27 April 2013

A warning on Survival Saturday

Stockport County have dropped three divisions in the space of four seasons.
Today is the final day of the Football League season, and no fewer than seven teams are at risk of dropping into the Conference Premier.

It couldn't be much tighter at the bottom of League Two. Aldershot Town and AFC Wimbledon need to win to keep their hopes alive, but if they do, they could drag Barnet, Dagenham & Redbridge, York City, Plymouth Argyle or Torquay United into danger.

Whichever two teams do go down will be hopeful of returning to the FL via promotion at the first time of asking. Indeed, some teams have swiftly moved up from the Conference Premier into League One, like Crawley Town and Stevenage have done in the recent past. However, if they don't return quickly, the consequences could be dire.

Ask Stockport County fans. As recently as the 2001/2002 season, they were rubbing shoulders with local rivals Manchester City in Division 1 (now the Championship). However, five relegations in the space of 11 years, and just one promotion in that timeframe, have seen Stockport drop from the second tier of English football to the sixth.

Forget Manchester City, the Hatters could be taking on North Ferriby United among others in the Conference North next term.

Just over a decade after they persuaded former England international Carlton Palmer to effectively end his playing days at Edgeley Park, Stockport have been forced to go part-time. It's a sad state of affairs for County, who apart from the 2008 League Two Play-Off Final haven't had too many great nights out recently.

It's not a great surprise to learn that Stockport's decline has been largely down to financial trouble. They spent the entire 2009/2010 season - their last in League One - in administration. Since then, the club has also had a series of short-lived managers, including Dietmar Hamann, who was in charge for only four months in 2011. The most recent boss to lose his job was Darije Kalezic, a Bosnian who had no prior experience in English football and lasted less than two months.

County have been relegated three times in the past four seasons - ironically, a feat that would be matched by Plymouth in the unlikely event that the Devon side are demoted this afternoon.

Despite this latest setback, the current Hatters manager, Ian Bogie, is confident of getting back into the top tier of non-league football. He said, "My budget is competitive, we won't face any full-time teams in this league and I believe we can bounce straight back with the right players on board.

"I have achieved success in this league (Conference North) before on a part-time basis, and I would prefer to be given a healthy part-time budget than a massively reduced full-time budget."

Vice chairman Spencer Fearn also seemed sure that Stockport will be back in national football soon, saying, "Going part-time is, we believe, the right way forward - we were relegated last season despite having a full-time squad.

"This is very much a temporary measure, which we will review when we win promotion."

When we win promotion - that's confidence, for you. Well, good luck to Stockport. It'd be nice to see them get back up the leagues and return to their former status.

I'd also like to wish the best of luck to the seven teams battling against relegation from League Two today, but especially Dagenham & Redbridge (my local Football League club) and AFC Wimbledon (a club respected by so many neutrals).

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