16 February ~ A supporters' meeting-cum-rally last Saturday highlighted two potentially decisive twists in the long-running crisis at Stockport County, which could come to a head later this week. Firstly it was announced that Stockport Council leader Dave Goddard had proposed a "substantial" financial gift to bridge any shortfall the consortium led by former Man City player Jim Melrose may have in acquiring the club. This is hugely significant, particularly after a council meeting on February 4 where Goddard dismissed accusations that the council had not helped by pointing to their £50,000 season-long shirt sponsorship deal and an agreement for the club to use council-owned leisure facilities free of charge.
Goddard also raised the importance of the club to the local economy, saying "it was not an option for County to go out of business", only to contradict himself by saying no funds were available from the council were the consortium to fall through – in essence, liquidation would almost certainly follow. This suggests that like the pressure on administrators Leonard Curtis from the protest march back in December (WSC 277), supporter power has prevailed once again. Goddard's offer could be the final piece needed for Melrose to gain the Golden Share from the Football League sometime this week.
Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, the issue of Sale Sharks and Edgeley Park owner Brian Kennedy was raised again, with figures revealed showing he is set to ask Melrose for £250,000 annual rent, while presumably having the lion's share of banqueting and refreshment takings on matchdays. The rent is more than double what the club was paying while under trust ownership and could be the trigger for further financial trouble.
This only created further anger with the vast majority who believe he is the main reason for going into administration thanks to the crippling deal agreed with the trust back in 2005 (also mentioned in WSC 277). This led to the meeting's organisers proposing a protest at Sale Sharks' next home game against Leeds Carnegie this Friday. The two hundred or so present at the meeting loudly approved. It is set to attract more supporters than the protest march and create a much larger stir.
Meeting organisers were keen to point out that Sale Sharks supporters were not the target and a concerted effort will be made to win them over, particularly as they are not having an enjoyable time either – they currently hang perilously above the relegation spot in the Guinness Premiership.
We know Kennedy needs Stockport County in order to help pay the crippling mortgage he took out on Edgeley Park, meaning supporters are in a fairly strong position. But Kennedy is also a hardened businessman who despises bad publicity, as shown once again by the protest march. Therefore this protest could go two ways. The likelier option is he will open up and talk, especially if Sale supporters begin to turn against him and the protest gets local and national coverage. But he could decide he has had enough of the club, take the financial hit and ask us to leave Edgeley Park – no ground to play on could be a fatal blow.
By once again attempting to use supporter power against Kennedy, a risky chance is being taken. But for most – if not all Stockport fans – it is a risk that needs to be taken. Supporter power has proven effective so far after all. David Meller