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?â€™ 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 â€˜Football in the Communityâ€™ over six years ago, with the aim of bringing the professional club and their community closer together.
Activities and events range from â€˜Little Stanley Kickers,â€™ coaching and football for two to four year olds, weekly disability football sessions which saw over 100 people participate in its first year and â€˜Itâ€™s a Goal programme,â€™ taking place at the Crown Ground every Wednesday to help young men suffering with depression.
Impressively, Stanley were one of the first foundationâ€™s to trial and implement the â€˜Futsal scholarship,â€™ 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.
â€œBeing a smaller club, perhaps we are more in touch with our community,â€ he explained.
â€œThe 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.
â€œThe 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 itâ€™s something everyone can do and that in itself brings the community together.â€
As the breeding ground of Englandâ€™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 womenâ€™s game, with Manchester City and Liverpool investing heavily and now competing with the traditional leaders Arsenal and Everton.
Stanleyâ€™s neighbours Blackburn Rovers ply their trade in the Womenâ€™s Premier League, a division below the elite full-time level.
Amy Bland is in Roversâ€™ first team and began her role as womenâ€™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.
â€œThe biggest difficulty we face is trying to get girls playing in teams,â€ she explained.
â€œDue to stereotyping, many girls donâ€™t feel they are able to or should be able to play football and thatâ€™s crazy considering weâ€™re in the 21st century.
â€œMy 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.â€
Fellow League Two side Burton Albionâ€™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 Brewersâ€™ community work, which has arguably seen the biggest positive changes in the clubâ€™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.
â€œWe look at a local level in Staffordshire, make sure its bigger and better than other local provisions,â€ he said.
â€œWe have targeted families who are at the cusp of deprivation and classed as at risk.
â€œThe Burton Albion Trust attempts to deliver a whole family approach from babies to over 50s projects.
â€œFor the people over 50, we have participation projects such as â€˜Golden Goalâ€™ where people are able to come and play various sports as well as take yoga and computer classes.â€
So why donâ€™t hear about this amicable work?
A politicianâ€™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.
â€œHistorically there was an ignorance as the media didnâ€™t really realise what we did and just thought we were a football in schools type organisation,â€ he said.
â€œBut when we got past that, and got some direct contact it was better.
â€œSometimes theyâ€™ll send an education journalist to events but on some player appearances theyâ€™ll send a sports journalist which is okay but weâ€™ll end up in a small section in the paper.
â€œIf any player thatâ€™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.â€
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 nationâ€™s Community Club of the Year.
The shortlisted clubs are Brentford (South East Winner)â€¨Derby County (Midlands Winner)â€¨Doncaster Rovers (North East Winner)â€¨Morecambe (North West Winner)â€¨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 Athleticâ€™s trusts in particular demonstrate some of the differences between the projects.
Charlton, who scooped last yearâ€™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 boroughâ€™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.
â€œWe have a free school which is a topic thatâ€™s receiving a lot of bad press at the moment with questions raised over their effectiveness and if theyâ€™re good or bad things,â€ he said.
â€œWe have a Â£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.
â€œItâ€™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.
â€œWeâ€™re not educationalists so we work with Derby Moor Community Sports College and itâ€™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 theyâ€™re excellent at and we do what we are excellent at.â€
The work of the Ramsâ€™ trust extends further than the county of Derbyshire.
Back down the A38, Carnall and his team helped pioneer Burton Albionâ€™s scheme, something that Andy Taylor is forever grateful for.
â€œThey (Derby) have built on solid foundations for a number of years and have given us invaluable advice.
â€œThey have good facilities and the support of the football club.
â€œI like to feel weâ€™ve created a smaller version of that and we must remember weâ€™re never going to have the same number of staff as them.
â€œDerby have worked with key partners and built up a workforce overtime that delivers high quality and thatâ€™s what we are doing here but theyâ€™ve been there or there abouts for the community award for a number of years and I hope they go on and win it.â€
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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