I’ve been asked a few times this week why Accrington? Why was this the big away day? Why were tickets for this match like gold dust? At times I have struggled to find an answer to that. Perhaps it’s because they were held up as the banner of our demise. This was how far we had sunk. I mean who are they? Exactly. Perhaps it was because this was an opportunity to take over a ground and show League One just how big Sunderland are. Standing in The Crown before the match though I had my answer.
Whilst Charlie Methven stood at the front chatting to fans I was ensconced at the back talking to a group of elderly Accrington fans, one of whom boasted of being in his 90th year and still outshouting all the others. They spoke to me about The Crown and how it had previously given the stadium its name before the Crown Ground became the Wham stadium. They also told me that extra terracing had been rushed through in time purely for the visit of “you boys” as they called us. Since relegation to League One we have all spoken about finding football again and reconnecting with what we fell in love with and here was the epitome of what football was all about.
The Crown has a souvenir shop in it where you can buy Accrington Stanley socks. The bar has t shirts hanging up saying “Don’t Worry be Accy” and of course, you can buy souvenir milk bottles. The Napoli flip flops baffled me a little but i’m Sure there’s a reason behind it. There was never a hint of anything but a warm welcome for the visiting Sunderland fans and it struck me while talking to those chaps that just as we were fascinated by this small stadium they too were fascinated by the influx of visitors. There was mutual curiosity.
Walking down slippery steps from the Crown to the Wham stadium and past the marquees where Christmas music battled against the throes of Wise Men Say your feet found muddy puddles and once you got to the away end you were greeted by friendly stewards. Just before going through the turnstiles a sign welcomed you and thanked you for travelling 120 miles to be with them today. It’s the small touches that make you feel like a welcome guest. Accrington were determined to be convivial hosts and they were. Bars that sold proper beer including one housed in a double decker bus just added to the unique experience of the day.
The match of course failed to live up to any expectations at all but that was not what we were really there for anyway. Enjoy Accrington away they said. Well do you know what, I bloody loved it. Thank you to everyone at Accrington Stanley, a club that has absolutely got it right. Maybe get a roof for that terrace though!