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A Trophy tale

Watching the Class of ’92 last week took me right back.

The BBC cameras followed Gary Neville and co. around the grounds of the Northern League, with one place immediately getting my mind racing nearly 20 years back.

Hurst Cross, home of Ashton United.

It was a miserable Friday in November 1996. My Dad got home from work, and put the Burton Mail down. “Have a look in there”, he goes, pointing at the back page. I opened the back page to find a brown envelope. (Hmm hidden brown envelopes, reminds me of a certain club and manager..) Written on the envelope was;

30/11/96 ASHTON UNITED AWAY FA TROPHY

2 COACH SEATS BOOKED

DEPARTURE 11AM

(Or something similar. My memory is good, but not that good!)

I felt like Charlie Bucket when he found the golden ticket, like David Cameron when he saw the bill on cutting tax credits from hard working families.

10-year old me was buzzing, an FA Trophy away game get in!!

Even at that age the FA Trophy was a competition I loved. I had heard the stories about the 86/87 run to Wembley, whilst the season before I experienced the drama of the 3-3 draw vs Bamber Bridge and the absolute ecstasy (and multiple pitch invasions) in the 3-1 win vs Telford.

I wanted some more special Trophy memories – but we had previous with Ashton.

We were Southern League Premier, with Ashton playing in the Northern League Division one – a level below us.

We were drawn together in the 1994/95 competition, a 1-1 draw at Eton Park followed up with a convincing 3-0 replay win for Ashton on a night where a threadbare Albion squad contained then manager John Barton on the bench.

Time for payback, surely?

So back to late 1996. I can remember us waiting at Eton Park for the 2 coaches to arrive. Marstons were also taking a coach as they often did to cup games.

It was your typical cold, dull November day. At the services there was coaches of Leicester fans heading to wherever. Funny to think that it was just 12 years after we’d played them in that FA Cup tie.

Once at Ashton we went into the bar at the ground which was really spacious and smart, father and son filling up on pre-match ale and panda pops.

The ground was small, rundown, typical non-league. The tea-bar had like diner tables and seats in front of it, something quirky and different which enabled you to munch your burger and sip your Bovril in style.

Onto the game, the crowd was just 397 but with 3 travelling coaches, at least half of the crowd must’ve been Albion fans.

I’m sure we hit the bar in the first half – Steve Spooner header – but I’ve drank many many fizzy lagers since then so I may be wrong…

I can’t remember what half Ashton scored in, but score they did.

Late on in the Tameside darkness we had a golden chance to equalise. Their ‘keeper and Les Hornby challenged for the ball, the ‘keeper ended up on the deck as the ball flew in the air, goal gaping.. but Hornby had lost his bearings, back to goal, he frantically looked around for the ball which then hit his back, shoulder, whatever, and flew out of play for a goal kick.

Costly Trophy errors.

The referee’s full time whistle would then end another season of Trophy dreams, there was to be no 10-year Wembley Anniversary visit for the Brewers.

Another memory is a bit of drama at full time, as we stood by the exit. Something kicked off on the pitch, the usual pushing and shoving with Alan Davies in the midst of it.

There was an Ashton fan nearby who started talking to my Dad about what happened, how it had all kicked-off. But within seconds of leaving the exits, this bloke was stood by his front door of his terraced house – he lived literally 10 seconds from the ground! I’m sure Dad wished him good luck in the next round, and off we went…

Seeing Hurst Cross on TV last week reminded me of those non-league days, how much I loved them (though I wasn’t loving this particular day too much at the time), and how much I appreciate the current success.

But we still owe Ashton one!

Hurst Cross

Hurst Cross – that blokes house literally behind the stand!

  • Albion would go onto finish 6th in the Doc Martens Prem but record a Southern League Cup and Birmingham Senior Cup double.
  • Ashton would go onto beat Nuneaton, Knowsley, and Billingham, before losing 5-0 at home to Macclesfield in the 2nd round proper.
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New Season Eve.

I’m still going straight to the ‘League 2’ section of the BBC Sport website. League 2 fixtures were what I searched for on Fixture Release day.

Just like when you kept writing the previous year’s date in your School text-books in January, I can’t quite get used to the fact the Brewers are now in League 1.

Sheffield United, Wigan, Millwall await. Old League 2 comrades Grimsby, Cheltenham, Torquay, and Macc, are as close to us in the Football League pyramid as Chelsea, Arsenal, and Liverpool.

It is mental, but it is happening.

So what to expect from our debut season at this level?

After such stunning form after Jimmy took over, confidence is obviously high both within the club and on the terraces.

Gary Rowett’s recruitment policy last summer of signing League 1 ready players proved invaluable, and Jimmy’s signings have added further youth, flair, and good character to this strong looking Brewers squad.

There is League 1 experience ingrained in the heart of this team, and an abundance of fearlessness and confidence.

Casting my mind back to when we won promotion to the Conference, Cloughie kept faith with a high number of the squad that won the Unibond. Clough said something along the lines of after getting used to winning often, we as fans may have to accept that we might take some hammerings along the way in the Conference.

We certainly did take some hammerings in that maiden Conference season, but I don’t think it’ll be quite the same this season. Telford aren’t around to do us 7-4, for a start.

I don’t think this squad has maybe the naivety that our promoted sides have in the past.

That’s not to say it’s going to be plain-sailing, I mean yes I’m biased but I can’t be deluded!

I just look at the effect Jimmy has had as manager. I see the squad, a squad full of honesty, toughness, and ambition, and think yeah, in my opinion this squad is capable of finishing top half of League 1.

Something that backs my opinion is how well last season’s promoted clubs did. Chesterfield made the play-offs, finishing 6th, Rochdale 8th, Fleetwood 10th, whilst Scunthorpe had the poorest season of the 4 but recovered well from a disastrous start to finish 16th.

There is a momentum within the club at the minute and it may well be that the tough job may be trying to have a strong 2nd season in League 1, but best not get to ahead of myself here!

So, to conclude. My prediction for the season is a steady top half finish, between 10th-12th.

There’s going to hopefully be some highs, and there will surely be a lot more lows than we encountered last season.

Let’s all do our bit again on the terraces, the support and noise we generated last season was absolutely fantastic, and as John Mousinho and Stuart Beavon stressed in the recent Fans Workshop, it really does make all the difference to the lads on the pitch.

Here’s to a memorable League 1 season, let’s make some more memories!

UTB

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014/15, a few memories

Some memories from an unforgettable season…

Dagenham at home. Jamie Cureton poachers the Daggers ahead, we toil in vain for an equaliser. Rowett brings on Palmer and Harness; the young guns. A slightly overweight looking Billy Kee joins the action too. All 3 are instrumental in us turning the game around, winning 2-1 late on after Harness wins a penalty. Stocky Billy bags a brace. I preferred stocky Billy to slimline Billy anyway…

Mansfield away. Over 500 travelling Brewers create one of the best atmospheres I think I’ve experienced at an away game. ‘Dale Cavesi’ has become the sound of the season. Reece started drumming away at the start of the second half and a chant you’d expect to peter out after a few minutes just grew louder and louder… Jim Smallman, comedian and football groundhopper, summed it up in his blog (http://thefootballneutral.com/);

From the very instant that the second half kicked off until the very end of the game, the Burton fans were singing, jumping up and down, dancing and looked like they were having the best time possible.  Honestly, I’ve never seen such stunning away support.  You always expect the travelling fans to be loud and proud, but these guys were having the time of their lives.  They were closer to the PSV fans that I watched at Ajax last year that anything I’ve seen in the UK.  Hats off to them.

I remember seeing a little lad stood at the front not even watching the game, he was stood facing us lot at the back of the stand. He was joining in with the singing, dancing around on the spot, looking like he was having the time of his life, and that’s what it’s all about. Our support went to the next level that day.

On the pitch, Alex McDonald gave us the lead with a shot that took about 17 deflections before Callum McFadzean scored in the 2nd half sending us mad in the away end. The game got dirtier and dirtier as Mansfield took “getting stuck in” to a different level. It was a travesty that we ended the game with 10-men after Robbie Weir objected to getting stamped on. Some would call Mansfield physical, I’d call them dirty bastards.

There was the League Cup run. We looked so comfortable against Wigan, and as for QPR, wow. I watched the highlights back and had forgot how many chances we had! Marcus Harness was sensational against a strong QPR side and gave Clint Hill a torrid time. McGurk won it, a big-game goal from a big-game player.

This was a big deal, beating a Premier League side for the first time. But as the players walked off routinely at full time, it made me think we really do have a proper set of professional’s here. They’re not getting carried away with this, it’s just another good night’s work – testimony again to the squad Gary Rowett put together.

Onto September and Portsmouth at home. Had a great night out with Luke and a few Pompey mates of his, Callum, his Dad, and Steve, as we did a tour of the town centre pubs. Great lads who follow Pompey all over the country, hopefully we’ll meet up again soon.

Next day and nursing a slight hangover I witnessed a great win in the September sun, live on the Sky cameras too. We looked simply unbeatable.

Rowett left us. Inevitable in the end, but still sad. The job he did in turning us around from strugglers to contenders was fantastic, I didn’t see that coming when he was appointed.

Would the season now fizzle out? Anxious times…

Gary Megson drives past me in a white BMW down Wetmore Road – I swear it was him! I even put £20 on him being the next manager… It’ll be £20 I never get back.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink is appointed our new manager.

I’m unsure. Does he know the lower leagues? Will this work?

Wycombe away. I watch it down Holden’s.

No Sharps or Bell. Palmer and Lenihan start centre-mid. We’re wearing Wycombe’s socks due to a mix-up.

But we win 3-1.

A strong performance and a brilliant result, the JFH era starts in style…

Luton at home, an absolute battle between 2 very good teams. Phil Edwards scores one of his important goals and we remain resilient to see the game out. A big win.

Fast-forward to February 7th, Cheltenham away. I’m moving house, Holden and me assembling a wardrobe as Albion dismantle the Robins.

That 3-1 win reminded me of when we beat Gainsborough 1-0 around the same time in the Unibond season. That night my Dad said that’s it now, we’ve gone and won there today, we’ll do it! And I got the same feeling after the Cheltenham away game.

Archie James is born on 19th February, and 2 days later he’s sat with me as Nasser El Khayati scores his first Brewers goal as we rack up another away victory. Luke got me a programme and Marv gave his match ticket from the game for Archie, a memento for him when he’s a little older – just hope he likes football!! Nice touch from Luke and Marv, thanks again lads.

The Southend game is my favourite home game of the season. At half-time I was stood despondent on the terrace. Southend had been all over us. Fortunately for us Mclaughlin saved a Corr peno; unfortunately for us Corr managed to score soon after. Robbie Weir then got himself sent off.

I couldn’t have predicted that 2nd half. Palmer levels it, and despite being a man down we’re looking good, causing Southend problems in a role reversal of the first half.

Just as we’re about to settle for a point, Nasser produces one of the moments of the season. It was bedlam behind that goal when his placed shot found the bottom corner, absolute scenes, one of the celebrations of the season!

This team just kept surpassing expectations.

Another thing I took from that night – when we signed Nasser, I watched a 10-min youtube video of his highlights. As some hip-hop track effed away in the background (you may want to something a bit more PG, Nasser!), he jinked, dribbled and left Dutch lower league players for dead. He looked very skilful, but would League 2 defenders put up with this? How would he react to some strong challenges?

As Nasser grabbed a Southend player by the throat in the aftermath of Robbie Weir’s red card, I put those doubts to one side.

Tranmere’s Prenton Park gives you a great view of the action, and it was one of them memorable awaydays as McCrory, Akins, Nasser (my new hero!), and Mr OG gave us a 4-1 away victory in the Merseyside sun. Jon Mclaughlin saved his 2nd penalty of the week as his strong form continued.

Carlisle at home was the definition of that great cliché “rollercoaster of emotions.” There’s not been many other times I’ve gone to a game so sure of an Albion win. Danny Grainger’s stunning early free kick see’s us behind, but there’s plenty of time for us to rattle a few in.

The game soon settles into the rhythm we all expected of constant Albion pressure, as Carlisle time waste at any time-wasting opportunity. But the problem is when we shoot, their ‘keeper is saving it, and when he doesn’t save it, the bar or post is in the way.

This remains the case well into the second half. Carlisle also delve deeper into new levels of time-wasting. My favourite was a floated ball, not hit at great pace, hitting the back of their players head and him going down wanting treatment. You had to be there to believe it.

Edwards and McCrory became extra wingers as we seemed to go back to 1953 and played the 2-5-3 formation, but still the ball would not go in! Pure frustration in the terraces, but relief as we won a late peno…

I felt sick with nerves as McCrory stepped up. The ground fell silent. McCrory hit it low, to the ‘keeper’s left, but he’s done it again, the ‘keeper is down quick and with a strong arm he saves the ball, heads go into hands and I actually feel gutted, like I’ve been hit in the stomach, this is unbearable…

In the 98th minute the ball is bouncing around the Carlisle area, Denny Johnstone doesn’t seem to strike the ball cleanly but that doesn’t matter as the ball finally falls into the corner of the net and we can all finally celebrate the equaliser, it’s a release of pressure and a feeling of relief, I walk home with no voice left and feeling like I’ve played 98 minutes myself.

Onto Morecambe… it was all rather calm, like it was inevitable we would go up. It didn’t have the ‘cup final’ feel of Torquay in the Conference. I kept my nerve pre-game to win the Holden Travel winner stays on Pool comp, Stacey also defeating Holden and Sam as they sulked in ‘Losers Corner’.

The sun was beating down at the Globe Arena and the Albion attacked at will. The Morecambe defence must’ve had us on their accumulators as they kept passing the ball around the back, playing totally into our hands as our quick tempo saw us steal possession time and again.

McCrory missed his 2nd peno in a week, but the pressure didn’t let up and Akins struck us into the lead. 2nd half and Akins stepped up to make it 2-0 from the spot (I don’t think Damo dared volunteer for that one) and it was gearing towards party time… Morecambe scored a consolation, and at full-time it was quite surreal as we had to wait for confirmation that Wycombe hadn’t won.

It was all getting quite confusing as we kept checking the table and using our calculators and abacus’, but finally the news came through that we had been promoted! The team came back out, songs were sung, champagne was sprayed, hands were shook, and a fantastic time was had by all, WE ARE GOING UP…

But we still had to win the league.

Cambridge away. I’m dressed as Batman, my brother Dav is Robin. He’s in the stand though, whilst I’m over on the terrace.

I don’t think any of us expected 1,300 tickets to go so quickly! Thankfully Cambridge sent us some extra terrace tickets and I could make it. Last time I went to the Abbey, Cambridge defeated us in the Conference play-offs Semi’s, so there was a score to be settled…

The stand looked brilliant packed full of Albion in fancy dress, the noise was also great and we did our bit over on the terrace too.

Beavon’s header was a fantastic finish, but Cambridge got back into it and as we trailed in the second half with 10 men, we were just thankful Plymouth were helping us out at Shrewsbury.

Then Phil Edwards smacks one in from what, 25-30 yards, right into the top corner, to send us all ballistic, everyone charging down the terrace and me only just managing to stop falling on my arse. What a way to end the season!

But the Albion aren’t finished just yet, some more Nasser trickery leaves the Cambridge defence flat-footed, before the ball finds its way to Kevin Stewart who simply taps-in from close range. Another mental goal celebration, great scenes, and another memorable victory to top off this stunning season!

The full time whistle goes and we’re champions, I’ll never forget Big Bird (Dan!) clumsily running onto the pitch, and Dipsy the teletubbie charging past a steward’s grasp like Jonah Lomu, it was all in good nature and everyone was just simply elated.

The players celebrated with more champagne, as we sang and celebrated some again, faces full of smiles as more memories were made.

When I heard we wouldn’t receive the trophy at Cambridge I was quite gutted, but it did mean Mel and me got to take Archie to the Pirelli stadium for the first time to see the players lift the trophy.

Okay so he slept through most of it, but at least he can say he was there! And I’ll be honest and get a bit soppy, for me to see the Albion lift the league trophy as I was stood with my son was a special moment.

Jimmy grabbed the microphone and thanked us all for our support, and I was stood thinking you just couldn’t imagine this type of thing happening way back in the late 90’s when we were Doc Martens and Jimmy was Premier League!

All that remained was pictures with the trophy which we duly got the following weekend, another great touch from the club allowing us the chance to do that.

I told Archie he’s had his picture took with more silverware then Wayne Rooney has this season, not bad for a 3-month old lad.

2014/15, a very special season.

.Champions!

Will he stay or will he go?

I’ve got massive respect for Gary Rowett; absolutely love the bloke.

This respect for GR started growing after the 7-1 thrashing by Bristol Rovers, of all games. I expected GR to be scathing in his post-match interview. He was the opposite, straight to the point. He’d learnt a lot about this set of players, and he had plenty to think over.

I began wondering what Rowett could achieve with his own set of players. The answer? Consecutive play-off finishes, a trip to Wembley, and numerous cup shocks.

I attended the fans forum last month, an absolutely brilliant night, very positive, with Ben Robinson and Rowett answering every question asked – and in great detail.

Rowett spoke about being approached for the Blackpool job. He also spoke passionately about the amount of hard work and effort he has invested in this current team at Burton, how much belief he had in them, and what promotion would mean to him.

Now I think I remember this correctly, I’m sure I recall him saying;

“If someone gave me the choice of joining a Championship club now, or staying and winning promotion at Burton; I would choose staying here and winning promotion.”

We all applauded.

Which brings me on to today…

Ben Robinson doesn’t stand in the way of a manager, and has today given Birmingham City permission to speak to Gary Rowett.

Rowett played there between 1998-2000, knows people still at the club, and is held in high regard by the Blues support.

Birmingham are a bigger club than Burton, won the League Cup in 2011, and if their off-field issues get sorted they have the potential to be an established top-flight team.

But it’s them off-field issues that make me think this won’t be an easy decision for Rowett.

When Rowett turned down the Blackpool job, it wasn’t a massive surprise, but many Albion fans were saying it’s if/when Birmingham sack Lee Clarke we needed to worry.

I didn’t totally agree; as any Birmingham fan will tell you, they are in a state off the field, and no one seems too sure who the actual owner is… all of this can’t have really helped Lee Clarke.

Is Rowett going to want to go and work at a club like this?

He has the potential this season to earn promotion, a promotion he’ll have put his heart and soul into and is absolutely striving for. Will he risk walking away, only to be walking back into the Pirelli next season for a Burton Albion vs Birmingham City League 1 fixture?

Ultimately, I don’t know. None of us do.

If he does, then I’m sure we’ll all wish him well and thank him for 2 and a bit good season and some great memories.

But if he chooses to stay here at Burton… well this is the awkward bit.

Since Rowett went and spoke to Blackpool, our form has been a bit ropey to say the least. We’ve lost 6 out of our last 10 fixtures in all competitions. Now I know the heights reached at the start of the season couldn’t last for ever, but not gaining a single point out of home fixtures against Cambridge and Morecambe was nigh on unthinkable after that fantastic Sunday in front of the Sky cameras vs Portsmouth.

Was the fact that Rowett went and spoke to Blackpool a cause for uncertainty in the camp, and a factor in our inconsistent last 10 games?

What happens if Rowett says no to Birmingham, but then in a months time say another one of his former clubs, Charlton, lose their manager. The uncertainty starts again…

It doesn’t even have to one of his former clubs, say Barnsley or Doncaster run out of patience with their managers after their unsatisfactory starts to this season, and come calling?

It can’t really continue.

Like I say I’m a massive fan of Rowett’s, but ultimately I’m a Burton Albion supporter and want the best for my club.

Our manager talking to bigger clubs is, like Rowett says, testament to the great work everyone has put in here at Burton, but it can’t keep happening every couple of months.

Over to you, Gary.

The Annual Scottish Awayday – Hibs 1-1 Raith Rovers

I love Edinburgh. With its castle, stunning architecture, great pubs and friendly people, it’s just a great city to visit and a place I can’t get enough of.

Which made it the perfect destination for this year’s Annual Scottish Awayday.

When it comes to Scottish football, Hibs are Varls’ team, so Hibs vs Raith Rovers in the Scottish Championship was an easy choice.

It was still pitch black at 6am as I met Varls at Burton station. Normally you can travel direct from Burton to Edinburgh, but engineering work meant we had to first travel south to Birmingham (where 1 of Ronald McDonalds finest bacon roll’s and hash browns were purchased) before heading north on the West Coast Mainline to Carlisle.

From Carlisle we would travel direct to Edinburgh, through Lockerbie, Carstairs, and some absolutely stunning scenery.

I mentioned in my Annan blog last year about how stunning the scenery also is on the West Coast mainline as you get further north; for me this is all part of the experience of going upto Scotland, and takes me back to my childhood and travelling to my Grandparents on Loch Lomond, gazing out of the train window up at the hills and mountains with a solitary farmhouse perched on the side, sheep grazing nearby. Simply beautiful.

As well as the scenery, 1 of the other good things about travelling by train is sometimes the conversations you strike up with random people. Varlsy was busy boring me (only joking mate!) about that Michael Portillo documentary where he travels around on the train being posh, and a particular trip to Switzerland.

A scouse bloke in his late 40’s/early 50’s on the table opposite interrupted us. “Er sorry to interrupt lads, but I was actually on that train this week, when I went over to watch Liverpool play…” The scouse bloke’s name was Billy, Kirkcaldy-bound to visit his mother. For the remainder of the journey we discussed Liverpool, Balotelli, Burton Albion, Billy’s European and World Cup jaunts, he was a nice bloke and we shook hands and wished him well once reaching Edinburgh.

After Varls had let us out of the wrong exit of Waverley station, we walked the long way around to what is one of my favourite pubs in the land – The Guildford Arms, West Registar Street. It was a couple of years ago when up for the Olympics that we discovered this pub, and with its great choice of beer, beautiful décor, and friendly bar-staff, I highly recommend a visit.

 Guildford Arms-selfie!

2 pints of Tennants were purchased and conversation struck up with a girl behind the bar with a proper London accent. She was a West Ham fan herself, I told her they’d beat QPR today no worries, and she told us the Iona bar near the Hibs ground was worth a visit, duly noted.

We soon left the Guildford to head towards Easter Road to purchase match tickets, before getting back on the ale. I can’t remember the name of the next pub we went in, it was showing the Leeds vs Sheff Weds game with ex-Brewer Jacques Maghoma featuring. Another swift Tennants later, and we were in the Iona bar.

There was a few in here, and it became a lot busier as kick-off approached. More Tennants was supped, and also a couple of “£1.80 House Whiskey’s” which was Chivas Regal, and extremely nice it was too. We put some Oasis and Smiths on the jukey, before I told Varls to put some Lightning Seeds on. “Which one?” he asked, “As long as it isn’t 3 Lions mate.” we settled for Life of Riley.

An old bloke Varls had been chatting to said bye on his way out, “Och ya dunnae want to be wearing Hearts colours son!”, he turned and said to me, pointing at my Adidas top, which I’m sure is red and not purple! But not a lot I could do about that now.

To the ground. We had bought seats in the main stand just behind the dugouts, choosing a different view to where we usually observe our respective clubs from. Easter Road is a very smart ground with vast stands, and a capacity of over 22,000. You can read more here – http://www.footballgroundguide.com/scotland/hibernian.htm

Hibs lined up 3-5-2, hoping to build on Monday’s brilliant win at Rangers, but were unfortunately without ex-Brewer David Gray with injury. Another former Brewer, Mark Oxley, was in goal for the Hibees though – he’s even managed to score for them this season! Raith lined up 4-5-1, meaning the midfield area became pretty crowded.

The game started, and I tucked into my Scotch pie (good, but not as good as Annan’s last season.)

Hibs liked to knock the ball around, especially at the back, but every time they tried to get the ball into their front 2 of Cummings and Malonga, the ball just seemed to come back.

Hibs went close in the 29th minute, but a lob was adjudged to be offside, then on 33 mins a shot fell the wrong side of the post.

The deadlock was finally broken in the 44th minute, when Scott Robertson, formerly of OHD Leuvren (on my FIFA 13 career) scored to put Hibs 1-0 up at the break.

Inside Easter Road Inside Easter Road

After more food, a pizza at £2.79 (pretty standard), we settled down for the 2nd half. There was about 100 Hibs fans in the stand opposite who got through plenty of singing and drumming, and they were having such a good time they decided to let a smoke bomb off, green smoke clouding high in the air.

Both sides again battled in vain, but Hibs just couldn’t score that 2nd. Striker Jason Cummings was becoming frustrated, manager Alan Stubbs shouted some instructions over to him which the young lad didn’t appear to take kindly too, flapping his arms around and having a little in-game strop.

For Raith, big lone striker Christian Nade was posing the odd problem for the Hibs backline, and it was the Frenchman who shot low and into the net in the 68th minute to draw Raith level.

The 200-odd away fans celebrated and raised their own noise levels a bit, but in reality you couldn’t see either team scoring a winner, and I think a draw was a fair result as the game finished 1-1.

Apart from the 100-odd Hibs fans who sang a fair bit, the Hibs support was mainly pretty quiet and became more frustrated (understandably) as the game went on. The last few years haven’t been great for the Hibees, with relegation last season from the Prem, and I just got the feeling that even after the win at Ibrox last Monday that there wasn’t a lot of belief around the place.

The Hibs players all seemed to put a shift in, and defender Jordan Forster was a deserved Man of the Match, but in my opinion (with admittedly limited Scots footy knowledge) I don’t think there is enough skill and craft in this Hibs team to win promotion, and Easter Road didn’t appear to be full of supporters who firmly believed they can bounce back to the Scots Prem at the first attempt.

I think I expected more from Hibs especially after that confidence-building win at Rangers, but then again maybe I’m not giving Raith enough credit, and maybe striker Farid El Alagui was a big miss for Hibs.

I obviously watch plenty of League 2 football, and on comparison I think Burton would’ve competed well against Hibs or Raith and been comfortable against Hibs front line.

We wished farewell to Easter Road, and headed back in the autumn sunlight towards Waverley station. Some cans of Tennants were bought for the journey back, and come 17.34 we were sat on the train heading out of Waverley.

Then the fun started.

Our train was literally a few hundred metres from Carlisle station when we stopped. There had been a landslip between Carlisle and Newcastle, which had caused delays on that route. Once our train got into Carlisle, it would be having a crew-change. The problem was, the crew were delayed on another train coming the other direction, so we weren’t allowed into the station as there was no crew available to take this train forward.

We were sat for well over an hour and missed all trains heading south back to Birmingham. I was getting a bit stressed, wondering how we’d get home, “Mate, there’s nothing we can do, so no point getting stressed. If we’ve gotta stay in Carlisle, so be it.” Varls was right, as he cracked open his 23rd can of the day.

He soon got chatting to a middle-aged woman sat behind us, “I’ve known Jamie since we were 4, and the thing is he’s half-Scottish, so he’s dead tight. But I’m used to it now.” Cheers mate!

We finally arrived into Carlisle. After chatting to the staff at the station, who did a fantastic job, we simply had to wait for a taxi to be organised to take us back to Burton – fortunately paid for by the train companies!

Varls took this opportunity to purchase some more ale for the cruise back, and finally we had a taxi driver willing to take us south, Richard.

I popped toilet, and when I got back Varls filled me in on the arrangements. “This is Richard the taxi driver, he says we’re fine to drink, and to just shout up when we need a piss-stop.” Sorted!

Richard typed my postcode into his sat-nav. 184 miles. Great.

To be fair, we flew back. With 80’s tunes playing on Radio 2 and a few beers on the go, the journey didn’t seem to take too long as we looked back on the day and discussed potential destinations for next seasons Away-day.

Come 12:45am, we were back home. Varls, being the gent that he is, tipped Richard £20, and we thanked him and wished him a safe journey back.

What a day!


Score – Hibs 1-1 Raith

Attendance – 9,954

Match ticket – £22

Train fare – £50 (advanced tickets bought in August)

Dreams can come true

Back in the mid 90’s, I. like many young kids, collected the Merlin’s Premier League sticker albums. (The fact that this summer I was busy collecting the World Cup album is another story.)

I still remember the first album, 93/94 season, it had a blue cover with Ryan Giggs on. I remember random players such as Everton’s ‘Preki’ – “Why doesn’t he have a last name, Mum?”

I remember QPR, Ray Wilkins was still playing and there was Les Ferdinand off course. The QPR player that sticks out in my memory though is the moustached Gary Penrice; don’t ask me why, he just does. Maybe I had him on swap 14 times.

93/94 was also the season I started watching Albion, the Beazer Homes Southern Premier League days.

Over the seasons you start building dreams, things you’d just love to see your team do. Back in them days it was fairly basic stuff, like holding onto a lead against Gresley Rovers.

By 2002, the Albion had accomplished some of the things I had dreamt off. We’d won a couple of cups, I’d experienced proper FA Cup nights under the floodlights against the likes of Woking and Boston United (boo hiss!).

Seeing Burton play League football becomes a more realistic dream. Seeing Burton not only play, but draw with Man Utd and play at Old Trafford goes from being a grand delusion to an absolute pipe-dream come true.

I witness come-backs that the editor’s of ‘Roy of the Rovers’ and ‘The Hurricanes’ would have dismissed as being too unrealistic, as with 7 minutes remaining we come from 1-3 down to win 4-3. We do that twice, in 2 months. And with just 10 men on the first occasion.

I see the Albion win promotion on a balmy spring day in Torquay, one of the best weekends of my life.

The dreams keep coming, I want to see the Albion produce more cup-shocks, lets beat a bigger team at their place, lets climb this football league, lets go to Wembley!

August 2012, Jacques Maghoma and co stun Leicester City and send 700 of us travelling fans absolutely delirious, a 4-2 win, some astonishing goals, one of Burton Albion’s finest nights…

I’ve still never seen us score against a Premier League team though, despite Jonny Shaw and Stridey coming mighty close against Utd.

Albion vs Fulham, a League Cup 2nd Round emotional rollercoaster, Jack Dyer slams in a perfect volley to send the West Stand into raptures before Symesy heads us into the lead, 2 goals against Prem opposition, 2 amazing goal celebrations, 1 hell of a night, one day we will beat top-flight opposition.

2013/14 kind of trundled on, lets be honest it wasn’t a vintage season, devoid of the unbelievable goals and games of the 2012/13 season but full of new found grit and resilience that sent us all the way to Wembley…

That afternoon at Roots Hall, I’ve never felt sicker watching a football match. Relief was the feeling at full time, but it sunk in on the way home as the mobile went red hot with phone calls, texts and tweets… I was going to see the Albion at Wembley.

I’ve never blogged about that rainy day 3 months ago, it was tough to digest, a right mixture of emotions. Amazement at watching the Brewers play at the home of football, frustration that we didn’t do ourselves justice, and ultimately despair as the ball flew over Lyness’ head and into our net to give Fleetwood their (deserved) moment of glory.

It was still a good day, but it could’ve been so much better. This year…

Anyway, back to dreams, and for all the things Albion have accomplished in their relatively short 64 year history there was one thing that still eluded us, beating a top flight team.

Charlton hammered us back in ’56, Leicester got a scare from David Vaughan in ’85 but won the re-match 1-0. We all remember the 8th January 2006 well, and Fulham very nearly succumbed to the Brewers last August.

Burton Albion vs QPR. I was quietly optimistic but not overly, from Matlock in ’75 to Bradford in 2013, if there’s one thing Brewers fans know it’s not to get too carried away.

It was a strong QPR line-up and an interesting Albion line-up, how well would Matty Palmer and Marcus Harness acquit themselves against Prem opposition?

It was only 4 months ago that I sat and winced as Newport defenders went flying in on Harness, his slight frame had me worried he’d just snap. He looks like he’s bulked out ever-so slightly since last season, a bit more strength to accompany his raw pace will only benefit.

We started well. We were sharp, keen, precise. McDonald could’ve scored, Knowles perhaps should have.

QPR had the odd moment, there would be a sudden quick-footedness, a sharp turn, a stark reminder these were Premier League professionals we were up against.

But for all their skill, you had to question the attitude of some. Taarabt looked unfit, slightly overweight even. He seemed to just want to shoot, Sheriff and Sharpsy never gave him that opportunity.

QPR went close with Hoilett hitting the bar, before Micky and me went and well, hit the bar.

“We’re looking good here”, was the carefully worded first half observation over a swift pint. Don’t want to get carried away just yet…

Second half we looked even better. Harness’ pace and trickery caused QPR and Clint Hill in particular problems, whilst over on the opposite wing, McDonald was having 1 of his best games to date in the yellow and black.

QPR’s Faurlin injured himself in front of the home terrace, “here ya are, have this!”, Ian shouted, offering his walking stick out to the injured Argentinian, I wonder if the crowds are that caring in South America?!

70th minute, we’re on top, we need to score. I’m moaning about Adam McGurk, we know what he’s capable of but he just seems to saunter around whilst the others bust a gut… we turn to eachother (Me and the lads, not me and McGurk) “If anyone scores, it’ll end up being him!”

In the 77th minute, Adam McGurk scores.

The goal was a superb free-kick, a wonderful, clean strike that flew straight into the back of the net, beyond the reach of the diving, despairing Murphy.

Unbelievable scenes in the Pirelli Stadium.

The free-kick was won by Harness after he was hauled down by Richard Dunne, after again striking fear into the QPR backline with another fierce run.

The minutes passed, the yellow army sang, the players battled… not even Bobby Zamora could spoil this.

With the referee’s blow of the final whistle, history had again been made by the Albion.

It seemed like the whole ground had stayed to applaud the Brewers off, I’m sure the players could’ve stayed out for another 10/15 minutes lapping up the celebration and applause, I’m kind of disappointed they didn’t, did they not realise what a big deal this was?

Or, is it simply a case of the players thinking yes it was some achievement, but it was an achievement they were perfectly capable off, it’s not that big a deal… if that’s their attitude, I love the confidence.

I love the Albion.

Chapter 10: Euro 2012

Our manager was appointed just a month before the tournament started, and our best centre-back, John Terry, was in the middle of a racism-row.

Brilliant preparation!

But Roy Hodgson got stuck into the task in hand, Norway away and Belgium at Wembley were our 2 warm up games, both won 1-0.

I went down to the Belgium game with Varls, Mighty, Spaz and my bro Andy. We got into Covent Garden nice and early, in the pub for 11am. A pub with a load of pissed-up Belgians.

1 was soon over trying to communicate with us, but he was that drunk we’d have struggled to understand even if we’d have been fluent in Belgian, Flemish, or whatever they speak in.

“Kompany!! 4, nillll!!!!”, is all he kept repeating. His mates soon came over to apologise, we all had a group picture, and then off we went, and I wonder if the pissed Belgian ever made it into Wembley.

Next stop was Leicester Square, Belgian’s everywhere just singing, us and a few other English the massive minority.

We ended up in the Wetherspoons next to Baker Street station for a few more beers and pitchers, the Globe pub opposite was already heaving with everyone outside singing. It was only a friendly but the atmosphere was rising…

… before dramatically falling once inside Wembley.

I was disappointed, around 89,000 in the stadium but the atmosphere nowhere near that of the England vs Jamaica farewell game at Old Trafford in 2006. All everyone did was make paper aeroplanes out of the card left on the seats to make the flag out of, and we were outsung easily by the Belgians.

Danny Welbeck netted the goal in the first half before Gary Cahill fell awkwardly and broke his jaw, a late withdrawal from the squad.


England, France, Ukraine, Sweden.

Quite a lot of people didn’t think we’d make it out of the group, understandable really. Ukraine were hosts, Sweden we never really do great against, the French strong opposition as always, whilst we had a manager who’d been in the job just over a month.

It was a solid start however, a 1-1 draw with France, something to build on.

The Brewers Bar was absolutely packed on the Friday for the Sweden game, everyone was out for it and everyone was up for it as the anticipation and atmosphere started building.

Andy Carroll’s bullet header had us all in raptures, what a great goal, before the Swedes made it 2-1 after poor England defending.

Theo Walcott came on and equalised with his first touch, before Danny Welbeck produced a little moment of class to win the game and send the Brewers Bar berserk!

What a game, what a comeback, what a feeling!!

It felt like watching the England of old, full of fight, full of spirit, making us feel a bit of pride again and with it that bit of hope…

We ended up in the Anchor that night on the karaoke, Spaz and me sung a bit of Scouting for Girls before we all got up and blasted out 3 Lions, the whole pub singing along. We all ended up smashed, great game, great win, great night!

Next up was Ukraine and I was around Varlsy’s to see Rooney win it for us and see us go through in top spot.

Not bad for a team tipped to go out at the first hurdle!

It was back to a packed-out Brewers Bar on the Sunday night for the quarter-final vs Italy, the BB had become the place to be and it’s a pity it’s not there for this summer!

Welbeck should’ve given us an early lead, and after that the Italians gradually began to dominate as we held on.

Penalty’s increasingly looked like our best chance of getting through, and inevitably, penalty’s it was.

And, inevitably, defeat it was – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7t2Di2FWB6o

I slumped onto the seat behind me as the pub fell quiet, penalty’s again it was just so frustrating now. It doesn’t matter how little you play our chances down beforehand, that moment you get knocked out on penalty’s is always absolutely gutting. I went back home in a bit of a sulk, it’s always a comedown when England get knocked out, that excitement and buzz goes from the tournament. Getting knocked out on a Sunday night just made it all worse as couldn’t stay out sorrow-drowning, had to get sorted for work in the morning!


Despite yet another penalty-shoot out defeat, there was enough to be positive about for us England fans after Euro 2012.

We had an English manager back in charge, someone who would actually answer difficult questions in English and not revert to Italian (though Hodgson is the intellectual type so he probably could!) and the England team just seemed a bit more positive and looked a lot more happier than they had done for a good few years.

If Hodgson was left to get on with it, we might just have a half-decent squad to take to Brazil in 2014…

And here we are, just 1 day before the tournament is due to start.

These are the lowest expectation levels I’ve known before a World Cup and it’s how it should be really, but I don’t get all the negativity.

We accept we’re not the best international team, we don’t keep the ball quite well enough and our defence isn’t the strongest.

But we have a squad with a brilliant mixture of experience and youth. We have Gerrard and Lampard in their final tournament, desperate for success, and Rooney in his prime who will be desperate to banish his demons from previous World Cups. We have the likes of Shaw, Barkley, Sterling, Sturridge who will be fearless and just excited about the prospect of playing in the World Cup.

We have raw pace and a directness in us that will scare older ageing defences, if we use our strength’s correctly then we can do a bit of damage ourselves instead of worrying about what the likes of Pirlo etc can do to us.

We have a squad of players capable of playing in that first XI, not like squad’s of old where 1 or 2 might be in to make up the numbers or because they’re a good utility player to have around for back-up. 

It’s a tough group, but it’s a group I think we will qualify from.

Should we qualify then 1 of Colombia, Greece, Ivory Coast, and Japan await in the last 16, all perfectly beatable.

If everything goes to form then Spain or Brazil await in the quarters, and that’s where I see us coming undone.

But… we’ve beat both sides in the last 2/3 years, and drew in Brazil last summer?

Gotta dream, haven’t you!

France highlights – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2KFgJ9fdIY

Sweden highlights – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dn-K5sZGfI4

Ukraine highlights – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vp8MUKKK1mY

England fans after the Ukraine game – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UOFqrJOvJsE

Italy peno shootout – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7t2Di2FWB6o

All goals – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCC6H9MmD7Y

Stats and facts – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Euro_2012

And just fast forward this to 3 minutes again and start believing – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tkkqSl-rfh4