Fairy tale stories are what make the FA Cup special. Three months ago, League Two side Accrington Stanley were facing extinction, threatened with a winding up order by the English tax authorities after an unpaid bill of £308,000 (Dh1.85m). The club was saved - thanks to fundraising from supporters and investment from local businessmen - and today they host Premier League side Fulham with the chance to make club history. "All the lads feared for their future," said the captain Andrew Procter, "they've got mortgages and families.
"But credit to them, when the winding up order was all going through the courts we had a great month, beating the likes of Morecambe and Notts County away." Lying in 11th place in League Two, English football's fourth tier, Stanley are used to fighting to survive. They were reformed in 1968 after the original incarnation of the club went into liquidation in 1966, ironically because of an unpaid tax bill. They have slowly risen through non-league before achieving promotion to the Football League in 2006.
Accrington is a town of just 35,000 people in Lancashire, a hot bed of football, and the club has to fight for attention with a host of other teams, including top-flight neighbours Burnley and Blackburn. Stanley have the third lowest average attendance in the top four divisions, with just over 2,000 turning up for most games, and one of the smallest playing budgets. Helping them make the most of their meagre resources is John Coleman, the third longest-serving manager in England behind Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger. He has been at the club for 11 years and that stability, said Procter, is a huge part of their success.
"He has been able to build and develop his teams without fear of the sack," he said. "It's meant he's been able to bring young players through and that's starting to bear fruit now. The average age of our squad is now just over 21, which can only be good for the club." Beating Fulham would not only be a major and lucrative scalp (Stanley earned £67,5000 for beating Gillingham in the fourth round) but would also be the furthest the club has progressed in football's oldest cup competition.
"There's no pressure on us as we are massive underdogs," added Procter, 26, Stanley's longest-serving player after joining in 2002. "They are a team packed with internationals, so we'll go out and enjoy it. "We'll certainly have more chance at home, as our ground isn't very inviting. Anything can happen in the FA Cup." @Email:email@example.com