Peter Leatham: ‘we lost a generation of supporters when the club folded in 1962’

Monsieur Salut writes: we are delighted to welcome Peter Leatham*, chairman of the Accrington Stanley Supporters’ Club, to this season’s classic series of Who are You? interviews. We expect other clubs at this level to raise their game when they play us, since we have ‘big club’ stamped on our foreheads. But our League One interviewees are reaching lofty standards, too. I loved Peter’s response to my suggestion that Stanley might have moved this match to a bigger ground than one holding just over 5,000 to accommodate our fans! …

Salut! Sunderland: who couldn’t warm to “the club that wouldn’t die” – and who deserves most credit for Accrington Stanley bursting back into life: Eric Whalley, then owner of the revived club, Brett Ormerod for the Stanley’s onward transfer windfall or the fans who willed it to happen?

Peter Leatham: I think it’s true to say that all three elements played a pivotal role in ensuring the survival of the club and its return to the Football League in 2006. Eric Whalley was the visionary with the drive and determination, Brett’s transfer fee ensured some bills were paid and the squad improved and the fans help bind it all together. The naming of the new Eric Whalley stand is a true recognition of the part he played at the club.

Promotion last season must have been a wonderful feeling. What have been the other highlights of your own time as a supporter?

Probably the EFL cup run of 2016/17, beating Bradford City, then of L1 on penalties, then beating Premiership neighbours Burnley with a goal in the 119th minute before finally going down to a late 96th minute trademark Dimitri Payet free kick at the London Stadium in front of 40,000 and more than holding our own.

Solid start to the season even if you’ve slipped to high mid-table. But tell us about the trio at the top – Andy Holt (owner), Peter Marsden (chairman), John Coleman (manager) – and how far they can take the club.

It’s really about Andy and Coley, they have a great relationship and long may it continue. Andy Holt is a successful local businessman who has dragged the club to where it is today, developing the facilities from very poor to just about standard, mostly out of his pocket and he has a refreshingly frank and transparent persona who seriously questions the football hierarchy and its methods. John Coleman and his assistant Jimmy Bell understand the club and its ethos and have astounded many by winning L2 with the smallest playing budget and nearly the smallest attendances, they know what they want and how they want to play and stick to their principals.

I know Stanley is one of the nicknames but the club’s proud old name is often abbreviated in that way, too. I understand the local geography. But is it now common usage in the town and doesn’t it devalue the club’s identity (we have two Stanleys in County Durham)?

Most locals refer to the club as Stanley and the town as either Accrington or just Accy.
It is astounding how universally known Accrington Stanley are and we have regular correspondence and visits from many countries

Having finally become aquainted with our own new-look squad, we still sometimes struggle to work out opponents. You seem to have some useful loan acquisitions but who is doing the business for you so far?

Connor Ripley in goal, from ‘Boro, has been solid for us as has Michael Ihiekwe (Rotherham) and Nick Anderson from Blackpool across the back line. Dan Barlaser (Newcastle) has forced himself into midfield and is good on the ball. Both Connor Hall (Bolton) and Luke Charman (Newcastle) have yet to gain a starting berth but have been useful off the bench.

Who over the years has given you most pleasure in Acrrington Stanley colours? Are you old enough to have seen Chris Grimshaw (voted all-time fans’ favourite)?

My personal, and many others’, favourite would be Paul Mullin, who was an traditional centre forward and spearheaded Stanley’s return to the league and is still both record appearances and goal scorer.

And who should never have been allowed near the Crown Ground?

Ironically we had three young keepers on loan whom struggled with us but are still making a career for themselves in Lee Nichols, Jon Lumley and Matt Macey. However we were spoilt with Darren Randolph, Rob Elliott and then Marcus Betenelli in previous years.

It’s that book again – Managers, from Tales From the Red and Whites – on offer as this week’s prize. Click the image and enter  …

I asked earlier than usual about highlights. What have been the lowest points of your time as a supporter?

That’s got to be the final day of the 2015/16 season when we started the day in an automatic promotion place, having scored in every home game that season. Unfortunately we drew 0-0 with Stevenage which, for 92 minutes would have got us promoted, only for Bristol Rovers to score a 93rd minute winner and put us in the playoffs, where we never got started and lost to AFC Wimbledon who finished 10 points behind us.

Describe the club’s rapport with the town, with Manchester so close is there a problem of gloryseeking among younger locals?

We lost a generation of supporters when the club folded in 1962 and wasn’t resurrected until 1968, Accrington folk went to either Burnley or Blackburn less so Manchester. The club are now working hard to generate a younger fan base with over 1,200 shirts being given free every year to all the year three pupils in the borough for the last two and next three years. This is an initiative funded by Andy Holt who is determined to position the club at the centre of its community. We are only a small town with a population of around 35,000 and a growing ethnic community but are steadily growing our fan base with a 37 per cent rise in season tickets year on year, albeit from a low base.

Were you surprised by Sunderland’s sharp decline?

I think the relegation from the Premiership was inevitable after a few close shaves but I didn’t foresee the fall out of the Championship. All clubs have their issues when you scratch beneath the surface and the Mackems obviously have had their share, however you have a strong and loyal fan base which will always generate the revenues required to build back up again.

Despite those Santa duties, Pete Sixsmith took the time write another splendid feature for his series The First Time Ever I Saw Your Ground. That will be published tomorrow morning. Click the image to see the series so far …

Other thoughts on our club, the fans, the city and region, Jack Ross? Should you have borrowed a bigger ground to accommodate all the SAFC supporters who’d like to be there?

We will be delighted to welcome Sunderland to the Wham Stadium and I suspect the majority will enjoy the day irrespective of the result. We are a proper football club with strong tradition and run by good people and the idea of borrowing a ground for the match is laughable. Perhaps you would like borrow St James’ Park next time you play Boro to accommodate all ? …… , no I thought not.

Hand on heart, where will our clubs finish this season?

Sunderland should get into the top three, especially with your playing budget; ours is just around £2m by the way. If you ask most Stanley fans then to stay up would be a tremendous achievement however a top 10 finish is not beyond us.

The James Maddison question (formerly Neymar but many names have had spells here): he dived, was sent off (second yellow) and then came clean and apologised. A step forward in the struggle to beat the cheats or something soon to be forgotten as other players try to con referees?

Nearly all players cheat in one form or another. Diving should be a red card but the referees have a difficult enough job as it is.

Will you be at our game?. What will be the score?

I have a ST and also run the supporters’ club as well as assist on match days. I would settle for a point but suspect you may be too strong for us, probably 1-2.

Peter Leatham* Peter Leatham on himself: I saw my first game at Stanley in 2002 and was a ST holder at my hometown club, Bolton Wanderers, at the time. I gradually visited more and more on my spare Saturdays, which given the PL fixture arrangements was most of them. In my opinion money has spoilt the PL and I gradually became more enamoured with lower league, or non league, football as it was then, Its more about honest endeavour and far easier for the average fan to relate to. We can talk to the owner, the manager and the players. I became chair of the supporters’ club in 2016 and we are constantly fundraising to help improve the facilities at the club. We contributed to the Fanzone area and bought the screen for the club and have recently bought new pitch covers for the ground. We also run the away travel and sell match badge pins for all our home fixtures. I am 60, retired and also edited the match programme, as a volunteer, for the past 18 months but passed that back to the club a few weeks ago. Find us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/officalassc and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/oassc1/

Interview: Colin Randall

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Salut! Sunderland is written, illustrated and edited by - and principally for - supporters of Sunderland AFC. The site aims to be sufficiently literate and entertaining to appeal to people who do not follow SAFC but enjoy good football writing.

10 Responses to “Accrington Stanley Who are You?: ‘borrow a bigger ground? Would SAFC borrow St James’ Park?’” Subscribe

  1. malcolm December 6, 2018 at 10:11 am #

    “In my opinion money has spoilt the PL and I gradually became more enamoured with lower league, or non league, football as it was then, Its more about honest endeavour and far easier for the average fan to relate to. We can talk to the owner, the manager and the players.”

    How true and exactly why I am enjoying this Division. Not just because of what has happened at Sunderland but because the clubs we are playing are also still in touch with their supporters and the people who follow their teams are genuine supporters with no pretensions.

    Give me Accrington Stanley and Scunthorpe over Chelsea and Man United any day.

    • Joan December 6, 2018 at 6:51 pm #

      Malcolm, was Accrington Stanley one of our Subbuteo teams, or am I getting mixed up with football cards (am his sister)

      • malcolm December 6, 2018 at 9:30 pm #

        Football cards I think. If I remember right, the Subbuteo teams we had were Norwich City because they looked a bit like Brazil, Walsall because I took a few players from different part sets and painted them with Humbrol model paints – White shirts – red shorts. For anyone not of our clan – the original set we had my dad had got off one of my cousins and it came with the original pressed metal (not plastic) figures. I saved my paper money for the Norwich set and scrounged about for the others.

        • Joan December 7, 2018 at 12:17 pm #

          You have a better memory than I do …. did enjoy playing it though … shame we got rid of it!

  2. wrinkly pete December 6, 2018 at 11:25 am #

    Lovely article, thank you. Reminds me why I took up following Moor Green (now Solihull Moors) back in the early 1980s.

  3. Rob Russell December 6, 2018 at 2:33 pm #

    Sunderland and its fans can learn a lot from clubs like Stanley. Everyone says how refreshing the real feel of football is, but will you take those lessons back up with you? Sunderland will inevitably end up back in the Prem to everything that is wrong with footy. If you can learn the lessons and take them with you then you can help to rewrite the rulebook

    • Joan December 6, 2018 at 7:00 pm #

      Good point Rob. A lot of us were thoroughly disillusioned with the Premier League anyway – one turning point for me (among many) was hearing the club referred to as a business (yes, there has to be a business element but it is primarily a football club). The supporters didn’t have a lot of influence over the ethos of the club. Our current owners will be much, much better at managing the hype. Not sure a return to the Premier League is inevitable, mind.

      • Bill Taylor December 6, 2018 at 8:56 pm #

        Not sure a return to the Premiership is even desirable any more! It would be like climbing back into a snakepit.

        • malcolm December 6, 2018 at 9:43 pm #

          And therein lies the dilemma. We all want the club to be ambitious and carry on winning but at what price. Charlie Methven and I assume therefore Stewart Donald see Burnley as a model for us in the Premiership in terms of keeping the running of the club sustainable. Do I want us to win this league? Yes. Do I want us to win the Championship? Yes. Do I want to see us in the Premiership? Not really if most of our time there is anything to go by.

          Bring on the European Super League, when the Premier League might be more open but there are worrying noises that the Championship is looking for a bigger share of TV money. Naturally when the TV companies are paying mega bucks they want big teams to buy big name players to attract the sofa fan, those in the far east and other far flung places. The gulf between the top few and the rest is growing.

          Those of us who prefer freezing ourselves watching competitive live football are the least of their concerns and while I take Joan’s point about the current owners if and when we get promoted there will be no shortage of foreign investors looking to take over so unless Juan Santori is prepared to invest a bigger stake of his personal wealth it’s likely that those offers will be listened to.

          It’s a shame – Maybe I’ll move to Fleetwood, Morecambe or Accrington.

  4. Bill Taylor December 6, 2018 at 10:43 pm #

    Fleetwood for choice! Nicer, as I recall, than Morecambe and much nicer than Accrington. I hate seeing the words “foreign investors” and “football” linked together. Make money at it by all means, and good luck to you if you can do it, but football should be about passion first and investment a long way second. Passion is what you find on the terraces, not in the boardroom. I like to think back to the days of watching colliery welfare (and the like) football. The only way you could tell the club directors were they were the ones who got duckboards to stand on when the ground was soggy with rain.

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