On the 7th May 2011, a 1-1 draw with Cheltenham Town brought a dismal end to Stockport County’s 106-year stretch in the Football League. 4102 days or eleven years, two months and 22 days later, EFL football will return to Edgeley Park.
It’s been a painful absence for the Hatters which saw the club drop to the lowest point in its history, the Conference North. They’d be beaten by clubs such as Boston United, Colwyn Bay and Vauxhall Motors and the memories of that spell in the sixth tier still sting for those connected with the club.
“It was without a doubt the lowest day in the club's history,” local Stockport County journalist Sam Byrne explains. “It's difficult because a lot of other clubs will say they have had something similar with Wrexham, Chesterfield, Notts County - proper clubs that have been down here for so long. But for County to spend six years in the Conference North and to be playing almost - with no disrespect - almost Sunday League sides at times, and losing - for us to be where we are now is a sensational feeling.”
The club couldn’t be further away from those dismal displays having won the National League title in front of 10,000 County fans last term. Under the guidance of manager Dave Challinor and with the investment that Mark Stott has made into the club, there’s a real belief that a return to League Two is only the start of this resurgence.
They are currently favourites to win League Two with the bookies and in our own League Two predictions we’ve backed them to win back-to-back titles and fly up the Football League. But that will depend on whether Challinor can prove himself in the EFL, having only managed Hartlepool at this level before.
“I know where I am at in terms of my career,” he tells The Sportsman. “I need to improve because this club is looking to go on a journey beyond League Two and beyond League One. Well, from my perspective, if I see it as a challenge that I've managed maybe 20 League Two games - I hope to manage a whole lot more. I need to improve, all the players need to improve and the staff need to improve in all that and allow this to be the place where we can develop and progress up the leagues.”
The investment from Stott has continued this summer, and Paddy Madden, now captain, has goalscoring pedigree at League One level. Callum Camps has joined from Fleetwood, Fraser Horsfall comes in from Northampton having helped them to the play-offs last term and they’ve poached several talents from the National League.
Joe Lewis and Connor Lemonheigh-Evens join from Torquay and Kyle Wooten comes in from Notts County as this Stockport squad takes shape ahead of the new campaign. Challinor has a remarkable win percentage of 74.4% and his team went on a run of 52 points from 54 after Christmas which ultimately secured them the title. There's every reason to believe this good form can continue in the fourth tier.
But ultimately, this season isn't about promotion for County fans. It’s simply about being back in the Football League, where they belong. This Northern giant has been sleeping for far too long but at 3pm against Barrow, they will have truly awoken. A new dawn began at the club when Stott came in and this weekend, they finally get to enjoy their day in the sun.
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