December 4th, 1976. The history books coldly record a crushing 7-0 defeat for Bury at Chesterfield in front of 4,545 fans, adding that Rodney Fern scored four times, Malcolm Darling stayed on his feet - no mean achievement in the best of weather - to score twice and Billy McEwan completed the scoring. It was Billy's recollection of this day at a Football Supporters' Association meeting some years later that first shed light on the part Arthur Cox, our manager, played in those events without going near the pitch or dressing rooms.
A bright, crisp winter morning in the north-west gave Bury no indication of the conditions that awaited their arrival on the other side of the Pennines. The sun had come out over here, too, but after a bitterly cold night. While half of the Saltergate pitch was perfectly playable, the half in the shadow of the Kop roof was rendered bone-hard by frost. By 1976, technology had come to the aid of teams faced with these conditions: boots with flat, pimpled soles were an essential item in every team's kit basket. Every team, that is, but Bury: they left theirs in Lancashire.
According to McEwan's version of events a quick pitch inspection led to Bury's vice-Chairman, a Mr. Ron Clarke, volunteering to go into town to buy twelve pairs of these boots. The Derbyshire Times match report says that this decision was made after fifteen minutes of watching his team skate around like eleven young Bambis but, on balance, I prefer McEwan's story. According to him, Clarke approached Arthur Cox, Chesterfield's manager, to ask the whereabouts of the nearest sports shop, so that he might purchase these boots. Arthur was thus immediately made aware of the advantage that Chesterfield had in possessing the right footwear, and was not going to surrender that advantage without a fight.
You could have made it from Saltergate to Sugg's and back in about twenty minutes on foot, but Cox told Clarke that it was too far to walk in the short time available before the kick-off, and that he would tell Frank Barlow, his assistant, to order a taxi. According to McEwan, Cox found Barlow and told him that if he ordered a taxi, he'd be looking for work on Monday!
An increasingly agitated Clarke paced around the car park, waiting for the taxi. Cox came out with a succession of plausible excuses for its non-arrival: roads clogged up with Christmas shoppers and football fans, the deplorable state of the taxi service in Chesterfield, and so on, without letting the poor man in on the real reason: Arthur simply didn't order the thing in the first place.
Chesterfield kicked towards the icy end in the first half and were four up after 38 minutes. Bury were so dispirited by half-time that, despite defending the good end, they conceded three more to a Chesterfield side that had the discipline and organisation expected of a team that had gone nine games unchanged. The result left the Spireites in eighth place, five points behind leaders Shrewsbury. Two month's into King Arthur's Saltergate reign the talk was of promotion, and the likes of West Ham and Newcastle were sending scouts to watch Alan Jones and Andy Kowalski.
However, Fate punished Chesterfield for Cox's ingenuity (or deviousness, depending on who you support): after this game, they lost ten out of the next eleven, and finished in eighteenth place. Cox called the Bury game "one Hell of a good team performance". With Arthur, expediency, rather than modesty, prevented his claiming due credit for his part on the day!
Len Badger, John Cottam, Sean O'Neill, Kenny Burton
Alan Jones, Andy Kowalski, Billy McEwan, Dave Bentley
Rod Fern, Malcolm Darling
Scorers: Darling 2, Fern 4, McEwan.