Stockport County Q+A
Stockport County have had a brilliant week in terms of who they’ve been able to bring in to the club, they are now looking like promotion candidates with the managerial appointment of Dave Challinor and the signing of one of Bolton’s greatest attacking threats Antoni Sarvecic.
County face Bolton in the FA Cup this Weekend so amidst all of this positivity, I thought it was only just that I spoke to a fan with great knowledge on the club, Dave Philbin was the man that spoke to me.
Hello Dave, first of all can we learn a little bit about yourself? How long have you been supporting Stockport County, how did that come about and what are your best/worst experiences following the club throughout this time?
I first started going to County back in the late 90’s, so I’ve seen the demise from the Championship to part time regional football in full! My first away game was at Man City in 1999 is definitely up there with my best experience. We went 1-0 down early on and completed the 2-1 win with the iconic Tony Dinning penalty in front of the packed away end. Winning the National League North at Nuneaton in 2019 was another great moment, thousands of County fans took over that day! I took my 3 year old daughter to her first game recently too, that was special for different reasons. The negatives, where do I start? I’ve seen more relegations than I care to remember and the administration in 2009/10 was tough.
County were relegated to the National League in 2013, being relegated to League Two on the final day of the 2010-11 season at home to Tranmere. Could you give a brief description of the goings on since then? What were County like around the early 2010s?
It’s been a roller coaster since then! The general consensus amongst County fans was that, although things were bad, we will surely get back into League Two at the first attempt. A comedy of errors ensued though. In 2011 we were going to be bought by a consortium headed up by a Scouser called Tony Evans who brought in Dietmar Hamann as manager. Hamann left 19 games and 3 wins later and Evans and his mates didn’t manage to complete the takeover. That’s when Jim Gannon came back for his second spell and he managed to steady the ship and prevent relegation that year. Gannon’s second tenure ended in 2013 as we were at the wrong end of mid table – then two managers between January and the end of the season (Kalezic and Bogie) saw us relegated into the North. Experience wouldn’t teach us though, because of course we’d get out of there at the first time of asking… wrong! 6 years and another Gannon return saw us win the league that year. Although the level was abysmal, it definitely ranks as one of my favourite seasons.
How would you describe the club at the moment? Who are Stockport’s owners and what is the atmosphere like around Edgeley Park?
The owner is a local business man called Mark Stott and he’s made plenty of investment on and off the pitch. He came in just before Covid hit so it was a bad time to buy a football club but a great time to be bought! He has brought The Cheadle End into the 21st Century while keeping its history, put a lovely new scoreboard in, moved us to a top level training complex at Carrington and even got good beer in the ground! He got rid of Jim Gannon in February this year which wasn’t popular with the fans but other than that, he’s done wonders. In terms of the atmosphere, if you’d have asked me a week ago I would have said we have no identity, the fans are divided and Edgeley Park was turning very toxic very quickly. Understandably so, with the investments that have been made and the players we’ve signed, we shouldn’t be sitting in 9th after 13 games. After an embarrassing defeat at home to Barnet last week, manager Simon Rusk got sacked and we’ve just this evening announced Dave Challinor. If Twitter is anything to go by, Edgeley Park will be rocking! We’ve also sold 5,000 tickets for Bolton this weekend in the first round of the cup, so that tells you everything you need to know about the fans. We may not like what we see, and we may not agree with everything they do, but we’ll be there in numbers whatever happens.
Touching on the signings that were made in the summer and the very recent past, can you see an upwards trajectory of quality in the squad and how impressed were you with the club’s signing of Bolton’s Sarvecic?
We signed top quality in the summer which of course has been topped up recently with Sarcevic. Quality that he’ll be playing the team he was captain of two weeks ago on Sunday by the way! The problem we have had is, we’ve signed players for positions that we weren’t using. For example, we signed the league’s best winger from last season in Ben Whitfield and we didn’t play with wingers for the first 8 or 9 games, so he was rotting at left wing back. Scott Quigley has been injured for most of the season but has recently come back into the side and has scored a couple of goals. He’s the striker we’ve been crying out for who does the dirty work up top and I can see him and Paddy Madden forming a dangerous partnership. Special mention to Ethan Ross as well, not one of the bigger names we’ve signed but definitely the biggest bloke! He’s a keeper and since coming into the side you can just see he gets the club and fans.
Another change in quality has come recently with the club’s appointment of Dave Challinor. How excited are you about his time back in Manchester and do you think this will take County closer to promotion to the Football League than they have been for some time?
Firstly, Dave Challinor has come back to Stockport not Manchester! I’m really excited to see him here and I know the rest of the fans are too. It was tough to see Simon Rusk struggling. He seemed like a really nice guy and I wanted him to succeed, but ultimately the gamble of signing a very good under 23’s coach didn’t pay off. We’ve now got a guy who has been there and done it at this level – knocking us out in the playoffs last season to go to the play off final and win that! It also helps that he was once our captain as well. I’d be lying if I said he did particularly well as a player here but he knows what Stockport County means to so many people and he will make sure the players know as well. His experience of promotions and play off campaigns is vital and with 31 games still left to play there are still chances of a title challenge yet. We were 12th coming up to Christmas in 2018/19 and we already know what happened there!
To finish our conversation off, ahead of the game on the weekend, how important do you believe the FA Cup is for lower league clubs in particular and can we expect Stockport to cause an ‘upset’ when they take on Bolton away from home?
Cup games are incredibly important for lower league clubs. You only have to look at Lincoln’s incredible run in 2016/17 – the money made from that sent them up to League One from non league. Bringing it back to County, we got to the second round in 2018/19, and the money from that meant we could strengthen around Christmas time to kick on and win the title. That’s just the finances, but as a fan there’s nothing better. In terms of glamorous ties, we haven’t seen many this century. The 90’s was special for us when we got to the semi-finals of the League Cup beating West Ham with a famous Iain Dowie own goal. Last season in lockdown we welcomed West Ham to a wet Edgeley Park, and we lost very late on but it wasn’t the same watching it on tele. This weekend will be massively different though. 5,000 travelling fans, a new manager, Bolton’s ex captain in midfield, Bolton struggling for form… all the ingredients required for the Hatters to storm into the second round!
Antoni Sarvecic returns to the home of his former club this weekend as Stockport face Bolton at the UniBol Stadium.