'We're Geared To Be A Championship Club': An Interview With Stockport's Ben Hinchliffe

By Richard Scott

News • Jun 3, 2024

'We're Geared To Be A Championship Club': An Interview With Stockport's Ben Hinchliffe

Stockport County's Ben Hinchliffe won his third trophy between the sticks with the Hatters when they won League Two in April.

Do footballers, supporters or even people connected with clubs get bored of winning trophies? It is a comment that has been levelled at Manchester City as they recently picked up their fourth successive Premier League title. 

While Pep Guardiola's side were preparing to keep English football's top domestic trophy at the Etihad Stadium, just ten miles south of the Premier League champions is Edgeley Park, the home of Stockport County. They are a team that has just celebrated a third championship success in five years, going from the 2nd tier of non-league football (the National League North) to lining up in League One next season. 

One man who has been ever present during their three title winning successes is goalkeeper Ben Hinchliffe. He joined the club in 2016 from AFC Fylde and has gone on to play nearly 400 times for the Cheshire club. There are few better placed to tell us if players get jaded of winning championships and promotions.

Hinchliffe emphatically says: “No, never. 

“I mean we are in an industry where it’s results-based, and results matter, and it is not only that but there is no better feeling than winning. 

“You could flip it and go, would you rather win the league or be in a relegation battle? A thousand people would tell you that they would always lift the trophy. 

“For me, you will never get bored of winning or lifting trophies because that is what we’re here to do and that is why we play football.”

When people do something ‘major’, they often like to step back for a moment to reflect on their accomplishments and, maybe even just bask in their glory for a little while. 

However, footballers are a different breed. Most want to go and do it all again, and that is what spurs Hinchliffe on as he hopes to take the Hatters back to the second tier of English football.

Speaking exclusively to Goalkeeper.com, he explains how “For me, it’s the drive to do it again, I enjoy it. 

“We finished the season and I’ve had three weeks of doing absolutely nothing. 

“I’ve just done my first run this morning so it’s a case of getting back on it. You’re in a better division so you have to be better, just being the best version of yourself you can be to go and get another promotion because they’re great. So, why wouldn’t you want to go and get another one? 

“There is the drive there for myself to get as many accolades or promotions as I can because as everyone tells me, you’re a long time retired. I’m trying to prolong that for as much as possible and try and win as much as I can while playing.”

Not only has Hinchliffe won three promotions with the Cheshire-based club, but he has also got another promotion in his trophy cabinet from his time at AFC Fylde. 

The former Preston North End youngster was guarding the net for the Coasters as they won the 2013/14 Northern Premier League Premier Division playoffs defeating Ashton United 4-3 on penalties, with Hinchliffe himself scoring the winning penalty having earlier saved from Martin Pilkington in the shootout.

So, which one has been his favourite promotion? 

“Probably this one has been my favourite", he comments. 

“I mean it was difficult to go from getting the club out of the National League because you only get one automatic spot, but this is probably my favourite one because it gets the club in a position where they want to be. I feel I’ve had a really good season. 

“I’ve picked up personal awards so that also helps, getting the golden glove and stuff. 

Hinchcliffe picked up the Golden Glove for League Two this season as he recorded 17 shutouts during the league season, one more than second-placed Alex Bass of AFC Wimbledon.

With so many clean sheets and, being nominated for the division’s Player of the Year, Stockport’s number one remains a modest fellow. He's quick to praise his teammates as they helped to record all of those clean sheets. 

He said: “I don't really have a favourite save or game from the year, because the ones I’ve done well in, I’ve also probably conceded. 

“As far as keeping clean sheets goes, we have a great philosophy in our team where we press from the front. A lot of our good clean sheets have come from us outworking the opposition. 

“I’ve made some big saves in other games as well which helps at 0-0s or 1-1s. But not really that I can think of off the top of my head.” 

County won the league ahead of Wrexham as they did in the 2021/22 National League season. 

The North Wales club are well known both here in the UK and in the United States as they are owned by  Deadpool star Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. The Red Dragons were the subject of a fly on the wall type documentary on Fox TV and Disney+ Welcome to Wrexham when the two Robs took over. 

The publicity has turned the Red Dragons into a side that every football fan wants to beat when they face them. However, does this desire to secure victories over them extend to the players? 

Hinchliffe explained: “Yes and no. 

“You look at Wrexham and yes, they have got a big backing and a decent budget, which we have as well. You can look at other teams and sort of go ‘Who has got a budget like we have?’ 

“Wrexham, don’t get me wrong they get a lot of TV and commercial stuff as well as a lot of people talking about them. 

“At the end of the day, it’s just another group of 11 lads running around a football field trying to win a game. 

“It’s nice to beat them, but it’s nice to beat the other 22 teams or so in the league. Wrexham are in the same boat - in terms of everyone wanting to beat them. It’s a cup final when you play them, same as when people come to us or Bradford City or Notts County - big teams in the league so it’s good to embrace that and go yeah, it’s a good challenge. 

“But, like I say, for me beating Wrexham or anyone else doesn’t bother me, they’re all teams standing in the way of what we want to achieve.”

Outsiders to Stockport's success will certainly say that the Hatters have been on an incredible journey since 2019. They achieved the first of those three promotions by defeating Nuneaton Borough 3-0 on the final day of the National League North season in 2019. 

Nevertheless, those involved with the club know that they’ve always planned to climb back up the football pyramid.

Hinchliffe explained: “When I joined the club originally from AFC Fylde, which was a good club, but it wasn’t Stockport County, Iplayed against Stockport a few times then, and even back then the club, the stadium, was far bigger than the level they were at. 

“When I signed there was a plan in place to get the club back to the National League and see where they could go from there.

“For me, it was an opportunity, a challenge really to see how far I could go with the club or how far the club could go on a journey, so it has been really good.

“It has always been a really big club and for them to be in the National League North it was sort of everyone’s cup final to come to Edgeley Park so it was nice to embrace that and take on the challenge of getting the club back to where it should be.”

The next challenge for  Hinchliffe and his Stockport teammates is to return the Hatters to the Championship for the first time since the 2001/02 season.

While it has been over a quarter of a century since Edgeley Park was hosting First Division football, the set-up at Stockport is ready for it, according to Hinchliffe. 

He said: “Everything that our owner Mark Stott has brought to the club, the facilities we’ve had from day one when he came, were already geared towards being a Championship club. 

“The players we have got in and the infrastructure we have got in there; it’s irrelevant to what we do on the pitch. Everything that goes on behind the scenes is set up to be a Championship club so there is no reason why Stockport can’t get there anytime soon. 

“That’s the aim and is one of the reasons why I’ve signed a new contract at Stockport because I believe we can get promoted again. There is no reason why we can’t go up. 

“Then you’re looking at the Championship and then you build again to get as far as you can.”

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