It was FAN FRIENDLY FRIDAY at Accrington Stanley, rock bottom of the 4th and lowest tier of English League football with just 2 points from 9 matches.
Just 5 miles from Burnley and Blackburn Rovers, either side in East Lancashire they have struggled all their life. The original Accrington FC was formed in 1876, and were one of the original 12 teams that formed The Football League in 1888, this season celebrating 125 Years..The first ever league games of both Everton and Blackburn Rovers were against Accrington FC. They went bust in 1896 after a 12-0 thumping from nearby Darwen.
Accrington Stanley were formed and played in The Football League from 1921 until 1962 when they resigned from the league mid-season and went into liquidation in 1966. Their old ground Peel Park was finally demolished. Formed again in 1968 they went through various leagues for 44 years before finally gaining league status as champions of the Football Conference on April 15, 2006. They were saved from oblivion three years later.
It took me over half an hour with many twists and turns and hardly a soul about to walk to the new Crown Ground, hidden away amonst some residential streets. I asked at various corner pubs for directions along the pavements made slippery by rain soaked autumn leaves. I didn't see a fan until I 100 yards away.
In a scheme to attract fans as their second team other clubs fans were offered entrance for £10.00. So, expecting lots of these types I wore my Azerbaijan scarf and Kaizer Chiefs cap. So impressed were they that they let me through the turnstiles for £8.00. I bought a programme for £3.00 and remarked that I could probably buy one of their players for that. "I agree", said the lady, "but what would you do with the change?"
Two sides of what is now called The Store First Stadium are covered and behind the home end, The Sophia Khan Stand, the first few rows are seats and behind that there is standing. The other two sides are open and wind, and tonight, rainswept. 1,880 poor souls show up including about 100 from far away Dagenham & Redbridge. The Stanley Ultras, and indeed all the fans were in fine form, chanting and singing non stop. Well done. Great atmosphere.
The first half is end to end stuff... mostly at the home fans end, where "Stanley the Club that wouldn't die" are defending. James Beattie the manager states in his programme notes- The Gaffer-"We're in a situation where we need to fix bayonets and put our tin hats on". INDEED. www.accringtonstanley.co.uk. The team wear the ferociously named Samurai Sportswear brand. It didn't help one bit.! Beattie, still only 35 and a sub tonight, played over 450 league matches and 5 times for England a decade ago.
Until Fleetwood Town entered The Football League 18 months ago, this town of 35,000 was the smallest in the league pyramid. Famous for its bright red and indestructable Accrington bricks, that form the foundation of both Blackpool Tower and The Empire State Building, and its football club with cult status.
In the 1980's there was a famous TV commercial for milk, probably stiill available on YouTube.
Boy 1: "Milk! Urghh! Boy 2: "It's what Ian Rush drinks.". Boy 1: "Ian Rush"?". Boy 2: "Yeah. And he said that if I didn't drink lots of milk, when I grow up, I'll only be good enough to play for Accrington Stanley". Boy 1: "Accrington Stanley, who are they?". Boy 2: "Exactly".
The second half is something to forget for the home fans. Quickfire goals from Zavon Hines and Rhys Murphy in the 56th and 61st extended Dags & Reds unbeated run to seven. James Gray scored in the first minute of injury time to make it 2-1, but by that time I was long gone, hurrying to catch the last train of the evening out of Dodge to the bright lights of West Yorkshire.