My father’s plan to brainwash me into the world of football had worked perfectly. I was five years old and could name all the 92 Football League clubs, their home grounds and what colours they played in… but nothing had prepared me for this.
Dad had given me a bundle of old football programmes that he had found in the cupboard. Of course I knew all the teams, West Ham, Tottenham, Orient, England and ‘our team’ Southend United, but as I looked through my new collection I stumbled across a name that puzzled me. A programme from 1959, Southend United v Accrington Stanley? How could I have missed this team? What division were they in? What were their colours? And where on earth is Accrington?
Dad was faced with a barrage of questions, but faced with the prospect of explaining to a five-year-old about Stanley resigning from the League because of finances, he took the easy way out and simply said, “Ah yes, Accrington Stanley, they threw them out of the League because they weren’t very good.” Lets face it, he had the evidence; written on the cover of the programme was the score: Southend 6 Stanley 1! But the damage was done, Accrington Stanley was in my head and I wanted to know more.
Time moved on through the 70s and 80s. There was no internet and my search for information had borne little fruit, only a TV milk ad to go with my programme and that famous line “Who are they?”. Dad’s explanation was looking a little more concrete. Then a glimmer of light, an appearance on Match of the Day for an FA Cup tie with Crewe. Accrington were soundly beaten but I’d finally seen them in action and knew a little more about them.
Now I don’t know if it’s the addictive name or the heart-wrenching story that attracts people to Accrington Stanley Football Club, whichever, it had caught my imagination. The club had reached the Football League again after 44 years away and real football supporters up and down the country were delighted for them. But now in their 2nd season back, home attendances were down and the chairman was concerned. Time for action, methinks!
A Friday fixture at the Crown Ground against Macclesfield Town – perfect. It doesn’t clash with Southend, but how am I going to persuade my wife and kids that Stanley v Macclesfield Town would be the perfect Friday night out, especially as we live 300 miles away?
A short break in Blackpool was booked with a day in Accrington as part of the deal. After 34 years of curiosity I was finally going to see Stanley play. Amazingly only a week previously a Dagenham supporting work colleague had invited me to see his team play Accrington. I declined the offer, as I wanted my first Stanley game to be at home.
Friday 19th October 2007, the wife and kids are loaded into the car and our Accrington adventure is underway.
A brief stop at Preston North End’s Deepdale ground, home of the National Football Museum proved to be fruitful. Not only were we able to see some of the game’s greatest treasures, but we also met Former Preston and Everton legend Howard Kendall, who was making a documentary about his illustrious career.
On arrival at Accrington’s ground I took a few photos before hammering the family credit card in the club shop. A scarf for me and a playing kit for my younger son (his name is Stanley by the way!)
I asked the man in the shop if we could take some pictures inside the ground, he directed us through to the ground staff who let us snap away. Seeing my older son Alfie holding his football, the grounds men allowed him to have a kick about on the hallowed turf. Obviously he needed supervising, so with Stanley in my arms we walked out in front of the stands and joined him. Now, I’ve not looked into the ASFC record books but I firmly believe it was the first time a father and both sons had played at the Crown Ground, our place in Stanley folklore was secure!
We thanked the staff for their help before moving on to the next stage of the tour: Peel Park. Having seen old photographs it’s incredible to think that this was once a Football League ground. A few pictures later and we were on our way back to the Crown Ground. As we made our way to the Crown Pub, Victoria and I found ourselves struggling up a stairway with both kids strapped into a double buggy. We need not have worried – right on cue the Stanley Youth team arrived and en masse lifted the buggy and kids to the top of the stairs. The Crown was a lively but friendly place, and we were made to feel very welcome by Hazel the landlady, The Omagh Stanley Supporters Club, and Ian (Tarquin De Mascus) Burnley – an Accrington season ticket holder.
After all these years the wait was over, we took our place in the stand and the game got underway. Both teams played their part in an exciting five goal thriller, with Stanley edging it with one of the cheekiest goals you are likely to see (by an ex-Southend trialist no less!)
It had been a fantastic day; Accrington Stanley Football Club had been wonderful hosts. A Stanley shirt was added to my Christmas list and a return trip was planned. Accrington Stanley had made four new friends.
The famous milk ad - "Accrington Stanley! Who are they?"