Accrington's fairy tale begins with a dose of harsh reality

In 1962 one of English football's most romantic names was forced to drop out of the League. Guy Hodgson was there to see their return
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Before the kick-off the excellent Deva Stadium public address announcer described Accrington Stanley as "one of the greatest names in football", a claim, on reflection, he later moderated to "finest". He was correct the first time.

Stanley are not great because of their achievements, but for the sentiments their name stirs. Losing them from the Football League in 1962 invoked feelings of nostalgia akin to railway enthusiasts sighing over the the foundations of an old signal box. They were thrown out for owing £40,000 and the cost has been counted by romantics ever since.

A byword for financial incompetence 44 years ago, they assumed a ghostly glamour as they lost their League status, their ground, their existence and even their wonderful "Stanley" appendage. To see them restored in League Two in this game - albeit in a 2-0 defeat - gave hope for any club going through hard times.

And the occasion drew people for abnormal reasons. Peter Woolley, 56 and Chesterfield born and bred, had travelled to Chester to fulfil a childhood pledge taken because Accrington had been due to meet his local team when the League pulled the plug in March 1962. "I always said I would come and watch them if they got back in the League," he said. Bernard Ashcroft, a 66-year-old Everton supporter, was at the Deva Stadium "just to say I was there".

Chester City's effusive welcome was accompanied by a ruthless determination not to extend the glad-handing on to the pitch. The home team had nine of the 16 players bought in the summer making their debuts, but they had a surprising cohesiveness.

John Coleman claimed his side were the better after the first 20 minutes, but that merely proved that the Stanley manager had acclimatised more quickly to his new environment than his players had. It was pure League-speak because Accrington had barely won a ball in the air, been outmuscled in midfield and managed only one shot on target.

"It's a physical league and we have to learn that and learn it quick," Coleman said. "We didn't get our passing game going and our flair players didn't really fire today. When we had the chance to create something we chose the wrong option and we didn't make the most of our set plays."

Fortunately for Accrington neither did Chester, otherwise the 4-0 drubbing that Crewe Alexandra inflicted on them in their last League game 44 years ago could have been repeated. Every corner brought dangers and the only surprise when Drewe Broughton headed in after 15 minutes was that it had taken so long to score.

Accrington improved but their only proper chance came after 47 minutes when Paul Mullin flicked on and Gary Roberts darted in from the left wing to outpace the defence. He tried to chip John Danby but merely ballooned the ball into the goalkeeper's arms.

The "sucker punch", as Coleman put it, arrived with five minutes to go when Gregg Blundell was brought down by Richard Williams, duly converting the penalty.

It was a depressing dose of reality for Stanley, but Coleman, who has dragged the club from the Unibond League in his seven years as manager, was resolutely looking at the full part of his glass. "If every game is going to be like that, we will fancy our chances," he said. "Every match we play now will be an adventure."

The adventure continues at home to Darlington tomorrow.

Goals: Broughton (15) 1-0; Blundell pen (86) 2-0.

Chester City (3-5-2): Danby; Linwood, Westwood, Artell; Vaughan (Marples, 83), Bennett, Martinez (McSporran, 70), Hand, Wilson; Walters, Broughton (Blundell, 57). Substitutes not used: Allen, Rutherford.

Accrington Stanley:(4-4-1-1): Dunbavin; Cavanagh, Williams, Welch, Richardson; Roberts, Proctor (Harris, 75), Craney, Doherty (Todd, 15); Boco; Mullin (Mangan, 63). Substitutes not used: Brown, Edwards.

Referee: P Dowd (Staffordshire).

Booked: Chester City Martinez, Artell, Stephen Vaughan, Hand; Accrington Stanley Williams, Harris.

Man of the match: Blundell.

Attendance: 3,779.

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