Stockport County 3 Swansea City 1
Today League Division 4
27 April 1986
Spring had sprung. The sands of the football season were running out and at such times a trip to Stockport can begin to feel like a good idea. The sun shone as we left our flat on Wilmslow Road and it was still shining thirty seconds later when we diverted into the Clarence on the nail of opening time. The train journey was a mere 10 minutes from Levenshulme so we figured there was enough time to grab a couple of pints and still make the kick-off.
My previous visit to Edgeley Park was not a good day. At Telford’s second FA Cup-tie with County in three years the fans were daggers drawn – quite literally, as I discovered while attempting to escape the place alive after we’d rolled the home team over. Stockport may have been in the commuter belt but the locals were more Mr Majestyk than Mr Benn. The walk from station to ground was an awkward one and you were more likely to meet a gang of tooled-up bad lads in Fila and Ellesse than a friendly shopkeeper.
To make that particular afternoon worse the National Front had chosen the town to stage a get-together. Their train arrived a short while before mine and by the time I got there a lively counter-demonstration had chased the skinhead mob back into the booking hall and were enthusiastically bombarding them, the police and the windows with half-bricks, smoke bombs and random items of street furniture. This made the Stockport Hit Squad seem the least of my worries as I hastily swerved the carnage via Platform 6, three sets of tracks and a convenient gate in the wall.
Under normal circumstances you could save a lot of grief and shoe leather by turning right into the sooty tunnel under the station. This brought you out onto an equally grimy access road, with an unpleasant dead end at its foot and a nasty blind corner further up. (Those cobbles were the setting for many a matchday skirmish. It was better on the way home because you were running downhill.) The road doubled back over the railway and arrived at a traffic roundabout with no fewer than four pubs dotted fiendishly around it. Each invariably had a little group of spotters hanging around outside – the last was particularly tricky, as it dominated the bypass leading up to the ground itself.
That short stretch brought your first encounter with what passed for a policing operation. This was not a comforting thing. The wing of the GMP who controlled Stockport had an inferiority complex about their small-town status and over-compensated by being as unpleasant as possible to away fans, particularly those who weren’t actually doing anything wrong. Even if you got past the roundabout without attracting attention a Transit van full of James Anderton’s finest would soon be taking an interest. You’d then get generally badgered and pushed about before finally being allowed to go on your way, surrounded by inquisitive home fans who now knew exactly who and what you were.
Happily there was no nonsense today. We couldn’t possibly have been taken for Welsh and anyway no-one in their right mind would travel from Swansea to Stockport by train on a Monday evening. County – like near-neighbours Chester and Tranmere – had a tradition of playing their matches at bizarre times. Friday night was a particular favourite, ostensibly because gates would otherwise have been affected by the First Division football available up the road. (There seemed little proof this ever made much difference. In my experience Stockport fans hated everybody and that certainly included the two Manchester clubs.)
Edgeley Park’s focal point was the art-deco frontage of the 1937 main stand on Hardcastle Road. The entrance for travelling fans was on the left as you faced the players’ entrance, with the home supporters’ turnstiles on the right. Once through the latter we found ourselves on an open concrete expanse. This was the flattened site of the old Cheadle End, a diminutive Twenties structure which stood behind one goal until the Popplewell Report decided belatedly that wooden stands weren’t such a good idea. It used to be a charming little building – cosy in winter and ideally suited to foot-stamping at exciting moments. Now it was just a path leading to the Popular Side on the far touchline.
The Pop had a rear wall made from clumsy concrete slabs and a cover like an asbestos carport. The draughty open space above this wall dated from 1979, at which time a considerably larger terrace had been deemed surplus to requirements and chopped in half to free up land for a five-a-side court. The front portion of the terrace now stood in glorious isolation with the truncated roof propped at a curious height overhead. Edgeley Park’s four stumpy floodlight pylons were familiar landmarks as you approached Stockport by train – the main line to Macclesfield and points south passed within a few hundred yards of the practice pitch, and the adjacent visitors’ terrace was known as the Railway End.
This railway was for many years a good source of building material. Prior to Popplewell, Edgeley Park’s terracing consisted merely of sleepers embedded in ash banking and the ground resembled nothing so much as a timber yard. But now the wood had been replaced by concrete steps and a new security fence stood at the front of the visitors’ enclosure. We’d been very grateful for that fence at the end of the previous November’s game when a couple of hundred home fans came onto the pitch and donated their loose change towards a memorable night on the lash.
If you half closed your eyes there was a faded glory about County. Bredbury boy and Vice-President Mike Yarwood – a fan for more than forty years – was still just about a TV star, maintaining a connection with showbusiness that stretched back to the days when TV impressario Vic Bernard breathed life into a moribund Fourth Division outfit. Bernard restored the team’s historic blue shirts, also introducing the Friday Night Is County Night initiative and the Go Go Go County! slogan. Under his chairmanship the club went from applying for re-election in 1964 to winning the Division Four title just three years later.
County became unexpectedly fashionable as the Sixties swung and Bernard’s ostentatious style brought a rare glamour to Edgeley Park. Bert Trautmann was persuaded to become general manager and Manchester’s champagne set frequented the ground, with the likes of Malcolm Allison and Pat Phoenix regularly seen at games. In the 1965 FA Cup a journeyman team played out of its skin at Anfield and arguably should have won. Bill Shankly’s stars drew an impossible-seeming 25,000 to Edgeley for the replay, not far off the record attendance set in 1950 for a game against the same opposition. “What an exciting evening it was”, exclaimed The Times. “Misty and cold yet burning with the heat of combat.”
We didn’t see much heat of combat this evening. In the season when play-offs were finally introduced neither side were challenging for them. Swansea had picked up more points than Stockport, despite being docked three for some misdemeanour or another (they later got them back on appeal but still finished in mid-table). Terry Yorath’s team were stabilising in the basement division after a three-year slide from the top flight. The Swans’ most recognisable player was the venerable Tommy Hutchison. He spent most of the match charging about in midfield like a superannuated walrus.
One of our group supported Mansfield and he was very excited to see Ernie Moss in the Stockport line-up. By this stage Ernie was, like Hutchison, old enough to have known better. The ageless striker had come to County via his third spell at Chesterfield and was now nearing 750 career appearances. But for all his advancing years he remained one of the game’s great influencers – so it proved tonight, as Stockport ran up a 3-0 lead before easing off slightly and giving a dozen or so visiting casuals the chance to test out their Adidas Gazelles on the Railway End fence.
Telford drew Stockport yet again in the 1987-88 FA Cup and this time we got our comeuppance, losing 2-0 at Edgeley after a 1-1 draw at the Bucks Head. The two games were memorable only for my mate’s Chrysler Alpine disappearing from Arnold Street during the replay. An enforced walk to the station afterwards lacked any sense of menace whatsoever, and there was an increasing feeling that since Heysel the hooligans were growing up and losing interest.
The years since have barely touched Edgeley Park. The Taylor Report – coinciding as it did with an upturn in fortunes that saw County play in the Second Division for a time – forced the addition of clumsy blue seats to the Popular Side and the Railway End, the latter of which remains uncovered to this day. Hardcastle Road is much the same (perhaps the frontage is brighter and more vibrant). Only the Cheadle End has changed, and here a big 1990s stand – far larger than County’s present non-League status requires – accounts for more than half the ground’s modern capacity.
I took these pictures on my way home one bright October day. The citizens of Edgeley were going quietly about their business while a brilliant sunset illuminated blue bricks, Worrall Street hatworks and 120 years of memories. No shopkeepers appeared.
Teams (from programme):
Stockport: Marples, Evans, McKenzie, Edwards, Matthewson, Williams, Hodkinson, Moss, Entwistle, Robinson, Brown.
Swansea: Hughes, Harrison, Andrews, Stevenson, Emmanuel, Atkinson, Hough, McCarthy, Raynor, Pascoe, Hutchison. Sub: Phelan.