If the 1990s saw a significant change in the football scene in Manchester influenced by the Madchester movement, it can be said that Stockport is currently undergoing its own transformation, largely due to the emergence of the Mad Hatters.
To begin, we’ll discuss some information about football. Currently, Stockport County is leading League Two by five points and has surpassed Wrexham in the spotlight due to their impressive 12-game winning streak in all competitions.
Following their loss in the League Two playoff final last season to Carlisle United in a penalty shootout, manager Dave Challinor and his team have regained their momentum. A photo of their defeat in the changing room at Wembley serves as motivation for the team, as striker and top scorer Isaac ‘Tanto’ Olaofe explains, “It serves as a reminder of our past disappointment and drives us to push past it this time.”
Becoming a part of League One is not the ultimate goal for Stockport. When Challinor was hired in November 2021, the CEO Jonathan Vaughan referred to it as “the beginning of our journey back” and they successfully earned promotion to the Football League as champions that same season. Mark Stott, a businessman based in Cheshire, had acquired the club in 2020 and had a plan in place to move up the leagues, with a target of reaching the Championship within seven years. After six difficult seasons in the National League North, it would be a remarkable accomplishment.
In the sixth level, while certain competitors had audiences of 300, County had over 3,000 in attendance. Currently, they are drawing nearly 10,000 every week and have a goal to increase Edgeley Park’s capacity to 20,000. This is due to Stockport’s rapid development as a town in recent times, and they intend to incorporate 30,000 square feet of adaptable workspace in the new stand.
If you peruse through any recent ranking of desirable living locations, Stockport will likely make an appearance. The town has experienced a surge of trendy establishments like bars, restaurants, and coffee shops, and its reputation has been boosted by the success of local band Blossoms. The club also benefits from its convenient proximity to the railway station and receives valuable support from the knowledgeable Stockport Council, which shares the same desire as Stott and Vaughan to see the club thrive.
A top-level training center, previously owned by Manchester City and located in Carrington, has been obtained. The team includes talented players like Olaofe from Millwall, Louie Barry on loan from Aston Villa, and Nick Powell, who previously played for Manchester United. With these additions, it seems that the team is on the rise. Challinor, a former defender for the club in the 2000s and the most successful manager in County’s history with a 59% win rate, certainly believes so.
“In my opinion, it is beneficial to be in a place where there is a clear plan and a drive to achieve success,” he explains. “I prefer to be in a situation where there is hope and ambition for promotion, rather than just maintaining the status quo. We view Stockport as a large town with potential for growth in both the fanbase and stadium size.”
It’s an exciting place for the players, too, as Olaofe can attest. Since arriving in January, the 23-year-old has felt the love from the fanbase, Challinor and the club’s engaged hierarchy.
The main reason I joined Stockport was because of the club’s long-term goals. They explained their vision for the next five years and it really impressed me. As we consistently fill the stadium and keep winning games, I believe more fans will flock to support us each week.
I am aware of Stockport County’s plans to improve Edgeley Park and their desire to increase the size of the stadium. If the team performs well, it will positively impact the community. This will hopefully lead to further growth in the area and establish a strong reputation for ourselves. While we are making progress, there is still much work to be done in achieving these goals.
In the 2001-02 season, both Stockport and Manchester City were competing in the second tier of English football. Since then, the two teams have had very different experiences, but now Stockport is not just trying to break free from being overshadowed by Manchester’s big clubs. Stockport has grown into its own thriving town, and County is no longer a secondary team for casual fans of United or City.
In May, Vaughan stated that they are unable to provide the traditional matchday atmosphere with a classic stadium and reasonable prices. The stadium renovation will not change the intimidating Cheadle End, which is where most of the Hatters’ energy comes from on Saturdays and can be seen from the train line to Manchester.
Challinor’s team is heading to Swindon for their next race, with Stockport aiming for a 13th consecutive win. Olaofe states that they are prepared for challenging matches and the key is to recover quickly for the next week.
Stockport County is experiencing a great resurgence both on and off the field.