Sunday 2 February 2020

No Need For The Boos - Stockport County FC Vs Boreham Wood FC, National League, Edgeley Park (04/01/20)

Sitting on a bench outside a Co-Op, waiting for my other half to stagger her way over from Greggs with a bag full of sausage rolls and pizza slices, doing her best not to vomit, because last night she forgot she is in her 40’s and is not a teenager anymore, after going out with some old school friends, was not quite how I envisaged starting today.

I say starting, because in fact this debacle began about eight or nine hours earlier with a swathe of drunken selfies and the sounds of retching as she crashed around the downstairs of her parents house attempting to make toast, being frankly quite annoying.

It’s grey, dry and cold, the weather doing a fine job in summing up my mood. What was supposed to be an early birthday present, a trip to one of possibly my favourite places to watch football, has instead turned into babysitting an almost fifty year old Harry Potter lookalike, making sure to shield her from even the slightest of noises, because they might force her to curl up on the floor and I'll have to call her Mum to come and pick her up.

Plenty of blue passes us by, eating in silence, the warm salty tubes that Greggs call a sausage roll, cover me in crumbs. I consider just sending her home and going it alone, but the greasy contents of our paper bag lunch, has fortified her somewhat, so we plough on and it's not long before towering over the nearby red brick terraced houses, we get a glimpse of Edgeley Parks grand Cheadle End, the all seater behemoth and three of the four spindly floodlights that sit on each corner of the home of Stockport County FC (SC).

My affinity with this particular club, two hundred miles from where I grew up, that before meeting my other half thirteen years ago I had no knowledge of, and now having seen them a handful of times in the past decade, my fondness for them getting stronger each time, is inexplicable. The first time we saw them play was also the first time I met Rachel's parents, that's the puking mother of my daughter, meeting us at the local train station where they presented us with a SC scarf each. Her, the North, her family and SC all now somewhat intertwined.

Before the almost being sick and the wandering around the shopping precinct trying to decide on what Rachel wanted to eat, it’s worth mentioning a slight match day anomaly, an offer in the greatest tradition of the Godfather, one I couldn't “refuse”, made by a member of Help The Hatters the SC supporters club.

Standing by a still shutter covered door, one of the two that interrupt the iconic blue wall with Stockport County A.F.C. written across it on the side of the clubs main stand, is David waiting patiently. Waiting to give us a quick glimpse before all the hustle and bustle of match day kicks in, of a place so ram packed with SC related trinkets, tat and memorabilia of the highest order, long time readers will know what a fan I am of such things, it will be enough to almost make me puke and I hadn't even had a drink last night, The Stockport County Museum.

Replace the stone columns of the British Museum, the ornate Victorian facade of the Natural History Museum or the chimney of Stockport's very own Hat Museum, with the narrow double doors of a function room, deep in the bowels of the Danny Bergara Stand, like I said before the shutter having to be raised and hurriedly closed behind us, but don't get confused, this place in no less auspicious. The outside might not be as opulent as the aforementioned, but the contents within, are just as precious.

I could go on about the picture covered walls, the glass cabinets fit to burst, the shirts oh the shirts, for ages. The 1970’s season tickets, which are effectively miniature leather bound books, the programmes and trophies, the cap of the one and only SC player to represent England.

Far too much to mention, but what a treat. All sourced by the passionate and devoted members of the supporters club, as well as the wider SC family. It’s not massive, it's all a bit rammed in, fitting wherever it can go, but its a sight to behold, something every club should have, however big or small. Because ultimately a club's history is its foundation and keeping in touch with it, is oh so important.

The well turned out man in a flat cap and cheery disposition, sells me my 50/50 tickets. “If you are lucky” he tells me, the results will be “announced at half time” and shown on “the scoreboard” too. SC’s very own jumbotron a new addition since our last visit, that sits atop the uncovered stand opposite to where we'll be sitting today.

It’s a kind of a staging post, a base camp if you will the other side of the turnstiles, the lady in her white plastic hut furnishing me with a programme, before we make the ascent to our seats. The yawning great entrance and concrete steps are hardly inviting, but you know in the back of your mind what is at the top is well worth the climb and someone has done their best to make the stark metal and concrete as welcoming as possible. I particularly like the picture of the current team in a collection of old shirts.

“Wishing you all a very happy New Year” says the booming voice over the PA, who has a little bit of the announcer at a major train station about him. Our journey through the cave, to the rather plain concourse is not the end of our travels, and there are a few more steps to negotiate before we find our seats a few rows short of the very back. Edgeley Park with its Football League pedigree, means when you leave the concourse and head out into open, it gives you that tingle, that many grounds lower down the pyramid just don't give you.

People are piling in by the second and having gone through all the niceties, the PA then prepares those who take part in such horrors to get their “pens and pencils ready” he “promised them the starting elevens” and he is a man who delivers. As he proceeds to read them out, I can hear every single programme being scribbled on crying, it's like witnessing some kind of war crime.

As each member of the team's name is read out, their image in turn appears on the big screen. The popularity of said players is made clear by the enthusiasm of each response.

The extending of the blue vinyl tunnel is accompanied by Florence and the Machine, a few minutes later the referee comes into view along with the SC and Boreham Wood FC (BW) players and then it's the turn of Flo Rida who is briefly interrupted by the man with the microphone one last time, asking the supporters to “welcome” out the teams “for the first time this year” and as much as I have a bit of a secret fancy for the tax dodging Mr Rida’s upbeat Good Feeling, I’d much rather listen to the drum that has just struck up behind us, as the first ripple of “Jim Gannons blue and white army” starts to wash over us.

A wolf whistle follows the home keeper taking a tumble in his own area, slipping I guess as there wasn't any apparent obstacle. Come the end of the day, he will be looking back on the playful teasing longingly, after the day he has.

The drum is now reverberating, and the floor below my feet is quivering, however this is all soon quelled, with the announcement that a two minutes silence is to be observed, bringing everyone to their feet, which is followed by a cacophony of banging folding chairs. Just the odd cough and naff
ringtone breaks the silence and when it's over, that phenomenon like someone has flicked a switch plays out, all the bowed heads lift again, and life returns, “blue army, blue army”.

Remember what I said about the keeper looking back fondly on the ribbing he got when he fell over, well now you'll understand why, with about one minute on the clock, his less than stellar goalkeeping has resulted in SC going behind and the flood gates open. “You shit cunt” sneers one fan, “that’s fucking scandalous” barks another. The far from fiercely struck shot from outside the area, a bit of a bouncer really, looked to tickle his outstretched hands, before hitting the back of the net. The heaving stand around us going from joyful to seething in the blink of an eye”.

Having been rather quiet until now, hunkering down in her seat, braced against me, Rachel joins in the sledging, “I thought I was hungover”, suggesting the keepers poor handling was down to a skinful full last night. One man adjacent to me across the stairs, plays a spot of ‘I told you so’, “how long have I been saying about him?”.

The opening five minutes have hardly been impressive by SC, the allegation that it was not just the keeper, but the whole team who had been on the piss last night, could certainly be levelled at them. Six minutes on the clock and another BW attack pierces the backline, into the eighteen yard box, the player responsible for deflecting the cross wide get his very own song, and out last night or not out last night, the SC supporters aren't showing any sluggishness, unlike their team, “and we come from Edgeley, you’re the only team for me” they sing. The drum pounding away, accompanied by a tiny cymbal, the likes normally associated with a wind up performing bear.

“Come on County'' pleads one fan, the kind of request which is normally reserved for the last ten minutes, not after the first. Already looking like they are going to get over run, they have been sloppy to say the least.

BW’s kit is positively foul an all neon green number with a few black accents, quite the juxtaposition in comparison to the classic blue and white of SC. A single child tries to stir the crowd, “ally, ally o”, but the matters on the pitch are more pressing, the visitors dominant, “put a fucking tackle in” fumes one fan. SC are almost out of it, before it’s even got started. Second to everything, Rachel's appraisal is rather damning, “this is shit”.

It takes a full fifteen minutes before the Cheadle End bristles anywhere as like as much as it had in the moments before kick off, when all the promise of a good day ahead was palpable. A whipped shot is not far off target, over the crossbar and into the vacant stand behind, the drum and symbol flare up for the first time in a while, as does a low rumbling chorus of “County, County”.

However this doesn't last for long, the crowd are again muted, the match poor, this though does not prevent what I've recently noticed is a mainstay on lots of non league grounds, kids haring about. Down at the foot of the stand, between it and the pitch, at least three or four are charging up and down, quite ambivalent to what is going on feet away from them.

“Ohhhhh” gasp the crowd, SC are let off once again. What looks like a simple back post tap in for BW, goes begging. The fans try to rouse their team, “Jim Gannon's blue and white army”, but they are well and truly on the ropes. One man describes it as being “like an attack Vs defence match”.

A home free kick sees the man in front of me on the edge of his seat in anticipation, readying himself to leap up in celebration, but nothing comes of it. “Jim Gannons blue and white army” is stuck on a loud loop, however this is soon replaced with more vitriol towards the keeper. If I’m honest I’m not sure there was really much he could have done about the dipping long range effort, that puts BW further ahead, but the majority of people around me seem to think he is very much at fault.

“You want sacking you cunt” spits one man, Mr ‘I told you so’ is back at it again, talking about his musings on SC's online fan forum, “people don't believe me on Yellow Board about him”. Small spats, quarrels break out among them, all while BW mob the scorer. There is no sound from the smattering of their fans off to our right, just lots of swearing, lots and lots of swearing.

A few are a bit more pragmatic, “it was a good goal, you can't blame him for that”, however everyone can agree that the team just aren't putting a shift in. “everyone's walking” says someone exacerbated, “put a tackle” in cries another. When a thunderous BW drive rebounds off the wood work, I turn to Rachel who simply mouths “what the fuck”.

A hoof out of defence, hands possession back to BW, allowing them to crash against the struggling SC defence once more, it's really horrible from the home side. BW go close, Rachel makes the point “they might as well not be on the pitch”. The bing bong of the PA offers up a scarce moment of light relief, “I hope this announcement is for me so I can go” laughs one man, another putting on his best pretend voice, “can any Stockport County midfielders please get on the ball”.

I’m not sure if it's the influence of last night's cocktails, but Rachel is in a particularly prickly mood, when SC get the ball into the BW box she gripes, “after thirty two minutes they have decided to play some football”. She is not the only one mind, the fans around us more than forthcoming with their opinions, “play in their half”, “move up”.

The SC attack results in a corner, which is probably the beginning of their first bit of sustained home pressure all half. A song breaks out among the fans right at the back of the stand, and filters down “I O County” and Rachel can't get her head around the total lack of noise coming from the travelling supporters, “why travel all that way just to be miserable?”.

On his feet, near enough seaming, one man violently gestures towards the pitch, “forward, forward. MOVE!” the distinct lack of home dynamism is starting to grate. Such is the growing desperation, one person even blames a neighbour for their down turn in fortune, “all very good until you came back”. A lady behind me, calls for them to be a bit more direct, “too much fucking messing about. Get it in”.

By far one of the most animated supporters, the man in the seat in front of me is constantly up and down. Each misplaced pass or shot on goal, is greeted with a whole host of guttural noises. “That's better from us” says one fan generously, an SC cross into the box is held up well, allowing for a teammate to let fly a shot which is well blocked. SC showing the first genuine bit of link up play, and then not long after a long range effort is beaten out by the BW keeper, but no SC player is able to latch onto the loose ball.

“A couple of fast passes and we’re in” says one man, the crowd encouraged, breaking into song “County, County”. SC are looking far better, but it's a long way back, and that's about to get even further. Any hint of joy is quickly sucked out of the place, when BW scores their third, “too fucking easy”, “its embarrassing”.

The BE players celebrate down in front riling up the home fans, inspiring some quiet excellent levels of swearing, and many clenched fists simulating an unsavoury act. “There was three in a line” bemoans one man, more then one BW player on hand in the box to score, if the first man had missed. Boos follow and it's hard to deduce if they are for the mocking BW players or their own under performing ones.

Perhaps in an attempt to appease the restless locals the PA is quick to divulge the 50/50 results as the
players walk off. The 50/50 I didn't win, no money, larger or club shop voucher for me, the 50/50 from what I can make out is sponsored by a local cash and carry. One woman pulls a crime novel from the bag at her feet and would be forgiven if she just carried on reading it until the end. SC’s mascot ,a large hat wearing bear is doing the rounds, although he leaves one boy hanging who is looking for a high five, but he’s persistent, chasing after the walking cuddly toy until he finally gets what he is after.

Rachel, barely a shell of her former self, joins the throng in search of some refreshment, desperately in need of a hot drink. “We’re gonna win 4 - 3” says an optimistic younger SC fan, clutching a soft drink, clearly high on aspartame. The first half performance is summed up perfectly by two passing friends who just shrug at each other, another asks for “answers on a postcard” as to why they were as abysmal as they were, and I'm somewhat engrossed by the young man who trumps the lady with a book, playing a Lego Star Wars game on a large black tablet.

The 50/50 has been claimed, but the blaring music does a good job of drowning out my disappointment. When SC returns there is a light smattering of applause, but really they are lucky to get that. They have given their fans absolutely nothing worthy of applause yet.

“That was excellent timing” says Rachel grasping two cups of tea, however she comes bearing bad news, “they've run out of pies, good thing Tom isn't here”, Rachel “really fancied a Pukka pie” the perfect antidote for a stinking hangover. When BW appear, they are greeted with silence, I can just about make out the handful of their fans, but can't hear if they are making any noise at all.

The first ten minutes or so of the new half are consumed with me trying not to give myself third degree burns as still a quarter of an hour after purchasing it, my tea is molten lava hot. SC thankfully are looking a bit more with it, “pass it” screams a supporter towards a player who opts for glory and ends up taking the wildest of shots. He had better options and plenty of people are happy to tell him so.

However with my tea still not even half gone and with 16:15 on the big screen, SC scored.

My view of the ball actually hitting the back of the net is blocked by the bounding man in front of me, the goal itself a case of BW not clearing their lines after a free kick, and a low cross from wide, is tapped in from close range. It almost felt like a case of the crowd drawing it in, the celebrations a bit more jubilant than you would expect considering there is still such a mountain to climb. “dah, dah, dah, County” sing the fans, one man free styling pumping his fist and letting out some falsetto “woos”, but this SC team so far this season, if my memory serves me right, like to do things the hard way, so the regulars around me probably just think this is all very par for the course.

The fact SC almost concedes again direct from the restart does little to dampen the mood in the stand, and the most fierce of shots that very nearly gives SC their second, only for it to be pushed wide by the very ends of the BW keeper fingers tips, means the stand is jumping once again. The goal has well and truly breathed some much needed energy into the place.

Having finally finished my tea, I have to admit it wasn't the best, Rachel puts it down to the fact it's from “Yorkshire”, those ugly cross Pennine rivalries rearing their head. On the pitch SC are in the midst of a purple patch, another attempt on goal is wide of the post, it sees the man in front up again, but this time instead of sitting back down, he leans back, effectively sitting on me, as Rachel puts it sniggering, “you got a lap dance”.

With his man bun and painfully tight looking shorts, the BW keeper is coming in for some stick, his leisurely approach to goal kicks is starting to annoy those who can see through his far from subtle shenanigans, “hurry up you tart” and from then on all subsequent kicks are accompanied with “ohhhhh….you shit fat bastard”.

After all the invigoration that followed their goal, SC are starting to slip back into their previous bad habits, “shut your eyes and hope, is not a tactic” sighs Rachel, echoing the sentiment of those who for a short time were so elated, but that's rapidly slipping away. SC tease their supporters again with an off target header from a corner, and when a BW player goes down in the box, stopping play, all the venom from post goal comes flooding back, the boos ring out, “Get up you fucking tart” shrieks one man, another insists that the player has no need for the physio and they are to simply “roll him off” the pitch.

When all else fails, start blaming the referee. It’s an age old tactic, and one we have all been guilty of when our team is being shit. “You’ve got one fucking job” bemoans one fan, after a call doesn’t go their way, a loud volley of “wanker, wanker, wanker” echos around the stand, one of the voices a high pitched child, Rachels response 80% shock and 20% amusement.

Hope is draining with every passing moment, SC can’t say they have not had the chances this second half, but whenever they do break BW down there interplay is far from precise. The visitors keeper then overtakes the referee as what they call in wrestling circles The Heel or the “pantomime villain” as one person puts it. He is pushing the very limit of how long it takes a person to gather a ball, set it up and kick it. The shouts of “you fat bastard” getting less good natured.

“Oh my god what are you doing” screams a lady a couple of rows behind us, it also happens to be what Rachel mouths, on account of still feeling like crap and being unable to summon up the energy to speak. SC have the ball, but instead of pressing on,  they simply pass it from side to side, showing absolutely no urgency, carrying little threat, no real penetration.

Into the final five, and the crowd starts to thin. Every foul awarded now in SC’s favour is greeted with a sardonic jeer, the home fans really don't feel like they have had any justice today.

Resigned to defeat, one man suggests “it would be cruel to score now” the final whistle so close. A back post header, heading goal wards strikes a BW player in the box, up go the shouts of “handball” but they are waved away and the BW keepers dallying has now transcended just football, “it's a work of art this time wasting, I'm surprised the doesn't have a cloak on”.

“11 wants his hattrick” says one man, and the SC keeper almost gives it to him after a howler at the back, SC’s “heads have dropped” points out one fan, some just want this ordeal to be over and done with “blow the whistle, this is painful now”. When the name of the man of the match is announced, he gets a round of applause, and those wanting to leave, but who don't want to miss anything, now fill the chequered gangway at the base of the stand, waiting for the misery to end, so they can get home

It can be said at least, despite looking woeful, SC haven't complete downed tools and press on best they can. A lot of that down to the fact BW have well and truly shut up shop and are more than happy for the home side to have as much of the ball as they want, whenever their keeper isn’t prating around with it, that is, “come on fatty” urges one man.

Right at the death and SC spurn another fine chance, a ball right across the goal mouth, that no one is on hand to capitalise on.

“A minimum of four minutes allowed” announces the PA, even his mood has dipped a bit, his articulation tarnished by the poor performance. SC manage to get the ball to the edge of the BW eighteen yard box, but the pass to the player who was supposed to have made the overlapping run, rolls out into touch, because the player never made it. “Put it down to a bad day”, says one man philosophically, edging down the steps.

The faintest "wood army, wood army" can be heard from the BW fans come the final whistle, the SC
players applaud the Cheadle End and I think its safe to say SC and it's supporters won't want us anywhere near their club for a while, we don't seem to bring them much luck.

Writing this I still struggle with why exactly I feel the way I do about SC, why they have made the impression on me that they have. Of all the clubs we've visited over the years, why them? A comment made by one fan on the way out, while others showed their displeasure, "no need for the boos", has something to do with it.

They are a club that has had plenty of highs and plenty of lows in the time I've been watching them, from promotion, to relegation all the way down to the National League North, and what has impressed me most through all of this and other than the warm welcome the fans have always given us, the ground which has all the character you could want, that you can only hope and pray will never be knocked down and replaced with an IKEA flat pack job, is that the fans have continued to come. Be it watching them in Barnet, Edgeley Park, and at whatever level, the fans have always been there.

I'm a Spurs fan, I have been since I was thirteen, I would never call myself anything other than a Spurs fan, one load of stress is enough, however each time I see SC, that shifts. I'm just not sure my heart can handle both.

For all of our photographs from the match, click HERE

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