All you need to know about Burton Albion ahead of Norwich City's first ever fixture against the Brewers
PUBLISHED: 12:08 22 September 2016 | UPDATED: 13:47 22 September 2016
When Burton Albion fan Kim Briscoe also started following her boyfriend's team Norwich City, the Brewers were non league while the Canaries were in the top flight. More than a decade later the City season ticket holder is now planning to sit in the away end when the Midlands club travels to Carrow Road in the Championship. She gives us the low down on what yellow and green supporters can expect when they meet their fellow yellows.
There’s a fan banner which you can sometimes see behind the goal at the Pirelli Stadium which has a picture of chairman Ben Robinson and which reads “To this man we owe it all”. That pretty much sums up the main reason behind Burton’s heady rise through the ranks – being lucky enough to have one of the best chairmen in the Football League and one the fans have an enormous amount of respect for.
He’s shown an ability to be able to pick a talented up-and-coming young manager, which has given us a bit of a reputation as a springboard for ambitious coaches. Neil Warnock (who describes Robinson as the best chairman he’s worked with), Nigel Clough (first time round), Gary Rowett and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink are a few of the managers who have had their careers launched at Burton.
It helps that they share a £100m plus training ground with the England team, and St George’s Park would be worth a pre-booked tour or football experience for avid City away fans with a bit more time on their hands or those looking to splash out by staying at the Hilton hotel on the site or availing themselves of the spa facilities.
The team’s nickname, The Brewers, tells you all you need to know about the town – an unpretentious place with an industrial brewing heritage and which is still dominated by its two main breweries Coors (which now operates the former Bass and Ind Coope breweries) and Marston’s.
City away fans who like their ale would be advised to seek out a pint of Marston’s Pedigree or sample one of the brews from the smaller Burton Bridge Brewery. And of course, fans who enjoy standing will relish the chance to take their place on the terraces in the away end.
When I first started watching Albion in my teens, they were in the Southern League, then called the Beazer Homes League.
The football was pretty dire, my mate Sarah was sometimes the only person loudly cheering on the team (I was too embarrassed) and a small gate could be just a couple of hundred fans while a good turnout was above the 800 mark.
Most of my contemporaries snubbed small-time Burton in favour of supporting Derby County or, to a lesser extent, Aston Villa, so those games will be the derbies now Burton have left the likes of Gresley Rovers and Tamworth far behind.
Albion used to play at Eton Park, where Brian Clough used to clamber up and down the steps to the seated stand looking famously cantankerous while watching his son’s team.
Then a deal saw the ground sold off for housing and a supermarket, and The Brewers moved a goal kick away across the road to the Pirelli Stadium in 2005.
While it sounds like a sell-out sponsorship name for a ground, it never rankled with fans as it was built on Pirelli Sports and Social Club land and keeping the name of the nearby Italian tyre manufacturer seemed fitting, while helping to save a few quid.
By this time the team were in the conference and still part-time. While working for the Burton Mail I got to visit the ground as it neared completion, with my tour conducted by then club captain, and all-time appearance record holder, Darren Stride, a builder by trade who was getting stuck in helping to finish off the work by painting the loos.
This was a fact that was lapped up and rehashed by the nationals just a few months later when Burton went on their 2005-06 FA Cup run, culminating in a third round tie against the hugely paid professionals playing for Manchester United. We held them to a 0-0 draw at home, and saw nearly 11,000 fans travel to Old Trafford for the second leg, in which we were trounced 5-0.
You won’t see a cuddly animal mascot at the Pirelli. Our mascot, Billy Brewer, simply sports a beer belly, although if you’re lucky you may get to see his better half Betty, who was first unveiled with her handbag during the 2005-06 cup run, and promptly tried to pull down Cristiano Ronaldo’s shorts while he was warming up.
From there on, it was steady improvement and progress, with promotion, as champions, from the Conference to League Two in 2008-09, to the play-offs in 2012-13, a losing play-off final in 2013-2014, and, finally, promotion from League Two as champions in 2014-15.
I don’t think any Brewers fans could quite believe the run the team went on at the start of last season in their first ever spell in League One.
We were all secretly wondering when the wheels would come off, but by the end of December the talk in the pub after the match was about if we dared hope that we could do the unthinkable and secure back-to-back promotions.
After losing Hasselbaink to QPR, fans gave Nigel Clough a guarded reception, perhaps because he did so much for the club first time round that we were hesitant to see his legend marred by a second stint – never go back and all that.
The team was more defensive following his return, and his cautiousness meant the football on the pitch wasn’t as direct and exciting, but he still did enough to keep us in the all-important second spot.
I’ve never cried over football before (although I came close at Euro ‘96) but a few tears of overwhelming pride were shed when Burton won promotion to the Championship.
We all thought that we would struggle in League One – our small gates mean that we simply don’t have the financial muscle of many of our competitors and fans are expecting this to be starkly highlighted in the second tier.
Already we’ve shipped out a fair few players, but the new signings have been noticeably absent as we presumably struggle to offer Championship standard players the wages they would like.
Just recently Clough revealed there were bids out for at least nine players, many of them on loan deals; his frustration at being unable to sign the names he probablyneeds to give Burton a chance of staying up was clear.
However, former Premier League centre back Ben Turner has been snapped up from Cardiff and the club also broke its transfer record by signing defender Kyle McFadzean from MK Dons. While the fee has not been disclosed, his former club previously said his asking price was £500,000 so it’s likely to have been a significant step up from the previous transfer record of £20,000 for midfielder Russell Penn in 2009.
But the Brewers do possess several players who should be able to cope with the step up, including ‘keeper Jon McLaughlin, skipper and centre back John Mousinho, full back Damien McCrory, powerful winger Lucas Akins and the impish striker Stuart Beavon.
Clough has spoken of the need to defend well and keep clean sheets, which has led to some tongue in cheek speculation that we’ll be playing a 9-0-1 formation this season.
The nerves are setting in as we look ahead to some daunting fixtures for 2016-17, including a trip to Carrow Road this Saturday. But we can still dream that come May 7 next year, Burton will be clinching promotion to the Premier League at home against Reading.