Why Accrington Stanley? It is a question that I have been asked more than once since I started Across The Pitch. The first person was Scott Brown, the former Stanley midfielder who is now with Harrogate Town. It was the first thing he asked Arran Airs and myself, when we interviewed him the first time on our podcast. Everyone from my now friend, co-host, and author of 50 Years of Accrington Stanley, Darren Woodhead, to Mark Richards (a local Phoenix Rising supporter originally from Swansea) has asked me the question. It is apparently absolutely baffling that someone from Phoenix, Arizona, who has never even been to the U.K. would end up an avid supporter of Accrington Stanley. There is both a long and a short answer to this question. The short answer is best summed up by Tulsa Roughnecks announcer Dave Saunders (an Exeter native) when he said during our recent interview, "everybody knows Accrington Stanley because of the milk".
The long answer is well, quite long. As you can tell by the name of this publication, Accrington Stanley and milk have become quite synonymous. This dates back to 1988 with a now famous advertisement involving a couple of young lads (that's how you say it over in England right?). The punch line of the commercial is Ian Rush (the star striker for Liverpool at the time) had evidently told one of the kids that if he didn't drink his milk that he would only be good enough to play for Accrington Stanley. The next two lines "Accrington Stanley, Who Are They?", followed by the response "Exactly", will without a doubt come up within the first 30 seconds of any "outsider's" conversation regarding the club.
It is quite baffling exactly what it is about that milk avert. Perhaps it is the innocence of a conversation that just about any kid who grew up playing sports could have imagined having in their childhood. Maybe it was the Scouse accents (something I quickly learned means someone who pronounces both C's in Accrington) of young actors Carl Rice and Kevin Staine that anyone who has ever seen the advert has mimicked at least a time or two at the pub with their friends. Whatever it is, this now 30+ year old advertisement has only grown in lore as time as passed, and is without a doubt a large part of the international fame that allows Accy Stanley to be known as "The Most Famous Little Club In The World".
Let's go back to the question from the commercial though, "Who Are They"? It was just this question that lead me on the journey to becoming perhaps the clubs most unlikely supporter. It all started sometime around August of 2018 when I had first come up with the idea for the Across The Pitch podcast. One of the things I had decided early on was that we were going to focus on giving our listeners background information on lesser known teams from England. In starting the show, one of the biggest inspirations was the Total Soccer Show hosted by Daryl Grove and Taylor Rockwell. (It is a fantastic show, and well worth a listen.) During one of their listener question episodes, someone had sent in a question along the lines of "what is so funny about the name Accrington Stanley". At that point they went on to explain that it wasn't the name itself that was funny, but that British people were probably having a laugh over the advert. That is how I heard of Accrington Stanley in the first place, and the advert quickly became something that Arran and I joked about regularly in the months before we started the show.
I was immediately drawn to the idea of a club that wasn't afraid of a bit of self deprecation, and decided that I want to get to know a bit about, well, "Who Are They". Of course the first thing I looked was the avert itself on YouTube, and later became aware of remakes that included Carl Rice drinking milk flavored vodka, and even a more recent remake that Ian Rush himself made an appearance in. Moving a little bit deeper, one of the first things I learned was that Accy had been recently promoted as champions of League Two, and would be playing in League One for the first time. This immediately seemed impressive, although I had no idea just quite how impressive at the time. I also found out a few basic facts like the fact that professional football in Accrington dated all the way back the the original 1888 season, that the team had gone out of business and reformed in the 1960's, and also learned that the motto from their crest "industry and prudence conquer", is also the town motto of Accrington. I don't quite know what it is about that motto, but I would say that I immediately liked it. Something about it just stuck with me early on.
After doing this first research on the club, my next order of business was to give Accrington a spin on FIFA. The edition I had at the time still had Accrington in League 2, but a lot of the current players were on the roster. For whatever reason, one of the only players, whom the announcer said his name when he touched the ball was Scott Brown. Eventually, by the end of a night that may have involved a few pints, my buddy Alex Carrey and I were playing Accrington vs Accrington, both with Scott Brown as striker. We were also punctuating each goal by shouting, WHAM! This of course being the awesome shirt sponsor of a company that at that time we had never heard of. We didn't know what WHAM was, but we liked it. It was that night I would say that I decided I was going to be an Accrington Stanley supporter, however, at that time I didn't know quite how far I would fall in love with a team that I had never even seen play a match yet.
Figuring out how to watch the matches was the first order of business, after all I am not the kind of guy who can not watch. It took me a bit of time with this one, but I started following Stanley's surprise start through Twitter. It was at this time that I was starting to become familiar with names like Billy Kee, Sean McConville, and John Coleman, who have been the heart and soul of the club in recent years. It was also around this time that I started following Andy Holt on Twitter, and learned that WHAM was his company, and that they were not only the shirt and stadium sponsor, but that he is owner of the team. It was finally in mid-November that I found out that I could stream a majority of the Stanley games by purchasing through the opposing team's iFollow package. On November, November 2018 for the low cost of 7 dollars U.S., I was finally able to watch Accrington Stanley play for the first time in a match against Barnsley.
The match didn't go quite as I had hoped with Accrington dropping the match by a score of 0-2. To make matters worse, after waiting 70 minutes for Scott Brown to finally take the field, he was immediately slapped with a questionable yellow card. The commentators informed that it was his 5th of the season and he would be out for the next match. The game obviously lacked the flash of things like the Premier League and World Cup that I was used to, but there was an amazing charm to everything from, they all out style of play to the idiosyncrasies of the WHAM Stadium itself. I was immediately hooked on what I would quickly come to learn is known as "proper football", and couldn't wait to give "Rockdale" (how I would have pronounced it at the time) my 7 dollars so I could watch again the following week.
This was also the same week that we were getting ready to record and release the first episode of Across The Pitch. As we were throwing around show ideas, one of the things that we had decided is that every month, we were going to feature a "Team of the Month". This would be a team that we would do in depth coverage on each month. I suggested to Arran that Accrington should be our first "Team of the Month", but that we should also focus on them beyond that first month. Essentially, the suggestion was that Accrington would be the flagship team of our show. For the first time I also mentioned to Arran how active on Twitter Andy Holt was, and that I planned to ask him on the show once we had established ourselves. At this point that I am sure that Arran was wondering how many pints into it I was, but it was agreed that Accrington would become our "mascot team", as Arran put it in the first Scott Brown interview. We also named one of our blog categories "Who Are They" in honor of the club.
We recorded our first show that week, and released our first episode on 23 November 2018. It was the following day that I decided to send out a message to Scott Brown about coming on the show. Considering that our show was all of 1 day old, I wasn't really expecting to hear back. The following morning at 5 AM I was alerted with a message from Twitter and literally leapt out of bed at seeing that it was from Scott. Not only did he respond, but said to give him a call the next day! For a couple of guys starting a new project like Arran and I were at the time, it was a watershed moment for us, and we will forever be grateful to Scott for taking the time to come on a show with two guys in Arizona who had put out all of one episode so far.
Not only did Scott agree to come on, but he was an incredibly gracious guest in spite of our being extremely unpolished. I had not personally interviewed anyone since my high school newspaper days, and never a recorded audio interview before. Looking back, we asked some questions that showed our lack of knowledge during that first interview with Scott, but he was great sport with us. Having an accomplished player like him on really allowed us to make the jump from being just two guys recording themselves talking about association football, to an actual show. The biggest thing that I took out of that interview was Scott's genuine love for the organization itself, as well as the coaching staff. It was surprising to hear that a guy on the field was so in tune with the supporters, and what was good for the business end of the franchise. Also impressive, was his enthusiasm for Accrington's shirts for school children initiative that we learned the details of through that interview. It was also my first time hearing about how more so than other football clubs, Accrington Stanley is almost like a family.
Being our very first "Team of the Month" Accy did get shorted a bit because we started so late in November, but we have more than made up for that since. Mostly by design, but also sometimes serendipitously, like in the case of Padraig Amond, our interview guest have had an Accy connection. He immediately also said the same thing about the club being like a family. Brett Ormerod was another guest whom we interviewed later, that was well removed from playing for Accrington, but still showed a genuine love for the club and culture. It was around this time in early 2019 that I really started getting to know the "Accy family" as well. I started by checking out the supporters club and joined a Facebook group called Accrington Stanley Memories. I paid my fiver to become member number 815 of the Official Accrington Stanley Supporters Club. At that time I also purchased a pin that the team had made in solidarity with fellow Lancashire club Blackpool. I loved that the club was showing neighborly support in that way. This was also around the time that I learned about a book that was being published that at that time was going to be called 50 Years at the Crown Ground. I pre-ordered a copy of the book, and also learned that its author Darren Woodhead was the founder of the Accrington Stanley Memories Facebook group. I was able to reach out to Darren about coming on the show, and am happy to say has become a close friend of mine, in addition to now being a valuable member of our Across The Pitch staff.
Speaking of Lancashire, I must admit that before I started following Accrington Stanley the only thing I knew about Lancashire was that apparently the City of Blackburn had a problem with potholes in the road around the time that The Beatles made Sgt. Pepper. Evidently the Royal Albert Hall got their mittens in a jumble (that's a saying in England right? if it isn't it should be) over it, because the potholes were a metaphor for ladies of the night. This last part is something that I have learned from my friend Tony Robinson. Tony is supporters club member number 13! He is from Accrington, but now supports the club while living in Canada, and was also featured in an earlier edition of Raw Milk. Tony is just one of the great folks I have met who are part of the "Accrington Stanley Family".
It really is amazing just how closely knit of a family it is too, from the players, to the staff, Andy Holt, and the supporters. Speaking of the supporters, the patriarch of the amazing supporters club is the brilliant Peter Leatham. Peter is literally the heart and soul of the Official Accrington Stanley Supporters Club, but I will talk more about him later. The club goes the full distance, including sending out verbatim meeting notes to overseas supporters. It is brilliant nuggets such as the answer to a question about the clarification on the pronunciation of last year's loanee Paul Smyth's name. The answer being that "Smith or Smythe" could be accurate depending upon which part of Accrington you come from. Then there is the game day fan experience itself which is really a culture driven by Andy Holt, including low cost concessions and beer. He has even been know to buy a round for the house after the wins, and the players are known to celebrate in the same pub with the supporters. It is seeing that the club has kept around this non-league sort of culture in spite of making it up to League One that really makes it unique and special.
My passion for Accrington Stanley was growing into a borderline obsession in early January, when a match was televised nationally in the United States for the first time since we started the show. In that game Accrington pulled off an upset of Ipswich Town, which caught got our entire staff with Accy Fever going into the 26 January 2019 match with Derby County. Scott even came on the show with us to chat a few days before the Derby match, which was also televised here in the U.S.. Accy ended up getting knocked out by Derby, but the game caught a bit of a buzz with our friends locally who had been listening to the show. We got another nationally televised game when Accy played Sunderland, and each time we had more and more folks on this side of the pond asking us about when they could watch Stanley play. The club went through a bit of a rough patch in the early part of 2019, but I was hooked to the point of starting to get asked questions like "what's this thing for $7 you are buying all the time?".
As the season wore on, I experienced my first ever relegation battle. Having supported American teams and Arsenal in the Premier League before, I had never really had to go through the stress of knowing that my team could possibly get relegated to a lower division. By this time, I fully understood all of the financial ramifications and how difficult it would be for the club to suffer a relegation. After a particularly tough loss to Burton Albion, I remember remarking to my co-host Matt Robards that supporting Accrington was likely to lead me to a serious drinking problem. This is also around the time I started personally becoming more involved in the online community of the club, and began talking about the club with Darren, Tony, Michael Shackelton, and a number of other long time fans. I also started writing preview articles on the Stanley games as a way of really getting to know what was happening on the pitch. Ultimately, Stanley ended up coming on strong down the stretch to secure another season in League One. I will certainly say that watching those last few games if the year were some of the most stressful I have ever watched, and I have been watching sports for 30 years now.
Not only did last season end with the excitement of securing another season in League One, but I also got to live out the dream that I had all the way back when we started the show. That is when we got to interview the man himself, Andy Holt! After getting a chance to talk to Andy, it is clear that everything you hear and read about him is 100% true. He is a guy that any football club in the world would be lucky to have, and is a genuine champion of the fans. Not only that, but his company WHAM doesn't just have a cool name, but it is a really cool company that Stanley can be proud to put on the shirts and stadium. WHAM is a company that manufactures, among other things, plastic containers that are made from plastic that has been reclaimed from the ocean. On top of that, he is a local guy, from that area, that manufactures his products locally. He is a guy who owns a company creating jobs in his community, doing good things for the environment, and you can get a beer at the WHAM stadium for just 2 quid. What more can you say about the Andy. If you are an everyday fan, then even if you aren't rooting for Andy Holt, he is rooting for you.
To top things off, just a week later we got a chance to have a personal favorite player of mine, Callum Johnson on the show. Once again, Callum was an amazing guest, and a great sport that even let us ask him a silly question about if he like to feed bread to doves. EVERYONE we have met at Accrington has been just amazing, and the accessibility of players to an independent show like ourselves really shows that everyone at the club is willing to go the extra mile for their supporters. It really speaks volume for the culture that has been created by Andy and John Coleman. This culture goes back through the club's history to include guys like the late Eric Whaley, who by all accounts was the savior of the club, before Andy was the savior of the club. And that is the other reason "Why Accrington Stanley", the history.
As Josh Cook, the brilliant mind behind this amazing fanzine said when we were lucky enough to have him on the show recently, "other than the milk commercial the other thing the team is most famous for is having been around for the 1888 season." If you go to the club's official website you will see the slogan "The Team That Wouldn't Die". That is not just the history of the club, but the history of Accrington, and how much the club is part of the fabric of the city itself. Present day Accrington is by no means a large city. As Oremrod joked "the whole town could fit inside the Stadium of Light". However, in the 19th century, Accrington was one of the main hubs of the British cotton industry. It was also known as the town that produced the finest bricks in the world, including those that were laid as the foundation of the Empire State Building (a big Accrington/U.S. connection). In fact, the WHAM Stadium currently sits on an old brick making property. Unfortunately, those industries have long since left the area, making a company like Holt's all the more important to the area. In other words, The Club That Wouldn't Die is from a town that also wouldn't die. (An Arizona connection as we have Tombstone, the famous Old Western town too tough to die.)
The original 1888 versions of Accrington F.C. club (which was not called Stanley) lasted only a few years, but they set the foundation for the club that formed a few years later in 1892. Due to the fact that they played on Stanley Street, that club was the first to adopt the name Accrington Stanley and was the club that played at Peel Park until 1962, before going bankrupt. The current day club was reformed by fans in 1966, and played their first match in 1970. Since then, the club has battled their way up from the 9th tier of the English system, and now up to the 3rd tier. All of this is in spite of never having sufficient financing, and having to rely on happenstance since as the 10,000 quid they got for the use of their name to stay afloat. In 2006 they finally made it all the way to League Two, but it was still a question from year to year if they were going to be able to stay in business. The financial struggles were such that when Holt attended his first game as a sponsor, the concession stands ran out of beer because they couldn't afford to pay the distributor. In spite of all of this disarray prior to Holt's arrival in 2015, the club has achieved four promotions since 1999 under John Coleman's leadership. (Those of you in Accrington are well aware of all of this of course, but its a big reason why I love the club!)
With all of that being said, if you don't already have a favorite club that you root for, and you aren't from a town in England that has a club, HOW CAN YOU NOT SUPPORT ACCRINGTON STANLEY? And that is the long answer to "Why Accrington Stanley?".
The more interviews and stories that we did about the club, the more I began to realize that I wasn't the only person stateside that the story resonated with. Several of our fellow Phoenix Rising supporters, including hosts of the brilliant PRFC Fan Show, Kevin Gates and Edward Cunningham, plus Mike Paolella of the Phoenix Rising Bandidos Supporters group came to me and said, "I don't really have a team I support in EFL but hearing those interviews makes me want to support Accrington Stanley." That was all the motivation I needed to reach out to Peter Leatham about forming a U.S. chapter of the Official Accrington Stanley Supporters Club. Peter was thrilled with the idea, and at the asking of Tony Robinson, Canada was included, and then the Official Accrington Stanley Supporters Club Of North America was born! We have already nearly 100 members on Facebook even though we started during the offseason. We even recently got our very own pin design!
With the new season kicking off, we are ready to finally get the new chapter in full swing! As I mentioned earlier, I always liked the whole "Industry and Prudence Conquer" motto, so much so, that I bought industryandprudenceconquer.com. Check that address out soon, because as I am writing this, currently under construction is the Official Accrington Stanley Supporters Club of North America website. The website will have all things Stanley related, including updates on how and when to watch the games in North America. We will also have the official North American pins for sale on there, and more unique Stanley merchandise to come shortly. We will also keep you updated on the coming soon, international iFollow subscription for Stanley! For now we will have to keep paying that 7 dollars per game to whoever the opponent is, but within the next few weeks, (possibly before this comes out) us international supporters will be able to stream all of the games directly from the Official Accrington Stanley website! The cost on the full season subscription last year was 140 U.S. Dollars, or about half the cost of paying $7 apiece for 46 games. It is a really exciting time to be a Stanley supporter, and I don't care who calls us tinpot, because we are Stanley, "The Most Famous Minnow Team In The World". If you are a supporter of Accrington Stanley anywhere in North America, and have interest in becoming a member, you can find us on Facebook at Official Accrington Stanley Supporters Club of North America, on Twitter at @OASSCNA, or contact me personally on Twitter at @AccyRising or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, check out our official North American fan club hashtag on Twitter, #DontWorryBeAccy