BY EMILY LILES
Since the infamous 1980s milk advert, Accrington Stanley have been teased by football followers across the country and have retained the Accrington Stanley, who are they?’ stereotype.
But, the people of Accrington, situated in the Hyndburn borough of Lancashire, certainly know who they are.
With attendances averaging just 1600, the club are generally regarded as the smallest outfit in the Football League, and under the guidance of manager James Beattie, are currently punching above their weight in League Two.
Off the field, the work of the Accrington Stanley Community Trust, the charitable arm of the club continues to flourish.
It was originally established under the banner of ‘Football in the Community’ over six years ago, with the aim of bringing the professional club and their community closer together.
Activities and events range from ‘Little Stanley Kickers,’ coaching and football for two to four year olds, weekly disability football sessions which saw over 100 people participate in its first year and ‘It’s a Goal programme,’ taking place at the Crown Ground every Wednesday to help young men suffering with depression.
Impressively, Stanley were one of the first foundation’s to trial and implement the ‘Futsal scholarship,’ where boys of school leaving age can play futsal for the club whilst also gaining a BTEC National Extended Diploma in Sport, equivalent to three A-Levels at the same time.
In December 2013, the club allocated leadership positions to four first team regulars to work alongside the foundation under the key focus areas in education, social inclusion, sports participation and health and wellbeing.
The four ambassadors liaise with the Community Trust and help drive community initiatives.
Club captain Luke Joyce, who is a pivotal link between club and trust as well as the social inclusion representative is highly praised by the trust and says the size of the club benefits its community work.
“Being a smaller club, perhaps we are more in touch with our community,” he explained.
“The four representatives are some of the more experienced players and the likes of Nicky Hunt (education) have played at the top level and can help inspire youngsters to achieve their dreams.
“The club is extremely family orientated and when we go down into the town, we work with whole families and at the same time encourage them to come and watch matches on a Saturday afternoon as it’s something everyone can do and that in itself brings the community together.”
As the breeding ground of England’s two most successful clubs as well home to a plethora of Football League organisations, the north-west is renowned for its passion for football.
In recent years, the region has focused heavily on the women’s game, with Manchester City and Liverpool investing heavily and now competing with the traditional leaders Arsenal and Everton.
Stanley’s neighbours Blackburn Rovers ply their trade in the Women’s Premier League, a division below the elite full-time level.
Amy Bland is in Rovers’ first team and began her role as women’s and girls football officer at Accrington Stanley in January 2014 and she says introduction to football is highly beneficial to girls in their teenager years.
“The biggest difficulty we face is trying to get girls playing in teams,” she explained.
“Due to stereotyping, many girls don’t feel they are able to or should be able to play football and that’s crazy considering we’re in the 21st century.
“My role is to dispel that myth and encourage girls to try sports which of course has a positive impact on other areas such as health.”
Fellow League Two side Burton Albion’s rise both at football and academy level has been impressive.
Prior to promotion from the Conference Premier in 2009, the club did not have an academy but has gone on to become a stable, Football League outfit.
But, perhaps the largest untold story is the rise in the Brewers’ community work, which has arguably seen the biggest positive changes in the club’s recent history.
Like the academy, the Trust began in 2009 and now has 22 full-time staff, more than the football club itself.
The charity delivers programmes to over 6000 people per week and Community manager, Andy Taylor, believes the key to success is keeping it local.
“We look at a local level in Staffordshire, make sure its bigger and better than other local provisions,” he said.
“We have targeted families who are at the cusp of deprivation and classed as at risk.
“The Burton Albion Trust attempts to deliver a whole family approach from babies to over 50s projects.
“For the people over 50, we have participation projects such as ‘Golden Goal’ where people are able to come and play various sports as well as take yoga and computer classes.”
So why don’t hear about this amicable work?
A politician’s hospital or school visit will adorn our television screens and newspaper pages but the good work of football clubs largely goes unnoticed.
The general consensus amongst those working within the trusts is that football related news will always take priority, something Ian Laithwaite, head of Bolton Wanderers Community Trust echoes.
“Historically there was an ignorance as the media didn’t really realise what we did and just thought we were a football in schools type organisation,” he said.
“But when we got past that, and got some direct contact it was better.
“Sometimes they’ll send an education journalist to events but on some player appearances they’ll send a sports journalist which is okay but we’ll end up in a small section in the paper.
“If any player that’s involved in any controversy attends an event, the charity element gets shrunk a little bit as the sports journalist is quite keen to have half an hour with the player about his football and there is a lack of understanding of the event, aims and objectives of the trust and we lose out.”
One event that is likely to gain wider coverage is The 2014 Football League awards event taking place at The Brewery, in London on March 16 where five regional winners battle it out to become the nation’s Community Club of the Year.
The shortlisted clubs are Brentford (South East Winner) Derby County (Midlands Winner) Doncaster Rovers (North East Winner) Morecambe (North West Winner) Portsmouth (South West Winner.)
Judges consider the objectives of the schemes, their breadth of delivery, innovation, impact and achievements in 2013, alongside each scheme’s flagship project.
The work at Derby County and Charlton Athletic’s trusts in particular demonstrate some of the differences between the projects.
Charlton, who scooped last year’s crown, are renowned for their work in the field and were the first community programme in the country take on the running of Greenwich Council’s Youth Service.
The Trust has increased the number of activity sessions for the borough’s young people during term time from 55 per week to 88 per week and also has a programme specifically designed to help reduce crime.
Derby County are also shortlisted for the third time in four years and Simon Carnall, head of community at Derby County Trust, is adamant a recent flagship project has seen them favoured over other Midlands clubs.
“We have a free school which is a topic that’s receiving a lot of bad press at the moment with questions raised over their effectiveness and if they’re good or bad things,” he said.
“We have a £1.8m school, 200 yards from Pride Park Stadium which houses 50 young people who have been permanently excluded from schools and we felt that best demonstrated what we are about.
“It’s about engaging young people in education, putting them through qualifications, giving them a second chance and an opportunity to fulfill their potential around sport, education or employment and the judges felt that was a worthy cause.
“We’re not educationalists so we work with Derby Moor Community Sports College and it’s a partnership where we use our brand, and our staff for the physical activity but in terms of the teaching, we leave that to those who are qualified and they do what they’re excellent at and we do what we are excellent at.”
The work of the Rams’ trust extends further than the county of Derbyshire.
Back down the A38, Carnall and his team helped pioneer Burton Albion’s scheme, something that Andy Taylor is forever grateful for.
“They (Derby) have built on solid foundations for a number of years and have given us invaluable advice.
“They have good facilities and the support of the football club.
“I like to feel we’ve created a smaller version of that and we must remember we’re never going to have the same number of staff as them.
“Derby have worked with key partners and built up a workforce overtime that delivers high quality and that’s what we are doing here but they’ve been there or there abouts for the community award for a number of years and I hope they go on and win it.”
And who knows, perhaps in a few years time, an Accrington Stanley or Burton Albion may be in contention for the award.
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