How we use Cookies

The world's most famous club

TELL anybody that you come from Accrington and nine times out of 10 they'll mention Stanley - the most famous non-league soccer club in the world.

TELL anybody that you come from Accrington and nine times out of 10 they'll mention Stanley - the most famous non-league soccer club in the world.

The club's sad demise in 1962 probably aroused more reader reaction than any other story covered in the Observer's history.

Six years later the club was revived at a less exalted level and since then it has been kept in the national spotlight by the famous TV milk ad and numerous none-too-flattering media references, as well as a couple of stirring FA Cup runs which brought back memories of the glory days.

The roots of senior soccer in Accrington date back to 1876 when Accrington FC was first formed. It's first match two years later was against Church Rovers on what is now the car park of Accrington Cricket Club's Thorneyholme Road ground.

It was this club which became one of the 12 founder members of the Football League in 1888 and at first interest was high with gates of up to 10,000. But a lack of success on the field led to crippling debts that eventually caused the club to fold in 1894. Its place was taken by a strong team of local players originally named Stanley Villa, mainly because it played on a ground near the top of Stanley Street. In 1893, however, it had changed its name to the immortal Accrington Stanley.

Stanley originally played in the Lancashire Combination, winning the title twice, until 1921 when they became founder members of the Football League Third Division North. Just two years previously the club had found a permanent home when it bought Peel Park from the Peel Estate for the grand sum of £3,000.

Some 3,000 Stanley fans travelled to Rochdale for their first game back in the league - a 6-3 defeat - and the following week a crowd of 11,500 packed into Peel Park for their first home game against the same club, which they won 4-0.

The club's record up to the Second World War was mediocre, enlivened only by their best-ever FA Cup run in 1936-7 when they beat Blackburn Rovers in a Peel Park replay before earning a plum fourth-round tie at Manchester City, which they lost 2-0.

After the war, in the early Fifties, came Stanley's golden years, the Galbraith Era, named after canny Scottish manager Walter Galbraith who at one time fielded a team entirely of his fellow countrymen.

The club was one of the country's pacesetters. It became one of the first to have floodlights installed, provided the venue for a televised North-v-South game in 1955 and became the first club to run a weekly pool which in one season reaped £30,000.

Attendances were a regular 10,000 and two gate records were established during this era. Peel Park's biggest-ever gate was 17,634 for a friendly against Blackburn Rovers while its highest receipts came in 1957 against Rochdale, when 14,436 paying customers handed over £1,138.

The football on the field was good too, with the team finishing in the top three four season in a row, each time just missing out on promotion to the Second Division.

But the golden era ended almost as quickly as it had begun, with feuding and in-fighting hastening the decline. They were relegated to the new Fourth Division in 1959-60 and found little success there either, slumping to the very foot of the Football League. But few of the meagre 2,690 crowd watching a home game against Rochdale in February 1962 realised it would be the club's last.

All that remained was an agonising and controversial death which is still talked about and argued over to this day.

With the club in debt to the tune of £60,000, including £3,000 in unpaid transfer fees, and the then-Burnley chairman Bob Lord brought in as an adviser, a meeting of 50 creditors and representatives voted to wind up the club. A letter of resignation was sent to the Football League, only for it to be rescinded 24 hours later after directors had drawn up a rescue package.

But at 3pm on Monday 12 March 1962, a call from the Football League's headquarters at St Anne's said that the club's original letter had been accepted. It was all over, and years of bitter recriminations began.

Peel Park was left to decay for several years until Lancashire County Council took it over. The stands have long since been demolished but the ground is still used for school sports.

In 1969, however, a group of enthusiastic fans reformed the club and on 15 August 1970 it played its first game at its new home, the Crown Ground.

Three decades of non-league ups-and-downs have followed, with the club again playing league opposition when they faced Crewe at Ewood Park in the second round of the FA Cup after a glorious run in the competition. The ultimate aim is a place in the Conference at the top of the non-league pyramid.

But whether that is achieved or not, one thing is for certain - the name of Accrington Stanley will never die.


Stuart Pike
Deputy editor specialising in politics
Alex Bell
Bethany English
District reporter
Beth Abbit
Court reporter
Jon Macpherson
Kate Watkins
Reporter specialising in communities
Garth Dawson
Photographer and columnist