Chester City 2 Accrington Stanley 0: Stanley beaten but unbowed

Chester victory fails to dampen romance after 44-year wait
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The Independent Football

The Accrington Observer website was succinct. "We're back," the headline pronounced, with no need for further elaboration. After 44 years outside the Football League in that pocket of East Lancashire "we" and Accrington Stanley are synonymous. To be playing Chester City yesterday marked the end of a long, dark journey.

There was no internet when Stanley became a byword for failure by going bust in 1962. No websites and computers were as portable as anything the size of a room can be. Harold Macmillan was getting his blades sharpened in preparation for the Night of the Long Knives and The Beatles were trying to get a recording contract after Decca made the most famous snub in pop music history.

But if the Fab Four were feeling rejected, the not-so-fab XI at Accrington were desolate. Their last League match was against Crewe Alexandra, lost 4-0, and then they went into administration, owing the kind of money Wayne Rooney now spends annually on vacuum cleaners to send him to sleep: £40,000. Their results were expunged, their remaining fixtures unfulfilled. The front page of the Accrington Observer on 13 March 1962, then as now, was to the point: "Stanley - It's the death sentence".

That sentence stood for 44 years until last season when Stanley won the Conference by a whopping 11 points. It was a story that would have warmed the coldest of hearts and it made football romantics purr. Accrington, the town that had lost its League club, had reason to hold high its collective head once more.

Much of the credit belongs to John Coleman, who resigned as a teacher to become the club's manager seven years ago. And, having brought the dead back to life, he is naturally ambitious now. "What we have achieved will go down in history and it can't be taken away," he said, "but I wouldn't like to think that's where my role with Accrington ends. I would like to think it is only a start. We want to be successful in the Football League."

The chairman, Eric Whalley, was equally bullish. "It's a fantastic achievement for the club," he beamed. "We've come a long way in seven years. Our team is full of Scousers and they're up for anything. They won't be shy today."

These were brave words that the players failed to live up to. After nearly half a century without League football you are entitled to be a little rusty and Accrington creaked from the start. Barely a header was won and Chester, who had nine players making debuts, were allowed to show a surprising fluency.

Dean Bennett, signed from Wrexham in the summer, had a shot deflected over the bar after six minutes from an inadequately cleared corner and this set a pattern - Stanley looked capable of conceding at every dead ball.

The chief beneficiary was Drewe Broughton, a centre-forward of lumbering pace but with the physique to win most aerial battles. He was narrowly wide with a header after 10 minutes and was more accurate five minutes later when he headed Laurence Wilson's corner just under the bar.

Accrington had to wait until the 36th minute for their first attempt at goal - a wide shot from Andy Todd - and until the 47th minute for their first shot on target when Gary Roberts attempted to chip John Danby only to lob the ball into the goalkeeper's arms.

Stanley worked hard, and with more potency up front they might have escaped with a draw. Yet the afternoon was heavy in football romance but light on skill. When you have come back from oblivion you have an inkling that reality always has the potential to trample over a fairytale and with five minutes to go it duly did. Gregg Blundell turned sharply in the area, was brought down by Robert Williams, and then converted the penalty.

So Mike Ferguson still holds the record for scoring Accrington's last League goal (against Doncaster in February 1962) and that is still their last point. But on a day when they returned to the big time it was an occasion where they were just happy to be there. As their supporters put it: "Stanley are back."