The 2012-2013 season will go down as the worst for postponed matches in recent memory. With all of the local non-league divisions handed extensions, it did mean that we could prolong our groundhopping by a couple of weeks perhaps. It’s typical really. A relatively warm day (with a bit of drizzle) saw a few local non-league sides without a scheduled match for one reason or another. Atherton Collieries for example had played 3 matches in 4 days earlier on in the week, only to get to Saturday not to have a match. This caused a bit of a problem for me, as I had no match to go to myself.
Originally, I had planned to attend Wigan v Swansea. However, plans soon changed when Wigan reached the FA Cup semi-final. I was tempted with another trip to Wembley, but I couldn’t be bothered after going to the League Cup Final just a couple months earlier. Bolton weren’t at home either, which meant it was time to fit another ground in.
Well, I say it was time to fit another ground in. It was in fact time to revisit a ground which I never got around to blogging about last time I visited. The last time I went to Edgeley Park was February 2011 when the club were struggling in League Two. The club this time around found itself sitting in the relegation zone of the Blue Square Premier, with only two matches left after a somewhat dull affair with Dartford.
Stockport County finished bottom of the Championship in 2001. Just 12 years later they were facing their fourth relegation which would lead them into the Blue Square North. That is a monumental fall for such an historic club. Going from playing Manchester City, to playing North Ferriby United on a cold Tuesday night in January is a nightmare which was fast becoming reality.
It was a last minute decision to go to Stockport County. After baptising their relegation last time around, I felt it would be rude not to do so again. I was all set to go to Altrincham v Bishops Stortford as Alty aimed to gain promotion out of the Blue Square North, but plans soon changed when I found out that Adam and Alex were going to Edgeley Park.
It wasn’t the football that attracted us. It was the cheap admission for County’s final home match of the season. Prices had been slashed to £8 adults, £5 concessions and £1 for Under 16’s. All fans were encouraged to get to the match early to “avoid disappointment” which we all found quite amusing . In fact, we were that unworried by the prospect of a sell out that we chose to go to the pub first.
I caught the 12:45 train from Atherton to Manchester. I was lucky to get on it, as people were already crammed into every single luggage rack and toilet on the two carriage special operated by Northern Rail. I assumed the role of train conductor, shouting at people to move down the carriage. Unfortunately my skills resembled an incompetent member of Northern Rail staff, and I unfortunately left some people behind on the platform at Atherton. In my opinion they took one for the team.
The journey took a turn for the worse when we stopped at Walkden. A girl with blue lipstick barged herself on to the train and began to moan about her lack of personal space. A bloke then shouted “We’re all in the same position love, now stop moaning!” A few more choice words were exchanged before the man paused, took a deep breath and carefully studied the blue lipstick the girl was donning. We waited with baited breath, waiting for his diplomatic response: “Look love. Shut up. It looks like you’ve given a Smurf a blowjob!”
After a quick change at Salford Crescent, I arrived in Stockport at 13:35 where Alex and Adam had arranged to meet me. True to form, they were nowhere to be seen and neither of them were answering their mobile phones. I was stood there like a plank in my Bolton Wanderers gear whilst all the Manchester City fans were boarding trains down to London for the following days FA Cup Semi-Final.
I eventually tracked them down in a pub right at the bottom of Castle Street in Edgeley. The Royal Oak was a busy pub, full of home and away fans enjoying a drink… when they eventually got served. We had a quick drink in there before pressing on to the ground.
On the approach to the ground you could see the iconic sign which reads “Stockport County A.F.C.” The ground has a traditional feel to it with terraced houses neighbouring the main entrance. Edgeley Park was built in 1901 for the towns rugby club, before the football club moved in 1902.
With queues at the Ticket Office looking beyond ridiculous, the club allowed fans to pay on the turnstile if they wanted to sit in the Cheadle End. I sat in the Cheadle End last time, and it was alright. It wasn’t anything special, but I do love the carpeted concourse.
The large Cheadle End was built in 1995 and holds 5,044 home fans. It is one of the largest “kops” outside of the English Premier League, and is the largest stand in non-league football.
To our left was the Main Stand. This stand was built in 1936 after the previous wooden stand had been burnt down in a fire. It now has 2,020 seats, of which around 400 are used for executive guests. In May 2012, the stand was renamed the Danny Bergara after their late Uruguayan manager.
Opposite the Danny Bergara stand is the Popular Side. This side of the ground was built in 1927, when it was originally a terrace. In 1965, in a match against Liverpool over 16,000 spectators stood at that end of the ground. Something which is unimaginable these days. In 1993, the Popular Side was made all seater and it can now hold 2,411 home and away supporters.
Opposite the Cheadle End is the away end, or the Railway End as it is known traditionally. Before being converted to an all seater end in 2001, it could hold up to 6,000 standing spectators. It now holds around 1,300 away fans who are subjected to the elements as there is no roof. We were tempted to go in the away end, but with the sky looking grey… we weren’t chancing it.
The ground was filling up with a steady stream of spectators for this crucial match for Stockport. It was pleasing to see so many families at the match with their young children. However, as soon as the whistle started, the atmosphere became anything but family friendly.
Stockport favourite and Atherton Collieries stalwart Alan Lord strolled down the pitch towards the Cheadle End where he received a standing ovation off all the home supporters. The fans were shouting his name, and you really did wonder why he wasn’t the manager there. The fans respect him, and he knows the club inside out. He was very nice when we met him briefly in pre season when Jim Gannon was ponsing up and down the touchline at Skelmersdale in pre-season.
The two teams emerged. Stockport County were in their traditional blue kit. Dartford were in their white shirts and black shorts. On show for Stockport was former Manchester City joker Jon Macken. I distinctly remember sitting on the living room carpet watching Tottenham v City in that famous FA Cup match with my Dad. It was 3-0 to Tottenham at half time and Joey Barton was sent off during the break. City equalised and pushed on for the winner. With 2 minutes to go, Macken found himself through on goal with Shaun Wright-Phillips. Macken went alone, and skied the ball over the net. My Dad shouted “MACKEN! YOU’RE BLOODY USELESS! NEVER PLAY FOR CITY AGAIN!” – As is so often the case, he scored the winning goal just a minute later. So that is how I have remembered Jon Macken since.
Playing alongside Jon Macken was former Hull and Bury striker Mark Cullen. At the beginning of last season I went to watch Bury with my mate Danny. We joked that we wouldn’t shave until Cullen scored. It got to November and we gave up. So for that reason, I don’t like Cullen.
Meanwhile, up front for Dartford was Teddy Sheringham’s son Charlie.
Stockport didn’t play like a side fighting for their lives. It was a rather poor attempt from a bunch of players who obviously couldn’t care less. They had their first chance after about 10 minutes when a Jon Nolan free kick was headed into the arms of Dartford keeper Csaba Somogyi.
The visitors always appeared more dangerous when on the attack. A silly pass from Stockport’s Sam Sheridan presented the ball to Dartford who should have scored, but for a great last-ditch challenge from Jordan Fagbola.
Charlie Sheringham then missed the chance of the half. Nathan Collier took advantage of another mix up between Sheridan and Fagbola, and picked out his team mate Sheringham. Standing right in front of goal, Sheringham somehow managed to stand on the ball.
Half time arrived and it gave me a chance to visit my favourite concourse in football. The royal blue carpet led the way to the many television sets which were showing Jeff Stelling and friends. Bolton were winning 1-0 away at Bristol City, so I was in a happy mood.
The only problem with the concourse at Stockport is that it is hidden away from the outside world. No windows. No direct exits into the stand itself. If The FA ever wanted to film a football version of Big Brother, they would turn the concourse at Edgeley Park into the house.
Luckily we timed it just right and the teams were emerging as we made our way back out. We were hoping for a far more entertaining second half.
Dartford had the first opportunity of the second half. It was again Sheringham who was testing County goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell after yet another defensive error; this time from James Tunnicliffe.
It was the home team though who had a brief spell of dominance in the play that followed. Danny Whitehead and John Macken were linking well up front but Somogyi was equal to any threat that arrived in the Dartford area.
Dartford grabbed their goal on 72 minutes. A Ryan Hayes cross was met by the head of Charlie Sheringham. Again, the root cause of the Dartford attack came from County giving the ball away in midfield.
The negative atmosphere filling Edgeley Park was palpable. It proved too much for one loyal Stockport fan as he stormed out. Well, he tried to anyway. He made a right old scene, especially when he began to kick an early exit gate as he couldn’t open it. I hadn’t seen anything like it since I went to Blackburn v Bolton when Steve Kean was busy winning over the hearts of many Rovers fans.
With 5 minutes to go, the disgruntled home fans gathered at the front of The Cheadle End. Each one of them hurling abuse at their players. Each one of them chanting abuse towards the board members. One of the fans was that annoyed that he threw his matchday programme on to the pitch. That is how to make a statement.
As the final whistle arrived, you could see a group of stewards rush to the executive area to form a fluorescent barrier around the board members. It’s a sorry sight when a football club becomes so divided.
We weren’t too fussed though! Yes. It was quite sombre seeing a local side fall so far down the football ladder, but they’ll be back… one day. The County fans can enjoy their trip to North Ferriby United next season anyway, what’s there to moan about?
Leaving the ground we left with no problem. We didn’t see the need in kicking the gate until we were released by the stewards. There was no rush to get back to the train station, knowing there’s a train every 5 minutes. It was all fairly relaxed really.
We all caught a Virgin Train back to Piccadilly, before I embarked upon a sprint across Manchester city centre to catch my next train from Victoria.
It had been a great day out, even if Alex and Adam tried bailing me at the beginning of the afternoon.
Stockport will be hoping for a far more successful campaign next season as they enter another low in their long, proud history.
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 22.4 miles
- ADMISSION: £5 as a student
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £3
- PIE: N/A