Seeing a Game at Accrington Stanley

Paul Gerald · Profile
Seeing a Game at Accrington Stanley

There are so many layers to English football, especially clubs like Accrington Stanley, that one simply wouldn’t know about or experience until one shows up, walks around, and talks to people.

Just the simple question you may now be asking yourself — “Accrington Stanley, who are they?” — is engrained into the English football conscience. But I didn’t know that until I started coming over here. Plus, I never would have known about Patch, the groundskeeper’s dog, until I actually got to Accrington.

Crown Ground, aka Wham Stadium, home of Accrington Stanley

A Brief Introduction to Accrington Stanley

The town is Accrington, and so was named the original club there, which was one of the original 12 members of the English Football League in 1888. That club actually folded in the 1890s, at which point another club, Stanley Villa — founded at Stanley Working Men’s Club on Stanley Street — changed their name to Accrington Stanley. They folded in 1966, but a “phoenix version” rose a few years later with the same name.

Their rise to the Football League started in the 1990s, when local businessman Eric Whalley took over and put money into the club. Three promotions in seven seasons took them back to the Football League in 2006.

So they are a rather ordinary smaller Football League club in a northern town, with one odd twist.

At some point in the 1980s, the writer of an advertisement for milk settled on the following idea: Have one kid tell another that if he drinks milk, he might play for Liverpool, and if not, he will only be good enough for, oh (searching for the name of an obscure club) … Accrington Stanley.

In response, the kid said, “Accrington Stanley, who are they?” And the other kid said “Exactly.” And, I would assume, every Accrington Stanley fan said to themselves, “We’ll never hear the end of this.”

And they have not — in part because every time the club is mentioned on the weekly highlights and analysis show “Soccer AM,” somebody yells, “Accrington Stanley, who are they?” Even in 2023, the club’s official Twitter profile says, “We’re aware we were once mentioned in a milk advert. We hear ‘Who are they?’ and ‘Exactly’ a lot.”

Welcome to Accrington

Several English friends had told me there was nothing in particular to recommend Accrington, about an hour north of Manchester by train, from countless other used-to-be-something locales in England. And for the most part, they were right.

Still, upon walking around the town center before heading for the ground, I learned some things about Accrington. One, it was the home of the Accrington Pals – “pal” being the northern version of “mate,” it seems to me. The Pals were a battalion of locals who signed up for World War I together and served together. They were famous because on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 700 of them attempted to cross No Man’s Land; in just 30 minutes, 235 of them were killed and 350 wounded.

Somehow such fruitless flinging of selves into the maw for a slim chance at glory seems a good analogy for hosting a League Two football club. The Pals are memorialized in a large mural above a very British collection of storefronts: British Heart Foundation, Designer Clearance, Sara Britcliffe MP, and a couple of “To Let” signs.

Honoring the Accrington Pals in the town center.

I also learned the usual and ordinary things about Accrington: the 1858 town hall is nice, as is the market hall, now filled with wares that might be rated “flea market plus” being sold by friendly people who all seem to know each other. Speaking of friendly, the local family-run chippy was just that, and they do a very good job of cooking not very good fish. High marks, as well, for an older fella in a white jacket working at a stainless steel countertop, as it should be.

And then there’s Patch, a dog cast in bronze holding a football in his mouth, just outside the Town Hall. He’s in front a photograph which I confess I spent some time contemplating. It’s black and white, dated 1962, and in it we have a football stand, a goal, a snow-covered pitch, and a young girl in a short coat and bare legs smiling at Patch, some sort of chubby terrier holding a deflated ball in his mouth. Behind him is, according to the signage, one Harry Nash, Groundsman, standing with arched back and staring off to the camera’s left at … what, exactly? His snow-covered pitch? The girl’s parents? His club’s impending doom? Haunting memories of the war?

Patch, honored with a statue and otherwise, apparently, forgotten.

I’ve looked all over the Internet and even Tweeted at the club and its supporters, looking for more information on a local dog who earned a statue, with no response. The mystery only adds to Patch’s allure.

Out to the Ground

The Crown Ground, known for commercial reasons as the Wham Stadium, is simply a lovely ground for this level, with good facilities and one of the better supporters’ bars you’ll see below the Championship.

Inside Coley’s, named for their longtime manager.

For me, this was Day One of the 2023-24 season, and ground number 86 of the 92, so I was thoroughly enjoying the game-day rituals after some time off: chatting with the program seller but not buying a program; buying tickets for a 50-50 raffle I’ll never win; checking the quality of the pies (ordinary but only £3); making a loop around the ground; popping into various pubs to take photos and receiving curious glances; checking to make sure my green Portland Timbers cap won’t make me look like an away supporter; getting my pin badge and team sheet in the club shop; and then finding a rail spot on the home terrace to place my tea and rest my bones while watching the warmups.

Main Stand at the Wham Stadium.

Another favorite: seeing if the “pal” next to me wants to chat. It’s a simple process: Find something about the ground or the game to comment on, toss said comment his way, and see what happens. In this case, the man to my right was the outer flank of a crew of five or six lads, all happily semi-drunk and making sure all their laughs, cheers and abusive remarks were well over the top, as one does. They were also speaking what I presumed to be English. At least, it sounded like English, but thicker and more muddled, and also very fast. That plus the beer formed their language into what might be called “Lancashire Footballese,” of which I grasped perhaps 15 percent.

Anyway, I said something to my neighbor, and he laughed, which could only be considered polite as whatever I had said wasn’t remotely funny. I quickly figured out that he hadn’t understood a word I said, either! He responded with a smile and something that sounded like a man talking backwards under a blanket, so I laughed as well, and we were off to a fine start. I don’t drink any more, but he had had enough for the both of us.

We chatted throughout the game, each of us responding to something the other didn’t say, but agreeing on the important things: Stanley perhaps were lucky to not fall behind Newport County early on, but they got one on the break to go ahead, and the second half was nothing but possession, shots and goals by the home team, happily right in front of us. Flags waved, drums banged, taunts flew, headers went in, my pal and I half-hugged about five times, and Accy Stan ran out 3-0 winners that put them, along with goal differential and a name that started with “Ac,” top of League Two after one game of the season!

I even (sort of) captured a goal! At least this gives you a good idea of what it’s like on the terraces.

In fact, such is the stature of their club and the humility of English football supporters that one of Stanley’s terrace chants includes the line, “Champions of League Two — we’ll do it again!” They won it in 2018 and three years later achieved their high-water mark so far: 11th in League One.

Good to be Back Groundhopping

I just love a football terrace. For two hours, you enter a world where we are the good guys, the wankers across the way are cheating sheep-shaggers, the referee is incompetent and/or against us, but mainly we’re all in it together, singing of past glories and honoring ancient traditions. I remember toddlers standing on rails, kids moving in packs and hardly watching the game, teenagers hurling abuse at the opposing keeper just a few feet away, middle-aged men sneaking shots from flasks, and old men just smiling at it all.

My second home.

Of course, all of this is only available in person, and it’s not at Premier League clubs. There, the football is brilliant and the atmosphere often electric, but you can’t lean on a rail and eat a £3 pie with a wooden fork, you can’t lose a 50-50 raffle, you can’t hear what the defenders are shouting, you can’t move around for a better view, and you can’t shake hands with the players after the game.

And, of course, you wouldn’t even know about Patch, the mysterious groundskeeper’s dog.

Some Images From My Day and Game at Accrington Stanley

Just click on the first one to start scrolling through.

Written By Paul Gerald
Paul Gerald, Owner and Founder of Groundhopper Soccer Guides · Profile
Paul is a traveler, writer, publisher and soccer freak. He started Groundhopper Soccer Guides as EnglishSoccerGuide.com in 2014. When he's not kicking around England working on this site and his book, you can find him at Providence Park in Portland, cheering on the Portland Timbers.

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