Now only tenants of Edgeley Park
18 December ~ Stockport County's uneasy ground-share with Sale Sharks rugby union club is over. The cohabitation that began in 2003 effectively ended this summer, a rugby sevens tournament in July the last time Sharks used the Stockport pitch, their long studs now employed at the home of rugby league side Salford City Reds. The amicable deal putting day-to-day control of Edgeley Park back with the Hatters, at a considerably reduced rent, was announced in late November. Already few reminders of the Sharks remain.
Phil Brennan, County's media manager, and John Fitzpatrick, a club director, met me to discuss the changes, and both were clearly delighted: "It's great because I can take down all the Sale pictures from around the ground," Brennan says. "We've decorated the players' bar in there which is now our bar not half-and-half, it was a Sale bar until I started taking down pictures. Now it's like a proper Stockport County bar."
"And we've painted all the ground," Fitzpatrick says. "To take it back to what it used to look like before – a football ground." Brennan has noticed an immediate impact: "We've now taken back what was our shop originally and the fans have been superb – we've only been back there two full weeks and last week alone we did £5,000 in the shop where we'd been doing £550 a week. I'm 44 years a fan, so from my point of view the fact that we've got our ground back is a massive thing."
Fitzpatrick is now concentrating on winning over more supporters to add to the current faithful: "The fans have really stuck by us, playing Southport we had over 3,500 in again. I went on the far side with 250 kids, I like to encourage them, so they feel good watching County, they can enjoy it. We escorted them to their seats, got them in the ground. I sat with them with a massive bag of toffees throwing them all through the game and then I got them shouting. It was unbelievable."
"There were lots of those kids who had never been to a live match before, some will never go again but they won't forget the fact they saw seven goals at a live match," Brennan says. Fitzpatrick, 55 years a Hatters devotee, is just happy to have introduced them to watching football, even if they go on to support local rivals Manchester City or United. But for the good of the game it's to be hoped some stick with Stockport. Martin Pilkington