Catching up with Andy Kilner

If you purchased a copy of your double award-winning matchday programme at our recent home game against Spennymoor Town, you may have read Editor Keith Chapman’s feature interview with former County player and manager Andy Kilner.

The interview had enough good material to fill three programmes never mind two pages!  Here we include Andy’s full interview with our award-winning programme for your perusal, along with pics from Andy’s own ‘AK Cleveland Elite FC‘.

Chairman Brendan Elwood made one of the boldest moves in Stockport County’s proud history when he moved to install Andy Kilner as manager in June 1999.

Kilner had been working at the club’s Centre of Excellence and overseeing the Football in the Community scheme before the Hatters offered him the chance to change tack entirely and take charge of first-team affairs.

Kilner duly accepted the challenge and it proved to be a popular move as he was already well respected by the board, players and fans alike, and his charismatic nature helped to breathe new optimism into the club.

Andy had first joined County after returning to England from Sweden having spent several years playing for Halmstad, Vanerborg and Jonsered.

His career had begun at Burnley but serious injury had hampered his progress at the Lancashire outfit and he had relished the challenge of playing in another country.

Despite his success abroad Andy was still relatively unknown in England and it wasn’t until Stockport County’s Assistant Manager John Sainty, Kilner’s former team coach at Burnley, heard of his return that he was offered a trial. He impressed in the reserves and he was given his first-team debut on Boxing Day at home to Wrexham. He scored two goals and was immediately offered a full-time contract.

His explosive left-foot shot earned him the nickname “Killer” and he was immediately established himself as a huge crowd favourite. Kilner added an extra dimension to the County attack, with the ability to run at players and turn them, possessing a rasping shot and being able to launch long throws into the penalty area.

Andy went on to score 12 goals, 11 of them in the league during County’s dramatic run-in to the season, in only 26 appearances.

“Well obviously as everyone who can remember those days it was incredibly exciting,” Andy recalled. “It probably was the start of a Stockport County golden period. It was a great team with great team spirit and camaraderie, the dressing room was both a brutal and wonderful place to be.  We carried that spirit onto the pitch and had very good players who won more than we lost and gained promotion.

“The only disappointment in the end was not winning the title. It would have been great to have a cup to give to the wonderful supporters who covered most of the playing area after the 5-0 victory against Scunthorpe.

“From a personal point of view it was a thrill, the fans got behind me from the very beginning and encouraged me to play in a way that I wanted to play, to try and score and create goals and be entertaining, to get 12 goals in around 26 games was beyond what I expected but I can remember every goal like it was yesterday.”

How did the move to County come about?

“It wasn’t quite as reported on the Saint and Greavsie show. I had been playing in Sweden and had a contract to go back there in March for pre-season. In those days they only used to pay you half your salary in Sweden in the off season so I had an agreement with them that I would be able to play on a non-contract basis up until March back in the UK to make my salary up.

“There was a piece in the Pink that fantastic staple for all football fans in Greater Manchester that I was back in the UK and looking to train somewhere. John Sainty who I had known from my time at Burnley called me on Sunday morning and invited me to train. I went into training on the Monday, played against Rochdale reserves on the Wednesday as a central striker and scored the winner in a 1-0 victory.

“I then played against Crewe Alexandra at Gresty Road the week after in the reserves and scored twice. I was then included in the first team squad on New Year’s Day against Gillingham at home and came on as a sub at half time and did ok in the second half. It was that game I experienced the encouragement from the brilliant Pop Side fans.

“We drew 1-1 and I made my full debut on one of those great damp Friday nights against Wrexham a few days later and scored both goals in a 2-0 victory.

“Shortly after that I signed a full-time contract. The club in Sweden who I was contracted to lost their coach Torbjorn Nilsson to a much bigger club. He was the reason I went to that club. He was a complete legend, and a great guy.  It was the hardest training I’ve ever done but the fittest I ever was in my whole career. He had been a massive success in the Bundesliga as a player and brought a lot of ideas from his time there into our training.

“We used to run in the snow in the middle of winter in minus 25 degrees, it was tough. He was arguably the best player to ever play for Sweden along with Zlatan.

“Danny Bergara is widely regarded among County fans as the man that put our great club back on the footballing map.  Danny arrived when County were struggling in the old Fourth Division and left the club with the foundation to build a side capable of reaching Division One, and Kilner picks out some of his best memories under Danny.

“It was good playing under Danny. He was funny without ever intending to be funny but was incredibly thorough in his preparation. We played 11 v 11 a lot in training, almost every day, and we knew precisely what we should be doing when Friday night or Saturday came. It was interesting as when I became manager I was invited to Copenhagen by Roy Hodgson who had just qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their history I believe.

“I watched training and was struck by how much rehearsal they did in 11 v 11. When I went out to dinner with him in the evening I commented on the fact that he obviously believes a lot in team rehearsal and he looked up from his chicken vindaloo, and said, “why wouldn’t you it’s what you play on a Saturday.” I thought ‘yeah, fair play, and simple’ and has obviously worked, I did the same thing years later when he was at Stavanger I think. He did the same thing with them. I went to La Manga in Spain to watch them train and it was the same.

“Danny was one of the games great characters, he was down to earth and wanted you to relate to things to get you to focus. He had one special speech about the fighter pilots going into Iraq at the time and how they must be totally focused on what they are doing. “Imagine how they feel” he used to say, “imagine the adrenaline”. He was unique. Characters like that are no longer around. People like Danny and Harry McNally will never be seen again because of how the game and coaching has gone, and that’s the game’s loss.”

After two successful seasons with County Andy eventually moved to Rochdale and Bury on loan, before moving back to Scandinavia, this time going to Norway in 1994 to play for Frederikstad F.K. under one of his former managers from Sweden.

However, the old injuries which had blighted his career resurfaced and he was forced to retire from the game.

Kilner embarked on a career in coaching and became Assistant Community Officer at Bolton Wanderers in the 1995/96 season. In July 1996 he returned to County, as Community Officer and worked hard to attain his UEFA B licence. By 1998 he had built up one of the biggest ‘Football in the Community’ schemes in the country and was also invited to oversee the club’s Centre of Excellence.

On 28th June 1999 he was given the biggest challenge of his life as manager of County, and he picked out the games against Manchester City among his best highlights. 

“There’s probably too many to mention, but I suppose never losing to City, playing them four times were great highlights.  The victory at Maine Road that Tuesday night was special but equally from a performance point of view the 4-1 win at home in pre-season when ex-World Player of the Year George Weah made his debut. What a performance.

“There was also beating Wolves at home on Boxing Day after being 2-0 down at half time. Our wage bill was around £2.5 million a year and theirs was about £12 million. They had spent fortunes on players.

“Beating Fulham at home twice, their budget was close to double Wolves.  I never will forget their manager Jean Tigana in my office afterwards. What an experience. We beat them 2-0. I thought I am going to do the press first and get it done. I had some friends and family at the game so bearing in mind the result was going to have a good night. I thought he won’t come in for drink after that, they will be away. I did the press and walked to my office down the stairs to open the door and there he was sat in my chair with his feet on the desk. He was absolutely magnificent, he stayed for an hour. I can’t say how much respect I had for him after that. He could have left at any time but he sat and had a drink with us all, he was absolutely brilliant.

“Coming from 3-0 down at Crystal Palace and drawing 3-3, and Karim Fradin missing the best chance of the game to win, losing a 3-0 lead against Bolton at home and scoring the winner through Albie in stoppage time, never losing to Sam Allardyce, winning at the Reebok with an absolute screamer from Tony Dinning, winning 3-0 away at QPR having gone down to 10 men after 25 minutes. Winning away at Huddersfield 2-0 when they looked set for the Premier League with Steve Bruce as manager, all our performances against Wolves at Molineux, all our performances against David Platt’s Forest, the Birmingham victories at home against Trevor Francis.

“Like I said too many magical days. I think it reminded everyone particularly in past years you have to be careful what you wish for. I had great lads, good players, players who were extremely respectful, there are always disputes, there always will be, when you have 25 to 30 men in a room. It’s inevitable, but they were few and far between and as the manger you have to make decisions, it’s what you are there for, and most of them we got right, not all but most.

“Obviously the biggest disappointment was having to sell your best players, but I always accepted that as part and parcel of being the manager of a club like Stockport. Players wanted to progress, like managers do, they join bigger clubs with more resources, the net result is though is that you can’t keep getting the same results because you sell one who has been doing something to make someone pay a million for him and you replace him with someone who cost £125k, they don’t all come off.”

Andy recalled Edgeley Park as a “wonderful place” to play and he particularly remembered Go Go Go County nights, which were so popular for fans and players alike.

“It was a wonderful place to play,” said Andy. “Everyone remembers the Friday nights, I will never forget those days. There was a great atmosphere for a small ground, four or five thousand somehow sounded like a lot more, and kicking towards the Cheadle End with the Pop Side behind me was brilliant.”

Andy lives in America and is forging his own life and career in football in the States.

He says: “I own my own football (soccer as I now have to call it) club out here in Cleveland Ohio, USA. I have boys and girls teams, it was something I wanted to get back too, having dealt in the world of agency for a number of years concluding some very high profile transfers I wanted to get back to what I really enjoyed, the honesty and innocence of coaching young boys and girls.

“I do love it as a country because of the opportunities for kids, facilities, sports, social , weather, way beyond what’s available in the UK for young people.”

Although Kilner lives across the world and he is extremely busy with his footballing commitments in America he still finds the time to keep tabs on how County are getting on.

“To be honest yes I do, I follow the club on Twitter and via the BBC website. Like many it’s difficult to digest the level at which they are playing now, I never honestly thought that I would see such a demise of the club in my lifetime. I have a healthy respect for the people in non-league football but I did not see a scenario whereby we would be in the same league as some of the teams we now play against. Like I said before, its maybe a lesson to some to be careful what you wish for. The way the club was sold has ultimately been the driving force for the situation that the club finds itself in now, but it is what it is as they say.

“I do keep in touch with Steve Bellis, I am delighted he is back with the club, the club lost all its identity for too long when people like Steve were allowed to go. They were the very reason Stockport was a special club, we were all like family, as manager I would go and sit in the offices and have a laugh and a joke with the people in there. We all had jobs to do and of course being manager can be a tough job but people like Steve were County through and through, they had great times, we all did.

“I also keep in touch with Mark Payne, we had a good relationship when we played, he is a great guy and we played a lot of golf together in the off season when we were allowed.”

Thanks for your time, Andy, and good luck with your American adventure.


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