Stockport County v Hednesford Town
Edgeley Park / Conference North / 29th March 2014
Twitter is great. It provides me with news before anyone else; it lets me air my views concisely; it’s helped this very blog grow and, thanks to me tweeting my way around the football grounds of the UK, it has led to me meeting some great people. So it only seemed fair that I give Twitter the chance (well, my followers) to decide which football match I would be attending on this fairly sunny afternoon in Greater Manchester.
For the 4th weekend out of the last 5, I found myself working in Irlam until midday, before heading back towards Manchester. By 11;30am, I still hadn’t decide where to head to that afternoon for my Saturday football fix. My original plans, that were conjured up the night before, of heading to a Manchester League game now seemed less appealing in the light of the morning and so I began skimming through the various fixture lists of several leagues. By the time I was boarding the train from Irlam back into Manchester I had narrowed my choice down to two games: Oldham Athletic v Brentford in League One or Stockport County v Hednesford Town in the Conference North. With a 20 minute train journey ahead of me, I tweeted my Twitter public to decide for me in a Saturday night TV stylee. Safe to say, Stockport County were the runaway leaders with a 12 – 3 vote in their favour. I’ll admit that I was glad that Twitter had swayed that way, as I’d never actually visited Stockport’s Edgeley Park and I had visited Oldham’s Boundary Park once before (in the pre-Lost Boyos days).
From the centre of Manchester, you could argue that Stockport is the easiest neighbouring place to get to. For those less familiar with Mancunian public transport, pretty much every train that heads south/east out of Manchester Piccadilly station has to stop at Stockport train station. The station is linked to Manchester by the Stockport Viaduct, which was the largest viaduct in the world on its completion in 1840, and it is claimed that one of the stipulations that was put in place when the bridge was built in 1840, was that any train that passed over it had to stop in Stockport; there was even a petition put in place in 2007 when train firms tried to reduce the use of Stockport station by 50% with protesters claiming that there was an 1840 Act of Parliament stating trains had to stop in Stockport (although it is now believed that this Act is merely an urban myth).
Shortly after 1pm, I stepped onto Stockport station platform and went in search of Edgeley Park. Conveniently, Stockport station is based directly in between Stockport itself and Edgeley with an underpass in the station providing easy access to both areas. I turned left out of the station, under the ‘This way to Edgeley’ sign and on emerging out of the other end of the passageway, I kept my eyes open for the Edgeley Park floodlights, as I knew they were nearby having gone past the place on the train countless times.
After 5 minutes, I spotted the floodlights in the distance, but instead of heading straight to the ground, I decided, as per usual, to head to the nearest pub; on this day, it happened to be, the intimidatingly named ‘The Armoury’. Despite the militant-sounding name, the Armoury proved to be a very pleasant establishment. On entering I headed straight into the bar room,only to be met with a small cramped room with Stockport and Hednesford fans squeezed together. I avoided the squeeze and headed into the next room to get my pint in the virtually empty lounge.
I soon began chatting to the two men to my left, who became curious about my strange accent when I began talking to them about the United v Villa game that was on TV. They were soon telling me about the gang of ridiculously drunk Villa fans who had been in the pub only ten minutes earlier; apparently, they had been thrown out of Old Trafford so had headed to Stockport to catch a game of football. The police that arrived at the pub put an end to those plans though, as they were apparently thrown out of the Armoury for their drunken antics.
My two new Stockport friends, Steve and Anthony, said that if I wanted to get to know Stockport County some more, that I should go outside into the beer garden with them and talk to ‘the old timers’ about the club. Of course, I couldn’t turn down such an offer and it was definitely the weather for a beer garden session (surprising for Greater Manchester, even at the end of March).
As the time ticked closer to 2 o’clock, the beer garden began to swell with County fans all saying their hellos to each other and there was a nice, friendly atmosphere amongst the large group, who had been very welcoming of myself, the strange Welsh outsider. I was soon chatting to hardcore County fan Phil, who runs the club’s main messageboard. He was the one who had begun informing me about the protest and march that was occurring that day; it seems County are not too keen on their young chief executive Ryan McKnight. In fact, within minutes of Phil explaining to me about the venomous relationship that the fans have with the club’s chief executive, I had the actual signed petition on my lap from the fans asking for his removal.
Of course, as a Swansea City fan, talk eventually turned to current Swansea and Wales captain Ashley Williams, who Roberto Martinez signed for Swansea from Stockport back in 2008. It seemed that the County fans still had a lot of affection for their former defender as they regaled me with stories of his time at the club. In fact, we realised that today would be a battle between two of Ash’s former clubs and thus I dubbed today’s fixture ‘The Ashley Williams Derby’.
“Do you have a ticket for today then?” asked Steve. As I had arrived in Stockport as a last minute idea, I obviously didn’t. Kindly, Steve offered me a ticket in the Poplar Stand for £5, before another County fan haggled on my behalf and insisted that I have the ticket for free. Amazingly, Steve agreed and for the 2nd time this season I was given a free ticket for today’s match (the other was my very spontaneous trip to Nottingham Forest). Cheers County fans!
I wanted to have a nose around the ground before kick-off, so I left my Stockport supporting chums and headed for Edgeley Park, but not before promising I would rejoin this gang of County fans for a post match drink back in the Armoury later.
I navigated my way around and past the main high street of Edgeley and towards the floodlights of Edgeley Park and within minutes I found myself outside the ground itself. My first thoughts were that this was no ordinary ground for the second tier of non-league football. The size of it alluded to the past heady heights of this club, which had rapidly and sadly fallen.
The club had originally began life as Heaton Norris Rovers in 1883, before becoming Stockport in 1890. The early years of the club’s existence were spent in the Lancashire League, before they entered the Football League in 1900. The club dropped out of the Football League 4 years later, before being readmitted in 1905-06. The Football League would be the club’s home for the next 106 years, until the 21st century was a much crueller era for the Hatters (unsurprisingly, nicknamed after the town’s famous hat-making industry).
The turn of the century saw County playing in the 2nd tier of English football; by 2009 they were in League One and in financial turmoil; by 2012-13, and after a succession of managers, the club found itself relegated from the Conference Premier and into the Conference North where I found them playing on this Saturday afternoon.
Edgeley Park had only become the home of Stockport County in 1902 with previous homes including the Heaton Recreation Ground and a park at Green Lane. There have been some cases that have almost seen Stockport leave Edgeley, perhaps most famously and controversially at the start of the 2000s when the club’s chairman considered moving the club into a groundshare with Manchester City at Maine Road – a move that was protested vociferously and eventually quashed. Instead, Stockport found their home being shared with the Sale Sharks rugby union team, before they moved to the Salford City Reds Stadium in 2012 leaving Stockport as the only inhabitants at Edgeley Park.
I entered the ground in the far corner between the Popular Side and the Cheadle End, with my ticket being for the former. The Popular Side runs the whole length of the pitch with a small reservoir lurking just behind it. My home stand for today’s game holds around 2,400 fans and was also inhabited by a small gathering of Hednesford fans at the opposite end.
I always like a ground that has four separate standing stands and Edgeley Park falls into this category. To the left of the Popular Side is the Cheadle End, the large Kop-like stand, which towered over the rest of the ground – it really is an impressive sight. It is here where I had planned to spend the day, as I was told that it was here that the hardcore County fans gather, but the free ticket in the Popular Side had certainly swayed my decision.
Running down the opposite side of the pitch to the Popular Side is the Danny Bergara Stand, the former Main Stand of the ground, which holds 2000 fans. The stand was renamed in 2012 after club legend Danny Bergara, the Uruguayan who managed the team throughout the early years of the 90s. Football Trivia note: Danny Bergara is regularly dubbed as the first foreign manager in English football – this is wrong, as that accolade is held by South African Peter Hauser who managed Chester City during the 60s; although Bergara is thought to be the first manager to manage in England, whose first language wasn’t English.
The final stand that makes up Edgeley Park is the Railway End – an open standing terrace with a large scoreboard in the middle of it. Also, in a nice touch, there is a Uruguayan flag flying from the back of the stand in ode to the late Danny Bergara, who died in 2007.
There were no allocated seats for today’s game with the Popular Side populated with small pockets of fans spread along it. I went to get a central perch at the top of the stand, before I realised that I had placed myself behind an overhanging gantry and instead moved myself closer to the front as the two teams emerged onto the pitch.
So the game – well, there really is not much to say. Beforehand, the County fans had warned me that watching Stockport fan is a dire experience at the moment, but I assured them that I watch football at all levels and that I had probably seen worse. Well, this game was about as bad as it has got on my travels this season.
Hednesford, who I visited earlier this season for their FA Cup tie against Crawley, were on the front foot from the start and after a couple of half chances, it looked inevitable that they would eventually take the lead. That lead would come in the 12th minute as Marvin Johnson played the ball across the box for the beautifully named Charlie Anagho-Ntamark (don’t ask me how to pronounce it) to tap home.
Following the goal, I noticed that the scoreboard that had displayed “Stockport 0 Hednesford 0” had now conveniently decided to switch itself off, instead of displaying the home team goal down (although I’ve since learnt that the scoreboard is infamous for not working, so it may have just been that).
The rest of the first half was a fairly drab affair and I began to distract myself with the ‘who the hell is that Stockport centre back?’ game, as I was sure I recognised him. I was determined not to cheat and check the team sheet, but I just could not place where I had seen him play before or who he was. Eventually, I gave up and looked up who it was; it turned out to be former Swansea loanee Stephen O’Halloran, who had spent a few months on loan at Swansea from Aston Villa in 2008/09, before serious injury wiped out his season. Despite his lack of games for the Swans, I should have still recognised him, as I had also chatted with him in a nightclub in Swansea that season!
Half-time :Stockport County 0 -1 Hednesford Town.
For half-time, I headed around to the back of the stand to queue up for a half-time snack from the food vendors; sadly, no beer sold in this stand, but the good portioned chicken balti pie and hot chocolate satisfied me greatly. Unfortunately, the football in the second half did not so much.
Stockport spent the early exchanges of the second half pinning Hednesford in their own half, but failed to gain anything from the few half chances they created.
As the 70th minute approached, Hednesford hit the crossbar via a good save from Ian Ormson in the Stockport goal. This was then followed by Hednesford blowing a couple of glorious opportunities with Paul Sullivan failing to convert a one-on-one and Danny Glover failing to poke home from 6 yards when Ormson spilled a ball in the box.
There was one final chance in the game with Stockport’s Rhys Oates breaking through on goal; however, he was to be denied by a superb tackle from Paul McCone, which was to ultimately spell out to the home team that this just wasn’t going to be their day.
Full-time: Stockport County 0 – 2 Hednesford Town. Hednesford are victorious in the inaugural ‘Ashley Williams Derby’.
I exited Edgeley Park past the club shop and the main reception and headed towards the main high street of Edgeley in search of a pub to find out the rest of the football results from today’s football and watch the Premier League’s evening kick-off. I decided against going in the pub that had a large gathering of Hednesford fans celebrating their win in the beer garden and instead I entered the Sir Robert Peel pub.
The Sir Robert Peel was a long way from being the most glossy looking pub, but it was certainly a fun place to go for a drink post match with many County fans present to drown their sorrows. I spent most of my time in the pub at the bar watching the Arsenal v Manchester City game on the TV, whilst also being interrogated by a few older County fans about what the hell a Welshman was doing in Edgeley in the first place.
Having watched the first half of City v Arsenal, I decided to head back to the Armoury before heading back towards Manchester. The lads whose company I had enjoyed prematch, and who had kindly given me my ticket, were back in the pub and despite today’s loss they were all in good spirits. As well as good couple of pints, I was treated to a good old-fashioned sing-song from the County faithful and it seems they possess a great list of songs in their repertoire.
I have to admit, that I wasn’t that overly-enthused about visiting Stockport County at first, but I had a great, fun-filled day in Edgeley and the fans were also good fun. I’ll leave you with the songs of Stockport County, as sung passionately by one of the fans I met. I particularly love the song to the tune of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. Enjoy.
Highlights: Stockport easy to get tom ground easy to get to, The Armoury, good-humoured and welcoming fans, great ground, free ticket, sing-song in the pub at the end of the day.
Low Points: poor game, no alcohol sold in the stand I was in.