Blue Square Bet
Published 19th April 2012
Well here we are, the last month of another poor season for this great club of ours, the third consecutive season we have been in a relegation battle.
Having fallen into non league football for the first time in over 100 years at the end of last season, I would have easily accepted a mid table finish this term.
But once again, the club that has had over 40 years of my time, found the wrong way to do things again.
Having given the Manager’s job to Ray Mathias, who did a decent job at the end of last season, we all thought that he would put together a team that would at least finish halfway.
Unfortunately before a ball was kicked in anger, there were changes, and not all for the best!
A new club sponsor (GT Law) was brought in to provide shirt sponsorship and along with the company came Tony Evans. The bullish scouser set about changing things in whirlwind fashion.
In came former Liverpool 'legend' Dietmar 'Didi' Hamann as Manager, Mathias was offered the job as his assistant, but in the end that job went to Willie McStay.
McStay, a former Glasgow Celtic player and coach, was apparently offered the job over the phone before the two had even met, based on his decent coaching CV.
Then we really started to see the influence of Evans, there was a camera crew constantly following all of the backroom staff, management staff, players and supporters, apparently for an, as yet unseen, documentary about how to run a football club (sic).
The biggest change came at the training ground where literally coach loads of Liverpudlian footballers turned up for trials, many of them not returning their County training kit when told they were not to be signed up. (eBay was very busy over the next few days).
Old stagers like Andy Parkinson and John Miles were there, alongside several youngsters, the likes of Ryan Fraughan and Jon Nolan that had been released by clubs.
There was a new 'fitness' coach, who as well as introducing a fitness regime that seemed more suited to the likes of Geoff Capes and his 'worlds strongest man' colleagues, also had the players eating pre match meals that included nuts and salad.
Didi's squad almost assembled, the pre-season was underway, and without a performance of note against the likes of New Mills and Vauxhall Motors, the team won a hastily arranged friendly at Edgeley Park against Accrington Stanley thanks to a penalty from the summers 'big' signing Sean McConville.
McConville, another scouser, had joined the Hatters from Stanley against the wishes of his uncle Jimmy, the Accrington assistant manager a week or so earlier, a fact not lost on his former team mates who spent the afternoon letting him know they were around.
And so to the season's opener and County, one of the Blue Square Premier's 'big fish' were made to play their first game of the season on a Friday night against Forest Green Rovers, in deepest Gloucestershire.
Premier TV, the BSP's Television partner, had picked our opener as their first televised game, the bad news was that it being a Friday night, the team had to travel on the day, the good news was that the club received a share of the TV money - £1,000.
New skipper Nick Chadwick scored a late equaliser in front of an impressive following from Cheshire, the Evans film crew were also very busy.
A win against Kettering Town and a draw against Ebbsfleet, the latter courtesy of a wonder goal from Euan Holden, from the first two home games saw a decent points return for Hamann's side in their first three games. It became fairly clear over the first couple of months that the German liked to rotate his squad weekly, and that, along with his like for the tonal marking system, appeared to hinder County's progress, although they did remain unbeaten away from home until October when they were thrashed at Wrexham.
Evans had walked away from the club in September, apparently he and the board of directors couldn't agree on the terms of his proposed takeover and with the heavy defeat in Wales, coming on the back of a fourth home defeat of the season against strugglers Darlington, pressure was mounting on Hamann.
There were rumours in and around the ground that 'Your Town, Your Team, a group of County supporters had approached the club with proposals to bring back former player and manager Jim Gannon in a 'director of football' role, whether Hamann stayed or not.
Although his team won at bottom of the table Bath City, the next three games would see Didi Hamann's time at Edgeley Park come to an end.
Having gone out of the FA Cup at the first hurdle without much of a fight at Southport, County then lost at home to Forest Green Rovers before losing a late two goal lead to draw 3-3 against Hayes & Yeading at Edgeley Park.
McStay took charge of the team for the trip to Ebbsfleet, the game ending in yet another defeat.
The rumours proved to be true, Gannon was back at Edgeley Park in time for the game at leaders Fleetwood Town, almost 3 ½ years after being made redundant by the 'administrators'.
With County safe in League 1 at the time, and with the future of the club uncertain Gannon, along with his assistants Peter Ward and Alan Lord were all relieved of their duties.
Gannon, ten years a player for the club, had taken over the reins at Edgeley Park in January 2006 with the club heading for relegation to the BSP and masterminded the 'great escape' which saw the Hatters survive on the last day with a draw against Champions Carlisle United.
The following season his much changed side missed out on the play-offs on goal difference, again on the last day, having won at Darlington 5-0.
The 2007/08 season saw the Irishman become the first Stockport County manager, at the fifth time of asking, to win at Wembley Stadium, fittingly he had played in the previous four attempts.
Gannon's side had set new Football League records on their way to the end of season finale, where they dispatched local neighbours Rochdale to claim promotion back to League 1, with a side full of youthful and entertaining footballers.
Gannon retook charge of the Hatters in front of a travelling support of around 1,200 who were rewarded with one of the best displays by their team so far this season, albeit a late Jamie Vardy goal sending the team home empty handed.
The changes required were obvious to all, Gannon's second spell as manager saw his side lose six of his first eight games, including an FA Trophy replay defeat at local neighbours Stalybridge Celtic, before he finally won against Barrow at Edgeley Park on New Year's Day, perhaps a sign of things to come?
By the time County had claimed 'back to back' victories against Wrexham and Darlington, the first time in over 3 years that the team had managed this feat, the manager made wholesale changes to the squad he had inherited.
Only two of the side that started at Darlington had been regulars under Hamann, with seven of the fifteen man squad on the day brought in by Gannon. Edgeley Park was again becoming a fortress under Gannon, with four wins and just one defeat in seven home games since the turn of the year to the end of March.
But the team were still paying for those away defeats and the earlier inability to remain undefeated at Edgeley Park, and were still in the relegation dogfight.
And so it comes down to this last month....
Last Three Home Games
Lincoln City - Saturday 7/4/12
April began well for the Hatters, having completed the 'double' over both Bath City and Kettering Town in the last two games of March, we were looking for three wins in a row for the first time in over three years, standing in our way were another 'big fish' Lincoln City, like ourselves relegated at the end of last season and like ourselves in the midst of another relegation battle.
Much was made in the pre match build up of the fact that it was to be Danny L Rowe's last game of his three month loan at Edgeley Park. The striker had arrived on loan from Champions 'elect' Fleetwood Town towards the end of January.
Rowe had scored on his debut, a hard fought draw at Braintree Town, and had added a further five including winners against Kidderminster Harriers and Darlington. He had endured a barren spell in front of goal in recent games although his overall play had seen him become a crowd favourite.
Alongside him was another striker who had recently rediscovered his scoring boots, Tom Elliott and recent signing Danny Hattersley.
Elliott had been revitalised under Gannon, whilst Hattersley, an Alan Lord recommendation, had scored two in his three games since joining from Lancaster City.
The Hatters needed to take all three points from the game against the Imps, as the second part of their Easter 'double header' was away at third placed Mansfield Town, a game in which many of our supporters didn't expect anything.
Hattersley didn't disappoint, again scoring an early goal to settle any nerves amongst the County faithful, and what a goal it was.
Sean Newton, another recent signing, picked up the ball on the left and put in a superb cross which the young forward threw himself at. Arriving at the perfect moment, at full length he headed the ball like an arrow into the top corner of the net before the keeper had time to adjust his feet.
Hattersley later made way for Cameron Darkwah, who had scored his first goal for the senior side the week previously.
Rowe made it a farewell to remember with a man of the match performance, including two goals to ensure he would remain a favourite at Edgeley Park for some time to come.
There was still time for 'Cammy' to score his first goal at Edgeley Park for the senior team, and again what a strike it was. Picking up another assist from Newton, he smashed the ball home from the edge of the box in front of a delighted Cheadle End.
FT: County 4 (Hattersley, Rowe 2, Darkwah), Lincoln 0
Braintree Town - Saturday 14/4/12
Having lost the game at Mansfield on Easter Monday, but without losing ground in the table with all but Lincoln City around us losing, County went into the game against Braintree needing to better Hayes & Yeading's result against Mansfield Town to retain their place in the BSP for another season.
As with the last home game, we saw another loanee, Matty Mainwaring, playing the last of his three month loan spell with County.
Mainwaring had made his Football League debut under Gannon three years earlier but having overcome serious injury, had been released by Hamann at the start of this season. Incredibly Championship side Hull City had picked up Mainwaring and had given him a contract until the end of the season. Gannon had taken the skilful midfielder back to the Hatters with the promise of first team football.
Mainwaring had made his second debut in the draw at Braintree back in January, his fourteen games prior to today garnering an average of 1.5 points per game.
Unfortunately, despite playing well personally, Mainwaring wasn't to go out with a bang, as a dour Braintree side stole a point with an injury time leveller after Hattersley had given County a first half lead with another text book header, from a superb cross by Danny Whitehead.
The good news came from Woking where Mansfield had confirmed their place in the play-offs with a win against Hayes & Yeading, meaning that County were mathematically safe.
It was a strange old feeling coming into work on the Monday, having not felt in the mood to celebrate on the Saturday night the fact that we are staying in the BSP, it felt strange knowing we were safe with two games still to play.
No disrespect meant towards the BSP, and taking into account the fact that we had avoided a third consecutive relegation, happy to be staying in the BSP shows just how far this fantastic football club has fallen in recent years.
At the time of writing we are looking forward to the visit of Tamworth and preparing the final issue of County Life for this season.
Having won several awards last season we have picked up another award in this season's 'best programme' awards, hopefully we have a chance of another as it shows how much the hard work of all our contributors is appreciated.