A LONG TIME IN FOOTBALL – ANDY HOLT'S 2nd ANNIVERSARY! ‘A WILD TWO YEARS!'
An interview with Club Owner and Chairman Andy Holt
Andy Holt has now been the majority shareholder in Accrington Stanley for two years. It was a vote taken on the evening of October 28, 2015, which placed Andy in control and would begin a new era for the famous old club.
At the time of the regime change the club was in a bad way, spiralling debt and poor attendances threated the very existence of the club and Andy wasn't entirely aware of what he was getting himself into.
“I walked into a bankrupt club,” says Andy. “A club that couldn't pay its bills - it couldn't even pay for the pies or beer. It was swapping advertising space for pies and they then couldn't be bothered to sell them. They had a load of pies left over.”
Accrington Stanley was, until very recently, the smallest club in the English Football League's 92 in terms of turnover and stadium capacity. Debts, which to larger clubs may have been manageable, had been accrued over previous years and were pushing the club towards the precipice.
The lack of funds at the club became glaringly evident in July 2015 during a famous 4-2 home victory against local rivals Burnley.
“So the bar ran dry. And when I say dry, I mean dry. I don't mean a bit dry – if you turned the tap on at the sink it wouldn't run. It was dry. I'm telling you now it was like the Gobi Desert in there.
“It (the club) was in bad shape. It hadn't paid wages to the players. It couldn't pay wages if it wanted to because the bank would only let it pay £20,000 out in a day and wages are £100,000 so they weren't all getting paid at the same time - it was a lottery. The club needed a clean slate – despite the heroic efforts of the previous owners and directors to keep it afloat.”
On the second anniversary of the new chairman's stewardship, Accrington Stanley will arrive at the Wham Stadium for their League 2 match against Barnet in third place and only two points adrift of league leaders Luton Town.
Andy knew from very early on in his tenure, that once the finances of the club were shored up, it would take increased revenue streams and investment in infrastructure if reaching League 1 was going to happen in the near future.
Despite the time and money Andy has invested in the club he feels like any other fan. He pays his money on the door like everyone else that attends the Wham Stadium and, despite a few tribulations, is happy with his decision to buy the club and to invest in it.
“I'm not disappointed I did it,” says Andy. “Like I said, part of the reason for doing it in the first place was the community of Accrington and that still remains true to this day.
“It's like planting bulbs in the garden in winter. It's a pain in the backside at times; it's hard work, it costs you money but when they flower in spring you get satisfaction and a feeling of achievement from having done something well. But many people don't see you doing the planting.”
One of the latest seeds on the agenda to be cultivated is the new training ground project, which will hopefully produce Stanley's stars of the future.
“I'm paying for all these surveys and searches and God knows what – there's been bat surveys because it's near woods! There's all sorts. But, at the end of the day, if it doesn't get planning permission when we apply, it doesn't get planning permission, there's not a lot I can do, and we will look for an alternative site for the training ground.
“A training centre is crucial because one of the income streams is selling players - whether we like it or not. It's a fact of life that Accrington Stanley needs income from all areas.
“I'm looking at training more kids up that can get through to the first team, not less. You know an academy is a big feature and it's great. We've got Ross Sykes, from Bleak House in Burnley, and Reagan Ogle, who moved to Accy as a young lad from Australia, in the first team squad now. That's what it's all about.”
The man tasked with moulding the current crop of players into promotion material, John Coleman, is synonymous with Accrington Stanley, having enjoyed a testimonial at the club on his return a couple of years ago.
Despite the excellent relationship enjoyed by Andy and John, it doesn't mean there cannot be tensions between the two.
“I've had few stand-up rows with John – usually when he's cheating at cards on the team bus,” says Andy. “We don't manage to get through many games without falling out - then we share a bottle of wine and have a laugh about it. We're too similar. John has a fiery a temper, Jimmy (Bell – Assistant Manager) is calmer. They work well together.”
There is no lack of ambition at the Wham Stadium. Whereas some chairmen may think that promotion could bring nothing but additional pressures and costs, Andy welcomes the challenge but is pragmatic about what the consequences could be of financially mismanaging promotion.
“I'm not one of those chairmen that doesn't want to go up but it is a big risk for a club who grows above its status. I want to get to League 1. I will worry about anything else after then but I definitely want to get to League 1,” says Andy. “The problem with promotion is, all your wages go up, but if you come straight back down, you could find yourself in trouble because your revenue comes down but your costs don't fall in line. That's why you have to build all income aspects of the club as you rise.”
Andy takes pride in Stanley being a family club, a community club, a club which gives everyone a good experience; whether they are standing with the Stanley Ultras or travelling away support coming to enjoy the game and a pint at the new, McMurrays Haulage and Bowland Brewery sponsored FanZone.
“There's no violence or anything. I went round talking to the Coventry fans at the away end once and one of the fans said ‘I was last here in 1959 – I bought a programme' so I gave him a badge and said ‘Listen, you're now here in 2017, and this badge is all you're taking away today.' It's a friendly club. It's a non-threatening club.
“We've got a lot of people appreciating us now. I want our attitude to be that anyone who comes to Stanley is welcome and will be looked after. We want things that are really needed. Accrington Stanley fans have paid for the big TV with their efforts, they're raising money still. It's massive. All the income streams are up and running – player sales, shirt sales, programme sales. It's good. We've got a new electric supply coming.”
The transition from two years ago is quite remarkable. And the next stage in the development of Accrington Stanley is to re-engage the youth and the wider community with the club. The feeling at the Wham Stadium is that the period of survival is now over and it is now time to usher in a period of expansion, starting with the numbers through the turnstiles.
One of the projects which will be undertaken soon, to get more fans through the door, is the construction of the new stand which will incorporate a dedicated Family Area, catering for young and old alike, and is designed to foster the community atmosphere that the club is famous for.
“I'm not having this rubbish that we're a little club. I think we do ourselves proud,” says Andy. “We are where we are and I think we deserve to be where we are. Phase Two is about to start – we're going to go out and work incredibly hard to build our future fan base. We need to build the fan base. Our effort isn't saving the club, that's done. Our effort now is growing the club.”
There have been lots of ups and downs for Andy since he took control of Stanley but his passion for the club and the wider community is undeniable.
I asked Andy to sum up his tenure at Accrington Stanley in one sentence.
“It's been a wild, rollercoaster two years.”
Above Current Plans for the summer of 2018 replacement of the Whinney Hill Stand.
Below Current Whinney Hill Stand construction.
Owner Andy Holt enjoyed a pint in the McMurrays Haulage and Bowland Brewery FanZone