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Danny Bergara RIP

Posted: Wed 25 Jul 2012

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Here's to the Man from Uruguay - five years on

Today marks the anniversary of the passing of Danny Bergara, the man that many Stockport County supporters feel put our great club on the football map. Bergara is and always will be a true County 'legend' and this season his memory will be honoured with the main stand on Hardcastle Road being renamed after him.

Danny Bergara, who spent his early years on a ranch in Uruguay, was one of three brothers to play professional football.

Perhaps his elder brother, Mario, who played for top Uruguayan side Nacional, and represented his country in the 1958 World Cup Finals, was his inspiration.

Danny, though, was talented enough in his own right to be playing in the tough Uruguayan First Division at the tender age of 16 with Racing Club of Uruguay, and good enough to win a handful of Under-21 caps.

Like so many South Americans, before and since, the lure of European football proved too tempting and, in 1962, he packed his boots and headed, along with another brother, Nacio, to Real Mallorca coached by his first mentor Cesar Rodriques.

He enjoyed significant success on the Spanish island before switching to Seville. In two years in southern Spain he hit 35 goals from 96 appearances.

His next move saw him leave the mainland to sign for Tenerife where, in 1973, a troublesome calf injury brought a premature end to his career.

In La Liga he'd played against Barcelona and the Real Madrid of Puskas, Di Stefano and Santamaria, players he could evoke with magic and passion.

His time in Spain had been successful off the field as well. It during his spell in Mallorca that he met his beautiful wife Jan, then a travel rep, and following his retirement, they decided to settle in England.

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Long before the days of Mourinho, Wenger and Benitez, Danny struggled to find work in his new country and it needed the introduction from a cousin of Jan's to the then Luton Town manager, Harry Haslam, to get his first job - as a youth coach in 1973 alongside David Pleat. He then coached two generations of Luton youth, including the Stein brothers and Ricky Hill.

When Haslam moved to Sheffield United in 1978, as is the way in football, he took his staff, including Danny, to Bramall Lane.

By this time his reputation as an innovative coach was growing, and England Under-18 coach John Cartwright asked Danny to become his assistant.

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In the days of Admiral, Danny proudly displayed the Three Lions on his polyester tracksuit. He coached the team for two years including the 1980 Under-20 World Cup in Australia when England came fourth.

Danny was told that, 'his methods were a revelation' and that 'doors would open for him now'. But they never really did.

After 1982 the FA never contacted him again. At Sheffield United Martin Peters arrived as manager. He brought in his own staff and Bergara was out of work.

He joined Midlesbrough as assistant to Bruce Rioch. Boro, though, went into liquidation and the Ayresome Park gates were locked.

A return to Bramall Lane followed but, in 1988, Dave Bassett came in, and he was out of work again.

Shortly after, his big break finally arrived. He was appointed manager of Rochdale.

His spell at Spotland was brief. That so many Dale fans forwarded messages of condolences at the time of his passing praising Danny for his time with their club, says everything about the esteem he was held at our near-neighbours.

In 1989, Brendan Elwood had just taken control at County, and one of his first moves was to fire player-manager Asa Hartford.

Hartford's departure was no real shock to the Edgeley faithful. After all, since relegation to Division Four almost two decades earlier, Hartford was the 14th manager to be shown the EP exit.

It was hardly surprising, either. In the previous 18 seasons the Hatters managed to finish in the top half of the table on just three occasions. Not once did they show a positive goal difference. 

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Then, on March 27, 1989, Elwood persuaded Bergara - who he'd seen coaching the famous amateur team Sheffield FC seven years earlier - to leave Rochdale to become manager of Stockport County.

"Danny who?" was the reaction of the long-suffering County faithful.

Those fans could never have imagined the impact the little Uruguayan would have not just on County but the town of Stockport as well.

In his first full season Danny led the club to the brink of promotion. Who will ever forget that glorious afternoon in May 1990 when 4,000 County fans travelled to Halifax for the last game of the season.

Victory for the Hatters and defeat for Southend at Peterborough would end County's long exile in Division Four.

In an emotionally-charged atmosphere, goals from Chris Beaumont and Ian McInerney saw County do their bit, and when news from London Road 'confirmed' Posh had held Southend, players and fans started their promotion celebrations.

It could only happen to County, though, couldn't it? The result from Peterborough was incorrect. Southend had won. County would face Chesterfield in the play-offs.

Reflecting on his time at Edgeley Park, Bergara later said: "Missing out on promotion that first season remains a big regret.

"I think everyone at the club, from the Directors right through to the supporters wanted to believe we were up.

"But that's not enough. You need confirmation that you are up and I never believe anything until I see it in black and white."

When asked what were the greatest achievements that season he replied, in his own unpredictable and inimitable style, "the toilets have been cleaned and the dressing rooms have been painted."

An odd thing to say after County's best season in two decades? A season that saw Brett Angell win the Fourth Division Golden Boot with 23 goals.

Danny was looking at the bigger picture. He had put the pride back into Stockport County. And with that pride, on and off the pitch, he knew the Hatters were ready for take-off.

Following the 6-0 play-off drubbing by Chesterfield Danny pushed his disappointment to one side and roared defiantly, "next year we'll go up with a bloody big bang!"

More importantly the Edgeley faithful, who had witnessed so many false dawns over the previous 20 years, really believed him.

His prophecy was uncanny. Twelve months later a 5-0 victory over Scunthorpe United saw County return to Division Three for the first time since 1970.

The 84 League goals scored by his team was the highest total in English football.

The next three seasons brought riches beyond the wildest dreams of fans brought up on a diet of re-election battles.

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County qualified for the end-of-season play-offs each season and also reached two Autoglass Trophy Finals. Four Wembley Finals in all

Wonderful occasions, no doubt. But Wembley also brought disappointment and heartache.

And no-one felt the hurt more than the mercurial County boss. "Not winning promotion at Wembley, or winning the cup, is a big disappointment to me," he said." But whatever's happened in the past is history now. It's what happens now that counts."

Danny was speaking after the fourth Wembley defeat, against Burnley, in 1994 and the need to rebuild a new team.

Of the eleven on duty against the Clarets only seven started the 1994-95 season. And of those seven, goalkeeper John Keeley and terrace icon Kevin Francis would also soon depart.

The nucleus of a 'new' side was in place, though. Sean Connelly, Mike Flynn, Jim Gannon, Lee Todd and Peter Ward were still there, and able to pass on their experience to the new arrivals, Alun Armstrong, Tony Dinning, Matty Bound and Paul Ware

The 'new' County took time to gel but, following a 2-0 victory at Plymouth on March 28th, 1995, the Hatters were pushing for a fourth consecutive play-off finish.

Then came the news that stunned the whole town. Stockport County had sacked Danny Bergara.

Elwood, the man responsible for bringing Bergara to Edgeley Park, had shown him the door after a rather public altercation at a sponsors' function at the Alma Lodge Hotel over Danny's accommodation allowance.

Four long, and expensive, years later an appeal tribunal ruled in Danny's favour. But long before he'd cleared his name the altercation story went round football's insular world. The Uruguayan struggled for work thereafter.

John Barnwell, from the League Managers Association, said at the time: "People heard Danny got involved with his chairman and they didn't want to touch him after that event, even though he won his case."

After County, Danny had short spells as manager at Rotherham United, Doncaster Rovers and Grantham Town before undertaking scouting duties for Sheffield Wednesday, Tottenham Hotspur, Sunderland and Wolverhampton Wanderers as well as working on the media side of the game for the Press Association.

As for the team he left behind, Dave Jones, the man he brought to the club took over and, two years later, on that unforgettable night at Chesterfield, took County back to English football's second tier for the first time in 60 years

The backbone of the Hatters most-successful season, though, was made up of Danny's signings with Armstrong, Connelly, Dinning, Flynn, Gannon and Todd all paying their part throughout the campaign.

And a seventh, although not signed by Bergara, had a lot to thank the Uruguayan for. Brett Angell's career really took off in 1989 when he came under Danny's tutelage.

Danny Bergara's six years in the EP hot-seat made him County's longest-serving post-war manager. He was also, in terms of results, the most successful.

He arrived when County were struggling in the old Fourth Division with a run-down ground.

He left them with the foundation to build a side capable of reaching Division One with a vastly improved stadium.

Seating the Pop Side, building the famous Cheadle End and laying a brand new pitch were all largely funded by his amazing ability to develop players discarded by other clubs and sell them on for vast sums of money.

And during his tenure there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever that he grew to love Stockport County, and his Blue & White Army loved him … even though some of his comments were a little curious, to say the least.

Asked what his first impressions of County were, he replied: "Life can be as good in a town house as it can be in a Palace.

"In fact, it can be worse in a Palace than a town house."

County fans lived in a Palace during your six years at Edgeley Park, Danny … Stockport loves you more than you will know.

Danny Bergara (1942 - 2007) RIP.

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