There is no discernible line anymore where Bury begins and Manchester finishes. It is on the city’s tram system. It does not have a separate ZIP code — it comes under Bolton’s — and, like Bolton, it is no longer a town in Lancashire, but a part of Greater Manchester. Officially, at least; that is not how the people who live there, the people who have always lived there, see it.
Soccer matters in the places like these, the places that can feel forgotten. Last summer, there were wildfires on the moorland not far from Bolton and Bury. They raged for days, but flickered only briefly in England’s broader consciousness. The point was made, more than once, that had they been burning a couple of hundred miles closer to London, they would have been treated as a national emergency. These are places that are treated like they are no longer there.
A soccer club is, increasingly, the most effective way of pushing back on that perception. It is an expression of self, of identity, a way of distinguishing your town from all of the other towns, of occupying some small space on the national stage. A place in the table, a spot in the F.A. Cup draw, a mention on the radio: it is a reminder that your town still exists, separate, and proud.
Smith suggests that the FA could promote partnerships between the super-rich super-clubs and the lower-league sides, and I think that’s an excellent idea. Manchester City has enough money between the cushions of their premium-leather sofas to keep a club like Bury safely afloat.