He played like a Ladies Handkerchief.

So said Arthur Pickering about Steve Brooks: according to James Bond from BBC Shropshire before last Saturday’s game against AFC Telford.

For the youngsters, Arthur Pickering was a sports reporter for the Hartlepool Mail when it was a proper local newspaper: a superb writer and commentator on many subjects, in the days before social media, Arthur was the expert on all things Pools.

Steve Brooks played 74 times for Pools between 1978 and 1980, usually at centre back alongside Billy Ayre. I thought that Steve was a quality player – classy and generally unflustered – but I guess playing alongside the great Billy allowed you to do pretty much what you wanted to do. What used to amaze me was that, in his second season, Steve was sometimes replaced by Mike Fagan – many of the older followers will recall Mike from his efforts between 1980 and 1983. I was never a fan of Mike Fagan but I still found it to be beyond unfair when Mike was named as Pools’ worst player of all time by Four Four Two in 1999. Imagine if Four Four Two was to repeat that poll today.

Did Arthur really say that Steve Brooks played like a Ladies Handkerchief? If he did, what did he mean?

I’d never heard the phrase ‘played like a Ladies Handkerchief’ – I don’t know what it means – but I think I have a clue after last Saturday; and that is all I intend to say about last week’s match against AFC Telford – and, as for tomorrow, good luck to Mr Money.

So let’s look at a positive story – our old friends from Gigg Lane, Bury FC.

Over the years we’ve played the Shakers on 43 occasions, winning 12, drawing 12 and losing whatever the balancing number is. On 23 August 1994 we beat Bury 5-1 in the second leg of the first round of what was then called the Coca Cola Cup – that coming just three days after a Chris Lynch belter had seen off Darlington at Fortress Vic and ten days after a goalless draw in the season opener at Gillingham – following on from relegation from Division 2 at the end of the previous season, everyone now expected a rapid escape from Division 3 – it didn’t happen – we finished 18th. See, it has always been hard work following Pools….

Bury FC has suffered in many similar ways to Pools in recent years and what had been an ongoing ‘nightmare’ for the fans started to end last month when the club was acquired by Steve Dale, a successful businessman; his statement on taking over makes great reading, I’m delighted to have taken over this historic club. My initial plan is to establish Bury as a stable and self-sufficient League One side. I want to re-establish the club in the local community by investing time and resources to something that is vitally important to football clubs. Due to personal reasons, I want to work more with community initiatives to help people better their own lives, as well as the communities they live in. I have a strong passion to work with those less fortunate and to give them the chances they deserve. Bury Football Club can be that conduit to create working relationships and to let people better themselves. We want the Bury public to come and watch the team and to stand by us as one community.”

Music to the ears of any football supporter – and, in the short time since he took over, he seems to be good to his word. Bury are in the promotion places even though the players’ wages were being paid late as recently as November. A club which has faced financial peril on a number of occasions, budgets were slashed last summer by the old regime and it is possible that further cuts will be necessary, but the club and its supporters appear to be moving forwards with renewed vigour and optimism.

Why? How? An ambitious young manager who seems to be getting matters right on the pitch and a philanthropic owner seem to be the answers.

Prior to the arrival of Steve Dale the club had been owned by Stewart Day, a Blackburn based property developer – he had ‘saved’ the club in 2013 but the past few years have seen a stream of CCJs, unpaid bills, HMRC winding-up orders and various loans at exorbitant interest rates – see the parallels? Where Bury differed to the Pools of recent years is that the wage bill rocketed as Day tried to get Bury into the Championship – a step too far? Day gambled with the very existence of the club – to secure success or to satisfy his ego? But many believe that whilst he did expect to generate personal gain from the success of the club, underneath it all he really did want the best for Bury FC. So some clear differences to some of our recent owners!

But for all of the debts, was everything that Day did wrong in the eyes of Shaker fans? Many credit the largesse, personal ambition and dreams of Day for assembling the quality squad that they now have. Many of the improvements to the infrastructure of the club are due to Day; some fans go so far as to argue that Bury FC, despite its debts, is in the best shape in living memory (mind, some of those same fans argue that the millions of debt could be extinguished with one large transfer fee!).

But no fan can forget that Day appointed Lee Clark as manager.

Getting back to Steve Dale – on acquiring the football club he formed Bury FC Heritage Limited to safeguard Gigg Lane and the surrounding land which Day had mortgaged. No rash promises have been made – costs are being controlled and debts are being cleared or consolidated, concessions are being taken back in-house, the social club may be rebuilt and the lease on the training ground may be extended to facilitate redevelopment. And the fans are looking on, supportive, yet hopeful that the new custodian continues to act with prudence.

On 12 January 2019 Steve Dale posted the following message for supporters, Following today’s superb win over MK Dons, which has seen us climb to second in the league table, I wanted to take the time to say thank-you for your magnificent support. As you may know, I have recently been unwell and spent most of the Christmas and New Year period in hospital. Today was my first game back and it provided the perfect medicine for me! Ryan and the team continue to show their mettle, and today’s win has shown that they have that winning mentality that all successful teams possess. The support from the stands to go alongside the effort on the pitch shows that there is a terrific togetherness at the whole club, and long may it continue. Enjoy the rest of your weekend – I know I will!”

A Chairman who communicates directly with fans: and not surprisingly, the fans respect and support him!

Communication – well, this takes me the short distance from Gigg Lane to Rochdale AFC.

Rochdale was always a favourite away day – anyone remember that bowling green? We’ve played Rochdale on 146 occasions, winning 52 times and drawing 36. Yes, as usual, they’ve won more. One of the best games in my memory was the 5-1 victory on 28 October 1978 – Steve Brooks and Billy Ayre at the back (Billy scored – as did Wayne Goldthorpe (2), Mark Lawrence and Keith Houchen) – in a season which included the 6-2 thumping by Leeds United (Bob Newton did score twice though!) and Dick Malone’s last three games for Pools prior to his transfer to Blackpool FC. Yes, there wasn’t much to celebrate that season!

Anyway, back to the good news from Spotland. It has recently been announced that Directors of Rochdale AFC and trust board members of the Dale Trust have signed up to a Memorandum of Undertsanding (MOU).  This is the fourth MOU to be signed between a supporters trust and a football club.

The MOU’s were introduced following a government led group that called for an increase in structured and meaningful dialogue between a football club and its supporters.  The document sets out a minimum level of dialogue between the Club and the Trust and what the nature of those meetings should be. 

Trust Chairman Colin Cavanah stated:

“We are delighted to announce the signing of the MOU.  The MOU sets out a minimum level of engagement, but if truth be told, the Trust and the Club are currently working much closer and more frequently than the expected level that the document set outs.

“This was highlighted last year, when the Trust / Club were nominated for the best Trust / Club relationship at the Football Business Awards, and since then the dialogue between us has certainly increased. We are now holding monthly meetings with the Club, and publishing minutes from these meetings.

“We as a Trust are committed to continue our work with the Club in the interest of our members and to communicate that back through our website.”

In the words of Supporters Direct, “On a national level it is important to recognise that these agreements are signed because there is a genuine and honest commitment from both parties to have open dialogue through the good and the bad times at the clubs.”

So where are we with communication? We heard that a group was being set up – one body to cover the various different groups that are associated with Pools – and that it was to meet regularly and that minutes would be published. I note that the Rochdale MOU refers to meetings being at least monthly.

Personally I disagreed with the idea of one combined group – outside of the focal point being Pools, the objectives of groups such as HUST, the Disabled Supporters Association and others differ – although I can see that it would make life easier for Mr Maguire. Whatever, what is happening? Anything? Last I heard was that there had been a meeting in October – and I’ve heard nothing since.

Does the club believe that such lines of communication aren’t necessary? Or that they are a waste of precious time? Has there already been some form of breakdown in what limited communication there had been? Is Mr Maguire simply too busy? What about the other directors?

What is the position of HUST on this? I wonder if they have taken the view, due to frustrations with the experience thus far, to merely sit by and wait – again, personally, I would agree with such a stance – but other HUST members may want a more proactive or aggressive stance.

So what is the position of the club on this? The communication via the podcast is good – but the subject matter is restricted and, I guess, tightly managed.

I look at Rochdale and Bury with some envy – and certainly with respect – and hope that we’ll all start seeing positive developments, both on and off the pitch, at our own club – and I guess that we all have to ‘do our bit’ to make things happen. What is ‘our bit’? It would be good to hear how Mr Maguire would answer that question. And that gets me back to our own ‘Fans Forum’.

Pip Pip


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