It’s hoped the new deal will give County and their community stability
27 June ~ Earlier this week, the executive of Stockport Council agreed to a proposal that may well finally safeguard the future of Edgeley Park and, ultimately, Stockport County. Since 2003, Edgeley Park has been owned by Brian Kennedy, the owner of rugby union club Sale Sharks. In the process, Kennedy moved Sale Sharks to Edgeley Park and took over Stockport County as well.
In 2005, after reportedly losing around £4 million, Kennedy gave control of the club to a supporters’ trust but kept ownership of Edgeley Park and began charging rent. However, the amount charged – among other factors such as taking a hefty percentage of transfer fees to recoup money lost – began the process of putting the club into a desperate financial situation, resulting in administration and eventual freefall into the National League North.
Recently, it had been reported that Kennedy received an offer from a third party – most likely a building developer of some sort – to take ownership of the ground and probably demolish it for land. This left the club and, admittedly, Kennedy, in a difficult position: the club facing the prospect of being homeless and Kennedy potentially facing the wrath of the club’s supporters on an unprecedented scale.
Fortunately, according to club advisor Steve Bellis, selling the ground to the third party wasn’t at the forefront of Kennedy’s mind, instead giving the council the chance to buy the ground. It now seems, subject to due diligence (a phrase that strikes fear in many Stockport supporters), this will happen.
Stockport Council will become the landlord, with the club renting the ground on more favourable terms. It’s hoped the deal will “provide the stability for the team to remain in Stockport and for the club to progress in securing their own longer-term future and footballing success”. The statement issued by the council was signed by all four local party leaders and the deal will be “cost-neutral”, satisfying those who may criticise this as a waste of taxpayers’ money. If anything, this could prove to be a very shrewd investment by the council.
Since the end of last season, optimism has begun to rise. New manager Neil Young has a wealth of experience at this level, winning the league with Chester just two years ago. Plenty of signings have been made and with previous manager Alan Lord helping to provide a degree of stability, the club may now begin to push for promotion.
This deal was also only possible because the club are now on a more secure footing. According to Bellis: “The council is happy to do this is because the club is in good health. We’ve proven that we’re fit and proper tenants.”
Nevertheless, you can’t help but wonder if this sort of takeover had happened sooner, the idea of being in the National League North would be deemed fantasy instead of reality. But that’s hindsight. For now, the club are safe and, finally, Stockport County are being properly recognised as a prized resource for the local community. David Meller
Photo by Tony Davis ~ for more photographs visit WSC Photography