The Sound of Football: Accrington Stanley (Andrew)

Every fortnight we cover the best and worst football songs from every club in the UK from our book ‘The Sound Of Football: Every Club, Every Song’. You can buy it here

Accrington Stanley

Nickname: Stanley

Ground: Crown Ground (currently known as The Wham Stadium until 2021)

Stadium Capacity: 5,070

Song: On Stanley, On

Sir Walter Scott’s epic poem ‘Marmion’ describes one of Scotland’s heaviest military defeats, the battle of Flodden Field (1513). The English army routed the Scottish army after killing King James IV of Scotland.

Accrington Stanley’s song ‘On Stanley, On’ was inspired by a line in the poem.

’Charge, Chester, charge!  On, Stanley, on!’

Were the last words of Marmion.”

(Source: Marmion, Sir Walter Scott, public)

The “Stanley” referred to in the poem is Edward, the first Earl of Derby, and not the team. Instead, two journalists, Harry Crossley and Allan Lamber borrowed this line to write a song to inspire Accrington Stanley to victory against Torquay United after the club reached the third round of the FA Cup in 1953, the first time Stanley had got that far in almost 30 years. 

The song’s lyrics were published in the Accrington Observer on 12 December 1953. A version of the song, recorded by the Accrington Male Voice Choir, was played over the loudspeaker before the game. The music helped inspire Stanley to a 2 – 2 draw, though the replay saw Flodden Field recreated, as Stanley was slaughtered 5 – 1.

‘On Stanley, On’ became a popular song for supporters in the 1950s and 1960s with new versions recorded, including one by the local band Red Dawn and the Stanley Choir. However, the club itself was not so popular. It collapsed in 1966, and its current incarnation was formed in 1968. 

Stanley’s collapse and resurrection was, for many years, the most famous thing about the club. However, as it has steadily climbed the league, it has become more well-known. A fact that led to considerable angst for the band Accrington Stanley. As their lead singer, Dan O’Farrell, explained in 2013, they were counting on the club remaining obscure:

We chose [our] name in early 1986… purely because I had this ace book called The History of Football, and there was a picture of a football crowd watching an Accrington Stanley match in the 1930s… Accrington Stanley was only ever mentioned as a sad story from going bust in the 60s. It had the ring of the underdog about it. Now, [their name is] a bit of a pain, as it renders us very hard to Google or find on YouTube.

‘On Stanley On’s’ popularity has waned in recent decades. However, in May 2011, the Accrington Observer campaigned to resurrect it for a crunch play-off tie with Stevenage Borough. Reporters for the paper handed out song sheets to fans before the game. Sadly, the song couldn’t inspire the players to another famous result, Stanley lost its home game 2 – 0 and the return leg 1 – 0.

Before the game, Accrington Stanley chief executive Rob Heys told the Observer:

I’ve heard the song a few times. There is a lot of history associated with it. I am sure some of the older supporters remember it fondly, and if people were to sing it again, that would be great.”

Another link between Stanley and Flodden Field made ‘On Stanley On’ a perfect line to borrow for a football song.

King James IV of Scotland was the last British King to die on a battlefield. After the battle, his body was taken to Sheen Priory in Richmond, Surrey, where it remained until the 16th century before it disappeared – though it’s believed it’s buried underneath the fairway of the Royal Mid-Surrey Golf Club.

While the body remains missing, at least until the golf club decides to check beneath the 14th green, there’s an easy way to identify King James once found – he has no head. This is because the King’s head became detached from his body before being transported to Sheen Priory. And, legend has it, the last time anyone saw the King’s head was when a group of Elizabethan workmen found it and decided they would use it to play a game… a game of football.

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