Bur­ton chair­man Ben Robin­son charts the Al­bion rise up the leagues

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

THE date is hazy, the re­sult forgotten. But Ben Robin­son still re­mem­bers his first game as a young direc­tor of Bur­ton Al­bion.

“It was away at Yeovil Town in mid­week,” says the Brew­ers chair­man.“Trav­el­ling with us on the coach was the com­men­ta­tor Mike Ing­ham, who at the that point worked for Ra­dio Derby.

“And next to him was a lo­cal news­pa­per re­porter, Andy Barker, who was read­ing the first Jaws novel – be­fore it be­came a film!”


Yes, those were days when no­body had heard of sum­mer block­busters. When Bur­ton Al­bion were a mil­lion miles from box of­fice. And when Robin­son, a 29-year-old in­sur­ance bro­ker from the lo­cal coun­cil es­tate, still dreamed small.

“The old Foot­ball League club in Bur­ton went out of busi­ness in 1940,” he says. “But one had ex­isted and, right at the back of our minds, was a feel­ing that one day it could again.

“But to be quite hon­est, we looked up to teams like Nuneaton and Stafford Rangers. We used to look at their fa­cil­i­ties and think ‘One day....’.”

That day is long gone. Forty­one years and three pro­mo­tions later, Robin­son is the owner of League One’s new­est mem­ber. Eton Park has been re­placed by the Pirelli Sta­dium. Jim­myFloyd Has­sel­baink stands in the dugout. And the man who once en­vied Stafford may next sea­son stand shoul­der to shoul­der with Sh­effield United.

Yet Bur­ton’s rise does not fol­low the usual nar­ra­tive; Robin­son is no mega-rich backer. There was no me­te­oric surge through the di­vi­sions. The Brew­ers are no Wi­gan Ath­letic, no Fleet­wood Town, no Wim­ble­don.

In­deed, in the time it took the Dons to rise from South­ern League con­tem- po­raries to FA Cup win­ners and Pre­mier League stal­warts, Bur­ton didn’t win a sin­gle pro­mo­tion. Theirs is a tale of pa­tience and dili­gence, a lov­ingly crafted match­stick model with Robin­son wield­ing the glue.

Ask the 70-year-old to point out piv­otal mo­ments and he reels them off. The first spon­sor­ship deals in the 1970s, the move to the Pirelli in 2005, the FA

Cup tie with Manch­ester United that paid it off a year later.

Fondly re­called, too, are the char­ac­ters – men like Ian StoreyMoore and Neil Warnock, a “pas­sion­ate and determined” player at Eden Park be­fore re­turn­ing as manager in 1981. But head and shoul­ders above them all stands Nigel Clough, who turned his back on a play­ing ca­reer with Manch­ester City to be­come player-manager in 1998.

“That was the start of all this,” re­calls Robin­son. “I had a par­tic­u­lar client who would ring up and pre­tend to be some­body fa­mous in foot­ball, just to see if I’d be taken in.

“So when one of the sec­re­taries said ‘I’ve got Nigel Clough on the phone’, I thought ‘Yeah, pull the other one’. But she put him through and you know the rest. “He was 32 and wanted to be a play­er­man­ager. He lived 20 min­utes from the ground. Back then he didn’t have any fam­ily and just thought this would be a good place to start – a small, fam­ily club where he would be sup­ported. We were de­lighted.

“Nigel was our foun­da­tion. He won us our first ti­tle, the North­ern Pre­mier League (2001-02). And when he left us ten years later we were 19 points clear at the top of the Con­fer­ence.

“But what he brought to us went be­yond foot­ball. With­out him, I don’t know if we’d have been able to pur­chase the land for the sta­dium, or get Pirelli on board. That was his pro­file.


“It was also the stan­dards he brought and the way he bought into the com­mu­nity. He’s very hon­ourable, very hard-work­ing, very de­cent. And he’s never forgotten us.

“We play in a sum­mer com­pe­ti­tion called the Bass Char­ity Vase, the most ex­pen­sive tro­phy in English foot­ball. It’s been played since the end of the 1800s and raises a lot of money for lo­cal char­i­ties.

“Over the years, the big­ger clubs who took part would al­ways send a youth team or re­serve play­ers. Last year, Derby didn’t send any­one at all. So I spoke to Nigel and he brought Sh­effield United.

“That’s just the mea­sure of the man. He knows the value of that com­pe­ti­tion to the lo­cal com­mu­nity and he felt duty bound to sup­port it.”

Robin­son sees par­al­lels with cur­rent manager Has­sel­baink, the for­mer Pre­mier League top scorer who took charge when Gary Rowett left for Birm­ing­ham in Oc­to­ber and fin­ished the job of win­ning pro­mo­tion to League One.

“He’s a real in­spi­ra­tional fig­ure who works in­cred­i­bly hard,” says Robin­son. “But, like Nigel, he’s also very down to earth and a ded­i­cated fam­ily man.

“For ex­am­ple, the play­ers trained on Christ­mas Eve. Then Jimmy drove down to his home in Sur­rey to be with his kids. He drove back on Christ­mas Day for train­ing, went back to Sur­rey for the rest of the day, then drove back again for the game on Boxing Day. That’s his dis­ci­pline and fo­cus. He only does things one way – and that’s the right way.”

Has­sel­baink is Bur­ton’s third

per­ma­nent manager since Clough de­parted for Derby in Jan­uary 2008. Of those, only Paul Peschiso lido was sacked. In the e week when League Man­agers As­so­ci­a­tion stats re­vealed the av­er­age ten­ure of a manager to be just 1.24 years, it is lit­tle won­ders that Robin­son is widely re­garded as the best chair­man in the busi­ness. You have to be­lieve in man-agers he says. “Most man­agers who get the sack haven’t been given a proper chance. That’s proved by the fact they pop up later and de­liver the goods some­where else.


you've got to give peo­ple time to learn from their mis­takes, give them help through the dark days re­sults are in­evitable. that's when you get be­hind your manager and help them main-tain self be­lief. Ev­ery in­di­vid­ual, no mat­ter how strong they are, needs that sup­port.” Robin­son, who has never taken a salary from Bur­ton, says the brew­ers “pushed the boat out this s year, a re­sponse to los­ing in the play-offs in both the past two sea­sons. As a re­sult, they will make a loss for the first time un­der his stew­ard­ship.

He in­sists it is a one-off, but with an av­er­age gate of just 3,123 – the sixth-low­est in League Two – doesn’t he worry that the Brew­ers gen­tle rise will even­tu­ally nudge a glass ceil­ing?

“We recog­nise that as good as our sup­port is, Derby are just down the road,” he ad­mits. There is a limit to how many peo­ple will watch us. But look at Bournemouth. They get nine or ten thou­sand and are top of the Cham­pi­onship. Crowds aren’t ev­ery­thing.

“Of course, I’m not a su­per-rich chair­man. My plan is just to stay in League One long enough to reap the benefits of the Pre­mier League’s new TV deal. Our progress has al­ways been grad­ual.

“But I’ve al­ways said that if some­body comes along with a pot of gold and wants to take Bur­ton into the Pre­mier League, I’ll open the door. So far, that hasn’t hap­pened – so they’re stuck with me!”

I doubt any­one’s com­plain­ing.

KEY MAN: Nigel Clough laid the foun­da­tions for the Brew­ers to climb the di­vi­sions

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Images

SPE­CIAL DAY: Chair­man Ben Robin­son is in­ter­viewed be­fore last Satur­day’s match at More­cambe when the Brew­ers clinched pro­mo­tion. Inset, from top, Lu­cas Akins puts them 2-0 up from the spot, runs off to cel­e­brate and the team party af­ter the 2-1 victory

IN­SPI­RA­TION: Cur­rent boss Jimmy Floyd Has­sel­baink

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