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‘Accrington Stanley, Who Are They?’ Advert explained

Word association is a common test used by psychologists in which the participant responds to a stimulus word with the first word that comes to mind. It’s supposed to unravel your subconscious and expose the depths of trauma in some instances.

So, for example, you might associate yellow with banana, drink with juice, and – a more common one -Accrington Stanley with ‘who are they?’.

English football fans have been associating that question with the northern club since the 1980s, with the phrase being popularised by the then-watchable Soccer AM in the noughties. But how and when did Accrington Stanley establish itself in football folklore, and why did the aforementioned phrase become so well-known?

The origins of ‘Accrington Stanley? Who are they?’ dates back to 1989. The phrase is synonymous with a milk ad in which two young Liverpool fans have rushed into the kitchen after having a kick-around.

One asks for lemonade while the other opens the fridge and gets out a bottle of milk. “Milk? Errgghh!” the first kid cries before the milk drinker proudly claims: “It’s what Ian Rush drinks,” with his youthful Scouse accent.

“And he says if I didn’t drink lots of milk when I grow up I’ll only be good enough to play for Accrington Stanley,” the kid adds, to which his friend responds: “ACCRINGTON STANLEY? WHO ARE THEY?”


And there, between those strong Scouse squeals, the notorious phrase was born.

The advert was made at a time when Rush was among Europe’s elite strikers leading the line for the continent’s dominant force. Liverpool won five league titles in the 1980s and twice lifted the European Cup in that decade as well.

Thus, the kids in the advert – young Liverpool fans – aspired to be just like the Welsh hero and drinking milk was the way to go. Otherwise, the little known non-league outfit Accrington Stanley was the alternative.

However, while the advert makes a mockery of the ‘Owd Reds, the advert and phrase which came out of it have long been viewed positively by Stanley fans. In 2012, cult cricket figure David Lloyd said the club garnered £10,000 as a result of the ad.

Accrington Stanley’s on-pitch success has been matched by its commercial rise since the club’s reformation in 1968. The club had to progress through the depths of the football pyramid to get where they are today.

Stanley are currently enjoying one of their longest runs in the FA Cup after they reached the third round proper following victories over Crawley Town and Barnet. A win on Tuesday night in their replay against Boreham Wood and they’ll advance into the fourth round for just the fourth time in their history.

Back in 2009/10, the club beat Salisbury, Barnet and Gillingham before hosting Premier League side Fulham in the fourth round. Michael Symes drew the hosts level in the first half after Erik Nevland’s opener, but Darran Kempson’s second yellow card just before half-time was an obstacle too large for Stanley to overcome.

Damien Duff and Zoltan Gera scored in the second half to seal a 3-1 win for the Cottagers.

Tuesday night’s game is a hugely significant one for Accrington Stanley, even if it comes against a side playing two divisions below. Boreham Wood, who currently sit 12th in the National League, reached the FA Cup fifth round last season and are hoping to produce more magic in 2023.

The two sides played out a 1-1 draw at Meadow Park earlier this month as Boreham Wood’s Lee Ndlovu cancelled out Ryan Astley’s early opener.

The hosts are unsurprisingly favoured and their reward, should they claim victory, is a home fourth round tie against Premier League side Leeds United. It’s a massive cup tie for both teams, with the visitors looking to become just the first non-league side since Telford United in 1985 to reach the FA Cup fourth round in consecutive seasons.

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