Rough guide to
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'05-06 season index
Rough guide to... Stockport County
20 May 2005
If Stockport were a politician they would be Michael Howard. Last season, like the moral tone of Howard's recent election campaign, they hit the bottom early and never picked up.
In August they won 4-0 at Blackpool, which as false dawns go must rank alongside those Monday mornings when you wake up and think it's still the weekend, as they were 24th out of 24 by the end of the following month and were still there in May, having been relegated while the daffodils were still coming out. It was awful; as my Five Live namesake Alan would say, absolutely awful.
Halfway through the 1990s John Major was warbling on about cycling to church with warm maids and old beer, Tony Blair was looking forward to partying with Oasis, and Stockport County Football Club had just enjoyed five consecutive top-six finishes under their mysterious Uruguayan manager Danny Bergara. Had Major marked his premiership by imposing tolls on the road from Cheshire to Wembley, he might never have had to fund tax cuts by selling off the railways, as most of the population of Stockport decamped to the national stadium several times for the finals of many a promotion play-off and lower-league tournament sponsored by manufacturers of car windscreens.
Bergara's successor Dave Jones took the side onwards and upwards to the second flight and a belting run to the semi-finals of the League Cup, but his departure for Southampton in '97 seems to have been County's equivalent of the moment Bryan Huxford decided it would be a really brilliant idea to sack Alan Buckley for drawing 1-1 at Portsmouth.
Mansfield supporters may wish to look away now. The eighth place in the second flight achieved by Stocky (as they are called by nobody at all) in 1998 was the last time they finished higher than 16th in any division; since then it's been a slow pageant of agony, ruination, carnage and Carlton Palmer, with bottom-place finishes in 2002 and 2005. And not just any old bottom-place finishes: in both seasons they won six, drew eight, and lost 32, ending on a spectacularly insufficient 26 points.
In short, it has taken Stockport ten years to achieve the degree of self-destruction that Town recently managed in three. Well, there's no point rushing things.
Do we like them?
We may not love the Hatters like we love Charlton, but on the grand scale of footballing affection and antipathy they nestle comfortably towards the cuddly end. There was that unseemly Challinor/Pringle business back in 2002, but County's then player-manager Carlton Palmer handled the situation admirably, subbing Challinor off, fining him two weeks' wages, and getting himself red-carded for giving Mark Clattenburg a load of stick about it. Over the years Stockport have a happy knack of making Town look good, having lost to us in the league ten times more than they've beaten us, and even when we've come off worse, Edgeley Park is one of the nicer of the many venues at which the Mariners have been roundly humiliated in recent seasons.
Imagine you are writing a piece of drama or fiction in which you wish to satirise the deeply embarrassing words and deeds of football club chairmen. You brush up on the complete works of Mark Guterman, Paul Scally, Ken Bates and George Reynolds. You milk a few Freddy Shepherd quotes out of Google. You read about the former chairman of Stockport, Bernard Elwood, who wished to relocate the club to Maine Road when Man City moved out and rename it Man-Stock County. And then you give up, because nothing you could write would ever beat Elwood's masterpiece of self-parody.
Elwood stepped aside in 2003 when the club was bought by some people called Cheshire Sport, who own some people called Sale Sharks, who play something called rugby, apparently. And since 2003 they've played it at Edgeley Park. Pennies dropping? Yes – straight out of County's playing budget. Stockport's supporters' trust will acquire the club on 1 July, though Cheshire Sport is retaining the ground, just so the fans still have something to go "grrr!" about. The trust will have a ten-year first option to buy it before the property developers move in for the kill.
A lot of decent players have signed for Stockport recently - and then buggered off somewhere else. Aaron Wilbraham. Luke Beckett. Warren Feeney. And, of course, Rob Jones. This close-season County are doing the whole big cleary-outy thing, and as this is the first rough guide of the summer their playing roster is currently as bare as Russell Slade's shiny bonce.
Their former Leeds winger Harpal Singh may finally realise some of his potential. More than competent defending may be expected from the youthful duo of Ashley Williams and Michael Raynes (who looks for all the world from his picture on Stockport's official site like a 12-year-old alcopop guzzler). Adam Le Fondre, reportedly watched by nearby McDonalds Glazer Allstars, may well fill his teenage striking boots at the expense of the fourth division's less mobile defenders. But I reckon Stockport's Yeo dude for 2005–06 is yet to be signed.
Chris Turner's proven ability at this level plus vigorous vocal support at home and away, fuelled by a sugar rush of optimism from the trust buyout, equals an irresistible springtime surge into the play-off positions.
Why don't you just switch off from the football and go out and do something less boring instead?
The Stockport Official Guide describes Stockport as "aspirational, accessible, diverse and welcoming... a friendly and fascinating place to live – and to visit". Crap Towns describes Stockport as a place where anyone without a shaven head, gold jewellery and outfitting by Messrs Rockport, Timberland or Kicker "faces daily verbal and physical abuse". Should you take your chances on the town and eschew the joys of association football, you might while away the afternoon at the splendid Victorian amenity that is Vernon Park, or take in some local history at Stockport Museum of Hatting ("the UK's first and only museum dedicated to the exciting world of hats and hat making", boasts the council).
Call me a spacehead, though, but I'd prefer a Jodrell Bank to a hat museum. In this context that isn't rhyming slang.