Football is alive and well in the Outer Hebrides.

My trip to the Outer Hebrides found that football is alive and well in this outpost.
I wrote about the iconic pitch in Eriksay and the Jock Stein Cup Final in Stornaway and on my travels saw some really good community football grounds.
Scotland like England are developing a good pyramid system although both in my view need to make it easier for more clubs to go up into the professional ranks each year.
The Hebrides are served by two Leagues the Uist and Barra Amateur Football League with 6 teams and the  Lewis and Harris Football League with 9 teams. They all come together for the Coop Cup and compete in the Highland Amateur Cup. For a group of islands with a population of just less than 30000 this is some feat when you consider the logistics and distance (130 miles from the Southern to Northern point including two ferries).
The competition is healthy amongst the community clubs with the facilities often reflecting a community hub.

The football I saw would grace Step 5 in England and apart from no floodlights, which are not needed for a summer league the facilities would be up there too.

The grounds I saw were:

Eriksay FC

Goathill Stornaway home to Stornaway Athletic and Stornaway United.

Back FC

Back is roughly 5 miles north of Stornaway and have a very neat pitch along with other community sporting facilities.

Ness FC

Ness is right at the top of the Island of Lewis only a literal stones throw from the lighthouse of The Butt of Lewis. A fan I spoke to at the Jock Stein Cup final said that they have a lively vibrant social club that supports the football team.

Point FC

Points ground is to the East of Stornaway just beyond the airport. The facilities look good but there was no one there to talk to.

A visit to Lews House and Museum there was strong reference to football in the Island life exhibits.

Scottish football has great roots on the Islands.

Driving into Back, just north of Stornaway on the Isle of Lewis you pass a modern sports complex that also houses Back FC. On reaching where we were staying I looked up Back FC to find that in 20 minutes time they were playing in the Jock Stein Cup final. I was off, but realised that they would not be at home so on checking it was Goathill Park Stornaway bound. Luckily the game was delayed by a few minutes with a queue of people at the gate.

Inside a crowd of getting on for 300 had made it a great feat considering that Back’s opponents were Ness FC an hour and a half away right at the Northern tip of the Outer Hebridies. I spoke to a Ness supporter who filled me in on who was who and that Back were favourites having beaten Ness in a recent Highland Cup game.

Back and Ness play in the Lewis and Harris League.

Back are a volunteer run community club playing at the local Community Centre which along with their grass pitch has a community gym, indoor sports hall, 3 G pitch and golf range. The football club runs teams of all ages and abilities. The club have been going since 1933 and won numerous cup and league titles.

Ness FC were formed in the same year and have perhaps a more successful past winning many trophies.

Back FC 3 Ness FC 1

Friday 19th May 2023 19.00 pm

Goathill Park, Stornaway, Lewis. Jock Stein Cup Final.

Back FC, Yellow shirts blue shorts, Ness FC, White shirts and shorts with light orange stripe down shirt sleeves and side of shorts.

My was car abandoned in a side street, like everyone else’s. I rushed to the ground for my first ever Scottish football match. The teams kicked off as I found a space on the perimeter fence at Goathill. The ground is on top of a hill as the name says and the moist wind blew across the pitch. Grey clouds scuttled past with the wind moving them on quickly so each rain burst was only small. The grass had been cut very short but still some daisies poked through and overall the playing surface looked good with a slight slope from end to end.

Back were off to a fast start watched by a lone soaring seagull who seemed like a drone filming the game. It was no surprise when after 8 minutes they went ahead when some skillful running òn the left by Joel Martin produced a cross goal ball that was deflected in off a Ness defender, Cailean Macleod. They kept up the pressure playing some slick, quick passing and dribbling.

The referee and linesmen were miked up and well on top of the game. The referee stood for no swearing or arguing and even blew up for a foul throw, something you so rarely see even though it happens more than once in most games I watch.

There were no more goals by half time and a large contingent of children invaded both ends for shooting practice into the goals.

Rain greeted the start of the second half but again only in small showers as Ness seemed to be getting stuck in more. Their tenseness of the first half had disappeared but the game drifted into a dull midfield battle. The Back forwards were still getting themselves into good positions but their shyness to shoot and Ness’s very competent goalkeeper kept the score at 1 nill.

The pressure started to build on the Ness goal and on 68 minutes Back went two ahead when a corner from the right was expertly met by Chris Macleod as his bullet header hit the net.

Ness now tried hard to get back in the game and after Back’s goalkeeper, Peel, had made two point blank saves Ness were awarded a penalty.
Unfortunately for Ness, Lee Johnson’s penalty was saved. This didn’t stop their pressure and with 10 minutes left of the game they had their reward when a through ball was miss headed backwards over the advancing keeper for an own goal, this time to Ness.

Their efforts came to nothing though as Back wrapped the game up on 88 minutes with a goal fro Joel Martin. Joel Martin had looked quick all night and ran past a defender on the left cut inside and slammed the ball home for a deserved 3.1 win.

This was a great game of football, competitive to the end with some really good skills on show.

Eriskay where football meets the Ocean.

On a trip to the Outer Hebrides one of the stopping points had to be the home ground of Eriksay FC. It’s fame was cemented when in 2015 the FIFA World Football Museum featured the pitch along with other world gems in their visual display ‘Planet Football’ showcase.

To reach the pitch you drive past ‘The Politician’ bar, bistro that serves good food being named after the SS Politician that ran aground here and its resultant story that was the basis for the film ‘Whiskey Galore’. Having parked I made my way up a hill with the Barra Ferry and the Atlantic behind me. Eriksay’s nearest rivals west are in North America.

I reached the pitch with a blustery wind behind me as rain started to fall. Yes this is an iconic pitch which you would just love to play on. It is bumpy, has scattered animal droppings, a few patches of exposed sand and a rolling surface that goes up in one corner but the view just takes your breath away. It was well worth the drive and climb just to stand there. I wasn’t sure I was in awe of the players or just jealous.

Eriksay FC have been in existence since the 1950’s keeping going with a small and at times diminishing population. Let’s hope they keep going. They are definitely there this summer season being unbeaten after 5 games and only 2 points off the top of the Uist and Barra Football League.

Shame I was not around to see them play.

South Yorkshire Football Communities at their best.

Wednesday evening was Champions League semi final night between AC Milan and Inter Milan, a match that the media said had 2 million people wanting tickets to go and see.

It was also Super Wednesday evening in the Sheffield and Hallamshire County Senior Football League with Swinton Athletic at home to Dodworth Miners Welfare in the last game of the season in a winner take all match. This was however complicated because if the game was a draw then Wombwell Main FC would win the league as they were playing Ecclesfield Rose 1915 who had only won 2 games all season. The winners of the League would only have another ten leagues to win and all of the rounds in the Champions League to be where the two Milan giant sat.

I journeyed back to Swinton and there had been some changes, the barriers around the ground were mended, the new stand now had a floor and there appeared to be more advertising boards around the perimeter. Swinton are trying hard to up the standard of the Recreation Ground to meet future ground regulations should they be able to progress from this level. Unfortunately I had recently read that their initial planning application for floodlights had been turned down due to an objection by one of the local residents. The nearby social club was this time offering food but I had already eaten having been disappointed at this venue before. There was no charge to get in and there was a friendly atmosphere amongst the over 300 people who had been lured by this crunch match.

There were dark cloud overhead but the rain had cleared although the air still felt damp. The gloomy skies echoed the 14 degrees. The rain had contributed to the muddy goal mouths but overall the undulating long grass pitch looked well.

Swinton Athletic 4 Dodworth Miners Welfare 3

Wednesday 10th May 2023 Welfare Ground Swinton Kick off 18.00 but didn’t start until 18.14

Swinton; Black and white vertical striped shirts with black shorts. Dodworth; Red and black vertical striped shirts with red shorts.

The female referee got the game underway and was soon barking orders to make sure two competitive teams knew she was in charge.

There were no fancy coloured boots here but plenty of passion as Dodworth were the more enterprising team early on. Swinton’s number 7 and Dodworth’s number 11 looked the most dangerous and it was a through ball to Swinton’s danger man that led to the first goal. He received it on the right and his fast pace left some defender in his wake as he hit a low cross. the ball bobbled along the ground illuding defenders and the goalkeeper ending up in the back of the net. It looked all over in the first half as on 37 minutes when the home sides number four chested down the ball, took it to his right avoiding defenders and scored past the advancing goalkeeper. Dodworth did not give up and 3 minutes later from a free-kick on the left their number 6 rose at the far post to head towards goal. It was as if every one froze and time stood still as the ball finally went over the goal line to make it 2.1. Dodworth hit the cross bar with a minute to go to half time in this pulsating match. The news came through that Ecclesfield had surprisingly taken the lead so there was definitely all to play for as the teams regrouped at half time.

Swinton exerted sustained pressure to start the second half but a very strong penalty appeal at the other end could have resulted in an equaliser. The Swinton pressure produced results when with 24 minutes gone a Swinton player ran through to tap the ball to the right of the keeper to restore their 2 goal advantage.

Dodworth seemed to draw on untapped reserves and kept themselves in the game when a few minutes later there was mayhem in the goal mouth after a corner and a Dodworth player manged to get a clear shot at goal for their second. News came through that Wombwell were now leading and they must have thought it would be their title when on 35 minutes a reckless sliding tackle meant the referee awarded a penalty to Dodworth. A long injury treatment on the penalty spot and some over the top protests to the referee and a linesman did not put the penalty taker off as he made it 3.3.

What now for this exhilarating game, well within 2 minutes Swinton’s number 11 ran in from the right to latch on to a through ball and hit it across the goalkeeper into the net to regain the lead.

There were no more twists and the Swinton team were jubilant at the referees whistle.

What a finale to the season, a great game to watch. I can’t wait for the start of next season.

Peterborough are in Heaven.

With most of the Non-league matches competed, apart from play offs and a few minor league games being caught up, I pre bought tickets to see Barnsley v Peterborough on the final League One games day of the season.

Barnsley is a hilly town and the Oakwell ground sits at the bottom of one below the town centre. An early arrival meant nearby parking in what turned out to be for Peterborough supporters. Parking near the entrance meant a prospective quick get away but also a steep walk down to the stadium.

Sitting high up in the East Stand you overlook the distant Town Hall and you could see many of the 14000 plus crowd streaming down the hill in time for the mid-day kick off. The 20 degrees shown on the car computer seemed believable as summer clothes were on show. The sunshine, blue and white skies and a beautiful green grass pitch made for a colourful tapestry.

Barnsley had already booked their place in the League One play offs but their opponents, Peterborough, needed to win and Derby away at local rivals Sheffield Wednesday needed to lose to book their place.

Barnsley are a long standing club having been formed in 1887 and located at their Oakwell home since a year later. They won the FA Cup in 1912 and been in two other Cup finals. They have reached the highest league in England but have spent most of their time going up and down the lower leagues.

In contrast Peterborough are juniors starting in 1934 and not being elected to the Football League until 1960. They too have spent most of their times since their elevation yo-yoing up and down the leagues with the Championship being their highest level achieved.

Barnsley 0 Peterborough 2

Sunday 7th May 2023 Midday kick off.

The Tykes v The Posh. 4th v 7th

Barnsley; Crimson red shirts, white shorts. Peterborough; Royal Blue shirts, black shorts.

Peterborough’s need to win showed from the off with a more direct approach and they scored on just 6 minutes when Harrison Burrows launched a curling left foot cross into the goal mouth which sailed over the Barnsley defence to the unmarked Jonson Clarke-Harris who chested it down and slammed it home.

Barnsley settled after this but made little impact on the visitors backline, they did score but it was ruled offside. Peterborough kept probing on the wings but neither side made a clear cut chance. The Peterborough fans erupted on 41 minutes as the news came through that Derby’s Curtis Davis had been sent off and a penalty awarded to the home team. A short while passed and ‘The Posh’ fans made more noise as Sheffield Wednesday scored. So with Peterborough on top at the break and Derby behind there was a buzz from the away end.

The second hand started with Peterborough needing to hold on and hope that Derby would not equalise. Barnsley did start in a more positive mood plying a much higher line and competing for the ball. They had more goal attempts in the first 20 minutes than the whole of the first half. As the game drifted on Peterborough forced a corner from the right and the right footed outswinger was met by Jack Taylor’s head as he glanced the ball into the left side of the net. Peterborough fans erupted knowing that they were going to win but were still nervous of the score from Hillsborough. Both ended about the same time and the Peterborough fans were ecstatic with the performance, the results and making the play offs. Their singing and chanting put a damper on the end of season parade for Barnsley fans. Both clubs are now in the play-offs so you would expect that if they meet again the match will be more competitive.

No chips just Pukka Pies and I chose a Pukka Sausage Roll which if I kept a table of scores for them rather than chips this version would surely be bottom.

In A League Of Their Own – The Dick Kerr Ladies 1917-1965

In A League Of Their Own – The Dick Kerr Ladies 1917-1965

Written by Gail J Newsham. 2018 Edition. Signed by Gail Newsham

Having parked we saw a café called Bookcase on the way to Carlisle Cathedral and popped in for a lunch time snack. From the café you could see some book cases but when we went to leave we walked past them into a large second hand bookshop. Not having a great deal of time I didn’t go upstairs or rummage through the many books. There is even an upstairs and by the stairs were some sport books which is where I found one of the best football books I have ever read. The second-hand book was £9.99 which was a lot more than I normally pay but totally worth every penny and more.

The research that Gail Newsham has put into this book is phenomenal as she has bought to life the exploits of this amazing team, their unbelievable record, their shabby treatment by the FA but most of all the bringing to life of the ladies who made up the team.

The one thing that jumps out of this book and hugs you is love. Gail meets and makes everlasting friends with past players and brings to life those no longer with us. She does not duck the issue of where they used by others for financial gain.

If you read the book you will realise that some of these ladies were by far the best in the world and which men’s defence of then and now would not squirm if they had to stand up to the indomitable Lily Parr. Gail also chronicles the efforts, many of them hers, to get long term recognition for the team and carry on their memory up to today.

Having read the book you can only conclude that the FA put back the development of Women’s football by decades and hope that the current explosion in the game is nurtured properly.

This book is a treasure.

N.B. The FA again did a disservice to Women’s Football in 2013 when on April 26th they demoted Doncaster Belles from the top division to make way for a more high profile club in the WSL. Despite appeals by many involved in the game they were unsuccessful and the team that had been synonymous with the spirit and excellence of the game were cast adrift. Doncaster continue to fight on in lower divisions and we all hope that next season they can start to regain their status. They were a club who in just over a decade were never out of the top flight, won the FA Cup six times and the League title twice. Nowhere near the influence of the Dick Kerr Ladies but up there in the vanguard.

Seeking a new home for Derby Singh Brothers FC

I decided that I would go and watch Derby Singh Brothers again over the weekend.

They were at home to Pinxton but were playing the match at Pinxton because they are looking for a new ground other than their previous home at the old Rolls Royce ground in Derby. I had previously watched them playing away at home in the League Cup at Melbourne earlier this season.

Pinxton’s ground is very near Junction 28 of the M1 and you can see the stream of vehicles pass in the distance. It nestles amongst a housing estate with little parking except outside the houses. It is a picturesque ground on the side of a hill overlooked by St Helens Church and graveyard and looking out over the house rooftops to countryside.

The layout is slightly unusual, the changing rooms are away from the pitch in the left hand corner, a food hut is in the right hand corner half the way up a high banking at one end of the ground. The pitch sloped from end to end with an undulating playing surface that was well covered in grass with no weeds to be seen.

There is a small covered seated area on part of one side and a small covered standing area near the café.

I have tried before to find out about the history of Derby Singh Brothers and have again failed. Pinxton only started in1994 playing local league football. By 2004 they made it to the Central Midlands League where they have stayed in different divisions ever since and in the different reorganisations of that competition.

Derby Singh Brothers 0 Pinxton 0

Monday 1st May 2023. 14.00 pm 6th v 5th

Central Midlands League Division South

Pinxton; Yellow shirts black sleeves, black shorts’ change strip as playing at home. Derby Singh Brothers ; Sky blue shirts and shorts white stripe down the arms.

I sat back in the stand for the first half in the sunshine and a 17 degree temperature watching the blue skies being crossed by blocks of white and grey clouds. The game being home away meant there was no program or team sheet which you would normally get at this venue.

What struck immediately was there was no end of season blues on show here as both sets of players showed that they were pleased to be there and wanted a win. The crowd of about 70 were entertained but neither side bothered the respective goalkeepers. Fans either played football behind the goal, drank a few cans by the refreshment hut or chatted about the season just gone or the proposed changes that might be made to the league next season. The first half closed with ‘DSB’ having played the best more pressing football but with Pinxton coming closest to end the deadlock.

At half time with it being the last game of the season some local children were on the pitch shooting into the goal living future exploits in the game. I went to get a KitKat but all food except chips were sold out which seemed reasonable as the Pinxton catering lady did not want to take stock into the summer recess.

For the second half I sat on the high earth banking behind one goal looking out over the countryside just enjoying the view, game and life. I counted the crowd which I estimated to have been about 70.

Still no goals but this half Pinxton gained the advantage playing down hill with a breeze behind them. Derby didn’t looked troubled until around 65 minutes when a player hooked it off the line when a clear goal seemed the outcome. The line official waved away the appeals and his good positioning meant that he had a good view of the ball. The battle continued and the nil nil score line showed two very well matched teams.

Lets hope that Derby Singh Brothers find a ground share for next season and in the long term a permanent home.

The chips were very tasty, medium hot but a bit soggy. If they would have been hot they would have been up there near the top of this years chip league, a score of 60.

Wisbech Town FC end their season very late.

I made my way to the edge of town to watch Wisbech Town play their last game of the season. There was good parking at the front of the ground and the turnstile opened up to a large open ground. At 12 degrees it was a long time since I hadn’t needed a scarf or gloves as the sun shone, only occasionally blotted out by some cotton wool clouds tinged with grey. The pitch sloped slightly from end to end and was thickly grassed with daisies and dandelions in bloom showing it had not been cut for a while. There was little wear on the very good surface.

The stadium has a small seated stand in the middle of one side and covered standing behind both goals with a few seats at one end. The other side has open standing but also hosts the club house and the changing rooms. The club house was large with a big bar and catering facilities that were busy and offered a large menu.

Behind one goal was a full sized training pitch and smaller goals for all ages. At one side of the ground was a large drainage ditch, needed in this low lying flat area of the country.

Wisbech were formed in 1920 with the merger of three local teams, they initially played in local Peterborough and Kings Lynn Leagues but soon embarked on a nomadic journey around leagues, United Counties League, East Midlands League, Eastern Counties League, Midland League for starters.

The club stepped up to the Southern League in 1958 but just over a decade later were back in they Eastern Counties League, promoted back to the Midland League in 1997 but 4 years later they were back in the Eastern Counties League and by 2013 back in the United Counties League. Their decline was partly due to financial problems and they had to sell their old ground , moving to their current home in 2010. 2018 saw an upward trend again with promotion to the Northern Premier League East, a lateral move to the Northern Premier League Midland Division due to a reshuffle of clubs led on to their last change a demotion in 2022 to The United Counties Premier Division North. A truly eventful history when it comes to playing in different leagues but in the FA vase competition they have done better reaching two semi-finals and more quarter finals.

Eastwood Community FC have only been in existence since 2014 when they took on the mantle of football in the town after Eastwood Town folded. Eastwood Town had reached as high as the Northern Premier League. They have risen through the Central Midland League and are now placed in the United Counties League. They look certain to be contenders in this league in the future.

Wisbech Town 3 Eastwood Town 2

Saturday 22nd April 2023 15.00 pm kick off

Fountains Park, 380 Lynn Rd, Wisbech PE14 7AL

United Counties League Premier Division North Fenmen v Red Badgers 12th v 16th

Wisbech, all red shirts and shorts: Eastwood, all fluorescent yellow shirts and shorts.

Eastwood made all the early pressure but a break down the wing by Amir Ward saw him beat the full back but his point blank range shot was well smothered by the goalkeeper only for it to rebound to him so that he could roll it into the net.

Amir Ward continually put pressure on the Eastwood defence and they deserved to go in at half time leading by the odd goal. They had been more penetrative and not shot shy on goal like the visitors. Like Eastwood I had a touch of end of season blues as I reflected on what seemed like a practice game.

All was to change when after only six minutes into the second half Tyler Blake for Eastwood burst through and hit a strong volley connecting with a ball from the left. It flew past the goalkeeper whose right hand touched it but didn’t keep it out.

After another 6 minutes Eastwood had created what had seemed like an improbable turn around as Ryan Tait took control of a bobbling ball in a congested goal area and dribbled forward to place the ball under the Wisbech goalkeeper for their second goal. Wisbech now tried to get back in the game but Eastwood’s defence was much tighter although it was now playing much of the game in their own half.

As I walked towards the exit for a quick get away a long range shot was parried down into the path of Mo Janneh who calmly stepped forward to score. The home fans were happy but went delirious a minute later when the ball ping ponging around the Eastwood goal area fell to the near post where Owen Howard was standing to nudge it in.

All over and a great second half for all, which if it had been earlier in the season would have felt like a major set back for the visitors. The 189 fans cheered the end loudly. It’s never over till its over and the 2022/23 season was over for these two teams.

The chips were a big portion, red hot, tasty, not greasy but could have been cooked a little longer, scoring 62.

Guernsey F.C. continue to be trend setters.

What a weekend, having spent Saturday at Burton Albion’s ground with my daughter I was on Sunday seated and awaiting Guernseys last Isthmian league home game of the season in the sunshine with a friend.

Guernsey Football club were formed in 2011 as a community club that would represent the island in the English pyramid football system. This was a bold move by the local Football Association in that it could have disrupted the islands own local league and still today has its distractors. It has however been a success and the club initially being members of the Combined Counties League have progressed to the Isthmian League Division One South-Central.

The pioneering of Guernsey has been copied by Jersey who look like just missing out on promotion from the Hampshire League this season and The Isle of Mann who play in the North West Counties League. The island teams have to pay for the visitors return journeys but there were fans there as well that hopefully add to the tourist industries income.

Guernsey play their games at the Footes Lane Stadium, St Peter Port, the home of Guernsey RFC who are also well versed with playing in the English rugby system.

We arrived at the ground in glorious sunshine and parked in the local sixth form college.

This modern stadium is also home to local athletics and will be used as the centre for the Bi-annual Island games to be hosted by Guernsey this year. Along with Guernsey F.C’s mascot Roary there was the Puffin mascot, Jet, for the upcoming Games.

The afternoon was glorious and the pitch looked flat and in great condition considering that it has been shared all season with the rugby club. You had to look hard to see where the rugby pitch markings had been painted over. The 5000 capacity is open on three sides but with a modern covered stand seating 720 and it was here that most people were sat. There were a few Basingstoke fans behind the goal who changed ends at half time as part of the crowd of 859.

Basingstoke as a club have been established since 1896 since a merger of two teams and have been as high as the National League South but were relegated in 2016 and further relegation sees them where they sit today. However they have a good chance to climb back up the ladder this season.

The six lane running track surprisingly did not detract from the view of the game and we settled down for the game with Guernsey already safe from relegation and Basingstoke wanting to maintain their push for promotion.

Guernsey F.C. 2 Basingstoke Town 3

Sunday 16th April 2023 14.00pm Kick Off

Footes Lane Stadium, St Peterport, Guernsey. Isthmian League Division 1 South-Central

15th v 2nd The Green Lions v The Dragons

The game had hardly started when in five minutes Dandre Brown collected the ball in the middle of the pitch and set of on a run that saw him past three home team defenders and hit the ball to the right of the keeper going into the net off the post.

Guernsey were all at sea and looked as if they were already ‘on the beach’ but Ross Allen making his three hundredth appearance for the home side did well to get the ball beyond the Basingstoke defenders and from the right made a pin point low cross for Sam Murry to tap in for the equaliser.

Basingstoke continued their superiority and after some fine saves by the Guernsey keeper they scored again on 25 minutes when Paul Hodges crossed from the right and Bradley Wilson dispatched it through a group of defenders to restore their lead. which they held with ease until half time.

Guernsey did put up a better fight in the second half and were rewarded when their hero Ross Allen scored his 284th goal for the club after 65 minutes. The fight back though was only temporary when four minutes later Paul Hodges restored Basingstoke’s lead by lobbing the goalkeeper and finding the back of the net. There was a hint of offside in the goal which did not endear the referee to the home fans who had made a few ironic cheers when decisions went their way.

Basingstoke held on to be set for a last day of the season must win game and hope that their rivals drop points. Guernsey will wrap up their season with some joy having made a very poor start to the season that looked at one time like a weary relegation fight was going to ensue.

No chips at the stadium but an enjoyable end of season game and a great few days on the Island with friends.

Impressive Burton Albion.

A change from Non League football as I was treated by my daughter to a visit to Burton Albion a club that was on my long standing visit list.

A pub and food outlets on the way to the ground had been occupied by a large contingent of good humoured Sheffield Wednesday fans on a spring afternoon where the high grey cloud was under attack from some blue sky patches. The fans seemed to be in high spirits and treating the day as summer despite it only being 10 degrees. Outside the stadium was Burton Albion Community Football Centre and nearby artificial pitches in use by fans prior to the match.

Only started in 1950 Burton were major players in the Non-League game. They initially joined a local Birmingham League but soon spent most of their time alternating between the Southern and Northern Premier Leagues until in 1988 they were promoted to the Conference and joined the EFL in 2009. Their upward journey continued spending two seasons in the Championship, but have now become mainstays of League 1.

Burton moved to their Pirelli Stadium home in 2005 and it is a good example of a compact modern stadium with covered standing at both ends and down one side and with covered seating and hospitality boxes down the other. The ground capacity is over 6000 and on the day 4682 were there. The pitch as you would expect was an immaculate flat grass surface being watered before the start.

Sheffield Wednesday had been top of League One before kick off but had been knocked off of that perch by the result of an early kick off. They had sold their full allocation of away tickets despite a recent run of poorer results. Their fans crave to climb back up the league structure considering their history and attendances. They have previously won FA cups, the League Cup and four top league titles but their achievements have tailed away since the early 1990’s. They have also recently been in a long shadow from local rivals Sheffield United who look very likely to make it back to the Premier League.

Burton Albion 3 Sheffield Wednesday 2

Saturday 15th April 2023 15.00 pm kick off

English Football League Division 1 Brewers v Owls. 18th v 2nd.

Burton Albion, Yellow shirts and shorts: Sheffield Wednesday, Blue and white vertical striped shirts and black shorts.

Before the game wreaths were laid to remember the 34th anniversary of the Hillsborough tragedy and a minutes applause was observed.

Sheffield started the quickest but it was soon Burton who started to control the game with some dominant play down the right. It was however a corner from the left for Burton that ended the deadlock when John Brayford rose unmarked in a group of players to head the ball home for a one nil lead. Burton kept up the pressure but were undone by a perfect ball through from Barry Bannan to Callum Patterson on 28 minutes which he met with a strong shot across the goalkeepers right hand into the net to level.

The Wednesday supporters packed in their end came alive but were silenced only 7 minutes later when a complete mix up trying to clear with headers meant the ball fell to Mark Helm who accepted the gift and stroked it into the net. Within 2 minutes it was Mark Helm again, who was having an outstanding match, who latched onto another poor clearance to steady himself, move infield and from 30 yards out smash the ball into the bottom left hand corner of the net for a 3.1 lead for the home side. Burton fans were in heaven and made all the noise up to half time.

Wednesday fans stayed very quiet as the second half was started and even three changes early on didn’t help in fact they lost shape and their constant high balls into the Burton defence were dealt with easily. Burton fans continued to taunt the away contingent behind the goal and the away players as well.

With just less that ten minutes to go in the second half Burton right back tripped a player just entering the penalty area and the referee had no alternative but to point at the spot. Michael Smith composed himself after a long wait and sent the goalkeeper the wrong way to score. Despite the goal there was little chance of an away team comeback as they continued to play the long balls that had proved of no use all game. Burton ran out the time and were worthy winners with the youngster, Mark Helm, being deservedly named man of the match.

I was impressed by Burton’s beautiful, compact ground, their journey and their play on the day.

Unfortunately the chips at Burton were less than impressive. They came in a recyclable cardboard box and were a good quantity but they were just bland. I can say no more than I didn’t eat them all and must apologise for leaving the box on the terracing, I did mean to put it in the bin on the way out.