‘The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. Save our Stanley.’ A motto that bears a resemblance of the passion ignited on their players’ sleeves, perhaps.
But given the predicament the Lancashire club finds itself in, Accrington Stanley’s motto seems entirely appropriate. Monetary issues, to the sum of £308,000, could result in the Crown Ground outfit being wound up by the taxman. The fear of closure, that dreaded final reminder, is something that Accrington will have to deal with – and deal with quickly.
Chief Executive Rob Heys states that ‘the club’s downfall is a combination of events that have conspired against them.’ Dwindling attendance figures and the collapse of the clubs’ main sponsor, Fraser Eagle, could result in only one possible outcome. And unfortunately for Stanley, it is not a positive one. After an absence of 44 years, Accrington finally regained League status. Team ethos and attendances were sky high, just enough for Stanley to break even. But with the continuing rise of Blackburn and Burnley, attendances eventually halved by the start of 2009. An average attendance of barely 1,000 is not enough to keep a traditional side above the water.
To make things worse, Accrington’s fortunes on the pitch as they were in the boardroom. Manager John Coleman, with a threadbare squad and transfer embargo to deal with, is trying to look on the bright side, however. ‘The fact is there are a lot of people who would like to be involved in professional football but they are outside the game so I am just pleased to be doing a job that I love,’ he told BBC Sport.
To make matters worse, local businessman Ilyas Khan, who had previously pledged to clear the club of it’s debt, suddenly decided to withdraw his offer. Sky Sports understands that this was due to Khan’s indecision over Stanleys’ tax bill, as well as disputes concerning controlling stakes in the club.
Then came the change Stanley hoped for. A reduced wage bill and some moderate revenue streams, coupled with ‘Friday Football’, has seen bumper crowds of over 3,000 pass through the turnstiles. And with eight goals in their victory over Crewe, the crowds are sure to keep flooding in. Coleman said, ‘So many people from other clubs gave up their time and money – I thought it was a lovely gesture. You could feel the atmosphere before the game and knew it was going to be special. The players responded really well.’
Accrington have also crafted another way of bringing in extra revenue, by pledging to instigate charity events in the local area, if the club survives. So why can’t Stanley survive? Plenty of clubs have endured hard time recently, yet no major clubs have gone into liquidation. With a substantial portion still to be repaid, Accrington have a fight on their hands. The last thing we want is a milk advert next year, quoting ‘Accrington Stanley, who are they?’ Exactly.
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