CLUB GUIDE: Stockport County
Stockport County Football Club are an English football club based in Stockport, Greater Manchester, currently playing in League Two, after dramatically avoiding relegation to the Conference in the 2005-06 season.
Stockport County were formed in 1883 as Heaton Norris Rovers by members of the Wycliffe Congressional Church, and played their first recorded game in October the next year. Shortly after they merged with a similarly named club, Heaton Norris, and on the 24th May 1890 changed their name to Stockport County to reflect Stockport becoming a County Borough.
The club adopted 'The Hatters' as their nickname, owing to Stockport's history as the centre of the hat-making industry, a nickname that is shared with Luton Town. Stockport supporters generally refer to the team simply as 'County'.
The club first played in the Lancashire League until 1900 when Stockport gained admission to the Football League Second Division. However, the club finished in the bottom three for their first four seasons until they failed to gain re-election at the end of the 1903/04 season, going back to the Combination for one season. Stockport County won the league & were re-admitted to the Football League for the 1905/06 season and where the club stayed for the next hundred years, although they had to be re-elected on four occasions.
Uruguayan manager Danny Bergara took over during the 1988/89 season, saving County from what looked like probable relegation to the conference. The following seasons brought relative success, with County narrowly missing out on automatic promotion in 1989/90, but succeeding the following season. 'Danny Bergara's blue and white army' made an immediate impact on the third division, winning their opening fixture against Swansea City 5-0. County reached both the playoff final and the Autoglass Trophy final (both played at Wembley) in 1991-92. Another Autoglass final followed in 1992-93, and a further playoff final in 1993-94. Unfortunately, County lost all four of those matches, and promotion to the promised land of the second tier of English football had to wait for the arrival of a new manager.
The 1995/96 season saw Dave Jones take over as manager from Danny Bergara. Although the league season was unremarkable, the club reached the 3rd round of the FA Cup, where they faced holders Everton. County held the Toffees to a remarkable 2-2 draw at Goodison Park, and for the replay ten days later over 11,000 squeezed into Edgeley Park to witness another commendable County performance, somewhat unluckily losing 3-2.
The 1996/97 season proved to be possibly the most memorable in the club's history. The season began in a forgettable fashion, recording 2 draws and 4 defeats in the first six league matches. A 2nd round League Cup tie against Sheffield United proved to be a catalyst, and Stockport won with a 7-3 aggregate win, including a 5-2 victory at Bramall Lane. Although County reached the northern final of the Auto Windscreens Shield, losing 2-0 on aggregate to Carlisle & just missing out on a visit to Wembley, it was the League Cup which provided the major highlights of the season, with 4 victories over top-flight opposition. A 1-0 win away at Blackburn Rovers in the 3rd round was followed by a 4th round 1-1 draw away to West Ham & a 2-1 victory in the replay at Edgeley Park, a quarter final 2-2 draw against Southampton at Edgeley Park followed by a 2-1 victory in the replay at The Dell, and then a semi-final meeting with Middlesbrough. Although County lost the first leg at Edgeley Park 2-0, they won 1-0 at the Riverside Stadium, failing to convert several chances to equalise on aggregate.
The league season was also going very strong, and the Hatters eventually gained promotion with a 1-0 victory at Chesterfield in the penultimate match of the season. If they hadn't won, they could have faced a deciding match away at promotion rivals Luton Town on the final day of the season. County could still have won the title, but having played 21 cup games tiredness played its part & the match finished 1-1, meaning Stockport County finished 2nd overall behind Bury.
First Division era
1997/98 saw County playing in the top two divisions for the first time in 60 years, facing the likes of Nottingham Forest, Sunderland, Birmingham City, Manchester City, Middlesbrough, Portsmouth and many others. However, even before the season had started things had taken a turn for the worst - Dave Jones had been poached by Premiership Southampton, taking goalkeeper Paul Jones & full back Lee Todd with him. Gary Megson left Blackpool to take over the reins, and in his first season County finished 8th, just two places off the playoffs to reach the Premiership - the club's best ever league placing. The season also saw the first of several memorable derby matches with Manchester City, a 3-1 victory at Edgeley Park in front of more than 11,000.
That was as good as things were going to get, however, and the following 1998/99 season saw Stockport finish 16th, winning just 3 of their final 14 matches. A 5-0 defeat at relegated Oxford United on the final day signalled the end of Megson's time at Edgeley Park. The club decided to promote from within and Andy Kilner was soon put in charge. Again, he had an encouraging start to his management at County and by Boxing Day the club were 6th, holding a playoff spot, having picked up another unforgettable win over Manchester City, this time 2-1 at Maine Road. Unfortunately the team then went a club-record 19 games without a victory, eventually finishing the 1999/00 season 17th, with two late wins helping stave off relegation. The 2000/01 season saw them again narrowly avoid relegation, finishing 19th overall.
2001/02 turned out to be the club's worst ever at the time. With County already already bottom of the league, a 4-0 home defeat to Millwall saw manager Kilner sacked. Shortly after he was replaced with former England international Carlton Palmer. A 2-1 win over Norwich game some hope, but County then went on to lose 11 matches in a row, another unwanted club record. The Hatters picked up just 3 more wins during the rest of the season (one of these being another unforgettable 2-1 victory over Manchester City, having been 1-0 down with just 5 minutes left) finishing the season with just 26 points, going down on the 16th March, the quickest post-war relegation.
Two steps back, none forward
Season 2002/03 set a trend of optimism followed by great disappointment that would continue in the following years. The season started well enough, a 1-0 defeat at Colchester on the opening day forgotten after consecutive wins over Port Vale, Mansfield, Swindon & Lincoln. However, those wins turned out to be the exception rather than the rule and County languished in the relegation zone for much of the season, until another run of four victories (over Wycombe, Plymouth, Northampton & Huddersfield) helped the club climb to mid-table at the end of the season.
The summer of 2003 saw the club change ownership, as chairman Brendan Elwood sold the club to Sale Sharks owner Brian Kennedy, in a move that would see Sale play their home games at Edgeley Park. A new company was created, called 'Cheshire Sports', which would have ownership of Stockport County, Sale Sharks & the Edgeley Park stadium. The 2003/04 season saw Palmer sacked after another poor start to the season, following home defeats to Hartlepool & Blackpool in the space of one week. John Hollins, who had been Director of Football during Palmer's reign, took over as caretaker manager, but was replaced full time by former Northern Ireland manager Sammy McIlroy. After a poor start to his time at Edgeley Park & yet more relegation worries, an 11-match unbeaten run saw the club again climb to safety at the end of the season.
2004/05 was another season that promised much, with several promising signings over the summer. The previous season's excellent form failed to carry over, the new signings failed to gel and again County were in the relegation places by the Autumn. McIlroy was sacked in November and replaced by Chris Turner a month later. Turner failed to turn things around and, for the second time in three years, Stockport County finished a season with just 26 points and were relegated.
The Great Escape
2005/06 saw Stockport County change owners again. After reportedly losing £4m, Cheshire Sports chairman Brian Kennedy handed ownership of the club to the Supporters Trust, whose aim was to rescue the club from revenue loss, eventually breaking even & turn Stockport County into a community based football club. On the July 8 at 10:30 the deal went through, making County one of a handful of supporter-owned clubs in the country. On the pitch, despite the lower level of football the team failed to adapt. On Boxing Day 2005, already five points from safety, County lost 6-0 at local rivals Macclesfield Town, leading Turner to resign after just seven wins in 50 matches.
Former player Jim Gannon came in as caretaker manager, while the club searched for a replacement. An impressive change to both results and performances under Gannon's leadership led the club to give him the position full time, and the remarkable run of form continued. Stockport picked up 35 points from the final 23 games, compared to just 17 from the first 23 matches. On an extremely tense final day of the season, County held champions Carlisle United to a 0-0 draw; a last minute winner for Leyton Orient at Oxford United sent Oxford down and brought the Hatters to safety, sparking scenes of celebration at Edgeley Park.
In early 2007, Stockport enjoyed a record-equalling run of eight league wins, with goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey also equalling a club record for eight consecutive clean sheets. The wins came against Boston United (2-0), Peterborough United (3-0), Wycombe Wanderers (2-0), Wrexham (1-0), Hereford United (2-0), Mansfield Town (1-0), Accrington Stanley (1-0) and Walsall (1-0). This saw their league position climb from 15th to 6th in League Two.