Accrington Stanley are the original Club That Wouldn’t Die, and whilst the boys from the Crown Ground are very much alive and kicking, they’re about to spend a tenth successive season in League Two.
However, whilst the club’s friendly local atmosphere and fighting spirit makes them popular with supporters of almost every club (1980s Scouse milk drinkers excluded), good will doesn’t pay the bills, and the club’s core support and finances are extremely modest in size.
The Crown Ground had League Two’s lowest average attendance again last season, at 1,478. Kal Naismith, one of the club’s best players in recent years, is the latest in a long line of players to leave, exiting for the more prestigious environs of Fratton Park. What money Stanley did have came largely from the sell-on clause of Brett Ormerod, who joined several clubs for relatively large fees throughout the noughties, but is now coming to the end of his career. So, is League Two football realistically the pinnacle for this Lancastrian institution? And can they even keep battling at this level for much longer?
In truth, Stanley have had to make a little money go a long way in the Football League, and whilst stability is always a quiet and little-noticed achievement, Stanley have needed to do consistently shrewd business to remain at this level.
In terms of player recruitment, Coleman (as well as James Beattie and Paul Cook, in the intervening period between his spells) seemed to favour a three-pronged approach – 1.) developing young, local talent in the youth team, 2.) buying from Non-League, 3.) taking on young players who’ve failed to break into the Championship and League One sides, and have a point to prove.
Whilst Stanley have lacked the cash and perhaps the nous to discover and develop the next Andre Gray or Marcus Maddison, they have brought in the likes of talented Argentine Gerardo Bruna from National League South side Whitehawk F.C., and the slick and skilful Josh Windass from Harrogate Railway Athletic. The fact that Stanley gaffer John Coleman played for a wealth of Non-League sides, means that the club are naturally well connected further down the pyramid.
In terms of young, local lads breaking through, lively 18-year-old striker Max Hazeldine has just begun appearing in the first-team, and is the latest in a line of boys from Manchester and Lancs. to have come through the club’s youth set-up.
However, the biggest and most key signing area for Stanley has come in players who’ve been discarded by prominent Football League clubs, and have something to prove. Piero Mingoia, once of Watford. Dean Winnard, who didn’t make a single first-team appearance at Ewood Park. Matt Crooks, who was released by Huddersfield Town. They’ve all leapt at the chance to improve their game at Stanley, and whilst the club’s budget is still far too slim for them to ensure keeping all those talents for years to come, the club can reasonably hope for some good years from each, and at least one Ormerod-style deal amongst the bunch, to accrue a few quid in the bank.