Former textile town and music hub now back among The 92

Teams, tales and tips – a guide to the local game

Alongside the Mersey, close to Manchester Airport, the former textile town of Stockport has a shared heritage with its fellow industrial hubs in England’s football heartland. A century and a half ago, clubs were being formed all across the North West as the game’s powerbase shifted from the public schools of the south.

The watershed moment came in March 1883 when Blackburn Olympic beat Old Etonians to win the FA Cup, a first for a working-class team. That same year, ten teenagers from Wycliffe Congregational Church formed Heaton Norris Rovers. The building still stands today, the other side of the A6 from Heaton Norris Park, in Stockport’s leafy suburbia.

There are few dark satanic mills here. This is the Four Heatons, brought into the County Borough of Stockport after it was formed in the late 1880s. This in turn inspired Rovers to change their name to Stockport County, moving from Green Lanes in Heaton Norris to their long-term home of Edgeley Park in 1902.

By then, the club had gained the nickname of the Hatters, played in the First Round of the FA Cup and joined the Football League. Stockport County was also the last team that Arthur Wharton, the world’s first black professional footballer, played for, appearing in a handful of Second Division games in 1901-02.

In this pre-World War I era, clubs finishing near the bottom of the table were forced to seek re-election, much like those at the wrong end of the Fourth Division decades later. Having argued their case successfully in every season since 1901, Stockport were demoted back to the Lancashire Combination League in 1904. Returning to the Football League the following year, the Hatters stayed there for 106 years, ending in ownership chaos and the slow agony of the 2010-11 campaign.

This century-plus of League football unfolded at a ground originally built for rugby league south-west of town. Set on land donated by local bleach moguls, the Sykes family, the ground burned down in 1935, the fire taking all the club records along with it. Proximity to Manchester allowed England to use it for training matches in 1958.

The main stand, rebuilt in 1936, was renamed in 2012 after Danny Bergara, the legendary Uruguayan manager who led the club during its only successful years of the 20th century, in the early 1990s. He died shortly after his 65th birthday in 2007. The Uruguayan flag flies over Edgeley Park on match days and a statue to Bergara stands outside the Cheadle End.

In 2021-22, the ground filled close to its 10,800 capacity for several home games during Stockport’s successful campaign to return to the Football League, attendances partly boosted by the collapse of two local rivals in Greater Manchester, Bury and Macclesfield.

While games with either City or United are rare, meetings with Oldham have also dropped off the fixture list since the clubs exchanged league status in 2022, the Hatters on their way up, the Latics on their way down.

Getting Around

Arriving in town, local transport and tips

Stockport is only 13km (eight miles) east of Manchester Airport, but the train service isn’t direct – you’ll have to change at Manchester Piccadilly 10mins from Stockport (£4-£7), overall journey time 40mins. Alternatively, Stagecoach bus 313 runs every 30mins from Stand H at Manchester Airport The Station to Stockport Exchange Street/Interchange, journey time 35mins.

The bus and rail hubs are alongside each other south-west of the nearby city centre. Edgeley Park is south, walking distance from the stations, but in the opposite direction to the main entrance. Stagecoach buses serve Stockport and Edgeley.

Local Metro Taxis (0161 480 8000/0161 476 2901) also offer airport transfers, fare from Manchester around £20-£25.

Where to Drink

The best pubs and bars for football fans

Pubs and bars dot the tangle of streets off Wellington Road South, near the huge mall that dominates the city centre. A good place to start, particularly during a tournament summer, would be the Chestergate, renamed the Southgate on special occasions, with large HD screens for live sport, a beer garden and karaoke twice a week.

In the same vicinity, further into town, The Cracked Actor on Little Underbank harks back to Stockport’s millinery past, filling a former hat shop with Victorian paraphernalia and kegs of the house beer brewed in Belgium. There’s also a house gin, concocted by Zymurgorium of Manchester.

The name has no ties to Aladdin Sane but to the previous life of owner Joe Patten, who spent months converting the building only for the pandemic to strike. Well worth your custom. Close by, the Queen’s Head dates back to the 1790s but is currently awaiting new owners, as is the equally venerable Winter’s.

On Market Place, the Angel Inn is known for its heritage and its ales. Here in this partly 15th-century building, German Weihenstephan, Acorn Old Moor and a rotating guest brews can be supped in a pleasant beer garden. 

Alongside, the more contemporary Bakers Vaults home of live music and a fine jukebox, belongs to the local Robinsons Brewery, as does the cosy Red Bull on Middle Hillgate, with rooms upstairs.

Back on the main artery of Wellington Road South, close to the station, the 200-year-old Nelson Tavern goes big on TV sport, particularly women’s internationals, DJs, darts and pool. The Amsterdam branch of the Stockport County Supporters’ Club seemed to like it on a recent visit.

Where to stay

The best hotels for the ground and city centre

Visit Manchester has information on accommodation in Stockport.

The nearest lodging to Edgeley Park is the Wycliffe on Edgeley Road, both a comfortable three-star hotel and a decent restaurant, for which guests receive a 10% discount. Close to the station, and therefore convenient for the ground, the Holiday Inn Express features large flat-screen TVs in the mid-range guest rooms. 

Another nearby chain, the Travelodge Stockport, occupies monolithic Regent House, where rooms go for as little as £30.

Just the other side of main Wellington Road South on Churchgate, the Premier Inn Stockport Central offers free on-site parking and power showers. Close by on Middle Hillgate, the Red Bull run by local Robinsons Brewery comprises a rustic pub, beer garden and cosy guest rooms, a home from home in the city centre.