It was your normal grey, miserable, winter December Saturday. The year was 1993. Louise Redknapp was still in Eternal; and Santa Claus was still braving the streets of Horninglow to deliver my Christmas presents.
But this Saturday in 1993 when Louise was still in Eternal and Santa was still delivering my presents had something that little bit more special about it; this Saturday was going to be my first ever Burton Albion FC game.
18th December 1993.
I was 7 and a half years old. Like all of my schoolmates, I ‘supported’ Man Utd, the best team around. All my football experiences amounted to was watching my Dad’s Sunday League team, Henhurst Rangers, over at Shobnall Fields.
Until 18th December 1993.
Burton were in the Beazer Homes Southern League Premier, and the opposition were Moor Green FC.
I remember being stood outside our old Eton Park ground, Dad giving me £1 and explaining I had to hand it to the man at the turnstile who would let me in, whilst he went through the adult turnstile. Given the choice I’d have probably rather spent the £1 coin on chocolate, but into the ground I went.
Once inside we took residence on the Brook End, the end Albion were attacking in the first half. Albion were in their old amber strip with 3 black stripes on the shoulder, the sponsor Ind Coope emblazoned on the front. I was impressed by the kit, and also impressed with the fact there was a tea-bar that sold chips.
My vague memories of the first half are the polite clapping that accompanied every goal attempt or corner-kick we won. Half-time soon came around, and with it the ancient Non-League tradition of swapping ends.
Swapping ends at Eton Park meant navigating the old ‘Popside’, an area of the ground that was mainly populated by the more mature supporters.
Once through the Popside gauntlet, it was onto the smart uncovered terracing of the Gordon Bray End. We stood half-way up, between the goal and the corner flag.
Again I can’t remember much more…. Apart from 1 moment that is still etched firmly in the memory. 1 moment that no matter how much lager & jagerbombs I drink from now until the end of time, will never leave my memory.
Now I always thought this happened in the 88th minute; but apparently it was the 77th. Our right-back Alan Davies sent in an inviting cross from the right, and at the back post Robbie Briscoe ran in to powerfully head home the winner.
Now this is where my 7-year old naivety shines through. I just thought that a goal, no matter how important, would just be met with some more clapping; a bit more vigorous than the claps that accompanied every corner we won, but all the same, I was just planning on a good clap.
But when Briscoe’s header hit the net, it was greeted with what to me was the loudest roar I had ever heard. It seriously took me by surprise, and I kind of shuddered. My Dad still takes the micky out of me for it to this day.
Not long after the full-time whistle blew (my shuddering had stopped at this point) and it was home time. The attendance was read out as we left the ground, 503. “503, not bad”, I remember Dad saying. 503 for a home game… how times have changed.
We walked home, a walk I’ve since made many times in absolute joy (beating Gresley 1-0 on Boxing day 1998) in pure misery (losing 2-3 to Gresley after being 2-0 up on Boxing Day 1996) in absolute disbelief (losing 4-7 to Telford in 02/03) and in an absolute state of drunkenness (many dates from 2002-present day)
Once home Dad got the results up on the old trusted Ceefax, and Mum came home from the Church bizarre and asked if I enjoyed it. I presumed I said “yes”, I had, as I ventured down to Eton Park 5 more times that season.
As I mentioned at the start, I called myself a Man Utd fan at the time. But as much as I did love Andrei Kanchelskis and wished I looked as cool as Eric Cantona when I put my shirt-collar up; as I started going to more Albion games with Dad there was only going to be 1 team for me.
I could’ve chosen to stick with Premier League titles and European football year on year with the Red Army of Manchester. Instead I chose Beazer Homes Southern League mid-table obscurity with a few decent runs in the Birmingham Senior Cup and the odd scalp in the FA Trophy.
And even if Cloughie had never come in, even if we never made it to the Conference then the Football League; it’s a choice I’ll never regret.
Why celebrate United’s latest Premiership win with a few beers down the pub; when you can celebrate promotion to the Conference by doing a conga at Vauxhall Motors? When you can celebrate promotion to the Football League on Torquay’s Plainmoor pitch, on a beautiful April Sunday on the English Riviera?!
This isn’t a swipe at people who do support the big clubs – everyone has their reasons for who they support. I’m just extremely grateful I was took to watch my local team, and for all the fantastic memories (and some painful ones!) I’ve got from the 18 years, 2 months, and 22 days since.
Massive week starting next Saturday against Torquay, let’s get behind them.