Accrington Stanley

Accrington Stanley, who are they? Phoenix club of myth

A fan’s guide – the club from early doors to today

A phoenix club before phoenix clubs were invented, Accrington Stanley celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2018 with promotion to League One. They had previously ben denied marking ten seasons in the Football League with promotion in 2016 – goal difference and play-off sickeners in stoppage time and extra-time barring the way to the third tier.

Yet for a club synonymous with doom and misfortune, who nearly went out of business (again) in 2009, to have ‘The Long Road Back’ sign still proudly displayed outside its ground is almost achievement enough.

Accrington Stanley, of course, famously resigned from the Football League in 1962, the season not even over, a hurried retraction to a letter of resignation ignored by the Football League. The club had risen from another fated local side, Accrington FC, founder members of the Football League in 1888 who only lasted five seasons.

Crown Ground/Tony Dawber

Accrington Stanley, partly formed from a local team called Stanley Villa, then assumed the mantle of being flagship club for what was a bustling Lancashire mill town. Rising from the Lancashire Combination to the Third Division North after World War I, they hit form just when the League’s third tier was split into nationwide Third and Fourth Divisions.

Already struggling financially, Stanley now had trips to Plymouth, Bournemouth and Southend to make. Sad story short, Stanley soon left the League, their Peel Park ground later abandoned and left derelict, the club folded in 1966.

Two years later, local enthusiast Stanley Wotherington struck upon the idea of reviving the club. It took another two years before a suitable pitch was found, the Crown Ground, stood on a hilltop by the pub of the same name at the northern fringes of Accrington.

Entered in the Lancashire Combination, Accrington Stanley still had enough of a name to attract a crowd of 620 to see them beat Formby in their opening game.

Peel Park/Tony Dawber

Twice winning the league, four times the Combination Cup, Stanley weaved their way up the snakes and ladders board of pre-Conference non-league football – Cheshire League, North West Counties League, Northern Premier – while the club’s name re-entered the national psyche thanks to a TV ad for milk.

When former Stanley player turned packaging entrepreneur Eric Whalley assumed a controlling interest in the club in 1995, Accrington were in the lower reaches of the Northern Premier.

With the club relegated to its second tier in 1999, Whalley brought in no-nonsense Scouser John Coleman, whose 20 years’ experience as a successful non-league striker, the last two as player-manager of Ashton United, stood him in good stead for leading Accrington. Along with Coleman’s loyal assistant Jimmy Bell, Stanley now had the right management team in place. Peter Cavanagh, the former Liverpool youth player made Stanley team captain at 20, was another key hire, as was the returning Paul Mullin, a free-scoring forward who started his career at the Crown Ground.

With the cash boost from the sell-on fee of Brett Ormerod from Blackpool to Southampton in 2001, Whalley made gradual improvements to the Crown Ground and Stanley charged up the league pyramid, winning two titles in four years and making the Football Conference in 2003. 

In 2005-06, everything clicked and Accrington romped to the Football League, 11 points ahead of Hereford. Forty years after the collapse of the original Accrington Stanley, just over a decade since Whalley took over its successor club, it was an emotional return.

Welcome to Accrington/@ianherbert

Once the daily grind of League Two football kicked in, crowds dwindled. In the wake of the credit crunch, local sponsors pulled out and though Coleman and Bell remained in place, Whalley pulled out in 2009. Nearly folding in 2009, Accrington then began a welcome run of form from New Year’s Day 2011, former Irish under-21 international Jimmy Ryan lighting up the midfield. As Accrington went on a 13-game run without defeat, crowds poured back to the Crown Ground.

In front of 4,000-plus for the play-off semi-final with Stevenage, Stanley pushed for an early goal to reverse the 2-0 defeat of the first leg. When it didn’t come, frustration boiled over and two red cards in the second half put paid to Accrington’s hopes.

Coleman and Bell left for Rochdale and Accrington trod water until their return in 2014, shortly after the death of Eric Whalley in June. With results slow in coming, Stanley were bolstered by a £200,000 windfall from new stadium sponsors, What More, whose managing director had remembered the milk advert on TV. The Crown Ground became the Wham Stadium, and Accrington’s famously tight purse strings had been loosened.

Coleman brought in Billy Kee, who had scored vital goals for Stanley when on loan during 2009-10. The ex-Northern Ireland under-21 international hit found the mark again in 2015-16, the midfield bolstered by a returning Sean McConville, who had left Stanley under a cloud after his red card in the 2011 play-off semi-final.

Wham Stadium/@ianherbert

With Josh Windass, son of Hull legend Dean, a revelation as a free-scoring midfielder, Accrington hit a purple patch in the spring of 2016. Needing to beat mid-table bogey team Stevenage on the last day of the season, Stanley could only manage a 0-0, losing out on automatic promotion by goal difference.

In a nervous play-off semi-final, Accrington fell to a 93rd-minute winner at AFC Wimbledon before pegging back the Wombles in the home leg thanks to a screamer from Piero Mingola. The solitary goal in extra-time came from Wimbledon, and Coleman had to revive his team for 2016-17 without Rangers-bound Windass.

After an encouraging performance at West Ham in the League Cup, losing 1-0 to a 96th-minute goal in front of 40,000, Accrington lost their way before a 15-game unbeaten streak from Valentine’s Day 2017.

Wham Stadium/@ianherbert

Despite promising Shay McCartan moving to Bradford, Stanley looked to another former Northern Ireland under-21 international, Billy Kee, for goals. John Coleman’s men went on another unbeaten run from early February 2018 to top the League Two table and stay there. Considering the club’s modest budget, Accrington’s achievement in reaching League One must be saluted – although life in the third flight seems far from easy.

In 2019, Kee bowed out from professional football for personal reasons, his number 29 shirt also retired. His departure duly allowed his Ulster compatriot Dion Charles to shine, his goals helping Stanley to a highest-ever 11th-placed finish in the third tier in 2021. Manager John Coleman and owner Andy Holt continue to steer the ship, operating on modest budgets but always with long-term security in mind.

Ground Guide

The field of dreams – and the stands around it

Despite the newer, all-seated Eric Whalley Stand, the Wham Stadium is still a charming throwback, its capacity of 5,450 still one of the lowest in the Football League. Its random combination of terraces and seating areas has come about through various administrative directives as Stanley climbed the league ladder. The audible player banter, the welcoming club bar, the surrounding landfill hillocks, everything echoes Accrington’s modest roots and budget.

Even the main HML Recycling (Jack Barrett) Stand is two stands in one, the two parts failing to meet over the halfway line, having replaced an earlier terrace. The away Coppice Terrace is uncovered, visiting supporters also able to use nearby seating in the Eric Whalley Stand. The Stanley Ultras occupy the Farleys Solicitors Clayton End, part seating, part terrace, both covered. 

Around 3,000 of the ground is seated, average gates around 2,800.

getting there

Going to the ground – tips and timings

The ground is a good 20min walk from the train station, down the slope into town then up Whalley Road – a taxi would be in the £3.50-£4 range.

The Crown pub has its own stop four from Accrington bus station, served by the Transdev bus 6 and 7 circular route that sets off from and terminates at Blackburn via Accrington. The 7 runs up to the ground from Stand 1 of Accrington bus station on Peel Street in town every 15mins Mon-Sat, every 30mins Sun. Before the bus station, it passes along Blackburn Road close to the train station – don’t take the No.7A, it only goes as far as Peel Street. Coming back (same frequency), the 6 stops at the bus station then Blackburn Road/Ellison Street 2min from the train station.

The sat nav code for the Wham Stadium is BB5 5BX. A small car park at the ground costs £5pre-booking (01254 356 950) advised. There is also street parking around the stadium.

getting in

Buying tickets – when, where, how and how much

Pay on the day is the usual way for both sets of supporters, with different outlets at each end of the main stand, the one for away fans nearest the Coppice Terrace. Advance tickets are distributed online and through a separate window at the Stanley Store (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat 9am-noon, match days 10.30am-5.30pm) behind the main stand. Opening hours are occasionally extended on Thursdays and Fridays in spring for season-ticket sales.

To its credit, the club has long had an across-the-board pricing policy of £20, £15 for over-65s and students, £10 for under-18s and £5 for accompanied under-12s, whether you’re standing or seated, covered or otherwise.

what to buy

Shirts, kits, merchandise and gifts

Old-school bobble hats, Christmas jumpers and wrapping paper fill the Stanley Store (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, Sat 9am-noon, match days 10.30am-5.30pm) just behind the main stand. Change strip is white with black trim, third choice black with white trim, home kit all red.

Sadly you’ll find little related to Stanley’s pre-1968 existence although there are pin badges celebrating Accrington FC’s membership of the original Football League in 1888 – however short and sweet it was.

Where to Drink

Pre-match beers for fans and casual visitors

A number of pubs line Whalley Road and are handy pre-match, depending if you’re coming from town or the M65 and/or hotels nearby.

On the motorway side of the ground, football-focused The Albion is looking for new owners after various corporate buy-outs. Further towards the ground, at the junction of Blackburn Road and Whalley Road near the motorway, the Hare & Hounds features live TV sport inside and outside on the beer patio, pool, darts and decent pub food. This is 10min walk from the ground and busy on match days.

If you’re coming from town, then the traditional Grey Horse Hotel at 263 Whalley Road is a great choice, another favourite with Stanley and visiting fans. Over the road, the Whalley Road Fish Bar sit-down chippie is another busy haunt.

Stanley-owned and a pre-match pub par excellence, The Crown spills over with home and away fans, service swift as punters cram in that last pint before nipping round to the ground immediately behind. Food served on match days if you can find a space.

At the ground, the Redz sports bar in the main stand serves home and away fans, also busy post-match thanks to the big TV screens showing the results come in. There’s standard drinks on draught, plus all kinds of pies. Alongside, a Fan Zone is set up from  noon on match days, cheap drinks also served for an hour after the final whistle. Away fans can also buy beer from a modest outlet behind their end of the Eric Whalley Stand.