The Club That Wouldn’t Die
by Phil Whalley
Reviewed by Martin Atherton
From WSC 241 March 2007
In one of football’s regular bizarre coincidences, when Oxford United were relegated from the Football League in 2006, they were replaced by Accrington Stanley. Stanley were the club whose place Oxford had taken following the former’s resignation from the League in 1962 due to financial difficulties. There was no club, no team and no ground by 1963, but Phil Whalley’s book tells the remarkable story of the resurrection of Stanley and their long and often fraught climb back to the top.
The book begins by charting their decline into financial distress in the 1950s, despite a period of success on the field. Particularly striking is the attitude of certain individuals to Stanley’s plight, with Burnley chairman Bob Lord and Football League secretary Alan Hardaker as the major villains, refusing to let Accrington withdraw their resignation letter when money came flooding in to clear their debts. The sums owed represented one night’s losses at online poker for some of today’s stars, but in 1962 they were sufficient to send Stanley to the wall.
The remainder of the book paints an interesting picture of the efforts of various Stanley stalwarts, both officials and fans, to ensure their club continued to exist. Initially they were unsuccessful as the original club folded, but their efforts found fruition in 1968, when Stanley were reformed, although it was to be two years before they played a competitive match.
As the club gradually rose through the pyramid – it took 20 years to get from the Lancashire Combination to the Northern Premier League – so the story becomes more detailed in terms of results, matches and individual players. The story of the club’s plethora of managers during the 1990s is particularly interesting, especially in the current context of debates over Senhor Mourinho and others. Chairman Eric Whalley admitted at the time: “The one thing we need to bring to this club is stability, and certainly over the last 12 months, as far as managers go, I am really embarrassed that we are on our fifth.”
Fortunately, the name on the manager’s door has remained unchanged since 1999 and the story of John Coleman’s continued success forms the concluding part of the story. Perhaps understandably there are tones of triumphalism as Stanley returned to their place in the League with the Conference title; results so far suggest that the adjustment is a hard one, but no more challenging than any other they have faced since 1962. Perhaps the most important purpose of this book is to pay homage to those resourceful and determined characters who refused to let the name and the reality of Accrington Stanley fade into memory. The return of the club to the League is the final justification for all their efforts and a telling reminder in this money-besotted football world that some things do matter more than winning trophies and grabbing as much money as possible from the game.