Page last updated at 00:10 GMT, Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Accrington Stanley thriving under local shining knight

By Jim Clarke
BBC News, Lancashire

Accrington players celebrate a goal against Fulham in the FA Cup 4th Round
Accrington Stanley played Premier League Fulham in the FA Cup this year

Multi-millionaire chairmen of football clubs aren't getting a good press at the moment.

Not many United fans have pictures of the Glazers on the wall and don't even ask Portsmouth fans what they'd like to do to their various owners.

But in a small corner of Lancashire, in a town that helped give birth to the professional game, the fans are singing a very different tune.

Accrington Stanley the name is enough to evoke a lost age of football innocence, a black and white world that smells of Bovril and linament.

A great brand name maybe, but this is a club that's always flirted with disaster.

Fanatic fan

Stanley was a debt-ridden club long before it became fashionable. They went out of business in the 1960s but clawed their way back and re-entered the Football League in 2006.

If this had been an investment opportunity, there's probably no way I would have got involved. But we aren't talking about business here - my reasons for putting money in are purely personal. I don't expect a return on my money
Ilyas Khan, non-executive chairman, Accrington Stanley

But the money problems were never far away. Last year an unpaid tax bill for £300,000 nearly pushed Stanley over the edge for a second time.

Step forward a knight in shining pinstripes - Ilyas Khan. Accrington born and bred, now a City-based multimillionaire merchant banker.

An Accy fanatic from childhood, he has been known to fly back from Los Angeles to catch the big games - and by big games we're talking about fixtures involving Stevenage and Kettering, not Liverpool or AC Milan.

Mr Khan got his cheque book out and, along with contributions from supporters, paid off the tax man and saved the club.

"I love the town, it's everything to me. I love this club and if I hadn't stepped in in October, the club would have gone under. I couldn't have allowed that happen," he said.

Club subsidies

But why would a cold-eyed man of a business, a City insider with business interests all over the world, put his money into what was a failing club?

"If this had been an investment opportunity, there's probably no way I would have got involved. But we aren't talking about business here - my reasons for putting money in are purely personal. I don't expect a return on my money."

Accrington Stanley manager John Coleman
Manager John Coleman is pushing the team towards the play-offs

Mr Khan's involvement with the club predates the 2009 crisis. So far, he reckons Accy has cost him around £1.5m.

But philanthropy has its limits, and Mr Khan says he is approaching that limit.

"At the moment, I'm subsidising the club, but that can't go on for ever. I want my legacy to be making this club self-sustainable and we are slowly reaching that target.

"If we could get another 1,000 fans through the turnstiles each week, that would make the difference between me subsiding the club and me not subsidising the club."

Football fantasies

The club is planning sensibly for the future - a possible new stand, a new pitch and better facilities for supporters. Nothing perhaps that's going to set the world on fire, but there are enough burnt fingers and wallets around in football to suggest prudence might be the best course.

Things are going well for Accrington on the pitch and the fans are drifting back . A young squad under veteran manager John Coleman is pushing towards the play-offs. Promotion to League One is a real possibility.

So will Mr Khan borrow big and, in that now notorious phrase, "live the dream"?

"Listen," he says, laughing. "We all have fantasies about seeing Accrington Stanley walking out at Old Trafford, and it's a great dream. I'm a businessman and that's what I do - I have visions that I want to see come true," he says.

"But lets keep our feet on the ground, we're never going to be Real Madrid. My aim is to secure this club's future."

Mr Khan says the club has already achieved something - survival. "Lots of people told us this club couldn't be turned around, but we've done it - we're still here".



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SEE ALSO
Khan reveals 'love' for Accrington
03 Mar 10 |  Accrington

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