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Safe hands at Stanley's Trust

7 December 2012

By Tony Dewhurst

Martin Fearon, Accrington Stanley's Community manager, is a safe pair of hands.

"Life can get a bit hectic at times," he smiled, sat behind the desk of his tidy office at Oswaldtwistle Mills Business and Conference Centre, a couple of miles across town from Accrington's Crown Ground.

"I'm a goalkeeper with Chester, so I train twice a week. On a Friday I coach the goalkeepers at Accrington Stanley's Academy.

"On Saturday I play for Chester and then I train the Academy 'keepers on Sunday. Sometimes you don't get chance for a cup of tea, but this job is special in terms of what you can do for the community and how that community perceives the football club.

"It's strange, we are probably the smallest Football League club, but in some ways perhaps the most well known because we have such a famous name and that can be really helpful."

Accrington born and bred, at just 24 Fearon is one of the youngest community chiefs in the League, but he is already steeped in the history of the club and cuts an impressive figure as he discusses the challenges ahead.

"I've only had the job for 13 months, but I'm enjoying every minute of it, " he said.

"In the early stages of managing the business I got out and talked to older community managers, Keith Hicks at Rochdale and Paul Weller at Bury.

"You can't buy that sort of experience, but we all help each other out because that's the nature of the business.

"I suppose you have to be a quick learner. For example, we launched Accrington Stanley's first ever education trust course last September, the Futsal Education Scholarships in conjunction with the Football League Trust.

"We had no computers, nothing really. I managed to put a funding bid together, which was successful in obtaining the equipment we needed.

"We worked really hard in the schools and in grassroots football, recruiting 20 full-time students for the course.

"It has gone really well, with a lot of positive feedback, so that's very satisfying and is just the start of our ventures into education for the community."

He added: "It is only a small community programme, I've got two full-time and two part-time staff and we make the best of what we've got. My aim is to grow it a little bit each week and I'm very proud of what we are doing here.

"It is a great challenge - a bit like growing a business from scratch."

When Fearon was handed the gloves as an eight-year-old with local amateurs Huncoat United, Accrington Stanley were still plying their trade in the foothills of non-league football.

He later signed a two-year scholarship - before turning pro with Stanley after six years at Burnley's Centre of Excellence, and his career path took a different turn.

And it was probably a natural progression for Fearon, who attended Moorland High School in the town and still has his home in Accrington.

"I was doing a bit of coaching in the community while I was a professional. I then landed the post of Development Officer, then Assistant Community Manager and now here I am as Community Manager - this is a special job.

"Having that local knowledge and contacts has opened a lot of doors, but you have to look at all different areas now because the community schemes have changed beyond recognition.

"A few years ago it was soccer schools and a bit of coaching in schools, now there's so many things happening."

Accrington are fishing in a big fan pool, though, These days, caught between the soccer bastions of Burnley and Blackburn, 3,000 would be a good gate.

"We've just got to try and increase the awareness of Stanley to boost attendances and hopefully have Burnley and Blackburn fans attend when their teams are away from home," said Martin.

"It is a real challenge to increase our fan base, but that's one of the crucial roles of the community, to try and get that message out.

"We have to try and raise the awareness of Accrington Stanley through the community by telling people what they can offer the community by coming on board."

While Martin still enjoys pulling on the green jersey every Saturday, he admits expanding Accrington's community role remains his top priority.

"I made around 25 substitute appearances for Stanley in League 2, and although I never played in the League for them, I enjoyed some special moments," he said.

He recalled Accrington meeting Everton in a private friendly at Goodison Park in 2007 and added: "I played for the last half hour and Everton had Phil Neville, Tim Howard, Joleon Lescott and Mikel Arteta on the pitch.

"For a young kid at 17 it was a surreal experience playing against international stars. James Beattie, who is now at Accrington, scored and we lost 1-0.

"Three days later the same Everton side beat Arsenal 2-1 in the Premier League."

"Playing football is a privilege - but my role as Accrington's Community Manager is my main priority and it is a pleasure to be involved with this football club."

For more information about the Futsal Education Programme for 16-18 year old boys and girls, available at numerous Football League clubs, please click here

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