Matt Porter is our guest blogger this week, bringing you a blow by blow account of Stockport County’s 1997/98 season. Can they get to grips with Division 1?
Part 1: July 1997
1997. I am still 2 years away from my GCSEs and the majority of my focus is on football, be it playing or watching, or latterly managing through the superb Championship Manager series. Who to manage though? I am a Bolton fan, however it seems wrong to take the job of a man who has just got them promoted back to the Premier League, so I look to another area of Greater Manchester.
Stockport County are flying high, they have just had arguably their most successful season under Dave Jones, promoted to the second tier for the first time in 60 years and also making it to the semi final of the Coca Cola Cup, narrowly losing out to Premier League Middlesborough. Jones however ditched the club in the summer and went off to replace Graeme Souness at Southampton, presumably with the explicit instructions to not sign anyone’s cousin without seeing them play first, so the hotseat is vacant. (for those too young to remember, google Ali Dia, it isn’t fake news, he really was that gullible)
16th July 1997 rolls around and the relative unknown that is Matt Porter takes over at Stockport. Thankfully this is before the introduction of fan opinion, as I’m not sure I’m quite a big enough name in the footballing world to take over a second tier club, but I’ll keep that to myself, off to meet the squad. I am dismayed to learn that the traitor Dave Jones has taken two of our best players from last year in the form of our future international goalkeeper Paul Jones and our definitely not future international right back Lee Todd. As I look through the market value of my players 3 stand out as being potential targets for bigger clubs (Flynn, Cavaco, Armstrong), and with less than a quarter of a million in the bank and a tiny stadium I wonder whether we can hold our own in a division full of big names, and keep hold of our stars.
I want to get a bit of match practice in before the big kick off, so I book a couple of friendlies in, Cork City and Huddersfield, first one for confidence (I hope), second one for realism. I seem to have a decent set of defenders here and a couple of stars going forward but precious little in midfield, so I opt for a 5-3-2 attacking formation. It may be a bit gung-ho for a relegation favourite, but nothing ventured nothing gained, and County fans should be happy, they almost ended up with Gary Megson before I swooped in, I have to be more entertaining than him.
A team, hurrah! I have some doubts about this, especially my rather weak central midfield, but overall I’m pretty pleased, I think we will compete. We will play pretty directly, can’t really play a passing game with no discernible midfielders, but I have 3 excellent centre backs plus Martin McIntosh in reserve, so I’ll play to my strengths. Luis Cavaco is more of a winger, but I’m confident he can wreak havoc playing just behind the front two, with the ageing Andy Mutch to call upon from the bench later in the day.
Before we play any games though, it is time to go shopping. Midfielders are top of my list, and ideally a backup striker too. I bid 50k for Bjorn Heidenstrom, the scouts think he’s pretty good and Leyton Orient have inexplicably transfer listed him. The other 4 bids (only 5 allowed at once for some reason) are freebies: Mike Cheetham (no, me neither, journeyman midfielder), and Trevor Steven of ‘how did he get so many England caps’ fame. He’s 33, but nothing wrong with a bit of experience in the ranks. My final 2 bids are for young strikers, Graeme Tomlinson and Nick Wright, just released by Man United and Derby respectively.
Well that’s Tomlinson out of the picture then. He’s never played a first team game and yet he wants that much? Jog on pal, our financial position is ‘precarious’ I’ll have you know.
Time for the first game at Edgeley Park against Cork City, and my potential signings seems to still be on their summer break as they are all still to get back to me, so it is an original 16. There is a definite buzz around the town and the queue from the chippy stretches for miles, they have nowhere near enough staff. They’ve been caught out, as have I, by the size of the crowd. Almost eight thousand people for a Friday night friendly against Cork City, I am overwhelmed by the support in my first game in charge, we must give the people what they want, entertaining football!
Well that wasn’t as comfortable as the score line suggests. The first 20 minutes we were all over them, an Alun Armstrong hat trick will no doubt impress the visiting scouts and hopefully add to his value, but after that we took our foot off the gas. To allow such an inferior opponent 52% possession and 16 shots (albeit only 3 on target) is ominous, but nothing ventured nothing gained, I am determined to play Kevin Keegan style football not George Graham, and maybe if one of my centre backs hadn’t got himself sent off for a professional foul straight from the kick off of the second half it wouldn’t have been so imbalanced. Still, with 8 goals and 34 shots in the game and a thumping win the crowd should go home happy, get buying those season tickets!
No more games in July, but still time to make some moves on the transfer front. Heidenstrom accepts my offer and signs up, as does freebie striker Nick Wright, however I have a plethora of free agents turn me down, despite me offering what they were asking for, and unfathomably Lee Norfolk buggers off to Cardiff of division 3 for less money than I was offering. This recruitment lark could be worse than I thought. On the last day of the month Tommy Smith signs up, another from Man United’s academy not to make the grade, but will do a job in centre midfield for me, which is just as well give Tom Bennett has picked up a knock and will miss the opening matches. I’m ready for the season now, bring it on!
The CM9798 Cup starts Sunday! Read the Preview