TOMORROW it is ten years since Burton Albion drew 0-0 with Manchester United in the FA Cup Third Round. Nigel Powlson remembers the epic encounter:
Ten years on from arguably the most memorable game in Burton Albion’s 65-year history and I’m still convinced that we should have had a penalty.
The more times I watched the TV replay, the more convinced I became that referee Howard Webb should have awarded a spot kick for a handball by Gerard Pique. Over the last ten years the scale of the injustice has grown in my mind and in the stories I tell about the game.
Like more than 6,000 Burton Albion fans at the time, I screamed “penalty” during the match but when the ref waved play on, the dream of a miracle victory evaporated in the chill January air.
But looking back I have to admit that we were grateful for the heroics of goalkeeper Saul Deeney, who is surely still dining out on the tale of how he stuck out a leg and denied Manchester United a last-gasp victory.
In the end, 0-0 was a fair result.
Honestly, it was no less than Nigel Clough’s Brewers deserved for a whole-hearted display that belied the massive gulf between the Premier League superstars and the non-league opportunists.
Sure Manchester United were not at their fluent best and the sticky Pirelli Stadium pitch might have been a leveller. Maybe if Ronaldo and Rooney had come off the bench earlier they might have made more of an impact.
Bur for large chunks of the game, Albion were the better side prompting the Brewers faithful to famously sing “Are you Tamworth in disguise?” as they tormented the lacklustre visitors.
After beating plucky Burscough in round two in a game that took place after the draw had been made, FA Cup fever had taken over Burton. If ever there was a moment when everyone in town was a Burton Albion fan, this was it.
Had there ever been a more keenly-anticipated match in Burton Albion’s history?
And after securing a 0-0 draw, had there ever been a better result?
If Albion had snatched an unlikely victory they would have travelled to Wolves in the Fourth Round, whereas a draw actually earned them a much bigger prize – a replay at Old Trafford.
If the first match had captured the imagination of supporters from all corners of the football world, then the replay took interest into the stratosphere.
For 10 days it seemed that everyone was talking about Burton Albion.
Everyone you met in the street had something to say about the Brewers, the entire media world seemed to want to get a slice of this incredible story – the non-league club that had refused to be beaten by the mighty Manchester United.
There was a big debate about the state of the Pirelli pitch, whether Sir Alex Ferguson had under-estimated the Brewers and if Clough’s team could possibly repeat the trick.
The good folk of Burton wanted their own slice of this fairytale and more than 11,000 booked tickets for the replay. Not only had the Brewers never seen anything like it, nor had Old Trafford, as Albion took a then record away contingent to the stadium.
The Brewers ended up losing 5-0 but left with their heads held high.
Albion legends like Darren Stride and Aaron Webster were able to say they played on the same pitch as some of the biggest names in world football – Ronaldo, Rooney and Giggs.
A decade on, and with the Brewers at the top of League One and now routinely beating teams in the higher echelons of football in the League Cup in recent seasons, it’s easy to underestimate the massive achievement in that 0-0 draw against the Red Devils.
Albion were still a non-league side and not even in contention for promotion to the Football League that season. The club had only just moved into the Pirelli Stadium and had been a Northern Premier League side as late as 2002. The Brewers had only made the Third Round of the FA Cup twice before in their entire history.
Manchester United were one of the best teams in Europe. They would lose only five Premier League games that season, only one at Old Trafford, and would only be denied the title by Chelsea.
There were more than 100 places between the two teams in the football pyramid.
No wonder fans lined the streets of Burton for an open top bus tour after the two matches had been played.
The lasting legacy of the game was not only an amazing statistic on the record books but also a major contribution to the cost of the new stadium thanks to the revenue generated by the two matches.
When the Brewers played a Manchester United XI in November 2005 to officially open the Pirelli Stadium and won 2-1, fans had joked that it was a shame that it wasn’t in the FA Cup.
Less than two months later, that dream came true and Albion finished the season having played the most famous, and arguably the best team in the land, three times and having only lost once. No wonder people are still talking about it.