Football loves a fairytale story. Whether it’s Bournemouth’s rise to the Premier League, Greece winning the European Championship in 2004 or this season’s remarkable title challenge by Leicester City; every so often a story comes along and makes people take notice. One that may have skipped past several people, however, is the rise and lesser-told fairytale of League One’s Burton Albion.
Just over 30 miles from Leicester’s King Power Stadium, Burton Albion have been causing shock waves in League One. Newly promoted, tipped for a brave relegation fight at best, they have proved to be more than expected. Currently sitting in the second automatic promotion spot with only six games to go, they find themselves in a great position to achieve promotion to the Championship.
Promoted to the Football League in 2009, Burton will not be the first team to achieve such a rise if they do achieve promotion. Bournemouth, as mentioned previously, have had their own fairytale story by rising from the bottom of League Two in 2009 to the Premier League this year; arguably, with survival in the Premier League looking near certain they’d be the biggest story in football were it not for Leicester. But, unlike Bournemouth, Burton have not been blessed with a Russian billionaire owner. Instead, they have taken a slower, and at times more difficult, route with local people behind the club.
Ben Robinson, the chairman of Burton Albion, is a local who has followed the club for most of its existence since being founded in 1950. Through his own shrewd business sense, Burton have been able to work their way up the leagues without a fear of financial crisis. Robinson is not scared to invest, but when he does he does it in the knowledge that it will be for the better of the club.
Robinson has also, repeatedly, shown a keen eye for potential in managers at the club. In October 1998 he secured the services of Nigel Clough. At the time, he was unsure he could tempt Clough, since saying that he thought that “with Nigel Clough’s profile we probably couldn’t afford him.” But it was an ideal stepping stone into the world of football management; one his father had so famously succeeded in before him.
Clough stayed at Burton for ten years, raising the profile of the club and effectively setting it up for promotion to the Football League before leaving for Derby County in January 2009. Robinson’s next three appointments were to show a real faith in young managers; hiring Paul Peschisolido, Garry Rowett and Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink.
After securing promotion to League One, former Chelsea striker Hasselbaink had presented himself as a talented young manager who could make the grade. It was of little surprise when QPR approached Burton for his services and even less of a surprise when Robinson gave his support to Hasselbaink when he left.
As much as he supports the club, Robinson supports his managers and will not stand in the way of them improving their own career. He realises a club of Burton’s size is a stepping stone, but so far his choices have paid off. It could be even be argued that his way of giving support and giving his managers their blessing when they leave has resulted in the return of Nigel Clough to the club.
When Hasselbaink left for QPR, few will have been wondering how well the club could maintain their push for promotion, but they carried on. Added to that the return of Nigel Clough, the man Robinson praises as the reason behind Burton’s rise, there is a real optimism that only seven years after reaching the Football League for the first time in the club’s history, Burton may reach the Championship for the first time in their history too.
How fitting that Clough should be there for what could be the club’s finest hour. The club he helped build up from the lower leagues which is now looking set to push on to the Championship. A managerial story of his own, not on par with what his father achieved at Derby and Nottingham Forest, but significant nonetheless. A proud story for a proud footballing family.
Burton may not have any superstar players and they may not score many goals, but they have fought their way, and defended their way, towards what could be the unlikeliest of promotion stories.
A small, friendly club could be up against the likes of Leeds United, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa next season only seven years after facing the likes of Barrow, Woking and Lewes. Who would want to deny them that? Burton Albion; they’ve done it their way.