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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 March 2006, 15:27 GMT
Stanley return stirs imagination
By Pete Oliver

Accrington fans disaplay a "Bouncebackabillity" sign
Accrington fans show what they think of their club's long overdue return
Accrington Stanley are on course to bridge a 44-year gap by regaining their place in the Football League.

Stanley's League days came to a bitter end in as mounting debts led to their expulsion from the old Fourth Division.

The club owed just over 40,000 to unsecured creditors, along with smaller sums to the Inland Revenue, the ministry of pensions and other clubs.

With no rescue package in place, the club rapidly went under and had their final season's records expunged.

"Everybody was devastated. They didn't think it could happen, but it did," current Stanley chairman Eric Whalley told BBC Sport.

"People thought that someone would come along and bale them out.

"There are a lot of clubs who have been in the same position as Accrington Stanley but have never gone out of the League.

"Even now there are some in the same position, but they seem to get baled out.

I said I would take the club into the Football League and then retire
Accrington chairman Eric Whalley

"It was a big shock and a big story at the time, and hopefully it will be just as big a story if we get back in."

Stanley's demise ended a tradition of League football in the town dating right back to the formation of the Football League in 1888, when Th' Owd Reds (Accrington FC) were founder members.

They played for five years in the League before later disbanding, during which time Stanley Villa, shortly to become Accrington Stanley, had formed in 1891.

Stanley played initially in the Lancashire Combination League and when the new Division Three North was founded in 1921, they were among the 14 founder members.

They managed a couple of second-placed finishes under Scottish manager Walter Gilbraith and when Stanley finished second in 1958, they earned a place in the new national Third Division.

Sadly things went downhill from there. Gilbraith resigned, crowds dwindled, the better players were sold and the purchase of a new stand from the Aldershot Tattoo put a strain on the coffers.

Accrington Stanley's former home of Peel Park
Stanley's former home Peel Park fell into disrepair

In 1960, when the lowest crowd totalled just 925, Stanley were relegated to Division Four and just two years later they were finished.

By December 1961, Stanley had been banned from signing players because of their mounting debts and by the following month they went to the bottom of the table.

It was mid-February before the critical state of the club became public knowledge and their fate was sealed with almost indecent haste.

Burnely chairman Bob Lord offered his assistance yet within days Stanley were playing their final League fixture - a 4-0 defeat at Crewe on Friday, 2 March.

Lord had asked some of the directors to resign and following a creditors' meeting on 5 March, recommended closure of the club and a letter of resignation was sent to the League.

Realistically we can go to Division One
Accrington chairman Eric Whalley

The decision was not popular in the town and in the hope of late salvation, club president Sir William Cocker sent a second letter asking for the resignation to be ignored.

The League would not be swayed and having barred Stanley from playing the previous day accepted their resignation at a management committee meeting on 11 March.

Stanley's name disappeared in 1963 and although a club continued back in the Lancashire Combination, it was to fold three years later.

In 1968 a group of supporters re-founded Accrington Stanley and relaunched the club at its current home, now called the Interlink Express Stadium.

Through a variety of leagues, Stanley climbed their way back, eventually winning the Unibond League in 2003 to join the Nationwide Conference under long-serving manager John Coleman.

And while Coleman has been the driving force on the field, Whalley has pioneered the way forward off it.

Twice a manager of the club, Whalley became chairman in the mid-1990s with only one aim.

An Accrington Stanley fan shows his loyalty
Loyal Stanley fans are about to get their reward

"I said I would take the club into the Football League and then retire."

With Stanley closing in on the Conference title and automatic promotion to League Two, Whalley's wish to is close to fruition.

"Hopefully by the end of the season we will be where we want to be, which is back in the Football League," he added.

"I don't know how we've done it. After being in the Conference for two-and-a-half years and to get to the start of March 13 points clear, I can't believe it.

"But you have to believe it. It's a fact, not a fantasy. And who knows, in 12 months' time we could be talking about going a bit further.

"We want to get as a high as we can and realistically we can go to Division One."


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