After an 11-year absence, Stockport County are preparing for the return of the Football League | League Two | Stockport v Barrow

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On 7 May 2011, a 1-1 draw with Cheltenham Town brought a dismal end to Stockport County’s 106 years in the Football League. 4102 days or eleven years, two months and 22 days later, EFL football will return to Edgeley Park.

It was a painful absence for the Hatters who saw the club fall to the lowest point in its history, the Northern Conference. They would be beaten by clubs such as Boston United, Colwyn Bay and Vauxhall Motors and the memories of that move to the sixth tier still sting for those connected with the club.

“It was without a doubt the lowest day in club history,” said local Stockport County reporter Sam Byrne. “It’s tough because a lot of other clubs will say they’ve had something similar with Wrexham, Chesterfield, Notts County – real clubs that have been here for so long. But for County to spend six years in the Conference North and playing almost – no disrespect – almost Sunday League teams at times, and losing – for us to be where we are now is a great feeling.

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The club couldn’t be further from those dismal displays after winning the National League title in front of 10,000 county fans last season. Under manager Dave Challinor and with the investment Mark Stott has made in the club, there is a real belief that a return to Ligue 2 is just the start of this resurgence.

They are currently favorites to win Ligue 2 with the bookmakers and in our own Ligue 2 predictions we have backed them to win back-to-back titles and soar in the Football League. But that will depend on whether Challinor can prove himself in the EFL, having only managed Hartlepool at this level before.

“I know where I’m at career-wise,” he told The Sportsman. “I have to improve because this club is looking to embark on a journey beyond Ligue 2 and Ligue 1. Well, from my point of view, if I see that as a challenge, I’ve succeeded maybe to be 20 Ligue 2 games – I hope to manage a lot more I need to improve, all the players need to improve and the staff need to improve in all of this and allow this to be the place where we can develop and progress in the leagues.

Stott’s investment continued this summer and Paddy Madden, now captain, has a goalscoring pedigree at League One level. Callum Camps has joined Fleetwood, Fraser Horsfall comes from Northampton after helping them in the play-offs last season and they poached several National League talents.

Joe Lewis and Connor Lemonheigh-Evens join from Torquay and Kyle Wooten comes from Notts County as this Stockport side take shape ahead of the new campaign. Challinor has a remarkable winning percentage of 74.4% and his team went on a 52-of-54 run after Christmas which ultimately secured them the title. There is every reason to believe that this good form can continue in the fourth level.

But ultimately, this season is not about promotion for county fans. It’s just about being back in the Football League, where they belong. This giant of the North has been sleeping for far too long but at 3 p.m. against Barrow, they will have truly awakened. A new dawn began at the club when Stott arrived and this weekend they were finally able to enjoy their day in the sun.

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