above 21st placed Port Vale.
We set off from Parkway at 2:30 in the Ramobile, stopping only briefly in a lay-by to allow Terry to answer nature's call and have a little jog. We found plenty of space to park up upon arriving at Gigg Lane and dived into the club bar which was full of the ever-present away day faces of the supporters club coach. If this wasn't enough of a home comfort for the travelling West Country faithful, the clubhouse had Kingston Press on tap along with the standard mysterious brown northern ales called things like Courageous Victory, Grubby Sheep Best and John Robert Frank Steve's Bitter.
Bury have been at Gigg Lane since 1885 but it was completely rebuilt to modern standards in the 1990s. It is now an all-seated, all-covered ground with a capacity of 11,840. It's quite a wide and open feeling ground especially when you come in the visitors entrance and walk through the empty corner towards the Cemetery End where away fans are seated. All the four stands in the ground are of a similar height and are single-tiered with fairy shallow elevation. Only the main stand has any kind of elevated seating with small sets of steps leading up to it. The Cemetery End and Les Hart Stand curve into one another and could almost be thought of as one stand, whereas the Main and Manchester Road Stands are separate from all others.
Regarding our immediate surroundings what struck me immediately about The Cemetery End was just how shallow the elevation was, we were stood about two-thirds up and I still felt about level with the pitch. It was nice and spacious with the 346 travelling Gasheads able to sit or stand where they pleased without risk of impeding anyone's view. It's also the only stand in the ground with no supporting pillars to get in the way. The only downside is the fairly sizeable gap between the stand and the pitch but it's not a deal breaker. Apart from the side nearest the car park the whole ground is surrounded by trees which gives it a nice secluded feel despite it being in the middle of town. All in all another all-seater stadium I actually quite liked. This League One lark is making me a bit prawn sandwich. The home fans did have a drum in the stand though which did embitter me to them somewhat.
The game was one to forget from a Rovers point of view as the Lancashire-born referee Ben Toner dismissed our tame Catweazle impersonator/midfielder Stuart Sinclair after 39 minutes for a pair of apparent dives. Now Stuey has his strengths and weaknesses and his fair of share of detractors but I don't believe he's the kind of player that dives. I've poured over the highlights and the first yellow is admittedly hard to judge but I can't see why he'd dive in such a central area. The second yellow however looks a lot like he had his heels clipped but he seemed to be a marked man by that point and was shown red. The most infuriating incident however was Bury's penalty which looked most like a dive of the three incidents. Reading Bury's forum a few of their fans seem to think so too. It was supposedly Mansell that gave it away but I can't see that he touched Leigh anywhere but on his arm, which doesn't to me warrant an arms-out collapse to the ground. Bryon Moore was closer than Mansell to the incident but Leigh looked to be already on his way to the ground as he passed behind.
From that point onward we knew we were going home with a point at best. Tom Lockyer had a go from outside the box but his shot got a deflection which hit the post. Lee Brown looked certain to net the rebound but Tom Pope spread himself onto the floor quickly enough to send it into the side netting. At 65 minutes James Vaughn bangs in a volley for the unmarked diving scoundrel Leigh to nod in. Lumley falls the wrong way but he didn't have much of a chance from such close range. I'm not sure what Moore was up to as he was the closest man to Leigh but it was a well set up goal from Bury.
The routing is complete when Miller gets the ball in acres of space from the Bury half, walks it past Sweeney who looks scared to risk a tackle in the box and blasts it in top corner. A shame but nights like this will happen and to paraphrase Marilyn Monroe if you can't handle us at our Bury away you don't deserve us at our Northampton at home. Just to rub it in we had to drive around rural Cheshire for two hours because the motorway was closed on the way back and we got lost. Yet another successful away day in the North West of England for this blog, good job there are so few of them in this league left for me to tick off...