The Birthday Effect ( Part 1) by Man in a Hat
This coming season marks the 20th anniversary of one of the most amazing stories in the history of Stockport County. No, not the Club’s fantastic achievement of gaining promotion to the second tier of English football.........the legend that is known as the “Birthday Effect”.
A story of simple County folk who initiated a straightforward idea, which then morphed into events & outcomes so bizarre it scarcely beggars belief.
In fact, a tale so complex & confounding, it will take the remainder of the close season to retell, over 4 compelling episodes, in the hope that it will inspire younger generations of Supporters to play their part in the future.
Apologies in advance for setting the scene in the style of Ronnie Corbett.
In order to protect the innocent, names have been omitted, but as it was a team game / effort, this seems only appropriate. Everything else in this tale is absolutely true & can be verified, should the reader so wish, via copies of The Tea Party, IO County, football programmes (home & away), local newspapers, Dave Espley’s book Saturday Night Thursday Morning, the historical & statistical records of County’s achievements that season (including some videos of games), & of course, by speaking to anyone who was actually there.
Yes, the saga can even survive the inevitable exaggerations that County fans are wont to apply to stories as the years & decades roll by, as it is quite simply impossible to overstate what happened.
Anyway, if you’re sitting comfortably, we shall begin.
Our story starts July 1996 in a small settlement on the very outer fringes of the Borough of Stockport, where a hardy band of County Supporters were girding themselves for another gruelling season following the Club the length & breadth of the UK.
Building on the success of recent seasons, the group committed to guarantee to get any of their number to any County away match they wished, irrespective of how far away it was, or being mid-week etc.
This could be via train or coach, but sometimes volunteer drivers had to be found. If a member of the group wanted to go to see County at Bournemouth on Tuesday 1st April 1997, a seat in a car had to be found & arranged, no questions asked.
And remember, this was the olden days. A time before mobile phones, social media & message boards!
But this away travel mission isn’t the anecdote that will be told here, ‘tis the “Birthday Effect” we’re interested in, so read on…….
Saturday 17th August 1996 - After an opening day defeat away at Crewe (a nice easy opener for the away travel project), in a fit of collective depression, the group decided that it would be a good idea to get one of their number’s birthday announced at the opening home game against Notts County. But, his age would be greatly exaggerated to 65 years old - hilarious! That would cheer them up.
To cut a long story short (too late you cry!), the birthday wasn’t read out until some 3 weeks later at home to Wrexham, at the conclusion of which County were bottom of the League with a measly 2 points, having scored just 1 goal in 6 league games!
The season was effectively over! Relegation seemed inevitable. Regrettably, drink became involved yet again & a collective melancholy overcame the assemblage.
However, determined to enjoy the season, irrespective of perceived on-field inadequacies, for reasons that are unclear even to this very day, our merry band decided to write to every ground where County were playing a first team fixture, requesting that the birthday be announced. For added mirth, a year would be added each game.
As the group had already committed to attend every away match, it would be easy to verify whether or not this side-splitting prank worked on each occasion.
So, this was their noble quest.
But, no-one present that evening could have possibly foreseen what would transpire that season.
Next time, in part 2 of the saga which became known as the “Birthday Effect”, we’ll kick-off away at York City for the 66th birthday. Bet you can’t wait can you?
A Man in a Hat