Among the many stories that flowed from the three EFL divisions last season, arguably the most feel-good was the unlikely promotion of Accrington Stanley. It’s the first time since they resigned from the Football League in 1962 that the club have plied their trade above the fourth tier. Ross Bramble delves deep into the League One side this week to understand why more people and pundits aren’t talking more about Accrington Stanley.
Stanley are one of the smallest clubs in the professional pyramid, and are only otherwise known for a milk advert in the 1980s. With their historic promotion, however, it felt like Accrington were embarking on a mission through uncharted waters that only their fiercest local rivals would deny them.
So as I came to pick a side to write about this month, it occurred to me that, with Stanley sitting comfortably in mid-table and closer to the play-offs than relegation, their season has gone almost completely unnoticed.
Perhaps Sunderland’s resurgence, Portsmouth’s early domination or Bradford’s troubles have swallowed up all the oxygen. Perhaps Stanley just don’t make for a sexy headline when they’re not making history.
Seven wins, seven draws and six defeats (at time of writing) from their opening 20 games has rendered an impressive 28 points. Among the highlights are a 1-1 home draw with leaders Portsmouth, who themselves have been almost undeniable at times, a surprise 1-0 win over free-scoring Peterborough and a run of 10 league games unbeaten.
What John Coleman has achieved at Accrington, albeit after just-under half a season in League One, is simply sublime given their stature and financial clout. Their climb, as best I can remember, is only comparable to Yeovil Town entering the Championship back in 2013. That promotion and subsequent campaign often draw plaudits from neutrals, even when it ended in relegation – why so little for Accrington?
Now for anyone who follows my blogs (and I’d be both surprised and unsettled if you made a point of doing so), you’d know that I’ve had something of a “kiss of death” effect on the teams I’ve covered on this parish. Oxford, MK Dons and Notts County will all be wishing I’d picked on someone else. But in Accrington Stanley, a club hotly tipped for relegation before the season began, I feel like I’m standing on solid ground.
The team spirit and wave of momentum that Accrington are arguably still riding from their unlikely promotion has cultivated a strong, dogged squad capable of giving even the biggest names in League One a hard afternoon’s work. With Billy Kee and Sean McConville currently scoring at a rate of one goal every 262 and 244 minutes respectively, Accrington are slowly becoming a team anyone cautious of their form or degrading league position are looking to avoid encountering.
With almost half the season gone, Accrington Stanley, the most unlikely of League One sides, are not only punching above their weight once more, but seem right at home in their new surroundings.
Now, would it be a colossal shock to see them tire and fall away in the second half of the season? Perhaps not, especially when you look at the quality of sides below them still with time to kick themselves back to life. But as we stand here today at the beginning of December, I don’t think many Accrington fans would’ve expected to have adjusted so comfortably to life in League One.
They may not be the sexiest name in football, but I hope their inaugural League One campaign doesn’t fly under the radar all season long. The Accrington story is one that restores your faith in football when all above seems swallowed up by inflating wages and TV deals. My hope, come May 2019, is that when fans mockingly ask “Accrington Stanley – who are they?” as they knock back their glass of milk, John Coleman and co. can simply say: “We’re League One.”
Follow Ross on Twitter @rossbramble