From the local chippy to local hero! Stockport County owner Mark Stott has bigger fish to fry as his non-league side look to shock David Moyes’ West Ham in FA Cup fourth round
- Stockport County owner Mark Stott is hoping his side can cause a Cup shock
- The National League side take on David Moyes’ West Ham in the third-round
- The local businessman has invested heavily since buying the club in 2011
When a customer wearing a Stockport County face-mask walked into the Strawberry Pig, a popular fish and chip shop on Park Lane, in Poynton, last month, the owner looked up from behind the counter and smiled.
‘Did you know Mark Stott used to work in here when he was a kid?’ he said. ‘We had his sister serving customers but I never promoted Mark out of the kitchen. I guess I got that wrong.’
Stott lived up the road in those days on the Parklands Estate in the village outside Stockport. His parents had split up, his mum raised him and his sister by herself and they were on food tokens at Poynton High School.
Local businessman Mark Stott bought Stockport County in January 2020 and is hoping the non-League club can cause an FA Cup shock against West Ham
When he moved on from the Strawberry Pig, he got his first full-time job selling advertising space for the Stockport Express Advertiser.
A quarter of a century on, he might just be the town’s most successful businessman. Stott, 48, is the founder and CEO of property developer and management company Vita Group.
A year ago he bought Stockport County, which had slipped out of the Football League in 2011 after 106 years and had fallen as far as the National League North before clambering back up to the fifth tier.
Some things have gone full circle. Stott raised more than £200,000 to pay for school meals for Stockport schoolchildren over Christmas before Marcus Rashford forced the Government into a U-turn.
He has also ploughed money into the Stockport NHS Trust to help them supplement their supply of ventilators during the Covid outbreak. One function of the club has been to become a vehicle for philanthropy. There are also plans for it to become one of the borough’s biggest education providers.
County are making their first appearance in the FA Cup third round for 14 years and the atmosphere at the club has been transformed
On Monday, County entertain West Ham in their first appearance in the FA Cup third round for 14 years and already the atmosphere at the club has been transformed.
At a time when many lower division clubs are fighting for their very existence, Stott has already spent more than £1million on renovating Edgeley Park, where the club have played since 1902.
The club have moved to Manchester City’s old training ground at Carrington and a raft of new players such as Connor Jennings, Mark Kitching and John Rooney, Wayne’s brother, have been brought in to work under manager Jim Gannon.
There are plans for a new club academy so that County can tap into some of the reserves of local talent. Phil Foden might be fondly referred to as ‘the Stockport Iniesta’ but even though he was born half a mile from Edgeley Park, he went straight into Manchester City’s youth system.
The club had reached a point some time ago where survival was its main ambition but that has changed. Stott and director of football Simon Wilson have set a target of reaching the Championship in seven years.
They’ve spent more than £1m on renovating Edgeley Park, where they’ve played since 1902
Monday’s game is being televised by BT Sport and, with increased advertising revenues, will be worth more than £100,000 to the club. ‘I’d swap the £100,000 to have 10,000 fans in for the game even if they weren’t paying for tickets,’ says Stott.
‘Having a Premier League team at Edgeley Park with the way people feel about the club and the desperation for people to get out there and watch a game, it would be priceless for our supporters.
‘It is a very big game in County history. I think people are excited about the momentum we are building. Regardless of the result, it’s about getting the money and making the club more secure during difficult times. Our focus should be on the league and it is so, so important for us to get up to League Two.
‘There are two things that have enabled us to get through the coronavirus crisis. The biggest one is our fans. They’ve still bought season tickets, not knowing whether they are going to get in.
We sold more than 2,000 season tickets for this season and fewer than 50 supporters have asked for their money back. Bearing in mind Stockport have been 10 seasons outside the league, the loyalty of the fans is incredible.
John Rooney (above), Wayne’s brother, was brought in alongside Connor Jennings
‘The other people who have been really supportive of the National League, National League North and National League South is the Government. October, November, December, they directed about £10m of funding that was effectively a grant not a loan and the Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden, came up trumps. That support was worth £95,000 to us and it’s been a massive lifeline.’
Stott is confident that County can make a profit as a club but he is wrestling with a limited ability to extend Edgeley Park beyond the 10,900 capacity. He is also an advocate of a reorganisation of the lower leagues to capitalise on regional rivalries.
‘To take your squad and put them up in a hotel overnight for an away game down in the south is £3,000 and you have to do that 12 or 15 times a year,’ says Stott. ‘It is big money and it is disruption. If they were to merge League Two and the National League and do a League Two North and South, it would make so much sense.
‘We take a load of travelling fans anyway but if we were always playing in the north, we would always take 700 or 800 fans. I know we would. That would be fantastic for a load of clubs that only get 1,200 fans at a game. It makes loads of sense economically for the clubs and the fans.
Stockport boss Jim Gannon (right) will go head-to-head with David Moyes (left) on Monday
‘After Covid, so many people will be desperate to go and watch football again. We will fill the stadiums. Imagine if we were always playing a derby because we would always be playing northern-based teams.
‘We are on a bit of a roll now and we have some momentum, so if we were playing Tranmere, say, or Salford City or Bolton, we would get 9,000-10,000. There would be an increase in attendances between 10 per cent and 25 per cent.’
Stott’s vision for County is that it improves its position as a club at the very heart of its community, a provider of education and pride as well as success on the pitch.
He says: ‘We want to apply a load of the talent here to help create a platform through the club and the community with outreach work to support the things that I missed out on when I was a child growing up.’
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