Peel Park and the History of Accrington Stanley.
When Accrington F.C. were operating as one of the Football League’s original 12 clubs another team was formed in the town’s Stanley Arms pub.
The team, formed in 1891 was originally named Stanley Villa until Accrington F.C. went under in 1896. They then took over the town’s name and became Accrington Stanley.
The home ground for Stanley was initially at Moorhead Park and in this early years they competed in the Accrington & District League.
The club entered the FA Cup for the first time in the 1896-97 season so there is a certain symmetry with Accrington having been dissolved earlier in the same year. They were drawn against Carlisle City and failed to progress. Two years later Stanley made it to the 3rd Qualifying round where they lost 5-1 to South Shore.
Stanley moved from Moorhead Park in 1897 after the local landlord and for three seasons they shared the Bell’s Temperance ground with the team of that name.
They quickly proved themselves as a strong semi-professional team and with crowds increasing were able to move back to Moorhead Park, joining the Lancashire Combination for the 1900-01 season and finishing a respectable 9th of 18 behind champions Everton reserves in their debut year.
Having improved to 3rd the following year, the 1902-03 season saw them crowned champions, scoring an impressive 114 goals in 34 games, winning every match at Moorhead Park and finishing just ahead of the reigning champions Manchester City reserves.
Stanley were trailing City towards the end of the season but victories at Bolton reserves, Heywood United and Turton in their last three matches saw them pip their rivals by a point.
After the 3-0 win at Turton clinched the title a large crowd gathered at Accrington train station to welcome the victors home and this was followed by a ride around town accompanied by the Accrington Brass Band who played popular tunes such as “Stanley For Ever” and “See, the Conquering Hero Comes”.
An attempt to reach the 1st Round proper of the F.A. Cup came to an end in the third qualifying round when, after eliminating Bacup and Rossendale in the first two rounds Stanley were hammered 7-0 at Manchester United. The Accrington chairman Mr Watson was not impressed with United’s hospitality complaining that his team were ‘very shabbily treated’ with no tea being offered at half-time and no hot water made available for washing those that were injured.
Stanley finished runners-up to Everton reserves in the following campaign and dropped down to mid-table the following year before bouncing back to win the title for a second time in 1905-06.
This time the title success was much more clear-cut with the team finishing seven points clear of Darwen.
The 1905-06 success would be the last time the Stanleyites would take the Lancashire Combination crown but the following campaign brought a stirring F.A. Cup run.
The 1906-07 qualifying rounds saw Stanley enter at the fifth stage and they were given a long trip to Herne Hill in South London to face West Norwood.
Led by former England international centre-half Arthur Chadwick. Stanley proved far too strong for their opponents running out 9-1 winners with Eric Randalls scoring four times and former Liverpool man Andy McGuigan also among those finding the net.
The win put Stanley through to the 1st Round proper for the first time and the draw saw them matched with Crewe Alexandra.
Having drawn the first meeting 1-1, Stanley brought Crewe back to Moorhead Park and overcame their visitors 1-0 in front of 4,000 fans with Irish international James ‘Paddy’ Sheridan getting the decisive goal.
Accrington were again drawn away in the 2nd Round with a trip to Valley Parade to play Bradford City their reward.
The Reds put up a brave display against their 2nd Division opponents losing by the only goal.
After falling behind halfway through the second period the Accringtonians responded well and created chances but couldn’t find a way past ‘Fatty’ Foulke in the Bradford goal.
There is one report that claims Stanley and ‘keeper Foulke had the same colours. It was impossible for the visitors to change having arrived across the country, so the Bradford ‘keeper needed to wear a different coloured shirt. Given his size it proved impossible to find one so a resourceful spectator who lived nearby rushed home, got a bed sheet, cut a hole in it and turned it into a makeshift white shirt!
The 16,000 in attendance paid a total of £517 at the gate making the cup run a profitable adventure for Stanley.
John Haworth who had taken in the manager’s job in 1897 left in 1910 to take charge at Burnley and during his time at his new club changed their kit colour from green to claret & blue, led them to F.A. Cup victory in 1914 and won the Football League in 1921.
Accrington meanwhile continued to perform with credit in the league and twice made it to the 1st Round of the Cup both times being given tough away draws and losing at Blackburn Rovers and Wolves.
When football recommenced after the 1st World War Stanley resumed their place in the Lancashire Combination but at a new ground.
Peel Park and The Coppice, which rises above the town was partly donated to Accrington Council by William Peel, grandson of Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel. The remainder was bought from him at ‘a favourable rate’.
There is a memorial to William Peel at the top of The Coppice
The park was opened in 1909 and was used as a training area for the 11th Service Battalion (Accrington) of the East Lancashire regiment during the 1st World War.
When the football club acquired the land for their new home in 1919 they set about building the Hotel Stand and this was opened in 1921.
The first match on the resumption was on the road – and it didn’t go well.
Stanley were visiting Tranmere Rovers but missed a connection in Preston and arrived late. When they did finally get there they were hammered 7-0.
Because Peel Park wasn’t ready for the start of the season, Stanley’s first three matches were away from home. After the opening day reverse they won the next two, at Rochdale and Prescot, and then came the home opener.
On 20 September 1919, Stalybridge Celtic were the first visitors to Peel Park. It was reported that a large crowd attended and gate receipts amounted to a healthy £95. To complete a fine day, two goals from Woods and one each from Hemsley and Chapman helped Stanley to a 4-2 win.
The team ended a satisfactory first season back in seventh place and followed by finishing sixth in 1920-21
After those two seasons in the Combination, the Football League decided to expand and the club were invited to join the new 3rd Division (North) for the 1921-22 season.
Stanley’s first Football League match was at Rochdale and, having fallen a goal behind and led 2-1 they eventually fell to a 6-3 defeat.
A week later Stanley faced the same team in the first league match at Peel Park. Despite the previous week’s disappointment 12,000 were on hand and they saw the home team turn the tables, recording a 4-0 win.
James Makin, who had played for the club before the 1st World War and rejoined them from Exeter at the start of the first league campaign had the honour of scoring the first league goal at Peel Park.
Stanley remained on top throughout and further goals from John Hosker and Tommy Green (2) saw a comfortable win.
There were 10,000 at Peel Park the following week to see Crewe Alexandra dispatched 2-0 with Tommy Green getting both the goals.
Green, signed from South Liverpool would go on to score 23 times in 30 starts in his only season with Stanley before leaving for Stockport County, who won the 3rd Division (North). He later played for Clapton Orient, Hearts and Third Lanark.
Stanley enjoyed a fine first season of league football finishing 5th in the league.
In both the 1925-26 campaign and the following season Stanley enjoyed their best runs to-date in the FA Cup.
In 25-26 they overcame Wrexham and Blyth Spartans with ease before falling to a single goal defeat at eventual winners Bolton Wanderers.
Stanley were originally drawn at home but switched the match to Burnden Park, a decision which met with criticism but which was justified by an attendance of 32,875 who paid £2,137 at the gate.
The visitors actually created more chances than their top-flight opponents in the first-half but fell behind when David Jack scored soon after the break.
Still they battled on and were given a glimmer of hope when Wanderers’ Welsh international Ted Vizard was sensationally sent-off for pushing Stanley full-back Dick Field in the face.
However Stanley tired against their fitter opponents and failed to trouble Bolton ‘keeper Dick Pym
In 1926-27 the team went a stage further. Drawn at home to Rochdale in the 1st Round they won a seven-goal thriller. 4-1 up at one stage, Stanley saw their opponents fight back to reduce the arrears to one but, playing down the slope in the second-half, they held on to make the 2nd Round.
The 2nd Round draw saw a trip to Durham to play the amateurs of Chilton Colliery Recreation and achieved a comfortable 3-0 success in front of 3,500 fans to make it into the draw with the big guns again.
However Stanley were denied a money-spinning 3rd Round tie and instead given the long journey. to the South West to meet Exeter City of the 3rd Division (South).
A healthy crowd of 13,647 were at St James’s Park and they saw the Lancastrians run out 2-0 winners.
After a goalless first 45 minutes it was inside-forward Richard Clarkson – scorer of a disallowed goal in the first period – who put Stanley on their way to victory and left winger Jack Martin doubled the advantage to give them a victory that was well-merited for what the Athletic News called their; ‘Bright, clever, robust and methodical football’.
Stanley were rewarded for their efforts with a trip to London to play then-2nd Division Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
A crowd of 30,142 paid £1,783 to give Stanley a decent pay day but any hopes of a shock were quickly seemed to disappear as the home team scored in the first minute and raced into a three-goal lead inside ten.
Stanley fought back. Goals from Edgar Powell and Tommy Wyper brought the deficit back to a single goal at the interval.
Accrington had chances to level in the second period but once Bob Turnbull put Chelsea two in front just after the hour mark there was only going to be one winner and the Blues ended up 7-2 victors over the tiring Reds.
After the cup exit, Stanley’s season fell apart and they finished in 21st which meant they needed to apply – successfully it turned out – for re-election.
Stanley trainer Ernest Blackburn and the club directors decided to retain just five men for the following season – including 3rd Round scorers Clarkson and Martin – and the changes had the desired effect with the team finishing in a much-healthier 9th place in 1927-28.
Blackburn had taken up the trainer/manager position in 1924 after retiring from a playing career that saw him represent Aston Villa and Bradford City. He would remain with the club until 1932 when he joined Wrexham and later spent time as boss of Hull City and Tranmere Rovers.
After that 9th in 27-28 the team regressed again and failed to produce another top-half position until 1935-36 when they again occupied 9th spot.
The campaign didn’t get off to an auspicious start with an opening day 6-0 defeat at Lincoln City followed by a 4-2 home loss to Rochdale. In fact it wasn’t until the fifth game of the campaign that Accrington won a point – drawing 1-1 at York.
But victory at Peel Park against Barrow the next week got things going and they were soon moving up the table.
In the 1936-37 season Stanley slipped back down to 13th although there was another decent little cup run.
George Mee (top,centre)
A 3-1 1st Round home win over Wellington Town (later to become Telford United). Next up was a single goal win over Southern League team Tunbridge Wells Rangers at Peel Park thanks to a goal from veteran Georgie Mee.
The 3rd round draw came up with a real plum for Stanley giving them the short trip to Ewood Park to face Blackburn Rovers.
Blackburn were clearly not the team of old and had fallen into the 2nd Division but were still a big club and, of course, were Accrington’s closest rivals. It was estimated that as many as 10,000 supporters made the short journey to Blackburn many wearing Stanley’s red and white colours as scarves, hats or rosettes.
A total of 31,080 were at the match giving Stanley a share of gate receipts of £1,746. And the Reds held their own on the pitch.
The front pair of Mee and Bob Mortimer proved a real handful for the Rovers defence and the last-named twice put Stanley in front. The hosts equalised twice the result gave Accrington another crack at their close rivals, and this time at Peel Park.
Wednesday 20 January will probably go down as the greatest day in Peel Park’s history.
Over 11,600 fans were present and they saw the visitors start in confident style and go in front after just four minutes through inside-forward Charlie Calladine.
Then Stanley took over dominating matter and peppering the Rovers goal. Mee and Mortimer were again the chief protagonists, and the last-named levelled before the break.
The Reds dominated the second half but spurned a number of chances and Blackburn thought they had stolen the tie when Tommy Sale had the ball in the net seven minutes from time. Fortunately for Stanley it was disallowed for offside and the match went into extra-time.
There, Mortimer scored yet again and Rivers made it 3-1 to sew up the win and give Stanley a money-spinning 4th Round match against Manchester City at Maine Road.
The match attracted a crowd of 39,135 – frost and snow probably stopped it being greater – and they saw City outclass plucky Stanley, being good value for their 2-0 win, Peter Doherty and Fred Tilson getting the goals.
Cup hero Bob Mortimer was in his second spell with the club and scored a total of 56 goals in just 70 league matches as well as those cup exploits. But the club sold him to Blackburn in the summer for a four-figure fee and with Georgie Mee (older brother of Arsenal manager Bertie) now aged 37 the team went into a steep decline.
The sale of Dick Webster to Sheffield United for £1,000 and Malcolm Reeday to Leicester City (£1,200) helped the club’s bank balance but also aided the decline on the pitch.
The last two full seasons before the 2nd World War saw Stanley finish bottom of the 3rd Division (North), forcing them to apply for re-election each time.
The 1939-40 season started much better for the club and they had a 100% record after three matches when the campaign was called off after the outbreak of the 2nd World War.
So, Stanley would need to start again when hostilities ceased. And, due to a combination of bad decisions and bad luck, things would go from bad to worse….