By Kevin Graham
If there’s one game that sticks out for me during my 2 ½ years or so at The Turnbull Ground it was Burton at home.
We had a bad run in the league after the Plymouth Argyle FA Cup games but in the middle of that run we played a remarkable game against Nigel’s Clough’s Burton. They were moved into the Unibond League from the Doc Martens and had just missed out on promotion to the Conference the previous season – from the minute they arrived in our league they meant business.
They were a big club, with big names and a big budget to match. Paul Talbot had just moved there from Gateshead for a decent fee and 550 quid a week – and he wasn’t top earner by any means. I was just delighted to get the chance to mix it up against them to be honest. When they turned up at the ground they got off the bus carrying just washbags with Clough’s kitman pushing a big silver crate on wheels with all their boots and kit… we only used to see that in pre season friendlies.
The weather that day was atrocious. Blowing a gale and tipping it down. I remember the Burton Chairman Ben Robinson being very vocal before the game in discussions with the officials about whether the game should go ahead. It was so bad that 4 of our lads were involved in a minor crash on the way across the moors and we only had the bare 11 as a result.
That was made even worse after barely 15 mins when Ross Marchant who we had on loan from Sunderland had to go off after getting a nasty injury. We re-organised and took it to them despite the fact we only had the 10 men. In those days there was no Conference North or South, the Unibond League was at step 2 of the pyramid and it was so strong with sides like Burton, Accrington, Barrow and Altrincham amongst others vieing for promotion to the Conference. We were never going to compete in terms of money and resources to get the best players, but under Harry we beat most of the top sides at some stage – he found ways for us to compete, we knew our jobs and we turned a few games into battles when we needed to. This was certainly one of those days.
That Burton side included the spine of the team that got promoted into the Football League a few seasons later and had some established and future England C internationals, as well as the likes of Clough and Darren Wassall.
I remember kicking their top goalscorer Christian Moore around the park and him not enjoying it too much but on the whole they had a really tough mindset and didn’t seem to get phased in the heat of battle. Clough and their skipper Darren Stride both took a few hefty challenges but they could look after themselves and Clough in particular was always able to leave his studs in without the referee blowing up – me and Goochy probably weren’t the first ones to try and leave a bit on him!
They kept patiently trying to play but we defended really well as a unit and to be honest when Logie’s trusty left peg put us into the lead I felt like we could hold on. We repelled wave after wave of their attacks and made the game as ugly as we could but with every ball delivered into the box our 10 men got more tired.
We did try to slow the game down – Dunny had us well drilled and we had done that successfully a number of times before – so I guess we had ourselves to blame to some extent when the referee indicated there would 7 mins of injury time.
Even then we held out and looked like we were set to take an unlikely three points, but when the ball fell on the edge of a crowded box in the 98th minute, Talbot lashed the ball into the back of the net and we fell to our knees, exhausted. The ref blew the whistle thirty seconds later and whilst taking a point in the circumstances was a hell of feat… it still felt like a kick in the balls.
They celebrated like they’d won the league with the 100 or so Burton fans who’d made the journey in such terrible weatherand our fans – the crowd was just under 600 looking at the records – gave us a huge reception as we came off the pitch despite the disappointment everyone at the club felt after such a late equaliser. I probably didn’t look grateful at the time but I was.When I look back, it was a hell of a result against what I guess is probably the best league side ever to play at The Turnbull. I have many happy memories from my time there but that’s one that everyone at the club should be proud of. To sustain such a long tenure in the Northern Premier League top tier is some achievement for the club.
Here’s to many, many more seasons mixing it with the big boys.