Accrington anticipating better times

For vastly different reasons, Accrington Stanley and Manchester United legend Sir Bobby Charlton are two of the most iconic names in English football.

Charlton is revered for his gentlemanly play and for collecting every major honour during a glittering career that included winning the World Cup with England in 1966 and the European Cup with Manchester United two years later.

Accrington Stanley, on the other hand, are famous for winning very little in more than 100 years of stunning under-achievement, for having an unusually romantic name, going out of existence in 1962 before reforming in 1968 and a famous 1980s television advert for milk which poked fun at their failure.

The advert later become a global internet sensation and helped to spread their fame so that they now have fan clubs in Australia, the United States and Scandinavia.

Charlton is among many who admit a soft spot for Stanley of England's League Two, saying such clubs are vital to the game and sharing in the fans' delight when the club last week escaped being wound up for a second time.

"If you love football then Accrington Stanley are very important - never mind their results - because they, and many other smaller clubs like them, are the lifeblood of our game," Charlton told Reuters.

"But Accrington is a bit more special. The name has a romantic attachment to it," added Charlton, who was at Wembley for the unveiling of a bust of England's World Cup-winning coach Alf Ramsey.

Accrington survived a winding-up order from the British tax authorities because investment banker Ilyas Khan, a lifelong Accrington fan, long-time benefactor and now the club's non-executive chairman, organised a rescue package.

He helped to settle what remained of a 308,000-pound tax debt and promised to put the club on a more sound financial footing, hopefully allowing them to move up the league.

CHARITY CHAIRMAN

Khan, 47, was born in 1962, the year that the old Stanley folded, and recently returned to England after working as a banker in Hong Kong for 20 years.

A man of many business interests, with companies in Australia and Colombia, he is also chairman of the Leonard Cheshire Disability charity, one of Britain's most prominent care organisations.

His real passion lies at Accrington's Crown Ground in north-west England. Over the years he says he has lost count of the "hundreds of thousands of pounds" of his own money he has put into the club.

He helped to buy their floodlights from Bury and has sponsored matches, kits and away travel. Part of the ground is now named the Sophia Khan stand after his mother.

An out-and-out optimist, he is realistic about the club's prospects.

"Like every person involved in football I am a dreamer but we have to stay grounded so that we never get into financial trouble again," Khan said in a telephone interview with Reuters.

"In the next six months to a year, our aim is stability and being able to finish as high as possible in League Two, and certainly higher than we finished for the last three seasons.

"Within the next three to five years we need to be able to jostle towards the Championship.

"We have a lot of positives, we are blessed in many ways. We are situated right in the crucible of League football.