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Last Updated: Friday, 7 April 2006, 21:04 GMT 22:04 UK
Accrington: The club that wouldn't die
By Mark Simpson
North of England correspondent

1980s television commercial for the Milk Marketing Board
The 1980s milk advert put Accrington Stanley on the map

For many football fans and connoisseurs of TV commercials, the soccer club Accrington Stanley is synonymous with failure... but that may be about to change.

The Lancashire team, famously lampooned in a TV ad in the 1980s, may soon have the last laugh. The club is on the verge of promotion back to the big-time, 44 years after it was forced to resign from the football league after piling up huge debts.

Although the team re-formed six years later in the lower divisions, its reputation as a club in the doldrums proved difficult to shake - especially when a television commercial for the Milk Marketing Board exposed the team to nationwide ridicule.

Anyone over 25 should remember the ad - a young Liverpool boy drinks a pint of milk and tells his friend how soccer star Ian Rush told him that if he didn't drink milk, he'd only ever be good enough to play for Accrington Stanley.

His friend replies: "Accrington Stanley - who are they?"

The boy responds in his broad Scouse accent: "Exaccccccccctly".

Two decades on, you might think that most folk in Accrington are sick of being reminded about the advert - but you'd be wrong. It's seen almost as a badge of honour, a piece of quirkiness which put Accrington on the map.

Promotion drive

Take 81-year-old retired postman Jack Barrett. Does it bother him that the club he started supporting in 1930s became the butt of so many jokes?

Jack Barret
It was like there had been a death
Jack Barret on Stanley's bankruptcy

"Not one bit," says Jack. "It made us famous. It made people talk about us. All I really care about now is winning promotion back to the Football League."

That will happen if Accrington's nearest-rivals Hereford lose this weekend.

It's all a far cry from March 1962 when the club went bankrupt. Jack remembers it well.

"All the fun had gone out of the town and it was a miserable place to be. It was like there had been a death. No-one was talking."

Jack was also there at a public meeting in 1968 when the resurrection of the club was first mooted. Since then, it's been a major success story, albeit a slow one.

Step by step, the club has climbed out of the lower divisions to the top of the Nationwide Conference League. They're now 13 points clear and within touching distance of a return to the hallowed ground of the Football League.

Changing times

It's not enough for chairman Eric Whalley - he wants to get to the football promised land, the Premiership.

One of the club's old-boys Brett Ormerod played in recent seasons for Southampton.

It was with the help of his sell-on fee - around 300,000 - that Accrington have been able to afford to pay their players professional wages in their quest for a return to top-flight football.

The money also contributed to improvements at their ground which, in a sign of how times have changed, is called the Interlink Express Stadium.

The team has Nike shirts and sells its own Chardonnay wine in the club shop.

Steeped in history

There was none of that back in 1888 when Accrington were one of the founder members of the Football League, along with near-neighbours Burnley and Blackburn.

Although the club is steeped in football history, it isn't blessed with many fans.

Gary Roberts
Accrington midfielder Gary Roberts has hit three goals this season

Filling their 4,500-capacity stadium has been a struggle, with Premiership football available just up the road at Blackburn's Ewood Park.

But Accrington are used to battling against the odds. A large red and white sign in the corner of their stadium proudly proclaims: "This is Stanley - the club that wouldn't die".

After more than 40 years in the sporting wilderness, the town is preparing to toast the success of its famous football team.

The milk is on ice.


SEE ALSO:
Milk ad star is guest of honour
17 Mar 06 |  Lancashire


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