Edgeley Park- Asset of Community Value- an appreciation by Mike Davies.
A league table of important football grounds gaining Asset of Community Value status would no doubt see Old Trafford and Anfield on top, followed by Ewood Park and Portman Road – each, in their time, home to the champions of England.
But for the supporters of Stockport County, getting Edgeley Park declared an Asset of Community Value (ACV) feels like a table-topping achievement after the disappointments of the last few years.
After much hard work, the Supporters’ Co-operative, backed by Supporters Direct, were delighted to hear that Stockport Council agreed with them that the stadium is a valuable community resource. As a result, under the Localism Act, any intended sale by owner, Brian Kennedy, would have to be put on hold for six months to give the Co-op a chance of raising the cash for a bid of its own. *
Inevitably, the fans have emotional attachment to the stadium. You don’t have to be very old to have memories of wonderful nights and days at Edgeley Park: Danny Bergara’s supercharged lot of the 1990s bearing down on the opposition’s penalty area and Kevin Francis petrifying his markers;
Dave Jones’s rather cooler team beating a series of top clubs on merit in a League Cup run that ended unluckily in the Semi Final; and Jim Gannon’s youngsters doing a creditable version of basement league tiki-taka.
But the ACV has more than emotional significance. The fans of this well-respected Club have watched it slip into the second tier of non-league football, operating on a part-time regional basis. Only a dozen years ago County were in the equivalent of today’s Championship. Loyal beyond belief, the supporters have found it difficult to translate their commitment into a collective response to this decline.
Scarred by the then fan-owned Club’s collapse into Administration in 2009, they have viewed the Co-op, the reformed Supporters’ Trust, with a mixture of scepticism, indifference, and, on occasions, open hostility. But sheer disbelief at the present plight of the Club has finally galvanised the fan base. They realise that if they want to influence a revival in County’s fortune they need to get organised; and the Co-op has the legal and financial structures for doing just that.
This is why the ACV is so important. It is an early landmark in the Co-op’s revival, a tangible achievement of working together.
There are also practical benefits. For a number of years the Council’s policy intentions with regard to Edgeley Park have been subject to an enormous amount of rumour and speculation, hardly any facts, and even less action.
The granting of the ACV application has put Edgeley Park into the spotlight. The Co-op has done some useful networking with the officers in the Town Hall. The Board now hopes to open up a dialogue with the Council about the stadium’s potential as a community asset, and, importantly, its use by the football club.
Stockport County Supporters’ Co-op are holding their AGM on December 3rd, and for the first time in several years a contested election for seats on the Board is expected. This is seen as a sign that the fans are taking seriously the need to get organised to give the Club and themselves the future they deserve.
* In 2003 Brian Kennedy bought the football club and at the same time found a home for another of his possessions, Sale Sharks. When he sold County to the supporters for £1 two years later, the stadium wasn’t part of the deal, except by way of an option to pay off a £4 million debt on it.