Northern Ireland legend David Healy has broken his silence to lift the lid on his nightmare season and hit back at Bury fans who recently have been booing him, labelling him the club's worst signing ever and making him a scapegoat for their shocking season.
Bury, relegated from League One, will go into administration unless there is a quick cash injection of up to £1m and Healy, who joined from Rangers last summer, has somehow become the fall guy for all the club's ills.
A huge favourite and record goalscorer for Northern Ireland, Healy has taken serious stick from the supporters who see him as a big earner offering little to the cause.
It may appear an astonishing scenario over here, but over there some are labelling him the worst ever signing in the club's 128-year history, giving an insight into just how high emotions are running amongst Bury followers in what has been such a troubled season for them.
With one game of their wretched campaign to go, Bury have already been relegated from League One, but that's not even close to being their biggest problem.
Right now the Shakers, as they are known, are fighting for their very existence. Recently chairman Brian Fenton warned that Bury would go into administration without a cash injection of up to £1m.
Talks have started with potential investors about taking over the club.
Healy, of course, has seen all of this before. Last season he was at Rangers, who were unable to pay players their wages due to crippling debts and fell into administration leading them to demotion from the Scottish Premier League into the back waters of division three.
The dream of Healy playing for Rangers turned into a nightmare and with no contract offer on the Ibrox table last summer, the man from Killyleagh had no option but to move on.
When he signed for Bury, he had high hopes of playing regular football and being part of a team that could challenge for a play-off place in League One.
Instead he has been part of another club hit hard by financial mismanagement, played nowhere near as much as he wanted, and adding to the misery, rather harshly he has become a scapegoat for the Bury fans.
At Windsor, Northern Ireland's record goalscorer will come on to the pitch with the loudest roar of the night echoing in his ears. At Gigg Lane in recent months he has been jeered when entering the playing arena by fans who see him as a big earner with a big reputation offering little in return at a time when the club is broke.
I've known Healy since he made his Northern Ireland debut back in 2000 and apart from admiring him as a footballer, especially at international level, I've always appreciated his honesty when rating his own performances.
He admits that at times he has not delivered for Bury, but believes that he is unfairly being blamed for all the club's ills.
“The Bury fans have dished out stick in my direction. They think, with me having played for Premier League clubs and being at Rangers last season, that I have come in and am earning a lot of money and haven't pulled my weight for the club at a time when they are going through financial troubles,” says Healy |(pictured), addressing the issue head on.
“I'd like to state that I certainly am not earning a great deal at Bury and definitely did not come here simply for the money. It was because I genuinely wanted to play on a regular basis and that hasn't happened.
“I'm not making excuses for my performances on the pitch because I know sometimes they have not been up to scratch and I'd be the first to admit that, but I have been singled out by the fans and I've found that disappointing because the position that we are in and the fact we have been relegated is not totally down to me.
“When I joined Bury I was struggling with injury and fitness as I'd had no pre-season,” he adds.
“On the upside I was moving back to an area and a ground that I knew because I played a lot of reserve matches at Gigg Lane for Manchester United. Bury was a club I thought I could join and do a good job for.
“The manager when I arrived, Peter Shirtliff, knew I wasn't totally fit but he was 100% behind me.
“I had two days training with Bury and played the first game against Coventry, was on for an hour and scored a goal, but I took a knock in that game which put me out for three weeks and I'm not sure I really recovered from that as I was continually catching up on the fitness and sharpness I needed and wanted as a striker.
“It was tough up until Christmas having missed pre-season but since January I've felt a lot better and have been chomping at the bit to play and haven't been given the chance.
“I know I have been a target for the fans but everyone at the club needs to take the blame and responsibility for how our season has gone and that includes the manager and the people who have been running Bury.”
From Rangers to Bury — frying pans and fires spring to mind.
So what next for Healy? Well, he hopes to join a new club next season and continue playing.
“You couldn't make up what has happened to me in the last year and-a-half but that's life and there are people far worse off than me,” he says with a sense of perspective.
“I'd still like to play somewhere next season and I'm hopeful that I'll be able to do that but it certainly won't be at Bury.
“I may be 33 now but I know with the right manager and the right pre-season I could still play and do a job.”
Blackwell not a fan, just like he wasn’t at Leeds
David Healy has spoken about his strained relationship with Bury manager Kevin Blackwell revealing that it has been on the rocks since the pair were at Leeds United together almost a decade ago.
While Healy was troubled with injuries and fitness in the early part of the season, he has been itching to play in the second half of the campaign, but despite Bury struggling for goals to stay in League One, Blackwell has not started the 33-year-old in 2013.
“I have trained 95% of the days that we have trained since January and it has been disappointing given the struggles that we have had that I haven't been starting games as I would have liked to have helped the team,” Healy told the Belfast Telegraph.
“I have spoken to the manager and he hasn't agreed with my ideas that I should be playing and to be honest it hasn't been the best player manager relationship.”
Blackwell did not sign Healy for Bury, with the former becoming boss after the latter had joined, but he did pay £650,000 for the Killyleagh man back in 2004 taking him from Preston to Elland Road.
Healy's time at Leeds coincided with a period when he couldn't stop scoring for Northern Ireland, including the winner against England and a stunning hat-trick to beat Spain.
The former Manchester United, Sunderland and Fulham ace believes, however, that Leeds never saw the best of him.
“Kevin and myself had our differences when I was at Leeds. It was him that brought me into Leeds which made it more disappointing when things turned out the way they did there,” recalled Healy.
“He brought me in as a striker, he knew I was a striker and I know he watched me play as a striker but he ended up playing me on the left and right wing.
“I've always done what I can for any team I've played for but with the manager playing me out of position I knew I wasn't doing as well as I could have been doing for Leeds.
“We had our differences and then he left me out of the Championship play-off final. I had played a lot of games that season, including the first leg of the play-off semi-final against Preston.
“He didn't start me in the away leg and I spoke to him about that and he said he wanted to go a little more defensive to get the result that would see us through to the final.
“Then in the one-off final he kept the same starting line up as the second leg of the semi and I was on the bench.
“To this day I still feel we used the wrong formation on the day we lost to Watford in the final. Had we played 4-4-2 I believe we could have won and got promotion. I came on with 20 minutes to go and we were 2-0 down chasing the game. I had played nearly 40 games that season and was our top goalscorer and felt I had done enough to merit starting in the final. Not to get the chance was hard to take.”
Healy on Northern Ireland
Q: David, you are one of the most popular players ever to play for Northern Ireland, not just for your goals, but for your commitment to the cause. Over 13 years on from your debut, does it still mean as much to you?
A: Yes, without question and it always will. I feel as proud playing for my country now as I did when I won my first cap. I've always had such great passion for playing for Northern Ireland. I have been at big, big clubs and played under some big name managers, but there has never been a bigger honour for me than playing for my country. To me in football there is no bigger thrill than playing at Windsor Park with the green shirt on my back.
Q: You have 95 caps. Can you reach the century?
A: I'd love to get to 100 caps. That would be really special. The manager Michael O'Neill has always said as long as I'm training and at a club he would like to have me around. I think he likes having lads like Aaron Hughes, Chris Baird, Steve Davis, Gareth McAuley and myself in the squad because we have experience and have been around the scene for a long time. We have young players coming into the squad now and I know from my own perspective I'm always available for them to talk to me about what it means to play at international level and try and help them any way I can.
Q: There's been quite a bit of debate since the defeat against Israel last month about the atmosphere at Windsor Park. What's your opinion on the matter?
A: I've played for Northern Ireland at Windsor when the place has been so hostile you can see opposition players wanting to be anywhere but there. Maybe the atmosphere isn't what it was when we were on that amazing run a few years ago, but it's up to us to come up with results and performances on the pitch for the fans. Of course they can lift us too. When Windsor Park is rocking, it inspires our players and can intimidate other teams. That's what everyone wants, be it fans or players. What's important now is that we stick together and that the fans back the manager because I believe Michael has a lot of potential to do a very good job for Northern Ireland.
Q: You told me once before that one day you would love to manage Northern Ireland. I hear you may be taking small steps towards that.
A: I'm doing my coaching badges in the summer in Belfast with the IFA which I'm looking forward to. Michael O'Neill has encouraged me to get my badges and if coaching jobs come along and I were available I could look into those in the future.