NIGEL Clough first joined the Brewers on Friday, October 23, 1998 – kick starting a remarkable success story that continues to this day.
Back then Albion were slumbering in the Southern Premier League with unfulfilled ambitions of becoming a Football League outfit. The Brewers had enjoyed an occasional cup success in their first 48 years of history but had never won a championship and had long been resident at the same level in the football pyramid. The Brewers were frequently referred to as a ‘Cinderella club’ who were still waiting to go to the ball.
Nigel Clough’s arrival changed all that.
Still only 32 at the time, Clough had been forced to retire from top flight football through injury after a career that had included England caps and success at Nottingham Forest and Liverpool.
His first game in charge saw Albion entertain Grantham in the first qualifying Round of the FA Trophy and quickly the Brewers were remoulded as a team, led on the pitch by Clough himself offering a master class in control and silky passing skills.
In Albion’s 50th anniversary season, Clough led Albion to second place and the Brewers gained a piece of silverware in the shape of the Dr Marten’s League Cup.
The following season Albion repeated the league success but were frustrated to be pipped to promotion by Margate and again had to settle for runners-up spot.
A switch to the Unibond League in 2001-2002 saw Albion move sideways in a geographical realignment but one that proved beneficial as Clough’s side took the division by storm.
Two years of consistency paid dividends for Albion who went into the season as favourites, who hit the top in September and simply never looked back, losing only twice and notching up more than 100 points and 100 goals.
After one of the most memorable seasons in Burton Albion history, Clough said: “We just kept churning out the results to keep up pressure on other teams until, finally, they cracked. When it came to the night the league was won, it was emotional for all of us.”
It was then onto the Conference for the first time in Albion’s history and eventually in 2005 a new stadium that was a fitting home for Clough’s team.
The Pirelli Stadium was officially opened in November 2005 with a visit from Manchester United but few expected that to be a sign of bigger things to come.
One of the great games of Nigel Clough’s ten years in charge of the Brewers was when Albion were drawn at home to the Red Devils in the Third Round of the FA Cup in 2006. The Brewers held the mighty Manchester United to a 0-0 draw and earned a money-spinning Old Trafford replay.
The FA Cup run also helped ignite the Brewers Conference form and, after consolidating in the division, Albion began to emerge as promotion contenders.
A narrow play off defeat against Cambridge United saw Albion come back even more determined.
The 2008/2009 saw Albion achieve the dream of entering the Football League but without their talismanic manager being there when they crossed the finishing line.
Clough departed for Derby on January 6, 2009, but he left the Brewers 13 points clear of their nearest rivals Histon and on a run of 11 straight conference victories – a record.
On departing Clough said: “Burton Albion will stay very, very close to my heart.”
Today Nigel Clough is back at the Pirelli Stadium ready to take the helm at Burton Albion once more.