Man overboard

Stockport County fans thwart Maine Road move. Dave Espley explains

The saga started with a press conference called by Stockport County chairman Bren­dan El­wood at the end of November. Open-mouthed local journalists were told that the board – without having consulted the fans, of course – were thinking of applying to Manchester City Council to take over Maine Road when Ci­ty moved to the new Commonwealth sta­dium in 2003.

Elwood compounded his folly (if that was possible) by coming out with a couple of the most crass statements imaginable. “When this possible move was first suggested,” he said, “the majority of the letters we received and comments on the internet were supportive.” Even worse followed:⇣“Name changes are possible – when we were founded in 1883 we were Heaton Norris Rovers. But I would want to keep some reference to Stockport in the name: Man-Stock County for instance.”

The first statement was simply untrue, and the second displayed breathtaking naivety. Moving football clubs, as foolish chair­men from Edinburgh to the Thames Valley have re­al­ised over the years, tends to upset fans. El­wood was to find this out for him­self the following Saturday when County played Shef­field United.

A bit of digging on the internet revealed that County’s managing director David Jolley and Mike Partridge, the IT director, had registered the domain names www.mancounty. com and back in May, even though Jolley denied on radio and TV that a name change was on the cards.

There was virtually no time to organise any protests other than on the internet where, de­spite Elwood’s rash claims, anger at the pro­posed move was genuine and vehement. On the day of the Sheff Utd game, the first anti- El­wood chants started at about 2.50 pm, and continued for pretty much the rest of the afternoon, with the occasional “you can stick your Maine Road up your arse” added for variation.

When the second United goal went in (Coun­ty were pitiful, the players seemingly affected by the nasty atmosphere off the pitch), confirming a 2-0 defeat, the anger spilled over. A few fans ran on to the pitch to gesture at the directors’ box – this while the game continued at the other end. The protests continued for about half an hour after the game.

To understand why this was so shocking, you have to remember that in the past decade County have been transformed from a struggling side in the old Fourth Division, to one established in the First. We have also had a handful of Wembley visits, for play-offs and Autoglass finals, and a memorable run to the semi-finals of the League Cup four years ago.

This fantastic success has coincided almost exactly with Elwood’s ownership of the club, and while it has also been a good financial investment for him, he had previously been something of a fans’ favourite. By all accounts he was genuinely shocked by the re­ception his daft plan received and, while you can’t help feeling he brought it upon himself, it was difficult not to feel at least a twinge of sympathy.

The following Monday, the council rubber-stamped Sale RFC’s application to become ten­ants of Maine Road when City leave. In the aftermath, Elwood issued a public apology to the fans, claiming it had never been the club’s intention to railroad us into a move. That did not help to explain why the move was even considered, as no County fan would ever have been persuaded. David Jolley fell on his sword, and Elwood has now agreed to a public meet­ing in January at which, presumably, he will try to repair some of the bridges between the club and the fans. I don’t envy him.

From WSC 168 February 2001. What was happening this month