Saturday 8th May 2010
The trouble with this ground hopping malarkey is matches have to be planned way in advance. It takes great skill to match up fixtures, kick off times, train times and leave from work into one perfect permutation, this trip to Burton being a prime example.
Back in January I travelled to the Recreation Ground with squad #88 Graham Precious, to see his beloved Grimsby take on Aldershot. On our journey home we discussed future fixture plans and agreed that together we would take in the Mariners last game of the season at the Pirelli Stadium.
Back then even the most ardent Grimsby fan would take off his rose tinted glasses and agree that this fixture would be a nothing game, relegation already confirmed, an end of season day out and the last match as a Football League club for maybe many a year.
But who would have thought it. An unlikely late upturn in form from Town coupled with Barnet dropping down the league like a stone, has giving as a last day relegation finale. “It’s a funny old game” as one old leather faced cockney used to say with great regularity, and on this particular occasion, I have to concur.
Last Sunday I nearly fell off the sofa when I noticed on the Sky Sports news ticker that Grimsby had sold out there entire allocation for the game. I then rang Graham and he told me that he was away for the bank holiday weekend, so was unable to buy us any tickets.
On Tuesday morning I rang the Burton Albion ticket office to make enquiries about ticket availability, the conversation went something like this;
SS - Hello I’m wondering if you could help me regarding tickets for this Saturday’s game with Grimsby.
BAFC - Ring Grimsby
SS - No! I’m not a Grimsby fan. I’m coming down from Newcastle as I’m trying to complete the 92 grounds.
BAFC - If you want a ticket you’ll have to ring Grimsby.
SS - But I’m a neutral, I just want to now if I can buy a ticket in advance?
BAFC - Ring Grimsby if you want a ticket, they’ll have some.
SS - Is it not possible to buy a..
BAFC - RING GRIMSBY!
SS - Ok - bye!
Graham also emailed the club to ask if he could buy tickets but received no reply. So on Wednesday morning he jumped on his motorbike and clocked up 169 miles to be told on arrival there wasn’t any stand tickets left and he would have to queue at the turnstiles, providing proof of being local and not from South Humberside. An unnecessary trip which could have been prevented if they’d answered my question or replied to Graham’s email.
Graham picked me up at Retford train station at 1110, the car journey onto Burton taking just over an hour. The turnstiles were due to open at 1.30pm, so we had time for a pint in the Great Northern, which serves the locally produced Burton Bridge Bitter, which went down a treat.
We spoke to a few Grimsby fans in the bar who had tickets for the game. After first swapping insults with each other, they told us tickets were selling on eBay for a ridiculous £275, plus Graham had earlier spoke to a friend of his on the phone who had just purchased a pair of at £100 each.
After a stressful week, panicking that a match I planned and booked three months in advance could be wasted, I needn’t have worried. We took up our place in the Popular Terrace queue with only a dozen punters in front of us, had a friendly chat with a few of the locals and within ten minutes I was happily sitting in the Vera Goode Suite with a pint of bitter and a mince & onion pie. Panic over and now I could relax, which couldn’t be said for my travel companion, who now had the stress of ninety odd minutes of football to endure, in which his beloved Mariners were on the verge of being sunk.
There were as many as 30 breweries in the town in 1880 but by the early 20th century a reduction in beer sales causing many breweries to close down, leaving only 8 still working by 1928.
Local lad William Bass(1717-1787) formed the Bass & Co Brewery in 1777, which was taking over by Coors in 2000, one of the town’s five remaining breweries along with Marstons and smaller brewers Tower Brewery, Cottage Brewery and Burton Bridge.
The town has a long tradition with Rugby Union with Burton having one of the sport’s oldest clubs, formed in 1870. The round ball game has seen an array of clubs take on the town’s name, most notably its trio of former League clubs Burton Wanderers (1894-1897) who merged with Burton Swifts (1892-1901) to form Burton United in 1901. The club played in the Second Division until 1907 before folding three years later. There was also non-league side Burton Town who played up until the Second World War.
Burton Albion formed in 1950 playing on the Lloyds Foundry ground on Wellington Street in the Birmingham & District League.
In 1958 the club moved to Eton Park which coincided with promotion to the Southern League, playing within the league’s regional divisions until a switch to the Northern Premier League in 1979.
The Brewers reaching the FA Trophy final in 1987 and the following season rejoined the Southern League, twice finishing runners at the turn of the millennium.
Conference football was achieved in 2002 via the Northern Premier League route. The club rejoining the league for one season and successfully lifted the title as well as reaching the semi-final of the FA Trophy in that year.
Burton played in the Conference for seven seasons, each year making progress finishing in a higher league position each season until a 5th place in 2008 saw the club make the play-offs, only to lose out to Cambridge United 4-3 on aggregate.
The following season Albion built an unassailable 19 points lead under the management of Nigel Clough. When the nice young man took up the managers post at Pride Park in early 2009, Roy McFarlane was installed as caretaker boss and led to the club to promotion to the Football League, but only just, staggered over the line on the final day of the season by only two points.
In 2005 the club moved across the road to unused land which was owned by the neighbouring Pirelli factory. Eton Park was sold for a new housing development and Pirelli gave the club the wasteland on the condition the new ground was named after them.
The stadium was designed by Jon Hawkeye at a cost of £6.5m, which overall capacity was increased to 6,912 in July 2009. The stadium is made up of one seated Main Stand which is fully covered with a single tier of 2,034 black seats with hospitality boxes above and a large TV gantry central.
The remaining ends are three sections of terracing each equal in height and appearance. Away supporters are giving the East Terrace which differs having a police control box in one corner and a electric scoreboard perched on the roof. Each stand has its own lounge bar with snack facilities and is completed with a set of four skinny floodlights.
The ground is smashing for a club of Burton’s size, but if I do have one criticism it’s the terraces look too grey and drab and could do with brightening up a bit. If the bland concrete back walls and the crash barriers were painted in the club colours it would certainly add a bit much needed colour.
Burton can be satisfied with their first season in League football. Never in any danger at the bottom end of the table and remote possibilities of the play-offs, highlights include doing the double over top sides Rochdale and Aldershot.
So they come into this last game of the season with nothing to play for, which must surely benefit Grimsby. The relegation finale was simple the visitors had to win and Barnet had to lose at home to Rochdale, The Bees opponents having already clinched promotion and already have their mindset on summer hols.
Oh well, so much for the great escape. The tunnel began to collapse after only ten minutes, the more Grimsby desperately tried to dig their way out the more difficult the escape route became, until they were deep in the clarts and into the darkness of relegation.
The line between success and failure can be a very very wee one. In that tenth minute Grimsby almost took the lead when a shot-come-cross from Akpa Akpro came back off the inside of the post and into the arms of keeper Poole, within seconds the ball was in the opposite net. The ball was pumped up field to Pearson who ran through on goal before unleashing a fierce shot from 20 yards which gave Colgan no chance.
The Brewers doubled their lead somewhat against the run of play when a good run and cross from Pearson found Harrad who slid in to score his 20th league goal of the season in the 37th minute.
In the second half both teams continued to create chances, Albion looked dangerous with a confident swagger to their attacking play while Town’s attacking force looked more cumbersome.
Grimsby were never going to score if they played all night. Veteran keeper Kevin Poole was always going to keep a clean sheet producing two fantastic saves to deny Coulson, Peacock and two efforts from Akpa Akpro, which earned the 46 year old the Man of the Match award.
Burton secured victory and officially ended Grimsby Town’s unbroken 99 years as a league club with a third goal. Shaun Harrad was fouled on the edge of the box, he then got up and smashed in the 25 yard free kick the cap an excellent performance from The Brewers.
As it turned out the result was academic, Barnet’s superiority was rewarded with a late goal at Underhill which produced a jubilant pitch invasion, which was sharp contrast to the scenes contrived by some followers of Grimsby, I won’t call them fans as I don’t want to tar them with the same brush as genuine supporters.
There were only a few supporters who paid on the day, about 20 odd who stood at one end of the popular Side and about the same amount who pre-bought tickets at the west side of the Main Stand, the attendance was still 1400 under capacity.
The trouble had been brewing up all afternoon, after the first goal one fan, sorry! I should say dickhead (as he looked and acted like one) ran onto the pitch and had a go at his own keeper.
It’s not as if these troublemakers are daft young lads, these were grown men, some of them look old enough to be granddads‘. As the second half progressed some watched the game on the perimeter track behind the goal with some encroaching onto the pitch. Just before full time we agreed to make a quick getaway on the full time whistle just as the trouble was about to reach boiling point. The troublemakers involved were not just annoyed about fact that Grimsby were relegated, they were probably the idiots who felt robbed after paying over £200 to watch that shower of shite!
The quick getaway meant I was back in Retford for 6pm, leaving me over 2 hours to fill so naturally I had no choice but to go on the lash!
After Graham’s disappointment of suffering relegation he said he still enjoyed the day and so did I, my last League game of an eventful season and a good one to end on.