Heys: Betting ban won’t taint my love for Accrington Stanley
‘PRIVILEGED and honoured to have been managing director of Accrington Stanley Football Club. Always a supporter. Always.’ Those are the words with which Rob Heys sums up his feelings for Stanley on his newly modified biography on Twitter.
No longer can it simply say ‘Accrington Stanley managing director’, after a 21-month ban from football for FA betting offences recently forced him to resign from his long-serving role at the club.
It was an era of great success on the field and turbulence off the field. He holds dear the memories of his time with Stanley, and everything it led to.
On that Twitter profile, the background image is of his climb of Mount Kilimanjaro, as part of a Football League charity expedition in 2011.
“When you get back and you’re fighting the challenges of ownership wrangles and financial problems, Kilimanjaro was much easier!” he jokes now.
Never one to take himself too seriously, Heys retains his trademark sense of humour.
That he has found himself in such a serious situation, suspended from football and unemployed, has come as a shock.
We meet in a cafe in the centre of Accrington and the suit has been replaced by a casual T-shirt.
He had dreamt of seeing Stanley play at Wembley during his time at the club, but instead Wembley was the place where his time at the club was effectively ended.
Having accepted 735 breaches of FA betting regulations – despite insisting he did not realise the rules applied to office staff – he received his lengthy ban from the game at a hearing at the national stadium in August.
An appeal at the same venue last month was unsuccessful.
“It kind of taints it a little bit because your dream is to go to Wembley with Accrington and I’ve done it twice but not for the reason I wanted,” he said. Stanley chairman Peter Marsden attended both hearings to support him.
“I’d never been in trouble before.
“I went through school without a detention, literally, it’s that silly.
“When I got to the hearing I expected a ban because you’ve broken the rules. But I had a month to three months in my mind. I could forego three months’ salary and get back into my job.
“Twenty one months took a while to sink in.
“The guidelines they used to decide my punishment would have been the same if I’d been the goalkeeper playing in the game.
“Unfortunately the amount of offences I admitted to voluntarily provided them the rope to hang me with. I got three months’ credit apparently. It was going to be a two-year ban.”
The reaction from people has been largely supportive.
“One lady came up to me after one of the games and said she wasn’t happy with what I did and didn’t think I should be at the club still,” he said. “I accept her point. She was good enough to say it to my face, although I had my daughter in my hands at the time.
“But apart from that everyone has been positive, I’ve had so many messages and letters, I’ve had support from the board apart from one director.
“I’ve had a lot of support from people in football in general too.
“A lot of people, and I won’t name any names, have said for the grace of God go I and if they checked our betting accounts we’d probably end up with a similar amount of offences. I think people just didn’t know that there was anything wrong with it.”
Heys has always been keen to stress that his betting on football was recreational rather than being based on inside knowledge or an attempt to influence matches.
Far from benefiting, he actually lost more than £2,000 over 10 years.
In an attempt to balance the negative publicity of his ban, Heys has taken the unusual step of disclosing his salary during his time at Stanley – as well as the money he put into the club.
As managing director he earned £26,000 a year, and a year ago he wrote off a £17,000 loan to the club.
He invested £10,000 when he officially joined the board – money he is still repaying – and took out a loan of £30,000 this summer to help pay wages at the club.
“I don’t envisage being out of work for a long period of time so it’s not going to cause me too much hardship, but I never earned an awful lot of money at Accrington anyway so I’ve never been awash with cash,” he said.
“There are at least two chief executives and managing directors on six-figure sums in League Two. But at Accrington that’s significantly less, £26,000.
“There’s a lot less stress now but then you feel a little bit sorry for those left behind. It’s not quite as easy to walk into a job with the market as it is, and I would have preferred not to have left in the way that I left, but you’ve got to keep positive.”
Heys is proud to have been part of the club when it returned to the Football League. A lifelong fan, it was his enthusiasm for Stanley that saw him first get involved.
“I was doing an unofficial website when we were in the UniBond First Division, for which I got called in by John Coleman and shouted at!” he laughed.
“Later they were looking for someone to do an official website voluntarily, and then the chance to get more involved came up.
“I was a computer programmer, I was earning more than I earned at Accrington at any point, but I wasn’t particularly enjoying it.
“Anyone who says they don’t enjoy the kudos of being involved at a club isn’t telling the truth.
“My dad and my grandad used to take me on as a kid. Seeing the club reach the Football League was a dream come true.
“I haven’t missed a home game since it all happened. It’s back to a genuine supporter experience.
“It is a little bit strange at times, because you want to help. At one game I noticed the pitch could do with some fertiliser and it’s just silly things like that. It’s not for me to stick my nose in now, but I’ll always be there to help.”
Heys hopes he can return to football when his ban expires.
“I think I’ve got a lot to offer,” he said. “It would be great to get back involved at Accrington but 21 months is a long time. It’s not worth having the conversation yet.
“There’s still unfinished business for me at Accrington, one more promotion. There are still things I’d like to do.”
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