Another new league, another divisions worth of clubs for the Anonymous Don to run the rule over, and another series of …Files. As my previous effort in the Conference only reached ‘K’ before the big kick off, any passing Swindon or Torquay supporters might not want to hold their breath, especially as entry into a new division normally features a far greater quantity of the sort of news bloggers can’t resist commenting on.
First up, Accrington Stanley. Not just a historic and famous name in the world of English football, but also one that places them above us in the pre-season table (in other words alphabetical order…), the first time this has happened since Hornchurch in the Ryman Prem…
Now I’m sure we all feel a twinge of embarrassment when the press laud us as trailblazers, when all we effectively did was mirror what Enfield Town had done a couple of years early (i.e. break away and form our own club under the ownership of a supporters trust). Yes, we’ve taken that idea and ran with it, but credit needs to be given where its due. Even the phoenix part has been done before, at Newport, Aldershot, and of course Accrington, the original club that wouldn’t die…
The town of Accrington has a deep and rich football history, thanks to the towns original team, Accrington FC, being one of the original twelve Football League clubs. While the other eleven clubs compete in the League to this day, Accrington FC managed five seasons before growing financial problems coinciding with relegation lead to the club resigning from the League rather than take their place in the new Division Two.
Fortunately for the town, Stanley Villa had formed in 1891 and stepped into the breach when the original club folded, renaming themselves Accrington Stanley. It took until 1921 for the club to gain their League place upon the introduction of the Third Division North. The club was a solid member of the division until the North and South divisions were merged together to form divisions Three and Four in 1958. Two years later the club found itself in the Fourth Division, and less than two years later the town found itself without a League club once again.
The circumstances surrounding Stanley’s resignation from the League were bizarre, and echoed the original clubs departure in that the initial resignation seemed unnecessary, perhaps… hasty, certainly. The involvement of Burnley chairman Bob Lord (he whose forward thinking hatred of the television camera meant generations of Dons fans have only grainy black and white photographs to show for one of the greatest days in our history) encouraged the club to resign, only for the chairman having to write to the League a few days later when offers of financial assistance surfaced.
Sadly for Stanley, the Football League chairman happened to be Alan Hardaker – another visionary, whose bloody mindedness in refusing to ignore the original resignation ultimately cost Stanley any chance of overcoming their financial problems. Outside the League, Stanley limped on for another four seasons in the Lancashire Combination, before finally folding.
Except that wasn’t the end of the story, in fact for the third instalment of football in Accrington, it was just the beginning. Two years later the club reformed, moving to the Crown Ground, and spending the best part of thirty years simply existing in the Lancashire Combination and Cheshire County League, until they merged into the North West Counties League, and eventually Northern Premier League.
Following relegation to the Northern Premier League Division One in 1999, Accrington’s previously slow progress curve spiked sharply. This coincided with the arrival of John Coleman to the club. Coleman, a journeyman non-league striker (albeit a prolific one), joined after two years as player manager at Ashton United. Results were immediate, winning Division One immediately, and since then has improved the clubs league position year on year, winning promotion to the Conference in 2003, and creating worldwide headlines by steering Stanley back to the Football League in 2006.
Surviving in the Football League is itself a massive achievement for a club pulling in the smallest crowds in the division, less than 2,000. The lack of financial clout must make every season a struggle, but Accrington have ended each of their seasons tucked comfortably in mid-table… until last season…
A decent start, going unbeaten until the end of September, saw the club floating around the playoff places in the early months of the season. However a remarkable 7-4 victory at home to Gillingham actually signalled the start of an indifferent spell of form, and the club seemed set for another season in lower mid-table. Form started to turn around mid-season, and a 3-1 defeat in the return game at Gillingham turned out to be the last time in the regular season they dropped points, beating much larger clubs such as Crewe, Port Vale, and hell seeing as they have been mentioned so much in this paragraph, Gillingham.
Accrington bowed out of the playoffs at the semi-final stage, losing both games to eventual promotion winners Stevenage, 0-2 at Broadhall Way and 0-1 at the Crown Ground.
In the absence of vast amounts of supporters, Accrington got creative. Now I have to say I think it looks as lame as anything when you see MLS clubs fans try to ape the Ultra groups in South America, its contrived, and a corporate response to a lack of any native fan culture. Yet the Stanley Ultras are a little different… partly because you don’t really expect such displays of banners and flags at lower division grounds. And it looks a million times better than the similar initiative Palace fans tried to launch a few years back…
The clubs other claim to fame was that milk advert, which makes just about every child of the 80’s reminded of it immediately start squawking ‘Accrington Stanley, oo are de?’ in their worst mock-scouse accents. I’d imagine Stanley fans reminded of this chuckle in much the same way Dons fans do when reminded our town is only famous for the tennis… while mentally filing that person as a ‘massive wanker’.
Beyond that, it appears Stanley don’t offer a matchday carvery, which makes their ongoing Football League survival all the more impressive…
If you can imagine a slightly run down Kingsmeadow, with a few seats bolted on to the front of the KRE and the roof ripped off the Tempest, a trip to the Crown Ground will offer little in the way of surprises…
The Crown Ground pitch was one of the poorest playing surfaces in the division last term, however Stanley are committing £30,000 towards repair work this summer, which will hopefully lead to a better footballing surface just in time for the Barcelona of South West London to roll into town in 11/12.
At the time of writing neither Accrington Stanley or AFC Wimbledon have been able to confirm matchday ticket prices for next season, this article will be updated closer to the season.
This seasons two meeting are the first between the football clubs of Wimbledon and Accrington, including all previous incarnations of either club.
Football Ground Guide
BBC My Club Page