6th November 2004
Accrington S (a)
REFLECTIONS ON TRIP TO ACCRINGTON by MARTIN WEILER
ACCRINGTON STANLEY F.C.
What a difference a month makes! On 6th November 2004 Exeter City played a routine Conference fixture at Accrington Stanley. These were anxious times.
Hopes surrounded our new manager (jury still out - a storming league win versus Aldershot, a ground-out late victory against Braintree in the FA Cup - how vital that was looking back - and outclassed by Swindon in the LDV); but fears still that Red or Dead would not produce the goods and we might yet go out of business. By the afternoon of 5th December the Grecian world looked so different as ball 64 was picked out by Tony Cascarino. It is easy to forget life before Manchester United, but reflections on this season's trip to Accrington are a reminder of how things felt then and a great warning against any complacency in the future. I had always wanted to see a game at Accrington. I had made fleeting visits to Peel Park and the Crown Ground in the late 70s, but the memory had faded and hadn't managed a match. There is no doubt the very name Accrington Stanley has an amazingly nostalgic ring to it. And given City's plight it was all very relevant, for what really put Stanley's name on the football map was having to resign from the Football League in March 1962 because of inability to meet debts.
When the supporters' coach arrived in Accrington, most headed for the pub. I had an alternative mission - a pilgrimage to Peel Park, the ground where Stanley played as a Football League club. I knew the pitch still existed, but hadn't a clue where it was, so stopped the first person passed to ask for directions. He was an elderly chap and knew exactly where to send me. We got chatting and he said he used to go there regularly. There was a real sadness in his voice and eyes and for the first time, as we said goodbye, the thought of what it must be like to lose your club hit home. Not red but dead! The instructions were perfect and was soon outside the imposing Peel Park School that stands at one end of the ground. As walked towards the pitch I passed a large and colourful mural dedicated to Accrington Stanley Football Club. Gone but not forgotten at Peel Park. You have to use your imagination once you are there. It is still a football ground, a park pitch I guess you would call it, and a game was just getting underway (so I can now say have seen football on Peel Park). But what really gets you is that this was a ground that once had a capacity of 26,000 with two large grandstands down either touchline and a big bank terrace at the far end from the school. These are all long since gone. Can it really have all been reduced to this? There is something poetic about it still being a ground rather than a housing estate. When they went bust it was symbolically sold to a scrap metal dealer, but then saved as an open space by Lancashire County Council. In fact the original Stanley club didn't fold when they left the league; they continued to play at Peel Park in the Lancashire Combination until debts once again caused a mid season resignation in 1966. And in one last hurrah the newly formed Accrington Stanley also once played at Peel Park in 1973 when their Crown Ground was waterlogged. Over 700 turned up to watch a game with Nelson The county council have landscaped Peel Park but there is still enough (especially with the help of old photos) to give you your bearings. In particular and most notable is the grassed bank that covers the old big bank terrace. I climbed up this and the view of the pitch was superb. City's old big bank came to mind and with it the terrible thought that St James' Park could one day be reduced to all this. Football clubs can go out of business, there is no god-given right of survival. Here was living proof. But did we really believe it? Red or Dead - we had better believe it! I walked round the whole ground with these thought spinning in my head finally bumping in to two more City fans who had also come to look and reflect. Time now to get to Stanley's current ground. A new club was formed in 1968 and The Crown Ground was bought a year later and first played on in 1970. First stop was the club shop and the purchase of a history of the club packed with evocative photos of Peel Park and the early days of their current home. Once on the visitors terrace we could watch another match being played on an adjacent pitch (three games within an hour!). In fact we saw more goals there than in the City fixture. But, played in a thick Lancashire mist, we did see the battling side to an Alex Inglethorpe team as they worked their socks off to secure a goalless draw. A good Grecian following went home happy.
Happy but for me very reflective too. I started looking at the Stanley history book. The closing words of the introduction said it all asserting the need of all local town teams for enthusiastic support, free from the damage inflicted by cynicism. Since that day we have been given a lifeline - no that's wrong: through the Trust we have eamed a lifeline - but the job is not yet half done. Good on Accrington for rebuilding their club. But let their story be a warning to us all.
Match Report 2
Accrington 0-0 Exeter City
PAUL PALMER, our exiled City fan who resides in Burnley - reports from Accrington
Accy Stan. My local match, about seven miles down the road. Alas, unlike last season, there was to be no curry after the match due to the inconsiderate nature of the train operators for the Exiles. Never mind, the original plan was to take the local train and walk up to the ground, but as the day dawned to reveal mist, drizzle and a rather low temperature, this idea was scrapped and the car was forced into action!
Personally, the game had an extra 'edge' as a part- time Accrington fan had been mouthing off all week at work about how his team were so much better than mine and how they were going to play us off the park. Having tried to ignore him, finally gave up and told him to put his money where his month was, with a bet on which team would finish highest in the league after the final match. This was eventually taken up, after a flicker of uncertainty crossed his face! He is one of those persons who would have made my life a misery at work (more than normal!) long after the game if City lost at Stanley, so a defeat was unthinkable!
I set off heading for the Crown pub wearing my lucky yellow Brazil polo shirt (we have never lost when I wear it on match day!) under my City shirt and arrived at the free car park right by the away fans turnstiles at 1pm and made the short walk to the pub. Once inside the choice of beers was impressive, but the decision was made once I had spotted the 'Bombardier' pump at the far end of the bar. Several City fans were there already and as sat back and joined some friends watching the Aston Villa and Portsmouth match on the TV, more started arriving, once again outnumbering the home sides fans, although not by as much as last season! Several more friends arrived, having been at the pub just down the road where a pint of beer was changing hands for just £1.30! If only I'd taken the train!
With kick-off fast approaching we made our way out of the pub and down the steps at the rear and around to the away end and into the Interlink Express Stadium. The teams were read out and slightly concerning was the omission of Chris Todd, being replaced by Gary Sawyer, although much more positive was the attacking bench. containing Afful, Edwards and Canham. With thoughts of Accrington boss John Coleman's words in the local paper this week. "We'll go at them with everything we've got for the first twenty minutes", ...... the referee signalled the kick-off a full three minutes before 3pm and Stanley immediately made their twenty minute intentions clear with Paul Mullin and Lee McEvilly proving a handful for the City rear guard.
That said, apart from a shot that hit the post and rebounded into the grateful arms of a prone Martin Rice and a couple of half chances, Accrington had most of the possession but threatened little. City were visibly put off their stride after about ten minutes when Glenn Cronin went down clutching his left knee and a stretcher was immediately called for. Glenn was replaced by Danny Clay who slotted straight into midfield, but for a time, the Grecians looked a bit at sea after losing their captain.
As the Accrington threat subsided, City started controlling the game a bit more and had some good periods of attack, with a Devine shot held at the second attempt by the home 'keeper and a header cleared off the line. Still Accrington looked dangerous on the break, especially down the right with the shaven headed McEvilly constantly keeping Santos and Jeannin on their toes, and as the half-time whistle went, 0-0 seemed a fair score.
Half time is normally the time to peruse the programme, but in this instance, the whole fifteen minutes weren't needed. I appreciate that Conference clubs operate on a budget, but to publish a match day programme that is 38 pages and 18 of those are full page adverts, with countless more half-page ads is very poor. Nearly all pictures were black and white (except for the centre spread of Steve Jagielka) and no even slightly original articles and the cheek to charge £2.50 for it! Now know where John Coleman gets all of his money for transfers!!
As the Stanley fans marched up to the other end of the pitch for the second half, so the temperature dropped and the mist started to descend. The second half started in much the same way that the first half had finished with City having the better possession and creating the odd half chance and Accrington almost resorting to playing on the break. A Devine turn and shot was straight at the keeper and a lovely move down the City left with Jeannin, Moxey and Taylor linking well to put in a low cross for Steve Flack to control and prod goalwards from about eight yards out, only for the shot to be blocked and rebound to an Accy player (as did everything, it seemed, that afternoon).
A very poor offside decision robbed Sean Devine a clean run on goal when he was easily yards onside when the ball was played, and as the mist thickened a Sawyer header at the back post really should have had the net bulging and the City fans jumping up and down-alas it thumped the advertising boards at the side of the goal!
The most fun came with an impromptu game of 'Spot the ball' every time Martin Rice kicked out of his hands! With about a quarter of an hour to go, the mist was getting worse and every time Ricey kicked, the ball disappeared from sight only to reappear at the last minute out of the fog. Amazingly Flacky seemed to guess where the ball was going to re-emerge, and was under it every time!
As time ran out, Accrington had a half hearted shout for a penalty and for a heart stopping moment it seemed that the ref was going to point to the spot, but pointed instead to the corner flag. The game finished after a couple of Exeter corners and a 0-0 draw against a team six places above us in the league and away from home was a creditable outcome.
The team worked hard to negate any threat from an experienced Accrington side, so much so that Paul Mullin was subbed with twenty minutes to go, the midfield got stuck in and Flacky and Devine ran their socks off all afternoon.
With a bit more rub of the green inside the penalty area we could have come away with all three points (how often have we said that this season?!), but as I sat in the warmth of my car waiting to get out of the car park I remembered my Accy supporting work mate and how he wouldn't be able to boast at work this week!
So, home for 5.15pm and the prospect of my first visit to Burton Albion at the end of the month. Will we still be unbeaten in the league under Alex Inglethorpe and will we be in the second round of the FA Cup by the Grecian band wagon rolls into the Brewers' Eton Park? Do you know, I think we will on both counts! See you in Staffordshire!