The National League is notoriously physical, which is why Stockport County’s season without a single booking is so impressive.
Jim Gannon’s side did not pick up any yellow cards in 2017-18, nor did they get any reports for dissent or violent conduct – an achievement practically unheard of in today’s game.
Their discipline was rewarded at the National Game Awards in association with SCL, where Gannon was presented with the PFA Fairplay award at Stamford Bridge, as the achievements of another special year of non-league football were celebrated.
“There are so many injuries now and I just want skill to flourish, so we make sure that we play the game in the right manner,” explained Gannon, who is currently managing Stockport for the third time in his career, having rejoined in 2016.
“Within steps one to four, there were three teams that had no bookings and no reports for dissent or violent conduct – and then after that, it was a question of who had the better all-round discipline.
“It’s a great achievement. I set the principles but the players have been acting like very good professionals and good people.
“Ever since I did my pro licence, I’ve always wanted to play the game a certain way and respect the standards of football.
“Whether that be respect for the referee or respect for the game, but also respect for others on the pitch.
“It’s nice to be successful in the league and you can be successful by playing in the right manner.
“You want to come away from the game thinking that you’ve given something to the game, whether that be something like developing players.”
Gannon has long been known within the industry as an advocate for fair play, and carries with his ethos the authority as one of few lower-league managers who hold a full UEFA Pro Licence.
He has previously managed Dundalk, Motherwell, Peterborough United, Port Vale and Northwich Victoria.
“I’ve won this award in the Football League and in the SPL, and now I’m back at Stockport again, it’s nice that we’re creating the right culture,” he mused.
“This is a great recognition for our professionals, that sends a great message to the lads in the academy.
“There are some great people involved and this is from the top to the bottom – the fans, the volunteers, the directors and the chairmen.
“It’s great to meet them and hear their stories.
“I’m an ex-league manager but I’m really respectful of non-league. It’s proper football, for me.”
SCL are one of the UK’s leading independent providers of education through sport for 16-18 year olds. SCL deliver Academy programmes across football, rugby and cricket, in partnership with more than 70 professional, private and grassroots sports clubs, foundations and community trusts. Find out more at www.wearescl.co.uk/education