‘It’s A Place Full Of Incredible Memories And Great People’

By Sam Elliott

Nigel Clough doesn’t regret saying yes to managing Derby County, just what saying yes to managing Derby County actually meant.

Saying no just wasn’t an option, not with the family history. The Damned United? The high-flying Burton Albion boss was damned if he did, and damned if he didn’t.

He was months away from leading his beloved club to something very special. A decade ago now, but it seems to him like yesterday.

In the country’s brewing capital, they already had the beers refrigerated. When the call came in late January 2009, the side built on pure passion were 13 points clear at the top of the then-sponsonsed Blue Square Premier. All bets were off.

Burton to this day remain one of the competition’s major success stories. From going nowhere fast in the Southern League to the second tier of the English game in the blink of an eye.

Evidence, as if needed on its 40-year anniversary, that it’s a place where dream catchers roam with their nets. Join, enjoy, prosper. No limitations.

Clough spoke to us to celebrate the landmark, recalling his memories from his time in among it all. But there’s one thing which still weighs on his mind.

“When we started off together, what 21 years ago it must be now. Wow...” said Clough, back now in charge of the Brewers of course, interrupted his train of thought.

“The Football League was a pipe dream a few years ago. I remember going to see Hednesford Town play in the Conference with some of Albion’s committee members and thinking how incredible it would be if Burton were playing at that level.

“It was just our ambition to get into the Conference. That was the only goal. So for the club to be playing in the Championship only a few years later, well it was incredible.

“It was the happiest time for us, some great memories. Wonderful memories.

“I was in charge the season we went up, but actually I wasn’t there when it happened. It’s always been a big regret as those moments live with you.

“The opportunity to join Derby came a few months before the end of the season. We were 13 points clear.

“The team eventually just got over the finishing line and there was nobody more proud than I was.”

It’s not just Burton and the clubs who have thrived. Players, too. It has harvested future England internationals. It’s a story well-told, but Jamie Vardy - spotted scoring goals at Fleetwood Town - went on to write what is widely seen as one of sport’s greatest ever stories told.

“The beauty of the Conference, or the National League as we now know it, is the different situations clubs find themselves in,” he said.

“There are those who really get going after a good season at that level. Promotion takes you places, we’ve seen that with other clubs like Yeovil, Fleetwood, Shrewsbury. The list is huge.

“Then there’s the other side of it. The clubs that find it difficult to get back up.

“You’ve also got the clubs who come down and use it as a reality check. If you leave the EFL, especially as a big club, then something has gone wrong.

“It gives you a chance to use your time in the league to think about the mistakes that were made and how you can come back stronger.”

Clough, 53, added: “The respect has grown year after year, it’s now considered as the fifth division by so many people. The introduction of the National League North and South has added something very important, the competition keeps getting stronger and stronger.

“You only need to look at the crowds. When Burton were in the Championship, there were a good number in the National League averaging more. That shows the strength.”

It’s about more than 90 minutes according to the former Nottingham Forest and Liverpool midfielder.

“It’s not just about the football, it’s the friends you make along the way too and for me it’s how welcome you are made to feel at other clubs,” he said.

“It’s about the people, the usually unpaid people who love their club and love their football. Money doesn’t come into it, it’s not about that. Volunteers. I don’t know where we would be without them.

“It’s such a sharp contrast to the top end of the game.

“It means a lot to me personally to have been a part of it. We love to let our minds drift back. Darren Stride and Aaron Webster, who are on the staff with me the year we won the Conference title, were talking recently. We do quite often.

“Those are the days we cherished. It’s 40 years since a big decision was made by people within football and it’s one a lot of people can look back on with immense pride.”

Where next?

Club Licences Granted for National League Football Academy The National League have granted 22 Clubs an Academy Licence for the inaugural National League Football Academy season.
Chairman Brian Barwick Reflects on The National League's 40th Anniversary This weekend, The National League celebrates it’s 40th anniversary, since the first fixtures took place in the then-called Alliance Premier League.

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