By Alex Narey
Jim Gannon admits he didn’t need alcohol to enjoy last weekend’s title-winning celebrations, with so many fans thanking him for making it one of the “greatest days in their lives”.
The Stockport County boss, who has now enjoyed two promotions both as a player and a manager at the club, believes the spirit of the Hatters’ huge fan base was a key factor in them edging out Chorley for the National North title.
“When we needed them to come out and help us to get over the line, they did it,” admits Gannon. “They are a special bunch of fans.
“What made last Saturday so wonderful was both the older fans who were coming up to me and patting me on the back for taking them back to the good times, and the younger generation who haven’t tasted success.
“Trust me, above everything else, it is so nice for me to be able to enjoy so many people being so happy, and I am sure that will continue for many months to come.”
Two weeks ago, a 2-0 loss at Victoria Park to Chorley looked to have written off Stockport’s hopes for the championship. It was only the Hatters’ third defeat since November, but came only a week after losing 1-0 at home to Blyth Spartans.
With the single automatic promotion spot back in the Magpies’ hands, Gannon offered no time for self-pity, hauling his players in on Easter Sunday morning with an emphasis on going out the following day at Edgely Park to “win their final home game in style” against Curzon Ashton, before delivering another prophetic message: “You won’t believe that roar in the crowd when Spennymoor score!”
Spennymoor, of course, another side who had challenged so gallantly at the top of the table before the Hatters and Magpies pulled away, were hosting Chorley on the Bank Holiday Monday some 130 miles away.
With the score at 0-0 running into injury-time, and despite County keeping Curzon at bay with a two-goal lead, Gannon – along with the 6,000-plus crowd at Edgely Park – knew if the scores were to stay the same then his side would have to produce an unlikely five-goal swing on the final weekend.
But then came the moment: Glen Taylor’s stoppage-time strike at Brewery Field sent a reverberating shockwave through the County ranks. And just like that, and right at the death, the title was theirs for the taking again!
“I have never had a feeling like it,” says Gannon. “We were sat at Edgely Park and we were 2-0 up, thinking we would probably need to score five or six goals to overturn it on that final weekend.
“And then this almighty roar started in the ground in the 93rd minute.
“The stands just erupted! Six thousand fans in the ground singing like we had won the league about a game we were not playing in.
“Everywhere you looked there was someone with a phone listening in, and with modern media as it is today it doesn’t take long for the message to spread.
“I felt it was the moment when it swung back into our hands on the Monday and for our fans to enjoy that, it is a very unusual and unique feeling.”
Gannon believes keeping his core group of players together has been vital in a season where they moved to a semi full-time model, bringing the players in for training on a Monday morning.
The County chief says the club will stick with the hybrid model for the near future, but argues if they are to challenge for honours at the top of the National League next season with the aim of clawing their way back into the Football League, then full-time football may be the only way they can compete.
“Training for the extra day has helped to make us competitive this season,” says Gannon. “And we will retain that, but if we are to make that further progress then it may need to be looked at.”
With over 400 appearances for the club during their halcyon days in the 1990s, Gannon – now in his third spell as manager – has immersed himself in all things Edgely Park since he first walked through the gates as a player some 29 years ago.
He bought a house just across the road from the ground, an outsider who became a local, forming a friendship with club staff and being rightly hailed by the fans as a player who understood what it really meant to wear the County badge.
“It’s why last week was so special,” he adds. “I have been working really hard in the last few seasons to get this club back to where they should be.
“Everything I do here is about bringing success back to this club for the fans.”