Rishton (left) and Accrington players hold a minute's silence for Eric Whalley before their Lancashire League game on June 29.

Tributes have been paid to ‘a legend of East Lancashire sport’ who saved Accrington Stanley from obscurity.

All corners of the community, from former colleagues and friends to past cricketers and footballers, have expressed their deep sadness at the passing of Eric Whalley, 73, on Friday, June 27.

As a former player and president, Eric was a legendary figure at Rishton Cricket Club, but he will perhaps be best remembered for his instrumental role in securing Accrington’s place in the Football League back in 2006.

Current club chairman Peter Marsden said: “Eric was Accrington Stanley. His tireless efforts made the club what it is today and we will forever be grateful to him. Our Football League status is a continuing reminder of everything he did for the club.”

Peter Cavanagh, who captained Stanley between 2001 and 2009, also paid tribute, saying that he would like to see a statue erected in Eric’s honour. He said: “I was really sad to hear the news. A lot of the success was down to the ambition of Eric and the drive that he had, he was one of the most dedicated people I ever met.

“I would like to thank Eric for supporting me and helping me through some difficult times off the field whilst I was at Stanley. He was a real gentleman and I think Eric deserves a statue.”

The club have said they are currently in discussions over a permanent memorial to Eric, who lived in Great Harwood.

Rishton Cricket Club, where Eric played for decades and was also president, have renamed their members’ lounge the ‘Eric Whalley Suite’ in tribute and club chairman John Curran said that without him ‘there would be no Rishton Cricket Club today’.

He said: “If it was not for Eric there would not be a cricket club today. He made 6,300 runs for Rishton in the Lancashire League and there were 350 victims to the wicket when he was wicket keeper. The borough of Hyndburn owes Eric so much, we cannot put a price on it.”

Lifelong friend and fellow cricketer Frank Martindale, 67, of Rishton, described Eric as an ‘inspiration’.

He said: “It’s a pleasure to speak about such a gentleman. The man was an inspiration, he was a winner, people would run through brick walls for him.”

Friend Harry Williams, who is chairman of Ramsbottom United, said he had lost “a very good friend.”

He added: “What he did for non-league football was incredible, taking a club from where it was into the Football League shows what can be done.

“I have known him a very long time, not only from football but also from cricket, and he was a great person to speak to. He was knowledgeable and helped me and the two managers over the more recent years.”

Hyndburn MP Graham Jones added: “Eric was totally passionate about sport, and he had a lot of drive and energy and determination.

“He was a colourful character and he was his own man.”

Eric Whalley with LDV Vans trophy in 2004
 

The son of Stanley legend Eric Whalley has paid tribute to a dad ‘with a heart of gold’.

Russell Whalley has said the death of his father on Friday, June 27 came as an ‘unexpected shock’, but was grateful for the support received from the Accrington community.

Russell, who lives in Great Harwood, said: “It was his heart, he had a heart attack.

“It was a massive shock, it was just horrendous, I got the call while I was in Germany saying your dad has had another turn. It was unexpected and it was horrible.

“The messages and comments have been amazing, I cannot believe it, it has really helped.”

Russell, who is a director at EW Cartons in Rishton which Eric founded, said that sport had always been a large presence in his household growing up.

He said: “Dad was very passionate about Stanley and Rishton Cricket Club, I remember as a kid our weekends used to be going to watch the cricket and then going to Clayton chippy afterwards. It was great.

“Dad loved any sport really. He played football for Stanley and when they got promoted it was a dream come true. He could be hard work at times but he had a heart of gold.

“He was the best dad in the world and he was a second dad to many of the young footballers at Stanley.”

The beloved husband of Teresa (Tess), Eric was the much-loved father-of-four, a treasured grandad and great-grandad. His funeral will take place on Friday, July 4 at St Wulstan’s RC Church, Great Harwood at 1pm.

Eric Whalley with manager John Coleman winning the conference and getting in to the football league

Eric Whalley will be eternally remembered in Accrington Stanley folklore as the chairman who clinched the Reds’ return to the Football League.

Eric’s association with Stanley stretches back to the 1950s first as a player, then as a manager and finally taking over the reins as chairman in 1995.

Eric not only pumped ‘a fortune’ into the club to fund their historic climb, he also gave stability with the shrewd appointment of John Coleman as manager in 1999.

The seven years following the appointment saw the club rocket from the UniBond First Division to League Two, winning three championships along the way.

Stanley were presented with the Conference trophy against Tamworth in 2006 and then there was a Town Hall reception and open top bus parade as the whole of Accrington went Stanley-mad.

The promotion ended 44 years of hurt since the Reds famously resigned from the League in the midst of a financial crisis in 1962.

In honour of the achievement Hyndburn council recognised the club with its highest accolade, the Freedom of the Borough. Eric remained at the helm until 2009, long enough to witness the Reds cement their place in League Two.