Whalley enjoys last laugh as Stanley return from long exile

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Eric Whalley sat in the office from which he has overseen the renaissance of one of football's most famous names and admitted he was feeling uncommonly relaxed. It was scarcely an hour before a bank holiday game yet he wore the look of man who could put his feet up. "If this were a normal match day I'd be too stressed to talk," he said.

But for the 65-year-old chairman of Accrington Stanley, this was no ordinary match day. On Saturday at Woking, he had seen his team clinch the one win needed to secure their return to the Football League, 44 years after bankruptcy forced their resignation.

"If anyone says that dreams don't come true, you can tell them from me that it's a load of rubbish," he said. "When I became chairman 10 years ago and said I'd take Accrington back into the League, some people laughed at me. But now it has happened."

It has been a long road. The club were relaunched six years after dropping out of the League but it was only after Whalley appointed John Coleman as manager in 1999 that their rebirth began in earnest. Since then, they have been promoted three times and will be crowned Conference champions on Saturday at Stanley's final home match against Tamworth.

Yesterday, Coleman's team had to shake off Saturday's hangovers to ensure relegation-threatened Scarborough were not given an easy ride. In the event, after a scrappy 90 minutes, a goal from Andy Todd, a former Scarborough midfielder, gained another three points for the champions and ensured a crowd of 3,320 stayed in party mood.

The crowd was the largest of Stanley's season and a taste, Whalley hopes, of what is to come if he is to ensure the club do not disappear again. "It seems ridiculous looking back that it took only £63,000 to send the club under," Whalley said. "It wouldn't buy us a player these days. The town was genuinely devastated when it happened. They thought someone would step up to bail the club out but the mills and the engineering industry were in decline and I don't think anyone had any money."

Whalley, who played for Stanley's A-team until a year before their fall, made his money from packaging. He laughed when asked how much of that money has gone into the club. "If my wife found out she'd probably divorce me," he said.

In fact, he insists there has been no "silly money" spent on advancing his dream and he does not intend to repeat the mistakes of the past. "If you spend £1.10 for every £1 you make, only one thing is going to happen," he said.

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