Adventures in Football #39: The Pirelli Stadium (Burton Albion)
FEBRUARY 12, 2022
BURTON ALBION vs. CAMBRIDGE UNITED (League 1)
The Pirelli Stadium is relatively new, built in 2005. Unlike a lot of new build stadiums, it’s not way out of town and exists on the same road that previous ground, Eton Park, was on. Eton Park was a suitable ground for Burton when they were a smaller non-league club. In 2005 it was becoming apparent that Burton could reach the holy land of the football league and did so in 2009. The club started out playing in the Birmingham league system in the 50s and began playing at Eton Park in 1958. They’ve come a long way, baby.
Burton were still playing in the Southern League until 2001 when they were promoted to the Northern Premier (what is now the National League North) and won it at the first time of asking with a whopping 104 points. After only seven years of Conference football, they joined the football league in 2009 and were promoted all the way up to the Championship in 2016. A remarkable rise for a tiny local club. A successful club needed a better ground, and the Pirelli was the answer. I’m a bit sad the ground has corporate sponsorship, but it was built on Pirelli’s land in exchange for the naming rights.
The new ground has a capacity of 6,912 an increase of almost 3k on Eton Park. There are only 2,034 seats, which seems low for this level. If I was going to this on my own, or with Josh, I’d stand up on the terraces somewhere but seeing as Maria is going, and driving, and we’re meeting Tannoy Tom I figured we’d take up a seat among the 2,034. That’s in the South Stand, or tragically, the “Carling” Stand. Burton is the cultural home of beer brewing and here we are in the Carling stand. Sadness. The other three sides of the ground are standing and I, for one, love that.
The initial plan was to get in early so we could go and get some local beverages but seeing as parking at the Pirelli is “first come, first served” and there’s only 400 spaces we thought we’d better err on the side of caution. Burton’s average attendance is 3,373. The only team with less supporters at this level is Accrington Stanley. Accrington Stanley? Who’re they?
I have learned from Bath City and Mansfield and today I’m wearing two pairs of socks. It’s not as cold as either of those trips but a high of 7 degrees C is a bit chilly. Let’s stay warm out there. Some Burton players to keep an eye on; keeper Matej Kovar is on loan from Man Utd. You may recognise Cameron Borthwick-Jackson from the Man Utd academy too. He’s here permanently. Michael Mancienne, former Chelsea star, is on the books at Burton. He’s one of those ‘whatever happened to’ players. Well, he’s here at Burton! Gassan Ahadme, the Spanish-Moroccan striker, has just joined the club from Norwich. He wears the number 9 shirt but plays off the front. I’m most excited to see Burton’s boss, former Leeds, Chelsea and Atletico Madrid striker Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. What a player he was.
On the road then, after lunch, and we’re on route to Tom in Sutton Coldfield when we spot a filthy Enterprise van on the A38. How filthy?
Tom lives in the land of the lakes. No, not the one you’re thinking of, but rather the bit to the north of Birmingham that also has a lot of lakes. It’s 45 minutes from home to Tom and then another 45 to the Pirelli. It’s a pretty short journey considering some of the longer ones we’ve done this season and the Burton stretch is particularly swift. Especially as my phone decided it was going to run an update thus denying me any directional knowledge. Hey, we got there anyway!
Parking at the ground is first come, first served so we turned up at 1.30pm and easily got a space. Despite this, I reckon I wouldn’t recommend parking at the ground due to the difficulty in exiting. There’s only room for one car, two at a push, on the exit and turning right is a bitch thanks to it being a busy road. We were sat waiting without moving for about 10 minutes on the exit. So, either leave early, which is stupid, or park somewhere else. It was safe at the ground though and it only cost a fiver.
If some Premier League sides are a putting green, this one is a bunker!
Into the ground then and because we’ve got loads of time myself and Tom enjoy a pint of Pravha. It’s disappointing that the home of the “Brewers” had such a weak beer selection. I get them doing Carling and they had Worthington’s and Guinness but even so, you’d want a local beer in there to do their nickname justice. We were seated in the Carling Stand so I should expect the big corporate sponsors to get their gimmick across. Maybe get a local brewery involved as well?
On entering the ground it’s apparent it’s a very small one for this level. Considering we’re in the same league as Sunderland (49,000 capacity), Sheffield Wednesday (39,000 capacity), Ipswich Town (30,000) etc. Burton is smaller and has worse facilities than Kidderminster Harriers who are three tiers below them. That said, the ground is charming, and it looked full considering there were only 2,500 people there. It’s definitely in my ‘sweet spot’ for attendances.
We’re sat in the main, and only seated, stand. Off to our left are the ultras behind the goal. They’ve brought their flags and whatnot. At the other end are the Cambridge supporters. They’ve brought a small contingent of rowdy away fans. While they’re fairly noisy throughout they’re at their peak when celebrating goals and we see some serious LIMBS from the away end twice during the afternoon.
The Burton mascot is Billy the Brewer. He’s a weird looking freakish thing with a lopsided face. I think it’s supposed to be some sort of mutated human who’s drank too much Marston’s Pedigree. My initial horror eventually softens as he’s one of the more active mascots I’ve seen all season. He’s running around, he’s making fun of people, he’s joining in chants, he’s in the crowd, he’s high fiving people, he’s having fun with the kids in the crowd. Appearances can be deceiving. My the end of the 90 minutes I reckon Billy has worked his way into my heart.
Mainly because he mocked the opposition subs warming up by repeating their actions. Usually directly in front of them. For appearance he wouldn’t make my shortlist for best mascot this year but for his workrate, he’s top three easily. The team sheets are out before kick-off and Wes Hoolahan is playing for Cambridge. He’s way too good to be in this league. Of my ‘ones to watch’, half play and half don’t. Michael Mancienne never makes it off the bench, apart from jogging down the touchline in front of me.
Not that Burton need him. They win a penalty after 20 seconds and it’s despatched by Gassan Ahadme. Hey, I picked him out as one to watch! He did a Panenka and almost fucked it up. Anyway, 1-0 to the Brewers. Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, another of my ‘ones to watch’ couldn’t carry on after getting smacked in the head. He was substituted via concussion protocols after spending roughly five minutes down in front of the unsympathetic Cambridge fans. The substitution was brought to you by Doggy Daycare Burton. This brings a loud cheer from the ultras followed by barking noises. I like it here.
We go in at 1-1 though thanks to an audacious overhead kick from Harvey Knibbs in front the Cambridge supporters. Both teams waste perfectly good chances to alter the scoreline and we head in level. The second half is much of the same with both teams having chances to score and just spurning them. Between them the teams had 25 goal attempts but only 5 of those actually hit the target. I think it’s pretty obvious how they’re both midtable. This included one from Lewis Moult where he calmly went through on goal and lifted the ball over the keeper….and wide of the post.
Williams Kokolo, the sub for Borthwick-Jackson, fired Burton back in front, drilling his shot through a crowded penalty area. Sam Smith, not that one, once again pulled Cambridge back level though with a delectable touch, turn and volleyed finish. Smith had behaved like a bit of a wanker but there’s no disputing his abilities. His control and general skill was admirable throughout but he clearly riled the home support by a) staying down for ages after losing the ball and thus causing a stoppage (he was fine) and b) doing a knee slide in front of the home support after his goal. It was beautiful to see him skew a subsequent effort off target and be subjected to a torrent of abuse from the ultras. Thou give and thou shalt receive my son.
The somewhat arty and obligatory “I have a new phone” photo.
With the game finished I was left to reflect on an enjoyable afternoon in Burton. The teams had a share of the points and neither deserved to lose so that’s probably fair. Both played exciting, expansive football and I appreciate that. They both tried to score goals and were unlucky to only get two each. League 1 can be hit and miss but this landed for me. The quality wasn’t always there but the good players stood out and were able to affect the game. The Pirelli Stadium itself looks like nothing from the outside and not much more from the inside. It’s a new build and looks more like a corporate office than a stadium. Only the floodlights give it away from a distance. We were parked right by it and Maria was asking where the stadium was.
That said, the line of sight was good and it felt like an intimate venue. Like a secret place to go that most people don’t know about. I felt like I’d been invited into someone’s clubhouse for the first time and discovered they liked the same shit as me. I had a lovely time. I wish both teams nothing but the best.