League 1: Stanley vs. Gillingham

The current Accrington Stanley FC came about thanks to reformation drive in 1968. But the story of the club goes much further back to 1891.

A wonderfully colourful and pictorial timeline at the rear of the Clayton End stand inside the Wham Stadium tells a tale about one of English football’s most historic clubs.

With a rich tradition in English football the Lancashire region of England is home to some of its earliest sides. These include Blackburn Rovers, Burnley, the now defunct Bury and Rochdale.

The town of Accrington, which sits only 5 miles from Blackburn, had been without a football team for many years following the collapse of the original Accrington Stanley FC in 1966. But following a meeting at the Bold Street Working Men’s Club in 1968 a revival of the club was initiated; a journey that led to promotion for Accrington Stanley up to English League 2 in 2006.

In the 2018 the club went one step further with promotion secured to the English football league ladder by winning promotion to EFL 1. This meant the arrival of some of the most traditional club names of English football to the intimate Crown Ground, currently known as the Wham Stadium. The previous weekend had seen the once mightly Ipswich Town defeated but it was the turn of Gillingham from Kent to visit Lancashire on a very wet Autumn afternoon.

Accrington Stanley vs. Gillingham FC

Crown Ground (Wham Stadium)

EFL – English Football League One

Even though 4 long years past between the resignation of the old Accrington Stanley from the Football League and the formation of the new club the two sides are intrinsically linked.

Indeed many visitors to the ground are welcomed by the sign which states ‘the club that wouldn’t die’.

The original town club, Accrington was amongst the twelve founder members of the English Football league in 1888, before resigning from the league after just five years. A team called Stanley Villa already existed at the time, and they were named as such because they were based at the Stanley Arms Working Mens Club on Stanley Street in Accrington.

With the demise of Accrington FC Stanley Villa took the town name to become Accrington Stanley.

The current Accrington Stanley Football Club was formed after a meeting at the Bold Street Working Mens Club. The current home ground (known traditionally as the Crown Ground) was acquired and a former Stanley player called Jimmy Hinksman was appointed as the new club’s first manager.

By the 1970-71 season Stanley were playing in the Lancashire Combination set up. A crowd of just under 620 fans watched the team in their first game when they defeated Formby with Terry Tigle playing in the first match. To this day he is the only known player to play in both the old and new Accrington Stanley teams.

The big breakthrough for Stanley came in 2006 when a place was secured in the professional league system. Consolidation in the system was achieved before the return of club legend John Coleman in 2015.

With financial issues hindering club morale just as it had in its early years, local business backing was secured and promotion to League One was only denied thanks to a defeat to AFC Wimbledon in the play offs.

The historic season for Stanley was 2017-18 as they won promotion to League One for the first time. The Lancashire side had suffered five successive defeats at the end of 2017 but then never looked back – winning 18 of their remaining 22 league games.

Promotion was clinched at home against Yeovil Town and the club lifted the title trophy at home against Lincoln City in the penultimate game of the season.

Life in League Two has not been as straight forward as Accrington might have first thought. Last season (2018-19) saw the side finish in 14th place on an almost identical record to today’s visitors Gillingham.

Bigger names now adventure to Accrington including Sunderland, Coventry City and this season Ipswich Town. This has brought in bigger crowds to the inner city stadium and much needed business to the local pubs.

One such pub is the Crown on Whalley Road which sits less than 100 yards from the Wham Stadium. As the 3pm kick off approached crowds of visiting Gillingham fans begin to appear fresh from the long 233 mile journey from Kent.

Gillingham this season are managed by a man of many club Steve Evans.

Appointed during the summer by long serving Chairman Paul Scally, Gillingham have struggled to get any sort of form together with wins hard to come by.

Steve Evans meanwhile has, alongside his Chairman, faced some criticism from the home fans who are seeking promotion back to the second tier of English football.

If the near side assistant was seeking an easy afternoon she was in for a surprise.

Time and time again the home fans sitting behind her berated her flagging as Accrington opened the game peppering the Gillingham goal with efforts.

Stanley ultimatly were left to rue a succession of missed chances. They had the ball in the back of the Gillingham net three times with all the goals being ruled out. The home side also hit the post three times with visiting goalkeeper Jack Bonham adding to the pain by making a string of superb saves to deny Stanley.

It took a spectacular Regan Charles-Cook effort to seperate the teams.

He scored his first goal of the season by engineering and curling an effort past the home goalkeeper on 59 minutes sending the 100 travelling fans home to Kent happy.

Accrington Stanley is a interesting day out for any follower of lower League English football. The Wham Stadium (still known to many fans as the Crown Ground) is a small ground but is set in a picturesque area, with views over nearby hills that sit behind the Coppice Terrace at one end of the ground.

The ground has recently seen some new investment with the construction of a new 1,100 capacity single tiered, covered all seated stand on the Whinney Hill side. Called the Eric Whalley Stand after the former Club Chairman and Owner, this is a modern tidy looking stand which has helped improve the overall look and professional feel of the stadium.

But its the home fans inside the Wham Stadium who make the place special. Crowded in behind the goal the local supporters express a passion that is seldom found in the top tiers of English football.

Accrington Stanley: Evtimov, Johnson, Hughes, Elese, Opoku, Clark, Finley, Conneely, McConville, Zanzala, Bishop. Subs ON: Pritchard, Carvalho, Charles.

Gillingham: Bonham, Tucker, Ehmer, Ogilvie, O’Conner, Jones, Byrne, O’Keefe, Mandron, Charles-Clark, Hanlon. Subs ON: Ndjoli, Lee, Jakubiak

FT: 0-1

Att: 2,200