My word, it’s cold in Suffolk. Brighton, and, indeed, London, were positively balmy by comparison. There is, however, still a light dusting of snow on the ground in the more rural corners of the county, leaving a little bit of doubt over whether this match will actually go ahead. Bury Town rather need it to. They haven’t played a league match since the second of January and they had won nine of their last ten matches prior to their enforced winter break, a run which as lifted them to second place in the Southern League Midland Division, tucked in neatly behind leaders Hitchin Town.
Bury St Edmunds is attractive town and Ram Bottom, Bury Town’s neatly-proportioned little ground, is sandwiched tidily between the Gothic splendour St Edmundsbury Cathedral and the somewhat more prosaic British Sugar factory, which sits in the distance behind the far goal, puffing steam out over the town in a scene that resembles a scene from the 1960s children’s cartoon, “Chigley”. There is a sense of expectation in the air. Bury Town are three points behind Hitchin Town, but they have a better goal difference and Hitchin’s match this afternoon has already been frozen off. A win today against a mid-table Leighton Town will put them top of the table.
They start slowly, perhaps unsurprising after their lengthy break, and goalkeeper Marcus Garnham saves well from Leighton’s Ben Gallant, but the tables slowly start to turn and a neat one-two on the edge of the penalty area sees a last minute tackle nick the ball away from Lee Reed. There are howls of anguish over a penalty conceded, but it looks like a good challenge from where we’re standing. Bury don’t have to wait too long to take the lead, though. A low cross from the left from Ben Coker seems to be turned past the goalkeeper by a Leighton defender, and the half-hearted nature of the congratulations offered to Sam Reed, the nearest Bury player to the ball, seem to confirm that this was an own goal.
It has taken them almost half an hour to seize the iniative, and two quick goals just before half-time effectively end the match as a contest. After thirty-eight minutes, Coker adds a second with a low shot from the edge of the penalty area that dribbles over the line after the Leighton goalkeeper Kevin Marsh got a full hand on the ball but couldn’t quite turn it around the post. A couple of minutes before half-time, the third goal – the pick of the bunch – comes from more smart play on the left and ends with a smart finish from a tight angle by Lee Underwood. Half-time brings with it the warm contentment amongst the home supporters that comes with the near-certainty that they will be ending their afternoon at the top of the league table.
The second half starts much as the first half ended, and by the time an hour has been played it is a matter of how many the home side will run up rather than whether there is any contest to be had. Twelve minutes in, the left hand side is Leighton’s weak spot again and a low cross allows Underwood to score from close range, and then two minutes later they add a fifth goal when a header from Lee Reed meets Michael Steward’s cross and loops the ball over Marsh and in. A couple of minutes after this, Bury have another goal disallowed for offside and with this they start to take their foot off the pedal a little. In the closing stages, Leighton start to look the more likely side to score and a couple of decent saves from Garnham, not least from a shot from the edge of the penalty area by Wes Lewis, keep the score at 5-0.
At full-time, mission has been accomplished, and Bury Town are top of the Southern League Midland Division. They are a club that have spent much of the last few years living somewhat in the shadow of their local rivals, AFC Sudbury. It is Sudbury that have had the trips to the FA Vase Final and were long expected to make further progress after getting promoted into the Isthmian League in 2006. Controversial changes to the boundaries between the Southern and Isthmian Leagues, however, meant that Sudbury – very much against their will, in no small part because it meant a massive increase in the amount that they had to travel throughout the course of a season – had to transfer into the Southern League Midland Division in 2008 and Bury Town had to follow them.
Sudbury have started to stagnate in their new surroundings, but this season Bury Town have started to prosper. The potential in the area is obvious – almost 800 people turned out to see Bury play Sudbury on Boxing Day – and there is a long way to go this season, with Slough Town and Burnham still in touch with the top two in third and fourth place in the table behind Hitchin and Bury at the top of the table. For now, though, Bury Town remain in the local ascendency and with a decent chance of getting promoted at the end of this season. Plenty enough to be going along with.
Highlights of this weekend’s match between Bury Town and Leighton Town here: