THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

Dave Espley looks at Stockport County as Andy Kilner departs and Carlton Palmer gets his first taste of management

In what might seem to an outsider to be one of the least surprising sackings of the season, Stockport County dispensed with the services of Andy Kilner the Monday after a 4-0 home de­feat by Millwall on October 27. What is per­haps surprising, however, is that the County chairman Brendan Elwood was still insisting to all and sundry on the Saturday night that Kil­ner’s job was safe. Granted, chairmen do that as a matter of course and, as we all know, votes of confidence usually precede a sacking as inevitably as night follows day, but in El­wood’s case, he genuinely meant it.

He recognised that for the past two years Kilner has been performing footballing mir­acles in merely keeping County in the First Division under the most trying of circumstances, and was quite willing to allow him to try to pull us out of the mess in which we found ourselves. On the basis of superb per­form­ances at Bradford, Wolves and Manchester City, and with the players still supportive of the manager, it seemed as though we still had a fighting chance. Then some lowlife spat at Elwood’s wife and Kilner was out of a job.

That, it seems, really was how it happened. There had been a noisy demonstration outside the ground after the game, but with the average age of the demonstrators being about 12, it was fairly easy to ignore. Most County fans recognised – and still do – that a team cannot lose players of the quality of Ian Moore, Tony Din­ning, Kevin Cooper and Carlo Nash, and still expect to compete in the First Division. The fact that we were anchored at the foot of the table, and the gap between us and the team in 23rd place was widening, was depressing, but not entirely unexpected. With average attendances of around 6,000, the policy of the club had to be one of selling to survive – staying in the First for five years has been a remarkable achievement.

However, mob rule was the order of the day. As Kilner himself had the good grace to ad­mit, it was understandable that even though the chairman was previously willing to give his manager every chance, when his wife was abused, he chose to perform the action that would prevent it happening ag­ain.What I find sickening about the whole affair – and I’m not alone – is that ultimately Kilner appears to have lost his job because of the actions of a few hotheaded kids.

As the world of cheap football comedy now knows, Carlton Palmer was then given his first managerial role, and was straightaway the sub­ject of sneering from the expected quar­ters. A gangly and clumsy player he might well have been, but I for one fail to see how that will affect his ability as a manager. He’s clearly desperate to do well in the job, and I would have liked to have seen him given the same chance as any other young, keen, ex-England international embarking on his first job in the hotseat. Fat chance.

It’s still probably far too late to save us this season, but with Palmer already saying that survival in this division is not the be all and end all for a club like County – showing a touch of realism that would be welcome in a few more of the fans in the stands – he is at least making the right noises. It helps that his men­tor is Colin Murphy, he of the idiosyncratic programme notes, but also the man who saved County back in the mid-Eighties when, under the “guidance” of Jimmy Melia, we looked odds-on to be the first team relegated to the Conference.

If we do go down – and I’ve not quite given up hope yet – the club does seem to be in safe hands. But the events of recent weeks at Edgeley Park have left a pretty bad taste.

From WSC 179 January 2002. What was happening this month

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