THE HALF DECENT FOOTBALL MAGAZINE

22 December 2009 ~ On Wednesday Stockport County supporters will march from their home ground of Edgeley Park into Manchester city centre to highlight a club on the edge of extinction. Since April the club has been crippled by administration. During the January transfer window, administrators Leonard Curtis will try to sell the club's main assets, notably midfielder Carl Baker and Welsh goalkeeper Owain Fon Williams. If they fail, Stockport County will almost certainly fold.

The club's desperation was illustrated at a fans' forum earlier this month, when manager Gary Ablett explained how goalkeeping coach Paul Gerrard used £1,500 of his own money to buy heart-rate monitors. One supporter even agreed a deal with a local supermarket to provide free ice.

The march will first call at Stockport town hall, with many fans angry at the lack of support from Stockport Metropolitan Borough Council. The council's leader Dave Goddard continually talks of the importance of the club to Stockport, yet adds they are in no position to provide financial support despite the likes of Peterborough City Council recently purchasing Posh's London Road ground.

From the town hall, the march will go past the PFA offices in Manchester and then on towards Leonard Curtis's HQ in the city centre. Leonard Curtis's inability to keep supporters informed is a major reason behind the march with confusion still surrounding the takeover consortium led by former Manchester City and Celtic player Jim Melrose.

Originally, Leonard Curtis were so confident about Melrose they allowed him to appoint Ablett, talk to supporters and urge the purchase of season tickets. But Leonard Curtis have now deemed the formal bid, made earlier this month, insufficient, with Melrose refusing to pay the £200,000 non-refundable deposit necessary to enter into exclusive negotiations.

There has since been no further news and Leonard Curtis continues to charge a crippling £300 an hour in operational fees. At present their bill stands at well over £310,000. The march will hopefully prompt answers from both Leonard Curtis and Melrose.

What tipped the club over the edge was the £300,000 loan agreed by acting chief executive Mark Maguire and former supporters' trust chairman Norman Beverley with stadium developers David Farms Ltd in 2008. The loan was meant to assist in restructuring the club and lead to a new stadium. The march will make it clear how those once involved at board and trust level should no longer play a role at the club, and that stadium developers like David Farms ought to have no place in football.

Yet the role of double-glazing magnate Brian Kennedy is arguably what the march wants to highlight the most. Since buying Edgeley Park in 2003 and bringing rugby union side Sale Sharks with him, Kennedy has done little to appease supporters. It was the loss of County's primary asset, the stadium, that led to the disastrous loan being taken out.

Kennedy, who also acquired County in 2003 under the name Cheshire Sports Ltd, relinquished control in 2005 in favour of the supporters' trust. But with the club taking next to nothing from refreshment sales, conferencing and banqueting, the trust model was arguably doomed from the start.

Wednesday could be an important day for the club. Its plight has resulted in relationships between supporters fracturing, not strengthening: supporters feel restless, helpless and deflated. The march could be the catalyst that reinvigorates Stockport County. In turn, it could show there is a club worth saving. David Meller

Comments (1)
Comment by jamiebrown 2009-12-22 12:11:26

A very well-balanced account of what is a hugely complicated issue. The split amongst supporters you refer to is surely caused by the fact that it's so difficult to pinpoint blame in one area - many presumably feel the blame lies entirely with Kennedy, others probably point to the administrators, the council, Sale Sharks, etc. It's good to see that the article doesn't go down such a simplistic route, as it seems clear that Stockport County's problems have been caused by poor decision-making by several individuals, at various levels, over a long period of time.

An important issue the article highlights is the ever-increasing influence of 'administrators' - private management consultancy firms - in lower league football. It's a perverse situation, as without the greed of these companies, Stockport would probably have already gone the way of the Newports and Aldershots of the past. However, the truth is that struggling clubs represent such easy opportunities for these companies to plunder profits by just keeping them alive, but not doing a great deal to restore them to a stable position in which to continue business by themselves. The potential for corruption in these situations is high, and it's something the Football League need to address. In the past clubs abused the administration system in an attempt to offload their debts, resulting in the ten-point rule. In recent seasons we have seen examples at Rotherham, Luton and now Stockport where this clearly wasn't the case, and that 10-point penalty just feels like an unnecessary kick-in-the-teeth.

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