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New managers, new ground name, new chairman and a new team – a year of change for Accrington Stanley

It's a year this week since John Coleman parted company with Accrington Stanley after 13 years at the helm and it has certainly been all change at the newly-named Store First Stadium.

John Coleman

It's a year this week since John Coleman parted company with Accrington Stanley after 13 years at the helm and it has certainly been all change at the newly-named Store First Stadium.

From managers, to chairmen, to stadium name, to players – it hasn’t been a quiet year at Stanley but then again when is it ever?

When long-serving Reds boss Coleman finally decided it was his time to move on January 24 2012 – flitting to then-League One Rochdale before he lost his job on Monday – many were left to wonder what it would mean at Accrington after he had taken the Reds from the UniBond First Division into the Football League and established them there.

He had also overseen various other trophy wins, repeatedly rebuilding a team, taking them to an all-time high of the play-offs – but also come through a betting scandal, a winding-up order and the threat of the club going out of existence.

With Coleman in charge it was never dull and the same can be said in the first year without him as the Reds’ chief.

Two managers in a year is unheard of in Stanley’s recent history.

Paul Cook came, saw and, while he didn’t quite conquer, his short stint at Stanley did do his career the world of good as he was snapped up by bigger-money Chesterfield.

Cook also helped to make the transition from the Coleman era relatively smooth – he wanted to make his own imprint on it and it needed a strong character to take over from Coleman and the former Burnley and Wolves midfielder was it.

Whatever Stanley fans think of the rights and wrongs of Cook only hanging around for eight months, he made changes on and off the field, such as having the ground as a base, building a new physio room and rebuilding a team – and he earned Stanley some money when he quit to join the Spireites.

This left Leam Richardson to take over at the helm — originally many of the fans’ choice ahead of Cook – and while it hasn’t been a bed of roses with a slide down the league table, many fans accept it is a transitional year with a young manager and staying up is the main focus.

The club has spent the last few years trying to work within its small budget to avoid a repeat of the horror of the £306,000 tax bill and the winding-up order which brought Stanley to the brink of extinction for the second time in 2009.

Then Ilyas Khan saved them but there is no Khan or one big saviour/benefactor on the board anymore.
Accrington-born Khan was involved in the appointment process for Cook in January but stepped down as chairman in May with Peter Marsden taking over.

The board, for so long just a handful of members who most Stanley fans knew, is now a mixture of businessmen from London and other areas – however there are no rumblings of major financial problems so, as long as they help to keep the club running smoothly, then no one will be too worried about the make-up of the directors.

On the pitch, it’s a different sort of team too.

Coleman used to be criticised for a reliance on Scousers but, while it was felt by some he had his Liverpudlian favourites, some of these players were sold on to the benefit of the club and a group of them helped to steer Stanley into the play-offs for the first time in their history.

Cook inherited a team battling for promotion but club captain Andy Procter had just left to join Preston, strong defender Kevin Long returned to Burnley and Cook spent from January until May trying out various loan players.

Cook – and many of the fans – were happy to see the back of that season and accepted their 14th position despite just three wins in his 18 games in charge.

Cook’s whole idea was to assemble a young squad, many released from higher league clubs and who were hungry for success, but it also meant they were lacking in experience and some were starting their first full season as League Two players, not used to the rigours of regular league football.

While the Reds caught out teams early on with some superb results, four defeats on the bounce had meant it wasn’t quite so perfect when Cook left in October.

Richardson has inherited this squad and they are finding the going tough at the moment – but there is a confidence that he can turn it around and the board are backing him, allowing him to clear the decks a little this month and bring in more experienced heads to see out the next crucial five months before building towards next season with Richardson at the helm.

Stanley have been used to relegation battles before – in the early Football League years Coleman had to fight yearly to stop a drop back into the non-league – and Richardson has every belief and confidence that he will do it too.

In the last year, the Reds have changed a lot on and off the field but it’s a new era; most fans are ready to embrace it and remain positive that their ‘little club’ can again defy the odds and next year start looking up again as Richardson gets settled into the role.

Whether Coleman believes he is better off for trying somewhere else remains to be seen.

He had a change of scenery and gave management a go somewhere else after becoming synonymous with Accrington Stanley.

Ultimately, though, eight defeats in 10 games and a slip from promotion favourites to mid-table battlers led to Rochdale giving the former Reds boss the boot this week and now, a year on, he is out of work.

They say a week’s a long time in football and a year has certainly seen plenty go on at Accrington – but hopefully it’s onwards and upwards now for the Reds.

 
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