Meet Mr Stockport: After 500 games in charge, Jim Gannon has seen County stare into the abyss… now they’re dreaming of glory again with huge FA Cup tie against West Ham
- Stockport County’s FA Cup tie with West Ham will be Jim Gannon’s 501th game
- He played 480 matches for the club and then became manager over three stints
- Gannon is radiating tangible excitement ahead of their David vs Goliath cup tie
In a way, it is a shame that Monday night is game No 501 in charge for Jim Gannon. The major milestone arrived a week early for an Irishman from London who has called Stockport home for the last three decades.
Gannon moved to this part of the world in 1990. He met his wife here, he raised his kids here. A centre half at the heart of Stockport’s rise from the fourth to second tier, playing 480 games, and then manager over three separate stints. He is Mr Stockport County.
‘Somebody gathered so many thoughts from so many people for my 500th game as manager,’ says Gannon, 52. ‘That made me emotional. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not Mahatma Gandhi — I didn’t have millions of messages! But do you know that old show, This Is Your Life? It was that kind of feeling.
Jim Gannon has called Stockport his home for 30 years and has been in charge for 500 games
Gannon will lead the fifth tier side into a tough FA Cup third round match against West Ham
‘I’ll read it over and over again. I really hope the gates are open later in the season and the fans can come to my 1,000th game!’
Gannon was here when West Ham United were last at Edgeley Park in 1996, a League Cup scalp epitomising the club’s trajectory at that time, taking the Hatters to an improbable semi-final. He was here when they beat neighbours Manchester City in Division One. It feels like a lifetime ago.
Stockport have been in the non-League doldrums for too long, sinking as low as the sixth tier, but the tide has been slowly turning. Under Mark Stott’s progressive ownership, the feeling is that nights like this FA Cup tie offer glimpses into their fresh and accelerated future. Promotion to League Two is the goal this term.
Gannon has seen it all. He was made redundant by administrators in 2009 and sacked from a second spell by Lord Peter Snape four years later. Before all that, he witnessed the boardroom decisions and power shifts that ultimately contributed to the club’s long-term demise.
Gannon moved to this part of the world in 1990 and signed for Stockport as a centre back
Yet he could not stay away. Back again in 2016, as Stockport languished in the National League North. They started from scratch. Only since this time last year, when local businessman Stott took over with grand plans, have Stockport been capable of dreaming again.
‘We were doing great in my first spell, won promotion to League One,’ says Gannon. ‘Somehow, the wheels came off. We were on shaky foundations, we didn’t own the ground.’
Each crushing disappointment provoked more desperation; the gambler sticking it all on red. With signings, with hiring and then firing high-profile managers such as Paul Simpson and Dietmar Hamann. Eventually the finances fell in.
‘The whole thing was devastating,’ says Gannon. ‘It was all undone so dramatically. The club ended up going part-time. I said both times I left that I was still the right man for the club. That fell on deaf ears.
Gannon is philosophical about the past and radiating tangible excitement about the present
‘I’m then sitting at home, not allowed to do my job, watching the demise of the club. I knew it would be so hard to get them out of the abyss. When I came back in five years ago, we had to undo six years of erosion.’
Gannon — who supported West Ham as a youngster in the capital — is philosophical about the past, radiating tangible excitement about the present.
Plenty of that is down to Stott, who has transformed thinking around the town. He has ploughed money into the community, made a £75,000 donation to the NHS. Stockport raised more than £200,000 for initiatives over Christmas. Gannon bought food vouchers for locals. He has spotted similarities between the revered former owner, Brendan Elwood, and Stott, although the latter is unlikely to indulge in the sort of fat cigar the former puffed on in the glory nights of the Nineties.
‘I said to Mark that the TV money coming from the West Ham game is karma for the NHS donation,’ says Gannon. ‘It’s so exciting. To be part of it, I’m blessed and lucky.
‘We’ve just popped up today for this game, and I want my players to know that West Ham are only human, but the big thing is getting back to the EFL. The owner has the vision and a package — massive changes everywhere, the stadium, the branding, the structure — that has given us the chance not to just make League Two but go on from there.
Gannon recognises Stockport has done as much for him as he has for them since joining
‘The growth over the next five years will probably be faster and harder than the last five.
‘There is history still to be made and Mark Stott is giving us the chance to make that happen. I’d be incredibly proud of producing that. In many ways it is my mission for this town.
‘We’re surrounded by the biggest clubs in the world. We are trying to hold our own in an extremely competitive world. There is something beautiful about your hometown team. I identify with that.’
This has always been a perfect fit, and Gannon recognises Stockport has done as much for him as he has for them. The manager’s first spell away from the club, between 2009 and 2011, did not go well. He lasted a matter of months at Motherwell, Peterborough and Port Vale, with stories of fallouts prominent in the job obituaries.
‘Port Vale was chaos. The next minute, you’re out of football. There are many people in this game who are tarnished and made to feel a failure from one moment.
‘Football is a beautiful game but an ugly industry. The measure of a person is how many people are outside the church when your coffin is carried in.’
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