The fifth part of our series dedicated to short-lived stays in the Football League takes us into the Midlands and the intriguing case of Burton Wanderers. MATTHEW CRIST takes up the story…
Burton Albion have brought relative success to the small Staffordshire brewing town over the past two decades or so, establishing themselves as a Football League club, playing at the newly built Pirelli Stadium, and even holding Manchester United to a draw in the FA Cup back in 2006. But before the “Brewers” became the pride of Burton, the town boasted no fewer than three football clubs, all of which are now non-existent, including Burton Wanderers.
Formed in 1871, Wanderers were one of the founder members of the Midland League when it was created in 1890 and by 1894 season they had finished the campaign as champions – despite receiving a points deduction for fielding an ineligible player – and as a result were elected into the Football League Second Division.
Wanderers certainly made a name for themselves during their time in league football thanks to a 9-0 victory against Newcastle United (Still the Magpies’ heaviest league defeat to this day) and an 8-0 win against Manchester United on their way to a fourth place finish in 1896. Only an inferior goal average prevented them from gaining promotion and it seemed merely a formality that they would do well again the following season.
However, things didn’t go to plan and Wanderers finished just one place off the foot of the Second Division table twelve months later and found themselves being voted out of the Football League after just three years with Luton Town taking their place.
A drop down the divisions didn’t help the fortunes of Wanderers either, finishing bottom of the Midland League in 1901; if they were to live to fight another day they would need to take drastic measures, which is exactly what they did.
Wanderers weren’t the only team in the town to be playing league football at that time. Burton Swifts had also been part of the Football Alliance Division that had combined with the Football League to form a new, two-tier structure; but they were struggling too and it looked inevitable that they would follow their neighbours and also drop out of the league.
So it was deemed that, in order for both to survive, Burton Wanderers and Burton Swifts would form an unlikely partnership and the two merged in 1901. The marriage of convenience brought about the end for both clubs in their own right, but did ensure that at least one Football League team would exist in the town when Burton United were formed and took Swifts’ place in Division Two.
Their existence would also be short-lived, though, and at the end of the 1906/07 season they were demoted from the league and soon disappeared into the footballing wilderness, leaving the town with no football team to speak of.
Wanderers’ ground, Peel Croft, which was also used by Swifts and United, is still in existence today and is home to Burton RFC. At the time of Burton Wanderers existence it had a capacity of 5,800 with the record attendance alleged to be over 5,600; a very decent achievement if true for a side in the second tier of English football.
It wasn’t until 1950 that football returned to the town with the formation of Burton Albion and their promotion to the Football League in 2009 meant that Burton now has the honour of supporting no fewer than four football League clubs in one form or another down the years, more than any other town in England; thanks, in no small part, to the achievements of the long since defunct Burton Wanderers.