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THE 16/17 SCOTTISH AWAYDAY: RANGERS

A cool breeze blew across the platform, as it bathed in the early morning sun. A quick glance into the wallet again. 4 sets of train tickets, and 4 Rangers vs Hearts match tickets.

The chaps were off to Ibrox.

Sam, Mick, and Mighty were joining me for the 4th Scottish Awayday, and yes I must admit to a sense of apprehension about entering the home end of Ibrox what with me being a Roman Catholic.

But hey, the Scottish Awayday doesn’t stand for any religious prejudice! Besides, I can run fast.

The 6.19 Virgin Voyager soon came into view to take us to New Street, before boarding the 7.15 service to Glasgow Central.

Mighty then presented to us the contents of his clinking carrier bag: the familiar black and white cans of Carling that we know and love so much; and some silver cans of something, emblazoned in foreign writing, with a picture of a bumble bee, with a big unmistakable “6%” sign.

I surveyed the cans with caution.

“Where these from Mighty?”

“The shop up the road mate.”

“I meant what country!”

They were from Poland. They were also “fucking shit” in the words of Micky.

Being the refined, sophisticated bunch we are, the beautiful scenery was thoroughly enjoyed, despite the weather turning grimmer as we edged toward Scotland.

The River Clyde was in view as the train rolled into Central.

Time to tackle the “Clockwork Orange” and get ourselves to Ibrox.

A short walk down from Union Street in the pissing down rain saw us at St Enoch, awaiting the Inner Circle service on the “Clockwork Orange”, Glasgow’s small circular subway system, which is orange.

There was, obviously, a lot of Rangers fans also stood waiting, which meant that once the subway arrived it was, obviously, absolutely fucking rammed.

I hate rammed public transport. I hate rammed places.

Wedged into the side of the subway with my head tilted against the roof and my arse tilted up against the door, the subway scuttled off under the River Clyde.

The windows dripped with condensation, “how far is it” asked the lady next to me as we reached Cessnock, “the next stop” I replied, glad I had made her day. I hope she meant Ibrox.

We climbed the steps back into daylight. Music drifted through the air from the Louden Tavern. Men stood arms aloft, clutching unwanted match tickets for sale.

“Welcome to Ibrox Stadium” said the massive wall art between the Sandy Jardine and Copeland Road Stands.

IMG_6679Following Jack & Victor from Still Game towards the stadium.

Gazza, Michael Laudrop, and super Ally looked down on us as we walked by, Rangers greats that contributed immensely to their 9-in-a-row title winning spell into the mid 90’s.

My Mum worked with Ally McCoist’s sister when he was starting out at Kilmarnock. Yeah, I’ll use that one if any Rangers fans cotton onto my Celtic roots…

A match programme was purchased in front of the imposing Bill Struth Main Stand, before we walked past the famous blue gates and into the ground, up the grand old glass fronted staircase, right upto the Club Deck stand, well out of the way of the pissing down rain.

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Sam and Mighty were chuffed as “Simply the Best” started over the tannoy, followed by “Penny Arcade” from the legend Roy Orbison.

We were 2nd row from the back of this massive stand, so despite the players looking far away it was a great view of the action.

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I took in the surroundings. This was some place. I became conscious we seemed the only group not wearing any Rangers merchandise, or orange, or anything with a Unionist emblem. Partisan indeed.

Behind us sat 3 women, broad Glasgow accent’s whose quick wit and vicious tongues had us stifling laughter all game.

Rangers started brightly, on the front foot, getting into challenges, beating a passive-looking Hearts into the 50/50’s.

Some quick slick passes and Rangers were off, Tavernier striding upfield before feeding the ball to Kenny Miller on the right who delivered a beautifully inviting cross into the path of Joe Swash I mean Garner, who headed into the corner, and then took a whack on the head by a Hearts defender, meaning he celebrated his goal sprawled on the floor clutching his head, in the pissing down rain.

The game restarted and Rangers set about Hearts again, hungry for more.

However when Hearts forwards Isma Goncalves and Bjørn Johnsen saw the ball, Isma particulary causing unease in the Rangers defence with his languid, almost effortless style, you sensed Hearts still had something to say about proceedings.

Alas, Josh Windass is through, Prince Bauben pulls him back, foul, red card to Buaben, the game is here for Rangers to take… but it wasn’t as straightforward as that.

If anything, Hearts improved. Their early match lethargy was replaced with a renewed enthusiasm, as the tackles crunched and the Rangers support started to lose heart.

“Ya fucking dirty prick!” growled scary lady #1 after a particularly hearty Hearts challenge, with a voice so vicious you immediately knew her husband was at home doing the ironing.

With each passing minute the discontent from the home stands grew louder, Rangers ending the half looking a lot less assured. It was going to be an interesting second half.

IMG_6687Looking out to the Sandy Jardine stand, Hearts fans in the left corner

A lone seagull squawked its displeasure as another mis-placed pass rolled out of play.

Hearts equalise. They shouldn’t have, not from that situation, a Rangers corner, but they broke quickly; Johnsen withheld Holt’s challenge, advanced into the box, squared to that man Isma, who shot in decisively, before wheeling away in the yellow/pink Party Ring away strip toward the delirious away support.

The venom from the home stands when that goal went in. The anger, the disgust.

The heat was on Rangers. Kenny Miller and Clint Hill, the standout players despite their senior years, took responsibility whilst others shirked; shrinking violets treating the ball like a hot potato.

Josh Windass was substituted.

“He’s longer hair than the women on ma street. He’s got bigger titties too!” stated scary lady #2.

Now was the time for Hearts to hold firm and frustrate the home fans more. It definitely wasn’t the time for their ‘keeper to make a complete balls up of a cross and gift the home team an equaliser, oh no, but Viktor Noring was in generous mood and Barrie Mckay lashed home gleefully.

2-1 Rangers.

But Hearts still threatened, playing 3-4-2 and making the home support even angrier, “I’ll drag they useless bastards off the pitch by their hair!” shouted scary lady #3 (least you’ll be safe Kenny Miller).

Hearts were impressing me. Manager Ian Cathro is just 30 (younger than me!) and hasn’t had it easy in his first managerial spell, but I was appreciating and enjoying how he’d set Hearts up to still “have a go” despite being down to 10-men.

Rangers needed more leaders out there on the park, a cliché maybe, but it was clear. There is big pressure and expectation at this club, the crowd was 47,809 – how many games in England top that on a weekend? Pedro Caixinha’s new signings will need broad shoulders and strong resilience to deal with the demands of playing at Ibrox.

Hark at me sounding like I know what I’m on about.

The match was yet to finish but it was time to leave, to take the longer walk upto Cessnock Subway station, (in the pissing down rain), hopefully avoiding the crowds.

Back in the city centre we head to the Royal Scot on Union Street to enjoy a couple rounds of Tennants, yours truly getting the first round in and raising a toast to the Scottish Awayday. Soon after, it’s a quick walk up the road to the iconic Horseshoe Bar, battling for a pew amongst the hordes of Rangers fans.

Time passes quick, too quick, as we chat football, share funny stories, and laugh like a bunch of mates having a top day out. After a final round of Captain Morgan’s and a red aftershock which was delightfully minging, it was time to head back to Central station for the 18.00 train home, via the shop for tinnies off course.

With the early start I thought we’d all flake out on the journey home but we remained resilient to the end, arriving back into Burton at 22.45.

What another great Scottish Awayday.

Glasgow, you’d been an experience and an education.

IMG_6686No it’s not an ice rink – at Central before the train home

A perfect night

You can’t beat Friday night football in the summer, walking to the pub in the early-evening sun, joining your mates for a beer and laugh, excitement rising in anticipation of playing the big-boys from down the road, Lightning Seeds and New Order blaring on the jukey to assist the pre-match fervour…

We walk to the ground, Mighty telling us all about the Polish swear words he’s learnt at work, hoping the terrace isn’t too full yet so we can grab the usual spot.

As the turnstile clanks the excitement notches up a tiny bit, there’s that ‘local derby’ feel that we haven’t had for ages, everyone has that extra spring in their step, everyone’s shaking hands, patting backs, asking how you are, we’re all “sound”, “pretty fine”, “well up for this”, there’s a positive energy buzzing around and we’re all feeling charged…

Onto the terrace much earlier than usual, into our normal spots, it’s busy, it’s noisy, we’ve been waiting for this one since the fixtures come out and you know what, we have a chance tonight we really do…

The teams come out, our beloved Brewers, and the twice champions of England from down the A38, both teams stand tall, the late summer sun is drawing in, and the stage is nearly set…

Kick-off, a fast start on the pitch, high-energy off it as noise fills the air, everyone urging, willing and shouting our lads in yellow and black on into every header, tackle, 50/50, counter-attack…

A cross comes in from the right, someone stoops to head it, and it’s gone in!! The ball hits the back of the net up the far end, everyone going from standing to ballistic in an instant, an absolute frenzy of arms legs bodies flying everywhere, what a feeling, what a fucking feeling…

Jackson Irvine you absolute beauty, name etched into Brewers folklore forever, and we’re winning, we are ahead, what a start, keep this up Brewers keep this up…

We counter attack quickly on the ball, scramble back into position off it, throw bodies at every shot, fly in for any loose ball, Chris O’Grady looks simply immense, the midfield 3 performing like a machine, John Brayford looks like he’s never been away, Lucas Akins just stunning…

Half-time and we battle for a beer, Derby fans blatantly chat away behind me pondering who’s on their bench, “Wanchope and Carbonari I think lads..”, they smile and tell me it’s James Wilson actually, on-loan from Man Utd, oooh… but hey, Kyle McFadzean would put Diego Costa in his place the way he’s playing tonight, I don’t even know what James Wilson looks like.

Back to the terrace, time passes fast, every tackle is cheered, every attack roared on, the record crowd producing record noise…

Derby are running out of ideas, the Brewers continuing to frustrate and fight, I didn’t think there was a striker out there to match Stuart Beavon’s workrate, Chris O’Grady’s selflessness is showing otherwise…

“can’t hear the Derby sing, can’t hear the Derby sing, can’t hear the Derby sing we’ll sing on our own…”

Final seconds, Derby corner. Albion sub, Barker for Palmer. Masterstroke by Clough, no other player will want to head that ball more than Shaun Barker, rapturous applause from every single supporter in the ground when he enters the field, enormous cheers when he, inevitably, heads the corner clear…

 We are nearly there, so nearly there, and then yes, that’s it!! The ref blows for full-time, we’ve done it, we’ve actually done it, everyone’s hugging, back slapping, jumping up and down, singing and dancing…

Is this the pinnacle, is this the best night we will know? The way it’s going you just can’t under-estimate this football club, our football club, we have shown that when you provide an environment for people to flourish and develop they will do just that, I’m not getting carried away, survival is still the aim, but wow this first month has exceeded expectations…

I don’t hate Derby, but off course this was a big deal to us, playing the much bigger team from down the road with the much bigger stadium, players on much bigger wages, the much bigger fan-base which includes supporters from Burton – some who are mates of mine and were very complimentary to the Brewers post-match…

Ultimately football just gets under your skin, all the years spent playing Derby in friendlies, in the Bass Vase, in games to mark our new floodlights, we never really dreamt we would play them in a league fixture, and yet here we are, stood on this perfect summer’s Friday night, applauding and singing our Burton Albion players off after one of the best results in our history, unforgettable.

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The Annual Scottish Awayday: Hamilton Academical 0-1 Inverness CT

With the possibility of Albion being in the play-offs leaving me in limbo date-wise, this season’s Scottish jaunt was a hastily arranged affair. But displaying the same determination Phil Mitchell does when prowling for a bottle of voddy, I ensured this season’s Scottish Awayday was finally arranged!

It would be the first midweek trip for my first SPL fixture – Hamilton Academical vs Inverness Caledonian Thistle, with an overnight stay in Glasgow.

Hamilton are the only professional football club in Britain to originate from a school team – Hamilton Academy, hence their unique name.

As the train powered through Northumberland, southern Scotland, and some absolutely jaw-dropping scenery, I thought what a lucky buggar Michael Portillo is. He puts on his cool blazer and travels the country by rail for his TV show, basically getting paid to sit on a train and be posh! Chuck us some money and I’ll do that. Okay I might struggle with the posh bit, but I’m sure I could dig out a garish blazer from somewhere.

As the tower blocks of Motherwell came into view meaning we were getting closer to Glasgow, I started to get that feeling of excitement I’d get as a kid when travelling up this way to holiday with our grandparents.

My mind went back to a grey Saturday in summer 1994. I remember the train pulling into Glasgow Central and seeing our Grandad, Papa Jimmy, stood waiting for us. It must be because I’m now a father so I was thinking about family stuff, but Archie sees his grandparents weekly, whilst we’d visit my Granny Agnes and Papa Jimmy every summer. They must’ve missed us and looked forward to seeing us so much.

Anyway, just a little trip down memory lane there – but there’s more to the Scottish Awayday then just the footy. I just love coming back up here.

I checked into the Grasshopper hotel, freshened up, and got myself into the Royal Scot just after 3.30pm for my first Tennants of the day.

The bar was full of Glaswegian chat, and as I ordered my beer/burger meal I suddenly became self-conscious of the old English accent.

“Where about’s ye from?” a tall skinny woman turned and asked.

“Burton, it’s near Derby, in the midlands?” (Burtonians always feels the need to add “it’s near Derby”.)

“Och nae I dunnae know where that is. I have cousins in Northumberland, is it near there?”

She seemed friendly enough, and half-pissed to be fair, as I gave her a brief geography lesson before sitting down to sup my pint and devour my food.

Soon after I was in the Horseshoe bar. This famous old pub has stood since 1884. You walk in and are welcomed by a big bar in the middle of a large open room; it’s grand, it’s old-fashioned, and it’s a great setting for a beer. I purchased another Tennants, sat down, and wondered what this place is like on a packed summers Friday night. I gazed at all the pictures and huge imprinted mirrors adorning the walls, wow, this place just oozed history, if only the walls could talk!

Then a middle-aged couple straight from work sat next to me, started fraternising, he slapped her arse, so I left.

IMG_5221One of the huge mirrors adorning the walls of the Horseshoe

It was time to head to Hamilton so I returned to Central station, and down towards the low level. As I walked down the stairs to platform 16 the unmistakable cold blow of the low level brushed my skin, a welcome breeze on a hot afternoon.

The train was packed, full of commuters heading home to places such as Rutherglen, Cambuslang, Newton, and Blantyre.

“Reckon the ticket inspector will come?” asked the big bloke who’s gut was resting on me.

“I dare him!” replies the lady opposite, who then turns to the window before adding “no offence, but I’m claustrophobic and would rather face this way.”

This is the friendliest packed carriage I’ve been in!

25 minutes later and I’m walking off the train at Hamilton West. Straight up the stairs I go, and there over the road is my next drinking point: The Academical Vaults.

Sitting down with another Tennants as Oasis’ ‘Whatever’ played on the jukey, I was perfectly content and looking forward to the evening’s footy.

“Anywhere sitting there mate?”

“No”

“Are you an Inverness fan?”

“No mate, Burton Albion.”

I was joined by Eddie, a Hamilton fan. We got chatting, Eddie telling me about their season, the young manager Martin Canning, and the promising Accies team, a lot of whom have progressed from their youth side.

Eddie asked if I had a ticket, I said I didn’t, so he offered me one of his.

“Are you sure?” I asked, taken aback.

“’course! Forget paying twenty two pound for that shite.” replied Eddie. Nice one!

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More of Eddie’s mates had joined us by this point, including some of the ‘Red Division’ lads and lasses. I say lasses because off course, if you saw the BBC’s Football Fight Club documentary you’d have seen Brogan, the wee lass from the Hamilton casuals!

“Oh aye, Brogan, she’ll be here in a minute!” someone said, and right on cue in Brogan walked.

“Brogan, Burton Albion fan here who wants tae meet ya.”

Straight from work and looking smart, she looked totally different to the young casual from the documentary. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity so had a quick pic with Accies most famous fan.

IMG_5227Brogan

The chat and banter continued, as we discussed Antoine-Curier, super Lucas Akins, and Zander Diamond (one of the lads being a close mate of his).

As tickets were shared out and Accies awayday stories told, it struck me what a tight knit bunch these supporters were. It was like being in a proper little community and I was feeling well looked after.

We strolled to the ground, and I must admit I was feeling quite Oliver Twist by this point. It must’ve been the early start… Or it could be ‘cuz I’m a lightweight.

I popped into the club shop for a proggy, gave the famous red Hamilton bus (as seen on Sportscene) a quick wave, and walked through the red turnstiles…

Hamilton played at Douglas Park upto 2001. Douglas Park is now the adjacent Sainsbury’s, and what did they name their new ground? New Douglas Park, off course!

Eddie and Jeff, my hosts for the evening, led us to the end block of the main stand closest to the away end. From here we had a great view of the action, and were also right where the atmosphere was as the Accies support got chanting from the off.

IMG_5233.JPGView from the main stand

As for the rest of the ground – opposite us was a small 700-capacity stand which was unused tonight, behind the goal to our left was the away end containing 100-odd Caley supporters, whilst behind the other goal is empty, but does have the famous bus lurking in the corner!

IMG_5234.JPGThe travelling Caley fans in the away end

More info on New Douglas Park here – http://www.footballgroundguide.com/leagues/scottish-spl-premier-and-football-league-clubs/scottish-premier-league/hamilton-academical-new-douglas-park.html

The game kicked off on the artificial surface, Hamilton in their famous red and white hoops, Caley in their fetching red and blue strip.

First impressions were how young the Hamilton side looked, and how tall the Caley lads were.

IMG_5232.JPGThe stand filling up pre-match

The game fell into an unsettled, scrappy rhythm. There wasn’t much at stake with both sides safe from relegation but consigned to the bottom half.

Hamilton had just secured their SPL place for a 3rd consecutive year, a fine achievement for this small club when you consider some of the big clubs lower down the leagues, and also some satisfaction for under-fire boss Martin Canning.

There were half-chances for Hamilton’s young prospect Eamonn Brophy and tall Carlton Morris (Norwich loanee) but nothing clear-cut.

Caley put some good quick moves together at times, and managed to go into half-time ahead after Danny Devine scrambled the ball home past Northern Ireland international Michael McGovern.

At half-time I took the opportunity to get some pics for the Scottish Awayday archives with Eddie and Jeff, before trying unsuccessfully for a pic with Accies’ Dougie Imrie. Ah well, I’d rather have had a pic with Brogan than Dougie anyway.

IMG_5238Jeff, Eddie, me, mon the Accies!

With the darkness creeping in and the temperature suddenly dropping, the 2nd half commenced. Accies were trying hard to force an opening, whilst Caley were quick and decisive in possession but just lacking any serious goal-threat.

During lulls in play Eddie was pointing out different players and where they’ve come from, it’s great how many lads they’ve brought through the ranks at Hamilton and long may it continue.

In fact, the Accies actually looked more dangerous when more of their young lads came on.

Daniel Redmond, Greg Docherty and Ronan Hughes were the young lads in question, and had a good go at trying to pull things back into the Accies favour.

In between the subs was the strangest red card decision I’ve seen for a while. Team hard-man and tough-nut Darian Mackinnon seemed to be doing nothing more than shielding the ball from Ian Vigurs, his demeanour simply one of an aggressive midfielder holding onto possession.

The ref blows, books him… then sends him off?! Everyone’s just like “Hey?! What?” Mackinnon was absolutely fuming, and had to be encouraged from the field. (Not in the way a farmer encourages a sheepdog, more of a “Darian! Get your arse off that pitch!” type of way.)

Martin Canning was understandably very animated by this point as the ref went over to talk to him (apparently Mackinnon said something to the ref which bought out the 2nd yellow.. well I say bought out the 2nd yellow, it was already out as the ref hadn’t a chance to put it away before Mackinnon voiced his dis-pleasure).

It was a blow for the Accies as at this point they’d took control of the game in the vain search for an equaliser, but still they drove forward.

I was desperate for an Accies goal by now, not only so I could see the passionate home support go mental, but also so I could jump up and down to warm up a bit.

After a late spell of Accies pressure, a flurry of corners, and a couple of saves from Caley ‘keeper Owain Fon Williams, the full time whistle was blown and the final home game of the season had ended in defeat.

The noise from the home fans continued however, a big flag unfurled for Ziggy Gordon, the popular defender playing his last home game before leaving the club in the summer.

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Ziggy came over to applaud the fans, giving handshakes and hi-5’s to the fans gathered at the front, which included me! Haha, well I couldn’t resist, it was Ziggy Gordon after all!

IMG_5252.JPGOne Ziggy Gordon!

The fans departed New Douglas Park for the final time this season.

We strolled up the path towards the station in the cool spring dusk, Eddie telling us about his upcoming holiday to Vancouver.

It was finally time to go our separate ways; I shook hands with Eddie and Jeff, thanked them for their hospitality, and wished them all the best.

Hamilton Accies, what a great set of supporters you have. I’ll be looking out for your scores from now on, and wish you all the best for the future as you continue to hold your own in the SPL.

I struggled to stay awake on the train back to Glasgow, it had been a long day but it had been an absolutely brilliant day.

I love the Annual Scottish Awayday!


Hamilton 0-1 ICT (Att: 1,516)

Match ticket: Free (usually £22)

Train fares: £42.30 – £38 (advance Tutbury – Glasgow Central & return tickets) & £4.30 (Glasgow Central – Hamilton West return)

 

 

 

Making sense of it all

Where do I start? How on earth do you put it all into words?

We throw words like “fantastic”, “incredible”, “amazing” around all the time – I even got christened Captain Amazing by Sparrow and the lads after using the word so much.

But fantastic, incredible, amazing this is. It’s also unbelievable and an absolute fairy-tale, I honestly did not expect to see Burton Albion play in the 2nd tier of English football.

When I was a kid, Wimbledon were a Premier League club. I couldn’t get my head around the fact Burton played them in non-league as recently as the 70’s, but in less than 20 years they’d risen to the Premier League. I used to think supporting the Dons throughout that time must’ve been amazing!

Meanwhile we laboured on in the Southern Premier. I’d manage Division 3 teams on the Commodore Amiga (the days before the Playstation!) and would dream of the Albion making the football league so I could be them on footy games.

Each pre-season I’d get the team tabs from Match magazine, and longed for the day there was a yellow and black Albion tab included.

When the Football League trophy (JPT) allowed the top 8 Conference teams to enter, I hoped we’d make it so we could experience glamour ties at places such as Bury and Mansfield.

Making the FA Cup first round was usually the highlight of the season.

I remember ahead of the Rochdale FA cup game in 1999/00, the Tuesday before we had lost at Gloucester. My Dad was saying how we could do without the Cup as it’d disrupt the league campaign – I couldn’t believe he was saying it! I was so excited for our big cup game, Rochdale at home, wow! – Hindsight lets me see where the old man was coming from!

Gaining promotion to the football league was the pinnacle, it just meant the world to everyone associated with the club.

As well as the big teams we’d now face such as Bradford, Notts County, Chesterfield, there was all the other things like the League Cup, JPT, and entering the FA Cup in the first round proper.

Even after 7 years, this seasons League Cup draw was a source of excitement as we were handed an away tie at Bolton.

Next season we are one league above Bolton.

And we’re now one of the League Cup seeds! So instead of Bolton or Reading away, it could be Accrington or Barnet.

As for the FA Cup, we’re straight in at the 3rd round! (You watch us get Oxford away).

There is no more JPT, thank goodness, but I don’t think I’ll miss a competition where my fondest memory is us getting a bye into round 2.

There’s countless massive Midlands derbies in store, and also teams like Ipswich, QPR, Blackburn. It’s just staggering the calibre of club we will be competing with next season.

It’s not sunk in yet and I don’t think it will until the fixtures come out.

Sunday was agony then ecstasy.

The journey up was a good laugh; few beers, fake Muskateer ‘taches attached, inflatables blown up, the usual.

But as kick-off neared the old anxiety crept in, the same anxiety that filled me in the Southend play-off away-leg but strangely enough deserted me at Wembley.

The game was cagey, nervy, and as the Walsall goals flew in at Vale Park, unbearable.

2nd half, and I just kept looking at the scoreboard clock, urging it to go bloody quicker.

I couldn’t stand still and my throat was so dry; why do we do this to ourselves.

My heart literally dropped when the Donny lad fell in the box, pure relief when the ref waved all appeals away.

The roar when Calum Butcher broke through on goal.. oh Calum if only you’d squared it to Lucas, the celebrations and release of pressure would’ve been incredible!! But that doesn’t take away what a tremendous shift it was from Calum playing the unfamiliar lone striker role.

As Donny went down to 9 men, the game turned, thankfully, into a game of keep-ball for us.

We gathered on the corner of the pitch near to Phil Edwards, about to take a throw, as injury time wound down.

It was surreal being stood so close to the action and when the ref blew that full time whistle, wow, just wow…

It’s hard to put it into words the pure elation, like we’d scored 5 last minute winners at once, energy just surging through your body as you go absolutely crazy with your mates!

I ran over to Lucas Akins before gathering with the lads, forming our own circle in the centre circle, singing and dancing in the East Yorkshire sun.

I gave Shane CS my Aussie flag, had a pic, shook Cloughie’s hand, before some kind of order was restored and the players lifted the 2nd place trophy, before we all just sang and sang and sang……

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It was just amazing, I know I keep saying amazing but just looking at the online thesaurus and my other options are words such as awesome, incredible, marvellous, stunning, unbelievable, wonderful, and yes it is all of them, but ultimately it is fucking amazing, and sorry Mum if you’re reading this that there’s an f-bomb in there but come on, we’re Burton Albion and we’re Championship!!

These are incredible times at our little football club, let’s just enjoy next season and remember who we are and where we’ve come from, and continue to trust the fantastic people who run this club.

I bloody love the Albion.

Emotional times!

Before Cloughie came back, I’d enjoyed lots of good old-fashioned football banter with decent Derby and Sheff Utd supporters.

Off course, our Nige would come up in convo. Some liked him, some didn’t – that’s football.

I’d always point out to supporters of both clubs that from an outside perspective, he’d left their respective club in a better position than when he joined. Most of them would agree.

But the same comments would come from most people: Naïve tactics, baffling substitutions, player fall-outs.

Being the staunch Clough-disciple, this was near blasphemy to me!

But it also struck a chord how so many different supporters of those clubs would make those comments.

So, back to the Albion. I was unsure if Clough coming back was the right thing (here’s my piece on that here)

The stunning 3-0 win away at Gillingham eased early doubts, and the points continued to roll in.

Clough was true to his word in keeping things pretty much the same. The formation stayed the same, the line up was the same, so in turn, results stayed the same.

Any slight changes were made for the better – Clough bringing out an attacking side of Calum Butcher that I didn’t know existed! Lucas Akins also began to flourish, after looking short of confidence in Jimmy’s final weeks.

Nasser El Khayati leaving was a blow. In an organised, efficient, and hard-working team, he was the wildcard, the man who could produce that bit of magic to send you back down the road (the M6, normally) with the points. Blackpool, Oldham, Wigan away, Nasser was a vital part in us taking 9 vital points from those 3 away games.

But still, the points trickled in.

Clough oversaw brilliant away wins at Coventry and Sheff Utd. After both games he told how at half-time he’d given the players a bit of a rollicking, said the game was there to be won if they upped it. On both occasions we indeed upped it and won.

Hats off to Cloughie there, a point at both the Ricoh and Bramall Lane would’ve been acceptable but Clough didn’t let the players get complacent, and valuable points were won.

So the season’s rolling along nicely, yeah we’re losing the odd game but hey, it’s a competitive league and we seem to be bouncing back well.

I’m quite pleased with how the return of Clough is going. It just feels “right” having him back as manager.

He was given a thankless task, lost a key talisman, but we’re still up there – a commendable job so far.

The 4-0 win at Vale, wow, you’re thinking promotion is now a certainty.

Then comes the last 3 weeks and 4 games.

We were flat against a good competitive Oldham side, but still get a point. As Clough says post-match, at this point of the season you’re going to have games when the players are feeling it a bit.

Fair enough, onto Millwall we go.

For me, to name the exact same XI just 48 hours after such a flat showing against Oldham, especially when you have fit players on the bench desperate for a game, just couldn’t work that one out? Okay you can argue (and I said it on facebook) if Duffy had converted his early chance and we knicked the win, then maybe the line-up would’ve been justified. But that didn’t happen, and some players just looked knackered.

Very strange decision.

Onto Bury at home and thankfully Weir is back in the starting XI, but we’re all beginning to wonder what’s going on with Shane Cansdell-Sheriff? Named on the bench again with Tom Flanagan keeping his spot, unless SCS is struggling with an injury it just doesn’t add up?

Onto the game, and in the terraces Sam had already pointed out “Hamza looks like he’s got a 40-yarder or a red-card in him..”.

Now once Hamza had been booked, considering the way he plays, why was he not subbed? Post-match and Clough says they were thinking about taking him off.. well why wasn’t it done?

Down to 10 men but we still rescue a point.

Onto Scunthorpe, once again there’s no SCS in the starting XI.

We lose 1-0 – I wasn’t there, but from what I’ve heard we didn’t play too badly. No complaints from me, other results weren’t disastrous for us, onto Barnsley.

So just to keep you upto date – Saturday night, a content Brewer.

Sunday morning – have a muse over the Albion facebook page, then I see the posts from a very reliable source (which have since been removed) which all but confirm that Clough and Shane Cansdell-Sheriff have had a fallout.

Update – frustrated and disillusioned Brewer.

There was a little bit more to the posts, which painted a less than rosy picture of the current mood within the squad.

I just couldn’t believe it, for goodness sake how petty is this – surely if it was that bad, SCS wouldn’t be involved with the squad altogether?

So here’s where my frustration comes out and I need to vent.

We are on the brink of an amazing achievement for our small club, which will come with a sizeable financial reward. Don’t give me that “I’d have settled for 20th” bullshit – this set of players are better than that, this team as a whole is much better than that as they have shown on countless occasions over the last 2 years.

We’ve got to where we are by playing a certain disciplined way, relying on clean sheets, with the back 4 of Edwards, Mous, SCS, McCrory being pivotal.

The stats back this up – at one point this season the back 4 of Edwards, Mous, SCS, McCrory kept 8 consecutive clean sheets when played together – 751 minutes – over 12.5 hours!! (Thanks to the Burton Mail!)

We simply look steadiest at the back with the above 4.

This is an amazing opportunity for our club which we may not get again. In order to give us the best chance of realising this dream, surely our best team should take to the park??

Granted I don’t know the full story re; Clough/SCS, but is it that big an issue it can’t be resolved? Or is SCS simply the latest player that Clough has fallen out with?

Whatever your views on this, I don’t think you can deny those particular facebook posts were worrying.

It brings me back around to the opinions of Derby/Sheff U fans, and I feel like I can empathise with them a lot more now.

At this moment in time, the best footballing decisions need to be made for the sake of our football club.

I don’t see how having a fit Shane Cansdell-Sheriff sat on the bench at such a crucial time, is the best footballing decision for our football club.

But hey, I’ll support this fantastic team we have right until the end and I’ll always be grateful to Nigel Clough for what he’s done for this club.

Go on Nigel, get us over that finish-line and shut me up…

UTB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Clough’s first Christmas

“What we are looking for is solid performances. People keep telling me that the Atherstone’s and Boston’s of this world are “nothing special”.

But they work their socks off, they get results and they are in the top half of the table, so they must be getting something right.”

Strong words from Cloughie in the Rothwell Town match programme, a week after a 4-0 hammering away at Boston which confirmed the honeymoon period was well and truly over.

The frustration continued vs Rothwell in front of a newly covered Gordon Bray Terrace, Albion dropping into the relegation area after a 0-0 draw in front of 576 bewildered Brewers.

Ah Rothwell, a team with probably my favourite nickname, ‘The Bones’, and my favourite ground name, ‘Cecil Street’…

Anyway.

I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to things like dates, and one thing I’ve noticed is how our festive fixtures this year match the festive fixtures in Clough’s first year, 1998, New Years day aside.

It was to be a vital period, the 4 upcoming local derbies could literally make or break the season.

Saturday 19th December 1998 – Tamworth away

Centre FM went across to the Lamb for some important team news… “Nigel Clough will make his first league start for the Brewers today…”

Get in!! Given recent form (just 1 goal in 6 league games) this was just the boost everyone needed.

This was one of my early train days so I was full of the excitement that a good train away day brings, no need for lager-based assistance for my enthusiasm back then though – 2 weeks school holidays, 6 sleeps from a PlayStation, and Tamworth away, what more could a lad want?!

These were the days before they segregated us at the Lamb, we’d just started playing eachother in league games again the season before and the rivalry wasn’t as intense as us and Gresley, which the attendance of just 717 proved.

Sporting our sky blue away strip and attacking the end they now segregate us in, an early corner from the right was headed in by Tony Marsden to give us the lead – only our 2nd league goal in 7 games.

As the December darkness creeped in, Albion held out in the 2nd half and should’ve added a 2nd when David Holmes hit the post from close range.

There was a decent atmosphere from the travelling Brewers, relieved to finally see us grab a win.

At the time there was a bunch of lads who started coming Albion, they wore all the proper gear and weren’t afraid of the odd scrape if you know what I mean. Anyway, my Mum had given us a bag of food to take along with us, I flat refused to hold it not wanting to damage any terrace-cred.

So 2nd half, where’s Craig gone? We look over to them lads, and who is going around them offering them Penguin’s out of our food bag? Craig! We were in stitches as lads in Burberry and Stone Island thanked Craig for the refreshments, I doubt the Millwall boys are looked after so well.

Back on the pitch and Albion held out for the win, the festive season getting off to a promising start…

Position after match: 18th/22

Line-up: Goodwin; Allsopp, Blount, Grocutt, Spooner; Lyons (Francis), Marsden, Clough, Sutton (C Smith), Hackett; Holmes

Saturday 26th December 1998 – Gresley home

The annual boxing day shindig with the Whippets Moatmen.

2,103 were in attendance and there was the usual derby-day atmosphere at Eton Park, we still owed Gresley for them coming back to beat us 3-2 in 96/97, even if we had beat them the season before, we still owed them!

Albion attacked the Gordon Bray end in the first half. I remember after a rendition of “Gary Birtles is a w*****…”, a particular favourite terrace ditty at the time, a female Gresley fan muttering “yeah well look where you lot are in the league.”

I remembered that on the final day of the season as we celebrated them getting relegated.

2nd half, and we’re attacking the Brook End. I remember the ball coming in… it looked like Darren Grocutt was literally stood on the goal-line, as he headed the ball downwards and it bounced up right into the back of that yellow and black net… the Brook End erupted, sheer elation, you know when it feels like you are bouncing 10 foot into the air? Mental scenes, everyone loves a local-derby winner, the Albion managing to keep their nerve and hold out again for the 3 points, Merry Christmas indeed!

Position after match: 17th/22

Line-up: Goodwin; Allsopp, Blount, Grocutt, Spooner; Lyons, Marsden, Clough, Sutton (C Smith), Hackett; Holmes

 

Monday 28th December 1998 – Ilkeston Town away

Dad, Stu and me got the coach over for the Bank Holiday clash at the New Manor Ground, home to the late Keith Alexander’s Ilkeston.

Whilst Dad got some pre-match supping in, Stu and me got Clough and Crosby’s autographs as they discussed the state of the pitch.

There was plenty of Albion fans in attendance boosting the crowd to 1,155, with most of us just settling onto the terrace as Pat Lyons smashed us ahead in the 2nd minute.

David Holmes doubled the lead right on half-time, but the 2nd half was a different story as Ilkeston pulled a goal back and piled on heavy pressure.

It was the first time I remember the Tom Hark song being sung by Albion fans, it was being used on the Guinness advert at the time. (Honestly, how do I remember shit like this??!!)

But once again the almighty Albion held out for another festive victory, 3 wins on the spin, confidence was high before the return trip to the Moat…

Position after match: 15th/22

Line-up: Goodwin; Allsopp, Blount, Grocutt, Spooner; Lyons, Marsden, Clough, C Smith, Hackett (Webster); Holmes

Friday 1st January 1998 – Gresley away

Having spent New Year at my Granny’s, we tuned into this one on Radio Derby.

If I remember right it was Craig Smith who headed us in front in the first half, before Aaron Webster scored his first ever Albion goal late on?

Granny’s living room hadn’t seen scenes like it since the last night at the proms as we celebrated a 2-0 win in South Derbyshire!

So a double over the Moatmen, and 4 wins out of 4.

If Carlsberg made festive fixtures.

Position after match: 11th/22

Line-up: Goodwin; Allsopp, Blount, Grocutt, Spooner; Stride, Marsden (Francis), Clough, C Smith, Webster; Holmes

2 days later and the run was finally ended in a 2-0 home defeat by Boston Utd. Cloughie was far from disheartened though, getting a round in for the squad post-match, and praising their efforts after 5 games in 2 weeks returned 12 points.

An inconsistent 2nd half of the season saw Albion eventually finish 13th, but better times weren’t far away, were they?

IMG_4643

League table before the Tamworth game, Albion occupying one of the four relegation spots.

 

The return of Clough

For any Albion fan, it’s our own version of “where were you when JFK got shot?” or “where were you when Lady Di died?”

Where were you when you heard Nigel Clough had become manager back in 1998?

I was 12 years old, up in Scotland in sad circumstances for my late Grandad Jimmy’s funeral.

I was flicking through the ‘Football in brief’ section on teletext and it just appeared on the screen, something like “Nigel Clough is the new player/manager of Doc Martens Premier side Burton Albion”

Wow!

From that day on, our football club changed forever.

There was a buzz of excitement about the Albion that I hadn’t seen before. It was the talk of the town with TV cameras at Eton Park, the big newspapers writing about us, we were even on Football Focus with the BBC camera’s following us upto Morpeth Town for our FA Cup qualifier!

It was like the club had become famous overnight.

It was like our team name had changed overnight as well, as we became “Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion.”

Need a bloody long scarf to fit all that on.

My Dad and me had started doing the away games around that time, and I remember us getting back to Eton Park late after Weymouth away. The team coach pulled in at the same time, and as we headed back to Dave & Veronica’s car Cloughie was walking alongside asking how our journey back was.

I was a bit star struck (absolutely knackered too after travelling all that way for a 0-0) but yeah, wow, we’re stood chatting to Nigel Clough, he’s telling us about stopping at Tesco in Dorchester!

The next 9 years were some of my favourite times supporting the Albion.

Constant progression, the Doc Martens cup win, that special Unibond season, fantastic Cup nights under the floodlights, *Pub Team 3-2 Boston Utd*, Trophy runs, the move to Pirelli, Man Utd, some of the football we witnessed as Macca, Gilroy and co. tore teams apart, incredible comebacks like York and Salisbury, a formidable team spirit, and the ultimate in finally becoming a football league club..

I feel privileged to have seen those years under Clough. Yes it wasn’t always rosy as Clough himself said in one of his last interviews, those early Conference years were tough going with some low days. I mean I’ve never even seen a 4-7 scoreline on FIFA but after Telford came to town, I sure have seen one in real life.

They were the best days ever.

So it made me feel ever so slightly awkward when asked on Radio Derby if Nigel Clough was the right man to replace Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.

As I said on the radio, the fairy-tale is Cloughie comes back and leads us to the Championship. A Hollywood script-writer would refuse to write that, citing it far too unrealistic.

But, at this minute in time, I just don’t think he’s the right man for the job..

Before you shoot me down, let me explain my thinking and reasoning.

Before Jimmy Floyd took over, I thought we would one day reach League 1. After that it’d take a good few years of growing off the field before we aimed any higher.

Jimmy has blown all that out the water.

Look at us. Look at our football club, 20 games in, sitting top of League 1. Look at us in this last fortnight going to in-form Wigan and putting in the ultimate classic away performance to leave there with all 3 points. Look at us tossing all the speculation about Jimmy to one side and in what was one of our poorer showings this season, but still thrashing Colchester 5-1.

Look at us beating a Millwall side playing in the Championship last season in what was one hell of a battle.

He has pushed the boundaries. These players CAN do this, they can and have a chance of getting us into the Championship.

At the recent fans forum, Ben Robinson was asked how far the club can realistically go.

I can’t remember exact quotes, but Ben said something along the lines of you’ve got to dream, if you don’t have dreams then what’s the point?

And that’s exactly right, what is the point of settling for being bang-average? Let’s strive to be the best we can be, it’s how Jimmy has got the players thinking and it has worked.

Look at all the big clubs in League 1, League 2, even the Conference. Wigan, Coventry, Sheff Utd, Portsmouth, Luton, Oxford, Bristol Rovers, Wrexham, Grimsby – big names, but we’re top of the bunch.

So here is my thinking. Since Clough, the club has evolved through Pesch, Rowett, Jimmy, to where we are now.

This set of players responded superbly to Jimmy Floyd and David Oldfield. They took everything on board, won a league title, and now top League 1. An immense team ethic has been instilled along with strong discipline and sharp focus, no one is getting carried away.

So seen as this set of players responded so well to someone like Jimmy; a massive name, a former Premier League star, eager to prove himself in management, I thought it may be the way for us to go again.

We are in a unique and maybe once in a lifetime position and if we want to make it count, I thought having someone unique and with that ‘x-factor’ (can’t believe I’ve used that word) and instant impact that Jimmy had was what we needed.

I don’t necessarily see Nigel Clough as being that person?

It doesn’t mean I am totally against today’s news that Cloughie has agreed a deal in principle. It will be intriguing and exciting to see how he does with this squad – but also scary, he is a club legend in my eyes and I don’t want that to change.

And he’s a far better option that 99% of names on the bookies odds lists!

There are off course positives to Clough coming back. For a start, we know he will stay around! Not a dig at Jimmy because I don’t begrudge him his move, but it gets boring when it becomes all about the manager and less about the club we support.

I also think it could boost crowds? People interested in how it’ll work out 2nd time around? I don’t know, just a feeling I have.

One thing I did think earlier, how Clough instilled belief in promising young strikers and got them performing. Dale Anderson, Shaun Harrad and Greg Pearson gave their all for Cloughie and improved as players, could he be the man to get Timmy Thiele rocking and rolling?

Very interesting times lie ahead. None of us know how it will end up, and considering the position the club’s in it’s a bit of a thankless task.

But yes it has torn me, my head saying one thing and my heart the other.

I want my doubts to be proven wrong.

I want the fairy-tale to be completed.

And I can’t wait for the goose-bumps when we sing “Nigel Clough’s Yellow Army…” for the first time.

Welcome home Nigel.

(It best be confirmed now after writing all this!)