If you were asked to hazard a guess at who has the highest quality and most state of the art facilities in British football, most would probably answer Manchester United, Manchester City, Arsenal, or another club of similar stature. Yet the fact is, one could quite legitimately claim that the club which holds that title is one Burton Albion. In July of this year, the Brewers happily announced that they would continue to train at St George’s Park, and use all the facilities provided by the £105 million complex which was designed to accommodate English national team and nurture England’s youth teams.
Burton kick-started the 2015/16 campaign at the weekend with a 2-1 win over Scunthorpe. The victory was a historic one. It was Burton’s first ever game in League One and the highest level that the club has ever played at, yet this seems to have gone somewhat under the radar. Founded in 1950, the Brewers spent the first 59 years of their existence playing non-league football before being promoted to League Two from the Conference in 2009.
In a town of roughly 65,000 inhabitants, football in Burton-upon-Trent has had a difficult history, with rugby union often regarded as the sport of choice among locals and the town’s football club facing competition for supporters, most notably from Derby but also from Nottingham, Birmingham, Stoke and Wolverhampton, all of whom have had notable football teams and are within an hours drive of Burton.
It took until Nigel Clough’s first venture into football management for Burton to start their ascent, and even then it took the former Nottingham Forest striker a decade before his team really started to make waves in the Conference. Clough wasn’t at the club when they did eventually win promotion in the 2008/09 season, having left for Derby County in February of that season with Burton 19 points clear at the top of the league.
The Brewers first season in the Football League was an exciting but respectable one, finishing in 13th place after some thrilling encounters. Burton’s first win in the Football League came in their first home game, recording a 5-2 win over Morecambe. Soon after that they found themselves on the wrong end of a 5-2 scoreline against Chesterfield, before a famous 6-1 win over Aldershot. In March of 2010 they recorded one of the biggest scorelines in recent Football League history, in a 6-5 defeat at the hands of Cheltenham Town, only two weeks after beating Hereford 4-3.
The two seasons which followed were somewhat less enjoyable as the Brewers finished 19th and 17th, scoring almost 20 goals fewer. Drastic improvements were made in the 2012/13 season, with the club finishing in 4th, losing out in the play-off semi-final. In 2013/14, Burton were in the mix once more, finishing 6th and coming bitterly close, losing only in the play-off final that season. Last year though, the club finally reached the third tier in emphatic style, winning the league with 94 points.
The Brewers have played at the Pirelli Stadium since it’s build was completed back in 2005, and the ground has a capacity of 6,912, a very sensible size for a club of Burton’s stature. Although the club averaged only 3,200 last season, they opened their campaign in front of more than 4,000 people, and for a club still very much looking to grow, they have the facilities in place to do just that. Considering the ground was built when the club was still a Conference side, it reflected an ambitiousness which is beginning to be realised.
As was the case with Nigel Clough, Burton are Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s first venture into management in England, following a short stint in Belgium with Royal Antwerp. The former Holland international has won promotion in his first season at the helm, and seems very happy at the club, something which may prove very important should a bigger club come knocking, just as they did when Clough began to impress.
The importance of Burton having access to St George’s Park’s facilities should not be underestimated. Glenn Hoddle used to talk of the great importance of a good training ground. He was horrified when he first arrived at Chelsea and saw their facilities, prioritising an enjoyable place for his players to train and work ahead of almost anything else, including recruitment. A good surface encourages players to play the game in an attractive manner, and if players enjoy where they train it is not difficult to see just how important that can be. The extra hour a player might put in refining a certain aspect of their game because they enjoy where they’re playing midweek can prove decisive on a Saturday afternoon.
To conclude, Burton are a club who are in the midst of a historic season, and one which deserves some recognition. They are being run expertly. They have a very suitably sized and relatively new stadium, as well as some of the finest training facilities in the world and a young and talented up-and-coming manager in the form of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. They started their League One debut impressively, with a convincing victory over Scunthorpe, and one wouldn’t bet against them having another impressive campaign this time out.
Legends printed for FREE at @CampoRetro this weekend. Pick up a classic shirt from only £20: http://bit.ly/1CSHHj7