They are considering closing two tiers of Old Trafford next week, when Manchester United supporters might not be falling over one another to watch Kieran Richardson and Phil Bardsley rejoin battle with Chris Hall and Keith Gilroy, but Stourbridge had little choice for their big cup match with Burton Albion last night. The War Memorial Athletic Ground is shared with Stourbridge Cricket Club and the fourth side, open to the elements, does not officially accommodate fans.
Burton were not complaining about the state of the pitch at Amblecote, although a goodly smattering of sand had been used as Stourbridge ran out 4-1 winners in this Birmingham Senior Cup quarter-final. When Sir Alex Ferguson receives his report from the United scout sat scribbling away in the directors’ box, there may be one or two weaknesses he can look to capitalise on in next week’s FA Cup third-round replay.
Forty-eight hours after his Burton team had held United to a goalless draw, Nigel Clough turned out at left back last night only for his team to suffer the kind of defeat that might be acceptable for a Nationwide Conference side in the FA Cup third round.
A week today, Burton will play in front of 50,000 supporters in the replay that should net the club in the region of £750,000, enough to pay their players for two years. Last night, 506 turned up to watch Burton play the role of the big boys. Entrance last night cost £5; Burton fans have already started buying their £31 seats for their grand night out.
Only three Burton players from Sunday started last night but the Conference club’s squad still operate four divisions above their Midlands Alliance hosts, nominally the same disparity as between Burton and United. It was only too clear why the smaller team bridge the gap more often than they should: Gary Hackett’s players — paid “beer money and enough to take the missus out for a Balti on a Saturday night” — were on the front foot, while Burton knew they had bigger fish to fry next week.
The inhuman amount of commitment they put into the game of their lives on national television could not be summoned without the adrenalin. “FA Cup? You’re having a laugh,” the Stourbridge teenagers screamed.
Martin Taylor, in his 40th year, portly and clearly more focused on a career as Burton coach, was beaten three times by Mark Bellingham, the Stourbridge No 9, a policeman who was promptly substituted to go off on his night shift. Taylor, the former Wycombe Wanderers player, who held Liverpool at bay for 78 minutes in the 2001 semi-finals, is not alone in hoping that Saul Deeney, the young goalkeeper who kept a clean sheet on Sunday, signs a new deal with Burton and plays next week.
Out of the FA Trophy as well as the Birmingham Senior Cup, this was Burton’s final match before reconvening with Cristiano Ronaldo and friends. The United scout took pity and left at half-time