Accrington Stanley, who are they? They’re heading for promotion to League One, that’s who.
Often regarded as a byword for small, scabby English clubs with a ramshackle stadium, anorak-clad fans and a terminal shortage of cash (my kind of club), Stanley have had one of the most impressive seasons in their history.
They are sat a shade below the automatic promotion spots, above the big names of the division like Portsmouth, Leyton Orient and Luton, with none of the budget but all of the quality and class.
Much of Stanley’s success can be put down to their scoring prowess, over 60 netted already this campaign. Top scorer Billy Kee (pictured above) has all the hallmarks of a lower league striker who has been around the block more than once, seen it all, and knows exactly where the goal is – all by the age of 25.
A short, fruitless spell at Scunthorpe was ended last summer, and he has been knocking them in at the wonderfully named Wham! Stadium ever since, ably supported by one of the most recognisable names in the Football League game.
Josh Windass, son of Dean, has limited time left in Accrington, having agreed a pre-contract deal at Rangers, in anticipation of their re-ascent to the top of the Scottish football molehill. In the meantime, he has scored 11 league goals and driven the team from the midfield engine to their impressive league position.
Yet the most interesting factor in Accrington’s sudden threat to reach the third tier is the man behind the march – manager John Coleman.
Himself a lower league forward of some repute, particularly at Southport, he first took charge of Accrington Stanley in 1999 and stayed for 13 years.
When he took over, they were in the seventh tier of English football, having not played league football for decades – astonishing as one of the 12 founder members, although in that period they had gone out of business and reformed.
By the time Coleman first left in 2012, they had been promoted three times and were well established in League Two. The fact that in the decade since they first entered the fourth tier that they have never been in any true danger of returning to the fifth – on a minuscule budget – is quite an achievement and in no small part due to Coleman’s sturdy foundations.
Three short unsuccessful spells in two years elsewhere, with Rochdale, Southport and Sligo Rovers, saw him come back to Accrington and pick up where he had left off. The team came 17th last season – this current campaign has been a different kettle of fish.
So what would modern football be like with Accrington Stanley in League One? Certainly it would cement the feeling of having fallen a long way for the likes of Sheffield United, but really it would prove that success stories in football need not be flashes in the pan; they may in fact have been years and years of hard work in the making, and as a neutral, I am right behind them.