Edgeley Park, Stockport
This latest guestTread comes courtesy an exclusive collaboration. Lucky people, are we. Covering the game of two halves at Edgeley Park back in March, we have Ben of Newcastle site Black and White and Read All Over and fellow exiled Geordie, Jonathan, who pens the excellent Crinklybee.
Over a pre-match loosener in the bar at Piccadilly Station, my partner-in-crime for today’s spot of Guest Treading warns me that when he takes friends to matches they’re invariably rubbish. “Not to worry”, I reply, “I’m sure it’ll be infinitely more exciting than the England game this evening”…
Our whistles duly wetted, we take a quick scoot on the train out to Stockport and scamper up the hill to Edgeley Park, rushing to buy tickets and queuing up at the turnstiles. Five to three on a matchday afternoon, and some local residents decide this is the time to try to drive down Hardcastle Road immediately outside the ground. A group of high-spirited lads queuing with us take pleasure in deliberately holding up the traffic, one pretending to have had his foot run over and shouting “Where there’s blame, there’s a claim!” to the delight of the others. A couple of minutes later, and we’re settled with the County faithful in the imposing Cheadle End stand just in time for kick-off.
Stockport, lying in sixth, twelve places above derby opponents Rochdale at the start of play, recently set a new Football League record by winning nine consecutive games without conceding a goal. The tenth game, away at Barnet, was chosen as a wild card for the weekly Cheer Up Alan Shearer predictions. A County clean sheet being a safe bet, I went for 2-0 to the boys in blue and white. They lost 3-1. Since then, they’ve compounded chucking away a three goal lead at home to table-toppers Hartlepool by missing a re-taken penalty, while their most recent outing saw them beaten 2-1 at Bristol Rovers.
The question of which Stockport we’ll get – the ruthlessly efficient winning machine or the haplessly charitable side of late – is answered within five minutes of kick-off. Glen Murray, who earlier in the season had lined up for the home side on loan from Carlisle, bursts through a couple of feeble challenges like a boar through balsa wood and finishes neatly past Wayne Hennessey. “At least we’ll definitely see a game”, I say to Jonathan, “County’ll have to come out and attack now”…
Before the first ten minutes are out, it’s two, Alan Goodall nodding in from a corner. Then, on the quarter hour, Hennessey – the on-loan hero of the recent record-breaking run – makes a mockery of the home fans’ chants of “Wales’ number one” by inexplicably dropping a free-kick and then rashly tugging Murray turfwards. Jonathan points out that seemingly every kid with an ASBO in Stockport subsequently piles down the front to congregate behind the goal – but despite Hennessey’s valiant efforts to make amends for his rush of blood to the head, and despite the wild two-finger gesticulations of hordes of tracksuited 12-year-olds, penalty taker Adam Rundle strikes the ball with just enough venom for it to spin over the line.
The thought that this could be the Hartlepool game in reverse, with the home side mounting the dramatic three goal comeback, pops into my head. But it lingers there all of two minutes – until a low left-wing cross somehow finds its way to the feet of Rochdale’s Ben Muirhead, whose deflected shot rustles the netting in front of us for a fourth time.
4-0 to the lowly visitors, then – after just 17 minutes. In the circumstances, the continuous noisy support roared from the stands is incredible. After all, if there really is a claim where there’s blame, then every Stockport fan in the ground has the right to demand the home defence reimburse them the full cost of their tickets. A bewildered man behind us spots his friend, clearly not a regular visitor to Edgeley Park: “You’re a right fucking jinx, you”. Meanwhile, us two bemused Geordies are suffering flashbacks to January and that FA Cup replay defeat to Birmingham. If anything, though, this has been even more of a horror show; Stockport could hardly have been more spectacularly self-destructive if they’d walked onto the pitch with rucksacks and detonated themselves in the centre circle. Not even the scoreboard seems to be able to cope with it, the figure “4” flickering beneath a clearly visible “0”. It’s been that long since they last shipped four at home that the bulbs have gone.
Not to worry, though: any myopic Cheadle Enders unable to make out the scoreboard at the other end of the ground are helpfully reminded of the score by a Rochdale player who, preparing to take a corner and out of sight of the referee, responds to the barracking from home fans with a smug grin and a fan of four fingers. So it’s with no little pleasure that we celebrate County gaining a foothold back in the game courtesy of Anthony Elding’s clever back header. Tony Dinning launches the ball forwards onto Elding’s bonce and, with ‘keeper Matt Gilks having rushed obligingly off his line, the ball loops into the empty net.
If that goal might have raised Jeff Stelling’s eyebrows, then the next, five minutes later, must certainly trigger his ever-sensitive Comeback-O-Meter. Rundle’s loose pass is seized upon by Elding who squares for fellow striker Liam Dickinson to finish with ease and suddenly it’s back to 2-4. We leap to our feet, caught up in the moment like County diehards. A remarkable half finishes with Stockport tails up and us pondering how exactly stoppage time can be sponsored – players, kits and match balls fair enough, but stoppage time?!
Of course it’s all very well the likes of me and Ben – essentially Newcastle United fans enjoying an afternoon awayday in the parellal universe of Football League Division Two – adopting a loftily ironic perspective. For most in the crowd this afternoon, this going 4-0 down to Rochdale within 17 minutes is hardly a laughing matter. As I emerge from the Gents at the end of half-time – a muffled roar from above alerting us last few stragglers that the second 45 minutes is just underway – I brush past a boy of maybe eleven years of age, who seems to have taken his team’s calamitous opening 45 minutes particularly to heart. Unlike the ASBO kids who had tried in vain to put ’Dale’s Adam Rundle off his penalty-taking stride, this floppy-fringed young fan (who, if it wasn’t for the blue-and-white “Come on County” flag draped over his shoulders, could have stepped straight off the pages of the Spring 2007 Gap Kid catalogue) would hail from one of the more middle-class enclaves of the borough of Stockport: leafy Heaton Mersey perhaps, or even Bramhall, which is a kind of urban ghetto for stockbrokers. Whatever the privileges afforded by his high-born status however, the youngster cuts a forlorn figure as he troops back up the steps with his mobile-phone-clutching dad: the flag, which you imagine having emerged clean and crisp from his mam’s washing machine early this morning, now droops disconsolately onto the styrofoam-coffecup-and-cigarette-end-littered floor of the concrete walkway. It will be needing to go back into the wash before the next home game, for sure.
If only Jim Gannon’s bedraggled troops could have been revived by a quick fifteen-minute spin in a top-of-the-range Bendix during the half-time interval. Before we have had a chance to regain our seats, their already perilous predicament has become downright hopeless – ’Dale’s Ben Muirhead latching onto a drilled left-wing cross to slam home a far-post half-volley – and, as the home players visibly shrink under this fresh evidence of Lancashire superiority, it is left to the Cheadle End faithful to salvage some Cheshire pride from this increasingly catastrophic afternoon. This task they rise to with relish – even as Murray’s glancing header brings ’Dale within a whisker of inflicting a club record home defeat on their floundering hosts, the rousing chant of “Jimmy Gannon’s Blue-and-White Army” is still enough to drown out anything that can be mustered by the travelling support massed on the open Railway End opposite. The ’Dale support, you imagine, have been so taken aback by their canary-clad team’s ninety-minute-only metamorphosis into the Brazil of 1970 that many of them have been quite literally dumbstruck. Behind the heads of these astonished travellers, the Railway End scoreboard continues to struggle manfully with the afternoon’s unlikely developments; the closing digit of the Twilight-Zone-esque phrase “Rochdale 6” flickers intermittently against the backdrop of the encroaching afternoon gloom.
Before the final whistle puts County out of their misery, there is time for the scoreboard’s 60-watt bulbs to get to grips with the challenge of “Rochdale 7” – Chris Dagnall slamming home an 89th minute loose ball after the latest in a series of raids led by the visitors’ tiny blond left back (a dead ringer, at least from the perspective of the far-right-hand-side cheap seats, for alleged Caledonian funnyman Jimmy Kranky). As the County net billows for the final time of the afternoon, several of the home rearguard are to be found prone on the Edgeley Park turf, their desperate lunges having served only to delay the inevitable, ultimate ignominy of that record club home defeat.
Back in the warmth of the Armitage Public House a goal-kick’s distance from the Railway End, the faithful are struggling to take it all in. Spotting my acquaintance Ian Lancashire – a County fan of forty years’ standing known to the entire crowd simply as “Lancs” – I attempt to take my share of the blame, as seems only incumbent on an occasional Cheadle Ender of far-north-eastern provenance.
“I must be a jinx Ian, man – one match I come to since Christmas and we lose 7-2. 7-2!’
“Ah don’t be daft”, comes the cheerful rejoinder. “The wind was against us, that’s all”.
It seems cruel to point out to such a diehard that unless the wind changed ends along with the players, it can hardly be held responsible for both the 4-2 deficit at half-time and the three goals shipped without reply upon the resumption. So I content myself with a rueful handshake – promising to be back again before May. Then me and Ben sidle out into the rapidly-emptying Edgeley sidestreets to catch the 17:49 back to Piccadilly – our plan is to find a welcoming city centre hostelry in which to take in the evening’s mouthwatering international fixture.
Three hours later we are emerging, somewhat the worse for wear, from the Lass O’Gowrie public house behind the Manchester BBC HQ. England and Israel have singularly failed to add to the afternoon’s tally of nine goals, but this tiny deputation of Geordie daytrippers is far from downhearted as we make our way back towards Piccadilly. “It’s always rubbish when I take a friend to a ground for the first time”, I had said to Ben over that lunchtime loosener. Well it turned out to be a lot of things – bizarre mostly, I think – but certainly not rubbish at all.
In fact, you know what? I think there might even be a chance I could entice Ben back to Edgeley Park for a second visit sometime. Well, anything is possible – even, as the Railway End scoreboard found out to its clear discomfort this afternoon, “Rochdale”.