For years, Stockport County have been on the slide. Have they finally found the way back up?
Hi, I’m Chloe and this is the Playmaker.
One story every day to make sense of the world of football.
Today… Stockport County’s fourteen-day miracle.
How long does it take for a new manager to make an impact? A month? Six months? A year?
Or how about two weeks?
That’s how long it took for Dave Challinor to take Stockport from this…
“And would you believe it, another corner and another Barnet goal. 2-1 the visitors lead.”Stockport County
“Raikhy sends it forward…Ollie Crankshaw…to seal the deal! Oh he’s only gone and done it! Ollie Crankshaw for Stockport County! What a night at Edgeley Park! What a match the FA Cup delivers again! Twice two goals down…and now they’re two goals up!”BBC Sport
Last Wednesday night, a sellout crowd at Edgeley Park saw Stockport go from 3-1 down to Bolton Wanderers – a League One team – to a 5-3 victory.
The BBC were surely delighted that they’d chosen to feature the game on live TV.
After all, the National League side had knocked out a team from two divisions above.
At this point, it would be so easy to wax lyrical about a giant killing and magical night under the floodlights.
But let’s dig into the reasons why that night was even more important than it seemed, and why Challinor has settled into his new role so quickly.
Let me introduce you to Mark Stott. He bought Stockport County two years ago – and under him the club has been transformed.
“But I really feel as though, the size of the club…it warrants being in a different league, a different place. The fan support is unlike nothing else in the league, and it’s a platform…erm Stockport County has a platform that no other club has and I think that with myself and with the team that we have and with the fans and the team that’s currently here, we can be part of a really exciting journey to be part of er…a really exciting journey to get it back to where it was twenty years ago.”Stockport County
Thanks to him, Stockport have invested in top-notch training facilities, refurbished the old Edgeley Park stadium, and invested huge sums into overhauling the playing squad.
For long-time supporters, the club was barely recognisable.
In January this year, the club had a new manager – Simon Rusk. He was brought in from Premier League side Brighton.
And he spoke in the media savvy way managers at that level can.
However, the gift of the gab needs to be matched by play on the pitch – and Stockport were playing badly.
Results continued to slide and Rusk was sacked after a home defeat to Barnet in October.
That’s when Challinor was whisked away from League Two Hartlepool, the side whose promotion he secured last summer.
Now, it might seem odd that Challinor would even consider dropping down a league… so why did he do so?
For starters, Challinor has unfinished business at Edgeley Park.
“To get the welcome I did… erm… just reinforces the fact that the decision I made… a tough one… was the right one.”Stockport County Live
Challinor first signed as a player in 2002 when they were in the Championship.
By the time he left in 2004, he’d witnessed the start of an almighty fall from grace.
It would eventually see them lose their Football League status in 2011, for the first time in their 118 year history. They even lost ownership of their stadium along the way.
And now Challinor has returned as manager with no time to prepare, no extra signings, and with the team struggling for form and lacking in confidence. But he had the massive advantage of knowing what makes the club tick.
He talks a lot about identity.
In just a few days, he’s helped Stockport to rediscover what had been lost during that long downward spiral. And what was so lacking under his predecessor.
“We’ve gotta give the supporters something to shout about and we’ve gotta keep them in the game as much as possibleThey become a big advantage if we’ve got them all in…all on our side. And if we can get to a point where everyone is pushing in the same direction, as was shown at my previous club, that can be a really, really powerful tool.”Stockport County
Essentially, Stockport have been waiting for results on the pitch to match the work off it.
And so far, it seems like Challinor might just be that missing piece of the puzzle.
The explosion of joy that BBC viewers witnessed on the live coverage seemed to be as much of a release of everything that had gone before as a celebration of the result in itself.
As one Stockport fan said, it wasn’t about the opponent, the tournament, or the TV cameras… it was just us being… us.
What his impact will be in the long term? It’s too early to tell.
But Dave Challinor has allowed Stockport County fans to feel like themselves for the first time in a long time.
Today’s episode was written by Chloe Beresford, and produced by Imy Harper.