“We’ve got a lot of work to do to stop a very bad run of form from becoming something worse“
The opposition interview series reaches number 12, with Jamie Summers stepping up to discuss ‘the Hatters’ of Stockport County:
Hi Jamie – so before we discuss the Hatters, tell us a bit about yourself?
A little about me… I’m not sure I have much interesting to say really! I’m 26, a journalist and I’ve been a County fan for as long as I care to remember. Work means I live away from Stockport these days, but I tend to get back for most home games. Being back in national-level football is a bonus for me too – there’s plenty more southern-based teams I can get to!
I know a lot of ours are looking forward to going back to Plainmoor for the first time in a good few years, too. We have that awful 4-0 defeat at Macclesfield Town in 2009 to avenge!
It must have been a big relief to win promotion last season, how did a big ex-league club like Stockport end up in the NLN?
Big question. How long have you got?! County’s collapse was a very long time in the making, but very quickly realised. The full story is worthy of a book, but it all stems from the club’s sale in the early 2000s to the owner of Sale Sharks RUFC (still a swear word in these parts). To cut a long story short, County were chronically under-funded, stripped of our assets, including the stadium, and the rugby club (now, thankfully, long gone) moved in. We were paying extortionate rent to play in our own home, and the club, which was under fan ownership at the time, eventually fell into administration in 2009.
That was when we were in League One, and having spent more than a year in admin, we thought that was the worst of it. Sadly, it was only the beginning. A disastrous period of poor ownership and complete ineptitude off the pitch led to three relegations in four seasons. Some of the shenanigans that went on during that time are so ridiculous, they’re difficult to believe. Suddenly, 11 years after playing in the Championship, we found ourselves in the Conference North.
Our time in the sixth tier was as painful as it was long. The club became part-time, and we struggled to compete financially with the new breed of ‘start-up’ clubs who have cash to burn and the forward momentum which had been knocked out of us.
Slowly, though, we did things the right way, built a good side and had a really enjoyable season in 2018/19. Winning the league was obviously the main highlight, but there was the sense that the club was coming back to life again after years in the wilderness. Those scenes on the final day of last season will stay with me for a long time.
What were your expectations heading into 19-20?
I think it’s fair to say our fanbase broadly expect the same thing this season: we’d like to consolidate and see what we can do back at this level. Personally, I’d be pleased with a comfortable mid-table finish. We shouldn’t be flirting with relegation, but we just don’t have the resources of lots of clubs at this level any more, and we need time to find our feet.
How’s your recent form been heading into the game on Saturday?
We’ve lost four on the spin for the first time in more than four years. More concerning than the defeats themselves has been the manner of them, and having shipped 11 goals in that time, we’ve got a lot of work to do, to stop a very bad run of form from becoming something worse.
Before that, though, we’d won four in five, and with the spine of a squad which won a title a few months ago. The talent is there, but we need to get out of a rut.
What’s been the highlights of the season so far?
I think the highlight would probably be victory over AFC Fylde at Edgeley Park. They are the antithesis of what we’re about, and what I think football should be about. There was a certain sweetness to that one.
A win away at Wrexham was great, too – we’ve had a lot of good battles with our friends from North Wales, and it’s always a good atmosphere.
Which key players should we be looking out for and why?
Unfortunately at the moment, we’re ravaged by both injury and having a very thin squad. Ben Hinchliffe is a fantastic keeper at this level, and on his day, he has an outstanding save in him.
Ashley Palmer and Jordan Keane were two of the stalwarts of last season’s title-winning side; the former is as dependable centre-half as you could wish for, with the useful habit of chipping in with a few goals at the other end. Keane is probably at his best in the middle, but tends to be slotting in at the back this term.
Tell us a bit about the gaffer, is he the right man for the job and what tactics does he like to employ?
The gaffer is Jim Gannon, and he’s rivalled only by the late Danny Bergara for the status of the best manager in the club’s history.
Jim spent 10 years with County as a player, and is now in his third spell as manager. He first came in as gaffer in 2005/06, saved us from relegation and won promotion at Wembley in 2008. He was made redundant when we fell into administration, but came back in 2011 – saving us from another relegation – before being unceremoniously axed by people who frankly didn’t know what they were doing.
He returned for the third time just under four years ago, helped to rebuild the club and won his second promotion last season. He’s now our longest-serving manager in history, and I can’t think of anyone better for the job. Club legend indeed.
Tactically, Jim’s sides tend to play attractive, positive football. There’s a big emphasis on tactical discipline and fair play, and we’re at our best with the ball on the deck.
Who owns the club, and are they ambitious for County’s future?
The club’s ownership is complex and, for a lot of County fans, a source of frustration.
The owners’ perceived lack of ambition over the last six or seven years have made them deeply unpopular with a significant section of our fan base. Others point to the fact they’ve steadied the ship, and stopped a club which was haemorrhaging money from going out of business.
I think a fair analysis is somewhere between the two. The club isn’t the crisis-ridden catastrophe it was a few years ago, which they deserve credit for; but we are still part time, lack the resources of others, and it just should not be the case that a club the size of ours is as starved of resources as it is.
The ambition is to return to the Football League, but I personally can’t see how that’ll happen under the current set-up.
Is there a supporters trust involved with the club, or something similar?
Bit of a funny one, this. The club was fan-owned until 2009, but the legacy they inherited meant it was always doomed to failure. Since then, I think we’ve been wary of going there again. Once bitten, twice shy and all that. We do have a supporters’ co-operative, which is a (very) minority shareholder.
There is also a group of volunteers, called Help the Hatters. They’ve been going for about 15 years, and do fantastic work to keep the club ticking over.
What’s Edgeley Park like for those who haven’t visited before and how’s crowds been this season?
EP is one of those increasingly rare, characterful old stadiums. I love the place, but I would say that. There’s a sense of history here, and it’s a world away from the flat-pack, soulless atmospheres of modern stadia. Perhaps a little rough round the edges, but it’s home.
Where’s best for the Yellow Army to find pre-match food and drinks?
Good question. The ground is in Edgeley, which isn’t the town centre, but has an almost town centre-type setup of its own. Along Castle Street, next to the train station and on the way to the ground, there are no shortage of options, including the Armoury and Bobby Peel. A bit further afield is the Spinning Top, which is highly recommended.
And finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday?
Tough one. Despite our poor form of late, we’re relatively strong at EP. I’ll go for 1-1.
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