Brave Stanley battle on [Test]


Accrington Stanley chief executive Robert Heys

Accrington Stanley chief executive Robert Heys says the club are winning their battle against time to save their Football League status.

Stanley have until December 31st to submit final plans detailing how their Crown Ground stadium will be brought up to standards or a vote will be taken by the Football League board on whether the club should be expelled from npower League Two.

Regulations state that all members of the Football League must have a stadium with at least a 5,000 capacity as well as 2,000 seats, but unfortunately for Stanley the Crown Ground is currently only able to hold 4,500 spectators.

However Heys believes the club is very much in control of the situation and are right on track to meet the end-of-year target.

“All the plans are in place and we know what we have to do, it’s a fixed deadline that’s been there for a while and we know what improvements have to be made.” Heys said.

“The Football League have been very good to us and it’s only right that we owe it to them and most of all for the peace of mind of our supporters.”

The approaching deadline has come as a setback to Stanley who have endured a number of off-the-pitch struggles since entering the Football League and were hoping last year’s takeover by local businessman Ilyas Khan would signal an end to their ongoing troubles.

The Predicament

The Crown Ground has proved to be at the focal point of these problems with the club already having to install extra seats in both the Sophia Khan and Whinney Hill Terrace stands in May 2009. This meant the criteria of having 2000 seats was satisfied but at the cost of reducing the overall capacity from 5,003 to 4,503. The club’s Architectural Consultant Michael De-Maine explains the situation.

“When we entered the Football League in 2005 they reduced the minimum capacity requirement from 6,000 to 5,000 and at the time the stadium matched that requirement. However three years ago the Football League introduced more legislation that told the club we also had to have a minimum of 2,000 seats installed in the stadium as well as maintaining segregation for away fans.” De-Maine said.

“We installed the seats at the front of the home terrace and in doing so reduced the capacity to 4,503 which of course fell under the necessary requirements. The stadium went from having 45 fans per 10 square feet to only having 33 per 10 square feet.”

The Plans

The Coppice End (including new control room)

To combat the issue the club has chosen to renovate the Copice Terrace end of the stadium. A new control room has already been installed in the stand following another request from the Football League and the stand’s open structure has made it an obvious target to make up the 500 capacity deficit.

“The plans in place are to increase the capacity of the Copice Terrace to get the stadium up to the required 5,000 mark. This will be done by adding an additional 6 steps of terracing beyond the final crash barrier and to the side of the current structure. As well as this we’ll be installing new toilet facilities under the stand.” De-Maine explained.

However as clear as the plans for the new developments are, it’s not quite as simple as just starting the improvements tomorrow with the club still awaiting planning permission from the local council.

‘The struggle is it’s not just the Football League you have to please it’s the Lancashire Council too and it means the targets that need to be met aren’t always as simple as they seem.’ Michael De-Maine, Accrington Stanley architectural consultant.

The final blueprints for the Coppice End re-development. (Click for full-sized images)

The Past

The resolution of this issue will hopefully signal an end for Stanley’s off-the-pitch problems. Last October the club were just days away from being wound up and suffering the same fate the original Accrington Stanley club suffered in 1966, potentially leaving their passionate fans without a club to support once again.

A number of fundraising events aided by fellow North West side Burnley didn’t look to have been enough for Stanley who looked set to crumble under an overbearing tax debt to the Inland Revenue.

However the club was miraculously saved at the last minute by local millionaire Ilyas Khan who paid off all of the club’s debts and saved his hometown team from liquidation. Unfortunately for Stanley though, this was not the end of their woes.

As well as their promotion push falling away a summer-long transfer embargo was imposed on the club following a late publication of their accounts, meaning their start to this season was largely compromised. However Heys believes these ongoing financial dilemmas have not affected on-the-pitch matters as much as it seems.

“I don’t think it’s had a massive impact. We don’t spend much on transfers and wages and most of the players’ wages are based on a bonus structure which means we get players that really want to play for Accrington Stanley and want to succeed here.” Heys said.

“John Coleman knows the restrictions he works under and it’s testament to him that we’ve achieved what we have. It’s out of the players control so they just get on with the job at hand.”

The Perspective

Attendances at the Crown Ground are the lowest in the Football League

With the lowest average home attendance in the Football League, Accrington Stanley are coping admirably in a time where the national recession has hit hard.

Only 1,370 fans came through the turnstiles for their most recent home match with Stevenage Borough, and this figure includes the 500 season ticket holders that Stanley currently has.

This means with such low match day revenue the club has had to rely on money from recent cup runs to help fund any further investment in both facilities and the playing squad. A run to the FA Cup 4th round last season culminated in a lucrative home tie with Premier League club Fulham and earned the club nearly £200,000, and they were boosted further this season by a televised Carling Cup clash with Newcastle United.

These cup runs have been a timely success for Stanley and Heys is quick to emphasise the importance of the club’s new found ‘Cup Kings’ tag.

“It’s a massive boost no doubt. The money gained from gate receipts and television revenue aren’t budgeted for at the beginning of the season and its extra money that you weren’t expecting. It’s the club’s job to survive by bringing in money to help the club and the big cup ties go a massive way to doing that.”

For Now

It’s just a matter of sitting and waiting for Accrington Stanley. The plans are all drafted up and they await the decision from the local council.

With no further debts to pay and the club financially stable for the time being, this could well be the last chapter in a very difficult year and a half for Stanley. The side currently sit comfortably in mid-table and boast one of Britain’s most talented young managers in the shape of John Coleman who has now been at the club for over 10 years.

December 31st may appear to be looming perilously over the heads of all concerned but it could also be the date that the club finally banishes the ghosts of the past and kick-starts a new hassle-free era in the club’s history.

As their old motto goes. Accrington Stanley, the club that would never die.

The plaque proudly displayed at Stanley's Crown Ground stadium

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