Result: Accrington Stanley 0-0 Stevenage (SkyBet League 2)
Venue: The Crown Ground (Saturday 7th May 2016, 3pm)
A visit to Accrington Stanley hadn’t really appeared on my radar until I had actually realised that the small outfit from Lancashire were in pole position for promotion to the third tier of English football and had a home tie against Stevenage in which to secure the points they needed to do so. It had to happen now! As such, I was quickly contacting Stanley’s ticket office and within a few hours I was in possession of a £15 ticket for, arguably, the biggest game in the club’s history. Not bad value!
I set off at around 9am on a fine, warm(er) Saturday morning to, in theory, arrive into Accrington nice and early as to have a look around the town and visit a couple of its hostelries. But, having got through Manchester and Salford without any issue, the train I was on arrived in an outpost by the name of Bromley Cross where we sat idle for the best part of 10 minutes, therefore meaning I missed the connection from Blackburn by about a minute and now had a 45-minute wait in the town. Brilliant. This was in addition to the fact that the club had phoned me to say the ticket transaction hadn’t gone through and I had to go and pay in cash at the ground. This boded well for the day, didn’t it.
Anyways, eventually the train bound for Colne pulled in and it was onwards to Accrington once more, finally setting foot in the town at about midday. After a quick directional check, it was off to the ‘Spoons for a well-earned (in my opinion) Punk IPA, though this wasn’t obtained too easily, as the barmaid seemingly had trouble understanding my far-flung accent.
After a slightly rushed drink brought upon by having been joined at my table by a strange guy, I set off uphill towards the Crown Ground and its ticket office once more, giving those in the Reception a bit of a shock when my peasant-like appearance turned up at their gates. They were more than helpful, though, in pointing me in the right direction to a small booth next door and I was soon in possession of my ticket. What else to do now than visit the pub that lends its very name to the ground, The Crown itself.
The Crown was still just filling up as I arrived and I quickly got my order for a Coors in before the place got rammed. This was clearly the Stanley fans’ pre-match home and the atmosphere was building up nicely, with “Super” Billy Kee’s name being sung on repeat. I expected big things from Kee now. After a while, I decided to head around and get a bit of a gauge on how some of the Stanley fans were feeling before kick-off, with those ranging from a cautious optimism to an 18-0 lead at half-time. But the majority verdict was Accy would be going up in style.
After speaking to a Middlesbrough-supporting couple who were also lending their support to Stanley as well due to family connections (not a bad double to have this season), it was time to head over to the ground, as I was getting a bit bored and fancied the fresh air with my head not being the best on the day. As such, I arrived at the Coppice End turnstiles to find them still shut-up and joined the small collection of fans outside awaiting their eventual opening.
I had decided before the game I’d be lending support to Accrington today for one main reason and that is the fact that Stevenage sacked my footballing hero, Teddy Sheringham, earlier in the season. No, I don’t care if the sacking was probably the right choice. Anyway, this meant that I was to be slightly more biased than normal and they didn’t have Steven Schumacher, who I’m only bothered in due to my love of F1. Not good Boro’!
This arrived not too long after and we filtered inside but not before a visit to the, still very non-league, “facilities”. Afterwards, it was on up to the Coppice terrace to soak up both the pre-match atmosphere and the sunshine too as I figured I needed to as you never know when it will appear again. The time now as just past 1.30pm and never fear, I won’t bore you with the details of my wait. Instead I’ll bore you with a ground description.
The Crown Ground is a ground still stuck between its current-League status and its former non-league position. Three sides of the ground look pretty much at home in the league, with the two stands on the left, the “John Smith’s” and the “Main” Jack Barrett Memorial Stand being the all-seater stands, with the Clayton End being a mix of both, standing at the rear and seating at the front. This stand plays host to the vocal “Stanley Ultras”. The opposite touchline to the “Main Stand” features a small few-rows deep seating stand that looks more in place at a North-West Counties ground and has a small amount of open terracing at each end, with the Coppice End, the usual away end, being an open, raised terrace. Now, for a little about Stanley themselves…
The current incarnation of Accrington Stanley FC was formed in 1968, two years after the folding of the original club dating from 1891. This club had competed in the Football League from 1921-’62 and after spending its final four seasons in the Lancashire Combination, it folded. Their name derives from the original town club & Football League founders, Accrington, and Stanley WMC. Upon the former’s folding Stanley took on the town name and thus Accrington Stanley came into being.
The current club began life at the Crown Ground and competed in the Lancashire Combination, winning it on two occasions (1974 & ’78), along with 4 Lancs Combination Cups (’72,’73,’74 & ’77) and a Lancs Combination League Cup (1972). Their next league move in 1978 saw the club now playing in the Cheshire League of which the Division Two was won in 1981 before the league was part of the formation of the North West Counties, of which Accrington became founder members, before they featured in THAT advertisement.
After finishing runners-up in 1987, Stanley joined the Northern Premier League as part of its new Division 1 and 1991 saw them promoted to the Premier Division. Here they stayed until 1999 when the club suffered relegation back to Division 1, but their stay in the Division lasted just one year as Stanley were promoted as D1 Champions. The club continued on the trail back to the League by winning the NPL Premier Division in 2003, aside two further pieces of silverware: the NPL Challenge Cup (2002) & Shield (2003).
Accy were to now play in the Conference for one season before the creation of the regionalised Divisions. The club, however, were unaffected by this as they achieved a high enough placing to ensure a place in the National Division and 2006 saw them reach the Football League as Conference Champions. As such, Stanley were now to compete in League 2, where they remain. Last season, they recorded a respectable 17th place finish, with this current season’s positioning something of an unexpected achievement.
The sides made their way onto the pitch and were greeted by a mass of flags and a fair amount of noise emanating from the opposite end to us. Unfortunately, the 1st half wasn’t to live up to the greeting with the highlights being Stevenage ‘keeper Jamie Jones telling centre-back Ryan Johnson to “sort your fucking self out!” and, according to a couple of guys behind me, the dog that appeared on the roof of a house along with a few “unofficial spectators” who, aside those on top of the landfill/in raised gardens, weren’t greeted with kind regards by the ultras. A chanceless, pretty boring first half.
The break came and went with me choosing not to seek out any food/drink due to the packed nature of the terrace and the fact that I’d probably miss some of the game, though it turned out this would have been a good decision as the second half really wasn’t any improvement on the first overall. After Johnson was, unsurprisingly replaced, it looked as though the occasion had gotten to the Stanley players as, for a side who’d scored in every home game this season, they looked very sloppy. Stevenage, well, just looked quite poor.
But, it was Accrington who’d come agonisingly close to netting the opener, sub Shay McCartan’s header bouncing clear of the bar. Kee was largely disappointing from the viewpoint I’d been given from his song, with Josh Windass being the most dangerous player on the pitch, but it was the corners that were providing Stanley with the best opportunity to net and when McCartan again met a good delivery with his head from only a few yards, it looked like Accy had done it, only for the cross bar to thwart him once again.
The latter stages saw Stanley still occupying the final promotion place behind champions Northampton and Oxford United, who were comfortably leading their game, but in the 92nd minute the word spread that Bristol Rovers had netted a late, late winner and had taken the third and final automatic promotion place. Up went ‘keeper Ross Etheridge for the last free-kick, but it wasn’t to be for the reds as they had to settle for the play-offs with the phrase “too little, too late” seemingly ringing true. Obviously, though, it’s been a fine year for Accrington and the play-offs could provide them with a great chance to claim the final place in League 1 they, for me, deserve.
Suffering a fair bit by now, I headed back to the station via the steep, uphill climb back up to platform level. From here, it was back to Blackburn where I had a much welcomed 40-minute wait once more for the train back to Salford and the rain of Manchester City Centre, which was a rather welcome feeling. So, on a personal note, I found the game to be very anti-climatic with neither side really showing form and Stevenage seemingly set out to frustrate and make it as difficult as possible for Stanley to claim promotion. That they did, but God was it ugly….
Game: 4- Poor overall game, one side trying to win it.
Ground: 6- Nice enough, nothing too special for me though.
Fans: 8- Found them a welcoming, fun lot.
Programme: 7- Decent issue, only had a quick flick through, though.
Value For Money: £6 travel, £15 ticket and a further £10 “extras”. Not bad for a high-profile league game.