Accrington Stanley: And the man who would not keep quiet

Phil Shaw
Saturday 08 November 2003 01:00

Accrington Stanley would just be a nostalgic name from a bygone era but for a pensioner who lives so close to their Crown Ground that he could "chuck a stone into it". Inadvisable as that would be, especially when Huddersfield Town cross the Pennines for tomorrow's FA Cup tie, it would represent a hat-trick. Jack Barrett has already thrown his heart and soul into the club.

As the 79-year-old former sailor, postal worker and supporter of seven decades says, matter-of-factly, "I'm the bloke that started it all".

"It" is the club now lying seventh in the Nationwide Conference, though a team simply called Accrington were founder members of the Football League in 1888, while the original Stanley, named after a street and pub in the Lancashire mill town, maintained League status from 1921 to 1962.

They then departed the former Fourth Division with two-thirds of the season completed, amid debts totalling £43,566. Barrett witnessed the last rites at their Peel Park home, Rochdale winning before a scattering of diehards and ghouls. One day Stanley resigned, the next they informed the League they wanted to carry on. They were told it was too late.

With confidence low among Accrington's football community, years passed before anybody blinked. "A group of local men tried to revive the club, but the meetings all failed," Barrett explains. "One night I picked up the paper and read about another attempt. I thought: 'I'll go this time, out of curiosity, because something is going wrong'."

On 7 October 1968 ("That date is burned into my brain") he discovered what it was. The mayor, chairing the discussion, framed it in what Barrett claims was a negative fashion, effectively telling the 35 Stanleyites present that they had no ground, no cash, no team - and no future.

"There wasn't a peep from anyone, including the guys who wanted to restart the club. So I suddenly stood up and made a speech. I said it was true we needed to find money, but that didn't mean we couldn't try. As for the ground, I argued that even the big clubs began at rock bottom. I finished by saying I'd come to re-form Accrington Stanley and would be terribly disappointed if I left without doing that."

A committee and supporters' club were formed; players signed and a manager appointed. Peel Park was now the site of a school, so Barrett, in a real-life Field Of Dreams moment, looked at wasteland near his home. "It was a complete dump, with a lake on it deep enough for kids to float a raft. We turned it into something to be proud of."

A crowd of 800 watched the inaugural fixture against Formby, a huge figure by Lancashire Combination standards. Within 12 months Barrett started a 10-year stint as secretary and the club began their climb, via the Cheshire League, to the UniBond (Northern Premier) League.

Under the management of John Coleman and chairmanship of Eric Whalley, Stanley have prospered since commencing Conference life in August.

One more promotion would take them back to the League. "We'll definitely do it in the next three years," insists Barrett, who will be joined tomorrow by 3,000 fellow believers, as well as the Match of the Day cameras.

"Huddersfield may be in the Third Division, but they lost 6-2 at Scunthorpe last week and whoever we play always has a battle on their hands.

"I always had this vision of Accrington Stanley playing to a full house again. Now it's here. The funny thing is that it might never have happened but for me and my big mouth!"

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