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Heores and Villains
Accrington Stanley win the Conference!
How The Reds got kicked out of the Football League - only to return over 40 years later!
It's just an old red-brick shed, the sort of outbuilding that comes in handy for a school sports ground. Nestling up to it are the usual daisies and docks battling it out with the sweep of damp grassland. Standing sentinel in the corner is a towering array of silver birch; on the top side there's a bank of hawthorn.
It's just a primary school sports ground these days, but 50 years ago it was the home of the famous Accrington Stanley. Thousands of die-hard fans poured through the clicking turnstiles and roared on The Reds as they emerged from the now-battered changing rooms to do battle in the Football League.
Now, there's just a ghostly whisper through the trees as a gentle breeze curls down from the Coppice which overlooks the town. The roar of the crowd is silence and all that Peel Park has to offer are memories of heady successes and, all too often, broken dreams.
Local folk don't need a very long memory to recall the day Stanley were kicked out of the League. For many elderly fans it seems like yesterday.
Peel Park is now a school field!
The Reds' last game had been away to Crewe, a 4-0 hammering, on Friday, March 2, 1962. They went out of existence on March 10 when League secretary Alan Hardaker pulled the plug on the scheduled Fourth Division home game against Exeter. Club debts totalled around £63,000, but none of the creditors was showing any inclination to stick the knife in and there was every chance that the club could have struggled on to the end of the season. Who knows what might have turned up?
It was the end of a Football League era which had begun in the early Twenties and during which little Stanley had fought a long and determined battle for survival between the neighbouring big guns of Blackburn Rovers and Burnley. In the early 60s both were riding high in the First Division and piling on still more pressure.
Accrington spent more than 40 years recovering from the shock of that humiliating exit and the deep sense of betrayal that came with it. Everyone was blamed. The directors, the players, the fans, the Football League and especially Bob Lord, the blunt Burnley butcher and League supremo, who many felt could have done more to help.
Lord, who ruled Burnley FC and football with bluff and bluster, demanded - and got - the resignation of the Stanley board but he was still protesting that he knew very little of how the club was placed when his lieutenant, Hardaker, slammed the door.
Its echo has now finally faded. And now a new Accrington Stanley have fought their way from the lower reaches of football oblivion and back into the Football League where they have been hanging on grimly.
There's a modern ground, across town off Whalley Road, and the old terraces and rackety stands of Peel Park have long gone. My wife and I enjoyed a Stanley match a few months ago; just a few quid to get in and a good-natured crowd as we stood behind one of the goals. Great fun!
It was in the closing stages of that last League season, in the late winter of 1962, that I had last seen Accrington Stanley in League action. I went over from Darwen with three or four pals to see Lawson Bennett, another Darwen lad, in action on the right wing. I can't remember much about the match except that it was bitterly cold and Stanley lost. The following week we were back in the more sheltered confines of Ewood Park, watching Rovers hammer Chelsea. It seemed a long way from Peel Park.
For Bennett, like most of the team apart from young Mike Ferguson who went on to play for Blackburn, it was the end of the High Road. He went to live and play in Australia, still troubled by niggling knee ligament problems, before returning to his home town of Darwen.
Stanley were re-formed in 1968 and slowly prospered, largely through the efforts of Jack Barrett who had taken the reins as secretary. But it was the arrival of Eric Whalley as manager and then chairman in 1995 that really got things moving. Money was spent on the ground; £50,000 on new terracing as well as a new boardroom and medical room. There are now offices, a sponsors' lounge, and a shop
It's a far cry from the small red-brick "shed" up on the side of Peel Park, etched with the still-clear legend: "Erected by the Supporters Club 1937."
Let’s all hope Stanley, sandwiched as they are between the Rovers and the Clarets, hold on to their League position and prosper!
Article sent in by website user Harry Nuttall
The views expressed on this page are those of the contributor and the opinions expressed are not necessarily those of the BBC.
last updated: 31/03/2008 at 14:21
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