Accrington Stanley, who are they?

Exactly. You know the saying without thinking, The advert for British milk in the early 1990’s became something of a cult, often recited in the years prior to Stanley’s return from the wilderness.

In 2017 Accrington Stanley are a good side playing fast, fluid football based on retaining possession and utilising their two clinical front players. In John Coleman they have an experienced and knowledgable manager who, year after year, not only survives but thrives on low crowds and lesser budgets than his peers.

What of the previous incarnation of Stanley thought? How did they become the team referred to in the advert as not suitable for a child to aspire to play for? How did Lincoln City perform against the previous incarnation. As you might have guessed, I have a brief overview for you.
The original Accrington Stanley were formed in the late 1870s, only ascending to the Football League in 1921. There was an Accrington side in the very first Football League, but they are often erroneously referred to as Stanley. However, the town of Accrington had two sides,

Accrington FC and Stanley Villa FC. Stanley Villa we so named as some of their players lived in Stanley Street. They were eventually renamed as Accrington Stanley from 1894.

They also helped coin one of the phrases currently used every day in the modern game. In  1907 Stanley played away at Bradford City in the FA Cup. Bradford had the legendary Willie “Fatty” Foulke in goal, and his kit clashed with the red of Stanley. He didn’t have a change kit, being 20-odd stone, so a compromise had to be found. The problem was finally  solved by the use of a sheet, borrowed from a nearby house, which Foulke wore wrapped around himself. Bradford went on to win 1-0 and Foulke didn’t have to dive during the game, keeping the sheet clean.  That, ladies and gentlemen, is where the expression ‘to keep a clean sheet” comes from.

In 1921 they joined the newly formed League Division Three North a division that also featured Lincoln City. We’d been relegated in 1919/20 as I’ve discussed elsewhere  but had bounced back with a title-winning 1920/21 in the Midland League. We made our way back onto the league scene just as Stanley had their first season too. Our first meetings were on December 17th and 24th, 1921. At Sincil Bank we drew 1-1 thanks to Thomas Rippon, but Stanley won at their place on Christmas Eve 2-0. We ended the season in 14th, Stanley finished 5th.

Between 1921 and 1960 they were consistently in the Third Division North right up until the start of the 1960’s. As the decade that shaped modern culture dawned, there was no joy for Accrington nor Lincoln. We began a descent from Division Two that would end in applications for re-election, Stanley weren’t even that lucky. Amid persistent financial difficulties they lost their place in the Third Division, relegated to the recently formed Division Four. Even worse was to come as they completed just one season in the Fourth Division, 1960-61.

In February 1962, Edwin Slinger, the chairman, resigned and revealed that Stanley were in big trouble. They owed up to £4,000 in unpaid transfer fees, around £60,000 in today’s money. He then revealed they owed a similar sum to the Inland Revenue, making the debts unmanageable. Bob Lord, chairman of Burnley, came in to try to save the club, but on March 2nd 1962 they lost 4–0 away at Crewe and, at a creditors’ meeting shortly afterwards, further unsecured creditors were revealed. Lord couldn’t save Accrington Stanley and the club were forced to send a letter of resignation to the Football League. Their results were expunged, all but those from the two cup competitions. In the FA Cup they beat Stockport before losing to Hartlepool and in the League Cup they played us. City won that tie 1-0 thanks to Mike Tracey, but completed successive relegations at the end of the year to take Accrington’s spot. Officially, Oxford United replaced Stanley in the league, their first game at home being a 2-1 win against non other than City.

Stanley circa 1958

Goalkeeper Alex Smith later told the Guardian of his surprise at the club pulling out of the league: “I remember the day we were told like it was yesterday. I’d just moved into a flat in Accrington and the next week I turn up for training and they tell us that’s it, the club’s folded. We’d had all this furniture delivered, and suddenly I’m out of a job. In those days it just didn’t happen. None of us could believe it. So I had to go home and tell my wife, and we hadn’t been married so long either. We had no idea it was so bad. It wasn’t in all the papers, not like Portsmouth has been. We knew things were poor, but they always used to get the wages together.”

In total we’d beaten Accrington 22 times, they’d triumphed over us 13 times and we’d shared a draw on nine occasions. Our biggest win came on March 3rd, 1951 as we ran out 9-1 winners. Andy Graver and Johnny Garvie both bagged hat tricks that day. Interestingly in 1946/47 we lost 8-4 at Accrington, a Tommy Cheetham hat trick not enough to give us a win. The next season our 1947/48 title-winning side lost both home and away at Accrington.

They didn’t fold immediately, they joined the Lancashire Combination Division Two for the next season. Some local investors stepped forward to invest and help bring debts to a more manageable level which led to the belief the club were back on the up. They performed respectably too, the first season saw them earn their first (and only) promotion.  However, it all proved to be a false dawn, as Stanley was immediately relegated after finishing bottom of Division One and, after four seasons in the Lancashire Combination, the club disbanded.

A meeting in 1968 saw the revival was initiated, formed as a non-league club with the aspiration of one day maybe climbing back to the professional ranks. Since the reformation, Stanley has climbed the non-League pyramid to reach The Football League. In 1999, with the club recently relegated to the Northern Premier League First Division, John Coleman was appointed as manager. In 2005–06, Stanley won the Football Conference and were promoted to League Two, somewhat ironically replacing relegated Oxford United. Finally they’d achieved redemption after almost half a century. A generation of football fans, knowing them only as the parody from the milk advert, suddenly became aware of them as a decent side once again.

Scott Kerr v Stanley in 2008, courtesy of Graham Burrell

Not long after becoming a Football League club they visited Sincil Bank and were beaten 3-1. They had two players sent off as Martin Gritton and a Mark Stallard double gave us the win. Later that season we drew 2-2 in our first visit there in 55 years, Lee Beevers and a rare Scott Kerr goal earning us a share of the spoils.

Since then we’ve met  10 times, City winning six and Stanley winning two with two draws. They’re biggest win of the modern era came in our relegation season as current player Sean McConville and Terry Gornell earned them a 3-0 win, Scott Kerr seeing red after they’d already bagged all three. Our biggest win came in December 2008 where, trailing 1-0 at half time, Peter Jackson brought on Adrian Patulea and switched formations as the Stacey West fans had demanded throughout a turgid first period. We went on to win 5-1, Patulea scoring twice.

Tomorrow night will be the first meeting between the two clubs since 5th March 2011 where we shared a bore draw, 0-0.

IMPERFECT FOCUS is now at the printers, for those expecting copies there is a slight delay in them coming out, they’ll now be arriving with you next week. Collections are still at the Accrington game a week on Saturday.

If you’ve not bought it yet, what are you waiting for?

Buy Imperfect Focus here