Forty years ago this week 22 footballers stepped on to Accrington Stanley’s Crown Ground for the first time. One of those men was Dave Baron, a Stanley stalwart, who joined the club as a 15-year-old, went on to manage them and is now a life vice president.
The 65-year-old has seen the Crown Ground turn from its original shambolic state into an enclosed facility currently hosting League Two professional football.
The grandad-of-eight, of Stanhill Lane, Oswaldtwistle, said: "I remember August 14, 1970 pretty well. It was Accrington Stanley’s first game as a reformed club at the Crown Ground. We played against Formby in the Lancashire Combination League and we won one nil."
Eight years previously Dave missed his professional debut as a youngster because Stanley went bust prior to a fixture against Exeter taking place.
"I suppose I waited eight years to make my first team debut because of the club collapse in 1962," said Dave. "But I remember the first match as a reformed club at the Crown Ground rather than Peel Park. It was a decent summer’s day, the start of something new. The ground was an absolute dump when we first played there. There were council pitches in Hyndburn which had better facilities. We played on a black muddy pitch in front of a thousand loyal fans, won one nil and John Nuttall scored if I remember rightly," said Dave, a midfielder.
He added: "If you kicked the ball over the bar it went for miles and you had to go and fag it. There were a lot of allotments behind the top end of the ground and we were forever up there pinching the ball back.
But the state of the pitch – it was unbelievable compared to what it is like now," he said.
Following the financial meltdown of Stanley Dave played for Blackburn Rovers for two years, enjoyed a season in South Africa, then Ireland before returning to play locally for Clitheroe and Bacup and eventually - Stanley.
"I remember when the club went out of the football league. First team players were in tears up at the old ground Peel Park," said Dave. "But a committee was formed in the late 60s and the club was reformed. But it took some two years to find somewhere to play.
"I was one of the new manager Jimmy Hinksmann’s first signings. I remember the Crown Ground just being an open pitch. There was no changing facilities and the place was a shambles."
Dressing rooms got built while Jimmy was manager but the fans, for a long time, didn’t have anything to stand under.
In the mid 1970s Dave recalled a wall being built around the ground. He said: "One of the players heard how an old mill in Rochdale had gone into liquidation and anyone who could move the slabs of the disused mill could have them. So we drove some wagons up there and had loading teams in both locations. After that the ground became enclosed for the first time."
In a steady rise back to the professional ranks a multitude of Stanley players – watched by fans at the Grown Ground – ensured the club progressed up the football hierarchy in leagues such as the Lancashire Combination, Cheshire County, North West Counties, Northern Premier League, the Conference and finally League Two.
Dave said: "It has been difficult for the club but they are going in the right direction. Whenever you go to the ground now it never gets worse, it only gets a bit better. From 1970 until now, each season, it has been a little better and now resembles a proper football ground. But it is still not at that level you would want a football league ground to be at."
He added: "The ground is an important part of the town. There have been and groups of volunteers who are Accrington Stanley through and through.
And I think they are a big reason to why the ground got built up over time as well as money of course."