Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Why Accrington Stanley Should be Every Football Fan's Second Favourite Club

By all that is sacred in football, Accrington Stanley Football Club should not exist in the same universe as my team Sheffield Wednesday. But ever since the (self-styled) Club that Wouldn't Die punched its way out of a football coffin in 1968 a la Beatrix Kiddo in Kill Bill: Volume 2, little ol' Accrington have slowly but surely been re-writing the Laws of the Universe and all footie fans should applaud and support them for doing so.

In fact not only have Stanley re-written the Laws of the Universe, they have re-written the laws of the Laws of the Universe. Basically, there are eight universal laws or principles which govern the entire universe, the first four of which are immutable, i.e. eternal, absolute laws that cannot be changed or transcended. Or so we thought. Alongside the Law of Mentalism, Law of Correspondence and the Law of Vibration, the fourth immutable law was the Law of Treating All Football Fans Like Shite. 

The mutable laws however are transitory meaning that they can be changed or transcended in such a way as to create a better reality. The four original mutable laws were the Law of Polarity, Law of Rhythm, Law of Cause and Effect and the Law of Gender. But in a move which might possibly lead us to wonder if Stanley chairman Andy Holt is, in fact, Master of the Universe, what was the fourth immutable law has now been de-immutabled (I have probably made that word up) big time. This might take a lot of footie fans some while to get their heads around but, not to put too fine a point on it, Accrington Stanley treat the fans - all fans that is - like valued customers and friends. There. I've said it. And it feels good. 

Accrington Stanley has always been a small club. Despite the original Accrington FC being a founder member of the Football League in 1888, the town's football club has always been disadvantaged by its geography, located pretty much half way between East Lancashire big boys Burnley and Blackburn Rovers whose proud footballing histories have enticed many an Accrington resident to forego their local club in favour of its more auspicious neighbours. Anyway, Accrington FC folded in 1896 but not before the original Accrington Stanley was established in 1891 and went on to play in the Football League from 1921 up to March 1962 when financial difficulties (not to mention a controversial intervention by the then Burnley chairman Bob Lord) forced the club's resignation from the League leaving the final few fixtures unfulfilled. Four years later, after plying its trade in the Lancashire Combination league, the final nail in the coffin was applied and the club was disbanded. I am telling you all this simply to make the point that ever since 1876 when the original Accrington FC was formed, the town's football club has constantly been fighting the odds with little in the way of support, facilities or even a glorious history to look back on. But despite the lowering of the football coffin into the ground in 1966, the town's footballing heart continued to beat and, just like Beatrix Kiddo (albeit she did it a lot quicker than Stanley), the would-be corpse re-emerged into the light two years later with a vengeance.  

By the time this particular Sheffield Wednesday fan moved to nearby Burnley in the summer of 2000, Stanley had been promoted to the Northern Premier League whereas Wednesday had just been relegated from the FA Premier League. With four tiers separating the two clubs, they were still existing in different universes back then but, last weekend, the two met in a League 1 match - level terms if not a level playing field. Despite Stanley's rise through the leagues in the forty four years since they did their Beatrix Kiddo impression, the club's potential has continued to be blighted by the seemingly immutable issues of small crowds and poor facilities. But, as we have already identified, Stanley chairman Andy Holt is a dab hand at de-immutabling (another made-up word) that which was previously thought to be immutable and, since taking charge of the club in 2015, he has set about looking to grow the club's supporter base by.........................making friends with the away supporters!

Have you ever met a football club chairman? Well, if you go to Stanley then there's a pretty good chance that you'll meet Andy Holt. Along with managing director David Burgess, the two of them spend much of the match day chatting to supporters both home and away. From a distance, with their long coats and flat caps they could be a couple of Peaky Blinders but they turn out to be much friendlier. They set the tone for what you can expect from all the matchday staff. It is unbelieveably welcoming.

Coley's Bar - where home and away fans mix freely
Last Saturday's game saw Stanley's biggest gate of the season with not far shy of five thousand fans in
attendance, over half of whom supporting the away team.The previous two home league matches against Bolton Wanderers and Derby County saw similarly large away followings. However, the home match previous, admittedly a mid-week fixture, against Cheltenham Town was attended by less than two thousand fans in total. Small home crowds continue to blight but poor facilities do not. Earlier this year, the club opened its new hospitality and conference venue where, on match days, home and away fans can mix freely, enjoying Bowland Brewery's Hen Harrier golden ale at £3.50 a pint. With the benefit of prior knowledge 
about all this I parked up in Coley's (the main bar, named after Stanley's manager John Coleman) at quarter past twelve and settled down to the Hen Harrier and Manchester City versus Brentwood on the big screens. Just as well that the ale was modestly priced as I had met three German guys in a Burnley pub the previous night who were on their annual football weekend trip to England. They had been planning to take in the Preston v Millwall match but I persuaded them to come to Accy instead to see the mighty Wednesday and promised them that I'd buy them all a pint if I saw them in Coley's. Well, a promise is a promise even if made whilst under the influence so I found myself back at the bar for a second time before I was even halfway through my first pint. 

Union Berlin fans Alex, Franz and Frankie 
with their Burnley minder Jack (second left)
Franz, Alex and Frankie are all fans of Union Berlin FC who, until a couple of weeks back, were sitting atop the German Bundesliga. Consecutive heavy away defeats have since dropped them down to fifth place but the club has enjoyed a remarkable rise over the years on relatively meagre resources and the fans play an integral part in the success and identity of the club. The Union Berlin story is for another day perhaps but is nonetheless a model well worth mimicking. I'm not sure that their Stadion An der Alten Försterei ground would have the spare capacity for two and a half thousand Wednesday fans but even if it did, I don't believe that we could be looked after as well as Accrington Stanley looked after us. And this (I believe) is the key for Andy Holt at the moment. Accrington Stanley FC, to survive and prosper, needs to maximise its income streams and if that means looking after the away fans as well as you would look after your own fans, then so be it. As an away fan, not being treated like shite is very, very much appreciated and that is why Accrington Stanley is my second favourite club.

So then, what used to be one of the immutable Laws of the Universe is now, certainly in Accrington, most definitely mutable. But if mutable means that it can be changed or transcended to create a better reality, could it also be changed or transcended back to create a worse one? Personally, I'm sick and tired of governing authorities, football or otherwise, effecting regulations against the majority for the sins of the minority and I don't doubt that there will be those in authority, in and around Accrington, just waiting for an excuse to reintroduce the Law of Treating All Football Fans Like Shite given half a chance so we fans need to do our bit.

Long term, Stanley need to grow their home supporter base. The club works hard in the community and dishes out free replica kits to local school kids in an effort to catch them young. But patience isn't always a virtue in football and realistically the club needs to continue punching above its weight just to maintain League 1 status. To not do so would lead to loss of revenue without the Sheffield Wednesdays and Derby Countys of this world coming to town. Which is why Accrington Stanley should be every football fan's second favourite club.

If you are unfortunate enough to be a supporter of a Premiership or Championship club (I'm only jealous) then the upcoming World F*Cup is about to deprive you of your footie for the next few weeks but League 1 (and below) carries on regardless. In which case, why not go and sample Stanley's facilities, mix with home and away fans and enjoy Hen Harrier at £3.50 a pint. Put simply, see what it's like to go to a football ground other than your home team stadium and not be treated like shite. Because, Master of the Universe or not, Andy Holt needs a few more home fans (honorary or otherwise). Lots of away fans may be good for maximising income streams but is it disadvantaging the home team's prospects? Maybe. Maybe not. But trust me, a visit to Accrington Stanley is well worth it whoever you support.

At the end of the day and particularly with my living so close to the club, I was relieved that Wednesday had emerged as worthy winners albeit by the only goal of the match. I celebrated with three more pints of the Hen Harrier in Coley's whilst enjoying the Oasis tribute singer and watching the Newcastle versus Chelsea late game on the big screens. Wednesday will always be my team but, like every other footie fan, I am allowed to have a second favourite team.  

Accrington Stanley - who are they? They are a great little club. And possibly, just possibly, they might actually be re-writing the rules of the universe for which all footie fans should be grateful. Good luck with that one about gender though Andy.

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