WE’VE SUR­VIVED

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By John Wragg

ONE of the rea­sons Nigel Clough joined Bur­ton Al­bion was be­cause he had a five-month-old son and didn’t want to up­root the fam­ily.

Wil­liam is now 19, a fan who goes by train to see dad’s team play. He’ll be watch­ing them at Cham­pi­onship grounds again next sea­son.

Safe to say grandad would be proud. Brian Clough did amaz­ing things, but for what Nigel has done at Bur­ton man­ager of the sea­son would not be out of or­der.

Chelsea’s An­to­nio Conte has won the Premier League, but would he have done it with no train­ing ground?

New­cas­tle’s Rafa Ben­itez has won the Cham­pi­onship, but would he have done it on a top gate of 6,746 this sea­son? Real Madrid or Ju­ven­tus will win the Cham­pi­ons League, but would they have got to a clas­sic fi­nal wor­ry­ing about a ground with seats in just one stand? Un­like for­mer Premier League cham­pi­ons Black­burn Rovers, Clough has kept Bur­ton in the Cham­pi­onship. He has fin­ished above two-times Euro­pean Cup win­ners Not­ting­ham For­est and FA Cup win­ners Wi­gan, com­peted with League Cup win­ners Birm­ing­ham City, fin­ished ten points be­hind an­other Euro­pean Cup win­ner, As­ton Villa. “We still can’t be­lieve it. On Sun­day our sup­port­ers, af­ter the game with Read­ing, stayed The usual lap of hon­our, you know and you could see the look on peo­ple’s faces,” says Clough. “The sup­port­ers’ faces, were like ‘We are do­ing it again next year’. I don’t think they could quite be­lieve it, that we had scraped over the line.”

Clough adds, firmly: “We think we de­serve it as well, to get to that 52 points.

Sur­prised

“We’ve been sur­prised at the me­dia in­ter­est in the last week or so since we did it. Ev­ery­one as­sumed we would just slip back into it in the last few weeks of the sea­son with the form that all of a sud­den Black­burn started show­ing while Bris­tol City got out of it. To have to get to 52 points has been in­cred­i­ble.”

Clough had to keep re­vis­ing his maths.

“We thought late 40s in points would do it. We said to the lads that five of the last six sea­sons 45 points has kept you up. We beat Leeds and got to 51 and we still weren’t safe. Then we got a point at Barns­ley.

“Ev­ery­one thought ‘Birm­ing­ham won’t win the last two, Black­burn won’t win the last two, For­est won’t win against Hud­der­s­field, Read­ing and then Ip­swich’ – and they did.”

And the prize? More of the same next sea­son. Does he en­joy it? “It’s a con­stant bat­tle. I wouldn’t say it’s en­joy­able.

“I’ll tell you what is en­joy­able: com­ing to the club on a daily ba­sis, com­ing in here, the peo­ple. The games are a dif­fer­ent mat­ter be­cause we know we are the un­der­dogs and we are up against it ev­ery sin­gle time.

“Dur­ing the week is en­joy­able. We have still main­tained that at­mos­phere and ethos of the club as we came up. That has been one of the main suc­cesses

of Ben Robin­son, the chair-be­hind. man. He some­how has to im­prove ev­ery­thing, but he has kept that same at­mos­phere where every­body who comes feels it. Peo­ple from the out­side feel it.”

Clough turns to Nigel Powl­son, who does PR for the club and is a life­long fan.

“I don’t know how long you’ve been here, Nigel?”

“What, vol­un­teer­ing as well? I didn’t get paid in those days. I can’t re­mem­ber. I started writ­ing the pro­gramme 30 years ago, I think.”

Clough di­gests the in­for­ma­tion. “This club is a throw­back to how it used to be. Football is not a very nice busi­ness any more. The money cer­tainly af­fects that side of it, but also the peo­ple it’s at­tracted. That’s the thing now, the good peo­ple are get­ting lost.

“At Bur­ton Al­bion, every­body is con­nected. No-one is iso­lated. Sup­port­ers are iso­lated in football. They are get­ting sep­a­rated, es­pe­cially from the play­ers

PIC­TURE: ProS­ports/ Richard Holmes

WE’RE SAFE: Striker Luke Var­ney en­joys his goal against Barns­ley that pre­served Bur­ton’s sta­tus and, inset, boss Nigel Clough salutes the sup­port­ers

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