A Trentside town that once produced a quarter of all Britain’s beer, Burton is home to a football club that rose from the fourth flight to the second in consecutive seasons. Though now in League One, Burton Albion must be seen in the context of their history, a non-league outfit until 2009, a fixture in the regional divisions for decades.
With promotion to the Championship in 2016, Albion, formed in 1950, reached untold heights. Home of one of Britain’s oldest rugby union clubs, Burton has seen nothing like it in the round-ball game. None of its handful of local football clubs operative at various points in the pre-war days bequeathed much to the record books.
Burton FC, the club that became a purely rugby-playing outfit, were formed 1870 – soccer-focused Burton Swifts and Burton Wanderers arrived a year later.
Swifts, perhaps the best-known, were founder members of the Football League Second Division in 1892. Wearing a bizarre array of colours almost every season, Swifts shared the same home as Burton FC, Peel Croft, today still the rugby ground and slap in the town centre.
Wanderers, meanwhile, were based at Derby Turn, by the railway lines north of town, where modern-day Burton Albion would later play at Eton Park and then nearby Pirelli Stadium.
Wanderers, too, had a short spell in the Second Division, when they inflicted a record 9-0 defeat on Newcastle United in 1895. A year later, 5,000 spectators squeezed into Derby Turn for the derby with Swifts.
With neither club doing well and Midland Railway looking to extend its sidings at Derby Turn, Wanderers and Swifts merged to form Burton United in 1901. With Derby Turn sold off, the new club moved into Peel Croft.
But United fared little better than their predecessors. Dropping out of the League in 1907, in 1910 they were subsumed into Burton All Saints. About this successor club, little is known save for three unspectacular seasons in the Birmingham & District League between 1921 and 1924, when they were renamed Burton Town.
Up until the war, Town, too, played in the B&D and Midland Leagues.
Ten years after Burton Town’s last campaign, Burton Albion were formed in 1950. Playing at a cramped ground on Wellington Street, The Brewers rose through the ranks to join the Southern League NW zone in 1958, the same year that the club moved north to a new ground on Princess Way, Eton Park.
For 50 years, Albion shone in the non-league game, occasionally reaching the last four of the FA Trophy and usually there or thereabouts in the Southern League or Northern Premier.
After the arrival of Ben Robinson as chairman, then Nigel Clough as manager in 1998, Albion gained promotion to the fifth-flight Conference and warmed the nation with a 0-0 draw against Manchester United in the FA Cup in 2006.
The game took place at Albion’s new home of the Pirelli Stadium, further up Princess Way and opened with a friendly against the same prestigious opponents only two months earlier.
Since then, despite Clough’s departure for his father’s old club of Derby County, The Brewers gained full league status in 2009 and haven’t looked back.
To bring the story full circle, and with Robinson still in charge decades later, Clough returned in December 2015 to lead Albion to promotion in May, with memorable promotion scenes at the Pirelli.
The nearest airport to Burton is East Midlands 21km (13 miles) east. There’s no direct public transport to Burton.
A Skylink bus (daytime every 20min, evening every hr, 40min journey time, £4.20) runs to Derby train station, from where a train (every 15-30min, £7, 10-15min journey time) runs to Burton-on-Trent. There’s also a combined price of £10 from trainline.
Burton upon Trent Taxis (01283 440009) quotes £22 from East Midlands and £25 from Birmingham Airport.
Burton has no direct train link from London – you have to change at Tamworth, Derby or Birmingham New Street.
Enjoy Staffordshire has a database of local hotels.
There are no accommodation options near the Pirelli Stadium – the Delter on Derby Road is currently undergoing a change of ownership.
By Burton station, the Travelodge is set in a converted granary mill, a taxi firm set right alongside for a convenient hop up to the ground.
A better choice would be to stay in town. A short walk from the station, the Roebuck Inn has twin rooms above a decent pub with TV sports and a beer garden – although those staying have to make do with shared facilities. More towards the centre, the Grail Court Hotel is a historic-themed lodging with its own restaurant, bar and nightclub. It also has free parking.
Near the National Brewery Centre and just across the road from the Burton Bridge Brewery, the Three Queens is a pleasant, independent lodging with a bar and grill restaurant.
For centuries, Burton has been the home of British beer. The history is told at the National Brewery Centre, with its own bar/restaurant, the Brewery Tap. Nearby, the Burton Bridge Brewery contains a more lived-in, traditional pub, the Burton Bridge Inn, with its own ales, including Albion Power, brewed in honour of the recent achievements at the Pirelli Stadium. There’s a skittle alley too.
It’s not all skittles and cask ales. Right in the town centre, the Locomotive is a sports bar and nightclub open till 1am Thursday through Saturday. The Crossing provides a contemporary touch to sampling craft beers – no TV football, though. Equally central, the Dog Inn does screen matches while offering any number of brews and ales. The Olde Royal Oak (11 Market Place) concentrates more on live music while The Lord Burton is the town-centre Wetherspoons, named after the head of a local brewing dynasty.
Nearer the station, the Devonshire Arms is another pub with an excellent range of ales and a beer garden to enjoy them in. Inside, the walls are dotted with black-and-white football memorabilia relating to the golden days of Derby County.
Also close to the station, the cosy Cooper’s Tavern is another award-winning pub – pressure of space means they try and keep numbers down on match days.