Yet another important league game for the Bears on Saturday took them up the M6 into Lancashire territory, to Burscough (writes Mike McLaughlin).
Burscough have not had a good season, lying in penultimate place in the league with only four wins and 15 points from 20 games (but sadly only a few points behind the Bears).
In fact, Burscough have not enjoyed much success in recent seasons.
In 2007 they reached the dizzying heights of The National League North, but since then have steadily slipped down the Pyramid, ending up in the NWCFL Premier Division for the last two seasons.
They finished 12th last season, a season which saw them use three different managers. Some stability was restored in June 2019, when Nick Matthews took over. As he said, after a cataclysmic and dramatic exodus of players, “the initial priority is getting a young group of players whom we can grow as a team and as a club to continue it, instead of being a revolving door, which it has been over the last couple of years ...we want to build a squad that can stay together”.
Things have not gone smoothly since, however.
In December, when Burscough hosted Hanley Town, the game deteriorated in the second half and Hanley tweeted “turned the second half into a battle and not about football. And disappointed with some home supporters running onto the pitch to get involved”.
Burscough’s view of the situation differed somewhat. “Just thought I’d let it be known it was one girl who ran on, rather than Hanley’s tweet of multiple supporters.”
A general feeling of dissatisfaction and unhappiness about the state of the club could be discerned from other tweets.
“Shame to see the club being run into disrepute. Underlying issues for many years and sadly only affecting those who want the club to do well on the pitch; players, staff, volunteers, supporters.”
To compound problems even further, Burscough are in the process of creating a new stadium adjacent to their present home, which is to be sold for housing development. Even this has not gone smoothly.
“Despite opposition from villagers and the Club’s own supporters...” and “why has the perimeter wall around the pitch been taken down when the...planning decision said a new ground had to be built before the old one was touched?”
In sad conclusion to what appears to be a sorry state of affairs, accusations fly regarding non-payment of players and “it’ll take a long, long time for Burscough Football Club to get back to where it was. No direction whatsoever. Club is in freefall.”
It was to this scene of apparent disarray and dismay that the Bears travelled on Saturday afternoon.
Balanced against all the reportage, what they did know was that last season they had experienced dour battles with Burscough, drawing 0-0 and winning 1-0, and that, earlier in the season, 22nd October to be precise, Burscough had visited the Silk Stadium and took a hard-earned point after a 1-1 draw.
The Chronicle reported. “(Bears) persisted with fast, controlled moves but the final pass or shot was invariably stifled at the crucial moment by an admirable defence...Burscough’s defensive display completely belied their league position”.
A close, hard-fought struggle could be anticipated; and one with few goals.
Sadly, and dispiritingly, it was to be played out in front of few spectators. Burscough’s average home gate is a meagre 84; less than that, 78, were enticed by the prospect of combat with Congleton.
The day was pleasant, by no means unreasonable for a game of football in deep midwinter.
With a team containing only four players from the start of the season, it was no surprise that play, promising as it was, was disjointed and lacking prolonged fluency.
Once again, we are indebted to veteran, devoted clubman Ray Ogden, for his astute and comprehensive views on what transpired.
The Bears enjoyed possession and played the better football for long periods as both defences looked solid and uncompromising. For all their territory and possession, the Bears were unable to engineer clear, decisive openings.
Dan Cope, as elastic and industrious as ever, seemed unlucky throughout, “the ball just wouldn’t drop for him on several occasions when he might have scored”.
The recently-promising Cropper-Cope combination was undone with Lee Cropper unavailable on the day.
The game was decided in minute 69 when a Bears’ attack broke down deep in the home half “and a long ball was played out wide to the right winger who cut inside and shot across Craig into the bottom corner”.
As seems to be the case with Bears-Burscough games, that was that; 1-0 to Burscough, “A pretty even game all round”.
Twitter backed Ray with “very good game for the neutral; decided by a great counter attack move”.
Fans’ views on the Bears’ present position centre on several aspects.
One is the team formation, and it was a relief to many to hear that, from now, it would be 4-4-2.
Another was that the players and team needed some continuity and consolidation. It appears that the management is content that the squad reconstruction is almost complete. Not quite yet, however, as Jamie McDonald (West Didsbury and Chorlton) and Jordan Lorde (Litherland REMYCA) leave, and Aaron Bott arrives, on loan, from Leek.
Saturday: Whitchurch Alport, 3pm.
Saturday 8th: Barnoldswick Town, 3pm.