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Ablett's season to forget at Stockport

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Paul Fletcher | 18:05 UK time, Sunday, 11 April 2010

Saturday night might be party time for Whigfield but it is when Gary Ablett's upbeat demeanour is most likely to slip, usually after the Stockport manager has returned home and started to pick the bones out of another defeat.

Last Saturday evening must have been the worst of the season, with the Hatters' relegation still raw after their 3-1 defeat against Yeovil that afternoon confirmed the inevitable.

It was a dreadful, gutless performance, a point that Ablett doubtless impressed upon his players as he kept them in the home dressing-room at Edgeley Park for an hour after the final whistle.

What has frustrated the former Liverpool and Everton defender more than anything this season is that he believes he has a squad that could have stayed in the division, but the cold facts of just five wins in 41 games suggest otherwise.

"I would be lying if I said it had been easy to motivate myself and remain cheery," Ablett told me. "We have been competitive in most games and with a bit of luck could be in a better position but there are plenty of teams who could say the same thing."

Stockport supporters at Wembley in 2008 Stockport won at Wembley in 2008 but fans have had little to cheer this season

I have the deepest sympathy for Ablett, who was appointed last July on the back of what proved to be empty assurances that the club would soon be out of administration and plotting a bright future.

Jim Melrose was on the panel that interviewed the former Liverpool reserve coach and it looked as though the consortium he fronted would soon take over the troubled club.

But summer moved into autumn and then on to winter with no significant developments. Slowly Ablett realised there would not be a radical upturn of circumstance. The Melrose Consortium's bid to take over was finally rejected at the start of April by the Football League.

There was a rueful laugh at the other end of the telephone when I suggested to Ablett that he must be the only man in history to have spent his entire League managerial career in administration.

"The Football Association should consider doing a coaching module on managing clubs in administration because it has been a real eye-opener for me," added Ablett.

The 44-year-old has been described to me by one club insider as a rock who has stood firm despite the ceaseless battering to come his way, and certainly throughout our conversation he constantly tried to focus on the positives.

He was keen to stress that administrator Leonard Curtis had tried to find the finances to provide overnight stops for the first team and that the effort of supporter groups such as Help the Hatters and County Unite had done a fantastic amount of work in bringing the training ground up to scratch.

They had gone out into the community and raised money to provide equipment such as a photocopier and a printer; the sort of things that Ablett took for granted in his previous job at Anfield.

And yet it does not take much digging to grasp the sort of restrictions Ablett has been grappling with. He conducts our interview from his office on his mobile phone because there is no landline or internet connection at the training ground.

He reckons that most of the leased equipment at their gym does not work but a proposal for a cheaper deal that he had found elsewhere was rejected by the administrator because those sorts of decisions have to wait until someone, somewhere finally takes over at the club. Meanwhile, Ablett and his staff have bought heart-rate monitors and recovery drinks out of their own pockets.

Then there is the canteen. Ablett is fulsome in his praise of the lady who cooks breakfast and lunch for his squad. She does so using an oven with a broken door that requires the assistance of a chair to close it.

"She works on an absolute shoestring and does so without complaint," added Ablett. "That is the kind of effort and commitment that we have needed this season and it is one story of many at the club."

On the field the manager has been restricted by League rules regarding clubs in adminstration to a squad of 20. Several of these have been young players who have been asked to shoulder a burden too heavy for their tender years.

"It has come too soon for some of them," said Ablett. "Their education should still be at a development level but they have had to be at the coalface for games where it was vital that we won."

Influential players such as Carl Baker, Michael Raynes, Michael Rose and Oli Johnson left in January. Ablett freshened up his squad with a series of loan signings, but the likes of Matt Sadler, Danny Swailes, Ritchie Partridge and Jabo Ibehre have been unable to alter the course of Stockport's season.

Ablett's upbeat tone returns when he discusses the quality of some of the juniors progressing through the ranks. A good example is Craig Madden's under-18 team, who will take on Macclesfield in the Youth Alliance Area Final on Wednesday after defeating Preston in their semi-final.

Manchester United reserve boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was quick to praise the quality of Stockport's younger players after a recent fixture and Ablett is hopeful that one fringe benefit of this season is that some of his players will be battle hardened beyond their years.

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But decisions have to be made on the future of youngsters at the centre of excellence. Parents are asking questions but it is difficult to provide answers given the backdrop of uncertainty.

Ablett has never experienced relegation before and is determined to stay at the club and put things right next season.

Yet the Hatters boss stated recently that he had no idea that whether there would be a club for him to manage when the new campaign kicks off in August. Stockport have been in administration since last April and the situation cannot drift indefinitely. Football League rules do not allow a club to start consecutive seasons in administration.

This has most definitely been a season to forget for beleaguered Stockport fans - and yet in a cruel twist it might be the final one that they have to remember.

There is fresh hope, with the 2015 consortium headed by former County chief executive Sean Connelly and fans' representative David Schofield looking like a serious proposition.

They appear to be the only serious hope for Stockport's survival - but if they are successful it might mean the end for Ablett. There is speculation that the consortium would appoint former manager and firm fans' favourite Jim Gannon, who recently left Peterborough.

That would be a shame because Ablett, who does not have a contract at the club, has been managing with one arm tied behind his back.

Surely he deserves the opportunity to show how good - or bad - he is at managing Stockport is something approaching normal circumstances?

You can follow me throughout the season at


  • Comment number 1.

    Fantastic article that certainly runs parallel to my views that ablett is a man of great character and who deserves a chance to prove himself in the managing proffesion.

  • Comment number 2.

    Gary has shown incredible dignity, and loyalty towards the club in almost impossible circumstances. When he was first appointed, I accepted this season as a 'gimme' for Gary even before his team had kicked a ball in anger, and I stick by that view. Many of my fellow County fans accepted that we would be very lucky to stay up, with most accepting relegation as a very likely outcome.

    I have to say that I am a huge supporter of Jim Gannon, and have been since he first arrived at Edgeley Park as a player, and would love to see him back at the club as manager. That said, Gary has the seat right now, and I stick by him. If we do come out of adminstration, and the new owners give him the job for next season, then I will be 100% behind Gary Ablett from the word go.

    However, if they see Jim as the future and do appoint him, or indeed A.N. Other to the County hot seat, Gary will go with my most sincere thanks, and my best wishes. He deserves better than the season he's had, and has gone about his business with great integrity. Let's not forget the likes of Paul Gerrard too, who have also dug into their own pockets to buy much needed supplies for the club. Their hard work and determination will NEVER be forgotten by me. The next month or so is going to be the most crucial time in the club's history, I hope that I get the opportunity to continue supporting the club I've followed, and loved as man and boy for many years to come.

    It's in the balance right now, I only hope the 2015 group can tip the scales in our favour.

  • Comment number 3.

    good luck from a rangers fan

  • Comment number 4.

    i know some motherwell fans and they claim jim gannon was a bully

  • Comment number 5.

    I think situations like this put the aspirations of fans of bigger clubs into shameful consideration.

    For all the supporters of this club, who expected relegation before the season started, this is really the sort of situation where hope seems lost. Those who stay and continue to support their team despite the hardships are the true football supporters.

    I feel sorry that a team I could call my local club until I was 7 is in this mess, but full credit to Gary Ablett and the team who have gone about their business with a dignity and selflessness that is sadly lacking in the money-grabbing upper echelons of the football ladder.

    Here's hoping a bounce-back promotion and a big payday in the FA Cup for County next season.

  • Comment number 6.

    Great blog Paul, explains the situation in the Lower Leagues and proves that there is life outside of the Premiership.
    Having been a County supporter since the tender age of 8 back in 1977, I have seen many ups and downs with the club throughout the years. Yet this season must count as the worst ever. Administration, loss of our best players, the training ground up for sale, limits imposed by the FL about squad size, only able to use kids etc etc, have given us a season not to be proud of. Ablett has tried to keep us going on the pitch, but all the outside influences have had a profound effect on the results, not only on the team but the fans too. Even now, there is no guarantee that we will even exist at the end of the season, let alone be able to provide a team to build from come August.
    Our only hope now is that the 2015 consortium are successful in their bid to buy the club and a new phase in the clubs history can start. It is only two years that we were celebrating at Wembley.
    If everything comes into place, and the new owners decide that Jim Gannon is the man for the Job, then I will Thank Gary for his hard work during the season, as it was probably the worst Job in Football. However If Gary is still the Manager come August, and does not have his hands tied behind his back, then he will have my full support.
    The Most important thing is the saving of County, and I pray that we have good news come May.

  • Comment number 7.

    Great blog Paul, it's nice to see someone who clearly knows what has been going on at our club and not like those who simply scratch the surface.

    This season has been a complete write-off since it began and i cannot wait for it to finish if i am being honest, yet these next 5 games could possibly be our final 5 games we ever play so i don't know what to think anymore.

    I'm sure every County fan you ask would take Gannon back if we had the opportunity, he is a Stockport County genius but it would be incredibly harsh on Ablett if this was to happen. His loyalty over this season has certainly earned him the chance to manage us in League 2 under normal restrictions and i would back him all the way if this was the case. If he did leave and a new manager was to come in, then i would thank him for his loyalty this season and thoroughly hope he gets another chance to prove his managerial credentials and i would wish him every success as he seems like a genuinely honest, down to earth man.

    All of this is completely irrelevant if we do not get taken over in May, we would almost certainly be liquidated if this takeover fails. Hopefully some long awaited good news is just around the corner. Please.

  • Comment number 8.

    I always assumed ablett was a useless manager, this article has made me see things differently. We've yet to see whether or not he can do a good job, so he should be given his chance next season.

  • Comment number 9.

    Good blog Paul, it's nice to see behind the scenes, although what's happening with Stockport is terrible. I support Burnley and still remember the ITV Digital collapse that almost sent us under. We were lucky, I guess.

    My hope is that Stockport have their share of luck and someone comes in to save the club, so then maybe in future I can dread yet another fixture against the Hatters. At least Chris Beaumont has retired now!

    Gary Ablett seems to be a man of character and integrity, so let's hope that whoever takes over will give him the chance he clearly deserves.

  • Comment number 10.

    As a fan of the real Hatters, I know all too well how Stockport fans are feeling at the moment, and I can only wish them all the best. Hopefully, their 2015 will turn out like our 2020, who look like they really could bring good times back to the club.

    As for Ablett; I didn't know anything about what he was working with at Stockport, but I don't think he could have done anything more - a brilliant example of going above and beyond the call of duty. Whether he's kept on at Stockport or gets moved elsewhere, I can only wish him all the best - he really deserves something to celebrate after all he's done for the club.

  • Comment number 11.

    Ablett will go down as the worst manager in countys history his tactics and decisions have been strange to say the least. The Squad we have should have easily stayed up hope 2015 appoint someone new.

  • Comment number 12.

    The squad we have wouldn't be capable of challenging for promotion from League two, so I have no idea where those expectations of League One survival came from. Actually yes I do, but I don't want to lower the tone of this blog, I'll leave that to you. As for worst manager in our history? The club has been going for a lot longer than the two years you've been supporting them, so I beg to differ.

  • Comment number 13.

    For me football is imploding. I now live in Wales and am a factory worker. I can't afford to go to games anymore. I can't afford Sky. My two clubs show the extremes of the football world. They are Stockport County and Man City. They're poles apart regarding footballs biggest problem, money.
    County not so many years ago were a division above City. Now money is the only reason the two clubs are where they are. Shame really.

  • Comment number 14.

    Now then,

    Thanks for the replies. There are obviously loads of reasons why Stockport are in the mess they currently are. In one sense it is just another tale of a football club that has not been run correctly, with too many big ideas too quickly - ones that have then been cast quickly aside when things haven't gone to plan.

    The Stockport fans here seem to be hedging their bets - happy to stick with Gary Ablett, yet would be delighted if Jim Gannon returned.

    Personally, I would like to see Ablett given a go next season. I'm just not so sure it will happen.

  • Comment number 15.

    Anyone who had to follow Jim Gannon would always be seen as inferior

    But it isn't fair to compare mere mortals to a footballing genius like Jim, never mind the fact that he was already a club legend before becoming manager.

    Ablett is a gentleman, and although I personally don't think he is the solution to our problems, he will get 100% of my support if he gets the chance next season.

    The one thing is, that the appointment of Gannon wouldn't just be about bringing in a new manager, it would give the whole club a massive lift, and give the fans a sense of hope and belief which we all desperately need. He would bring up gates, nurture more young talents (going by track record) and therefore bring in more revenue to the club.

    Let's put it this way - if Jim Gannon is appointed for the start of next season, i'll renew my season ticket, if not, i'd be very tempted to say that it's not worth coming back from Sheffield every other week.

  • Comment number 16.

    Good blog Paul, it's nice to have our plight in the spotlight, so thanks for taking the time to write this article. Gary has never once complained about, or indeed used Administration as an excuse for our performance this season. The only time he has mentioned it is when asked about it. That to me speaks volumes about the man. Whatever any new board decided I will go with. However, Gary's incredible loyalty and professionalism has earned him the chance in my opinion, should he be given the nod.

  • Comment number 17.

    I remember Abblett's tenure as Reserve coach at my club, Liverpool, well. I wish this club, on behalf of all others in financial straits, the best.

  • Comment number 18.

    GA really has worked his socks off for the County cause.. Going to to FL personally to get loan players in. Yes, a lot of us want to see "the messiah" back.. but i would hate to see Gary given the push too... Great post Paul.....

  • Comment number 19.

    I met Gary at a football tournament in America I was refereeing at 2 years ago when he brought over his Liverpool under-18 squad. I was lucky enough to officiate on one of their matches and despite the issuing of a red-card (disputed by the coaching staff of course!) he still came up to me in the hotel that night and sat down to dinner with myself and a couple of the other referees and chatted about a number of things, both inside and outside the game.

    Most certainly a tremendous gentleman and someone for whom I was delighted when he got the shot at League football and, like you say Paul, would hope that he gets a shot at it next year either at Edgeley Park or with a club that might have some finances available so he can show what he can do with a group of experienced players, rather than relying on his young team (who will go on and be bigger and better for the experiences in League One this season.)

    Great bolg

  • Comment number 20.

    Hmm, I get the feeling that most fans would definitely take Jim Gannon back, which would be very tough on Gary Ablett. What I don't expect to happen is for the club to bring Gannon in and then appoint a director of football...

    countyrockmysocks - surely it is a bit early to be so picky about next season? I'd just focus all my energy on making sure there is a next season.

  • Comment number 21.

    stockport have a lovely little ground with a very good suite under one end for conference & banqueting. I hope they dont go out of business, because they are a real community club, just how a club should be.
    Perhaps close neighbours with a bit of spare could help them out?

  • Comment number 22.

    I personally feel that GA should be given a chance, under (hopefully) more normal circumstances. I really don't know whether Gannon could have kept the team up this season, had he been restricted to the same players (or lack of) and off-field issues. In fact, I wonder if he might have walked half-way through the season, to be honest.

    He is a County legend & I wonder if he would give the fans the boost they need, but I'm not totally sure he would necessarily turn things around as instantly as some feel he would. I think, provided I still have a County to support next year, that Gary Ablett deserves at least a season to try & steady the ship. if we immediately expect to go straight back up, there'll potentially just be more disappointment, whoever is in charge, so I feel we should give Gary a chance, see how next season goes (as it can't be any more traumatic than this one, surely??) and then if we're in a decent position come the end of the season, go on from there.

  • Comment number 23.

    I'm a Leeds fan and I went to our away match at Stockport in the height of the snowy/icy weather to be told when I got there that the only reason the match was going ahead was because volunteers from the local community had come down to clear the pitch and the stands to ensure the game went ahead. This financial trouble and relegation couldn't be happening to a more undeserving club and I wish you all the best for the future.

  • Comment number 24.

    Cracking article and I really do feel for the Stockport fans and Gary Ablett...... but did HE tell you he'd never experienced relegation? I say that as a Blackpool fan knowing full well that he was brought in by Steve McMahon toward the end of the 1999/2000 season where we were indeed relegated.

  • Comment number 25.

    Fab artical and so true. I would like to point out as a life long County fan my complete discussed at the FL & FA for their lack of support but didn't expect anything else, they are guttless. To add to this I also think that the so called big boy's could do more to help. A years wages for one of their top stars would be enough. How about it Manchester U??? City???


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