Saturday, March 15, 2008

You Too Could Own A Piece Of Edgeley Park!

If you're looking for a decent synopsis of how the average English football supporter can be made to suffer in a wide variety of different ways, you'd have to search pretty hard to find a better example that Stockport County. There are clubs that have been treated worse, and that have had sets of circumstances thrust upon them that have been more severe, but for sheer breadth of humiliations and crises, Stockport take some beating.

They were voted into the Football League in 1900, but out again 1904 for a season. In 1911, they were banned from playing at home for two weeks after their supporters took umbrage at a series of refereeing decisions during a match against Blackpool and started throwing stones at him. Most famously of all, they recorded a record low Football League attendance when they reported a crowd of just 13 for a match against Leicester City in 1921, although the truth of the matter wasn't quite as simple as that. Having been banned by the FA from playing matches at Edgeley Park again after crowd disturbances, they opted to use Old Trafford while banned. The Leicester match was played late on a Saturday afternoon, immediately after a match between Manchester United and Derby County. It is not generally accepted that the actual crowd for the match was about 2,000, but that most of the crowd was made up of people that chose to watch both matches, with only 13 paying to get in after the "main" event.

In recent years, things have often been just as bad as they were in the clubs early days. In 1978, buoyed by Argentina's success in the World Cup, they switched a kit that was a copy of the world champions' kit. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was withdrawn in the summer of 1982, after the Falklands War. In the early 1990s, they had another protest on their hands after the club's directors voted to change their nickname from "The Hatters" to "The Cobras" - a decision which, they claimed at the time, had nothing whatsoever to do with a sponsorship deal that they had signed with a brand of lager. In 1995, having been unexpectedly promoted, their manager Danny Bergara was sacked after "getting involved in an altercation" (cunning code for "getting beaten up by", there) the club's chairman, Brendan Elwood. As recently as 2000, their owners publicly considered moving from Edgeley Park (which is, fact fans, the Football League ground which is geographically the closest to the River Mersey) to Manchester City's Maine Road and changing their name to Man-Stock County. In 2003, the club was sold to a business consortium, who in turn sold the club to their Supporters Trust in 2005. However, the state of the clubs finances were such that the ownership of Edgeley Park remained with the previous owners, leaving County in a potentially perilous position. County's Trust, however, has an option to buy the stadium back within eight years, and they have launched an ambitious plan to raise £1m, in order to put a deposit on the £4.5m required to complete the purchase. Ground For A Pound gives anyone (including you) to buy a £1 share in the purchase of Edgley Park, and since its launch last week, over £50,000 has already been pledged.

You may well ask what is in it for you, as a neutral, and it's a fair question. The ownership of football grounds in Britain is probably the biggest issue in so far as the long term security of a club's future is concerned. As long as the club (or a sympathetic council) owns the ground, there will always be a club there for people to watch. However, most old-style town centre grounds are prime real estate, and property developers circle smaller clubs like vultures. It is critical, for the ongoing existence of Stockport County, that the ground returns to their ownership as soon as possible. If you need any more convincing, there will be a draw when the £1m has been raised, and the winner will get one of the stands named after them. I couldn't think of a better incentive to sign up. As football supporters, we should support initiatives such as this, and £5 of your money isn't too much to ask, is it?


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