It’s a horrible weekend to be a supporter of the oldest club in the English Football League. Formed in 1862, and one of the twelve founder members in 1888, Notts County face losing that famous label for the first time in their history of fluctuating fortune.
They’ve won Championships, suffered relegations, even won the FA Cup (in 1894), but never have the Magpies dropped out of the Football League.
On the back of a dreadful season, which has seen them occupy one of the relegation spots since mid-November, they have somehow hauled themselves towards the last game of the season still with a slim chance of survival, when once they were 9 points adrift of safety.
Neal Ardley, a former Wimbledon player from their Premier League days, their third manager this season following Kevin Nolan (ex-Bolton & Newcastle) and Harry Kewell (ex-Leeds & Liverpool) has turned fortunes around. But it looks like being just not quite enough.
“This is as big a game as Notts have ever had but you don’t try to think about that because it is never going to help you,” Ardley said.
“If you think about the history and everything else and take that into the game, it will make it a lot tougher. We have to think about just trying to win a game of football.
“We have to remain positive, and that’s the message I’ve been trying to get across all week. We’ve managed to claw back a nine-point deficit and take it down to the final game.
“We’ve got to give it one more big effort and then hope for a little bit of luck and a favour from elsewhere. If that turns out to be enough, then great. If it doesn’t, then… but we can’t have any regrets on Saturday.
“I think relegation would emotionally hurt the fans. They have something that they’re very proud of here, being the oldest Football League club. It would hurt me too, but good things can come from adversity though.”
The frustrating thing for County fans, with only 9 league wins in 45 this season, is their destiny is not even in their own hands. Notts must win at Swindon Town, something that’s not happened since 2011, and hope that Macclesfield Town lose at home to Cambridge United, a club with nothing to play for, that’s lost four and drawn one of its last five games.
Ironically Macclesfield are managed by former Tottenham, Arsenal and England international, Sol Campbell. Campbell joined Notts County amidst much fanfare back in August 2009, signing a five-year contract after the club was taken over by a Middle-Eastern consortium with intentions to take the them to the Premier League.
But although the new ownership passed the league’s ‘fit and proper persons test’, there was little substance (or real money) behind the takeover by Munto Finance, who also hired former England, Lazio and Manchester City manager, Sven Goran-Eriksson as Director of Football.
Campbell played one game, a 1-2 defeat at Morecambe, walked out on the club three days later, and had his contract cancelled by mutual consent, admitting he was embarrassed at believing the club’s new owner’s plans were genuine.
When Munto Finance were forced to leave, Notts County found themselves in debt to the tune of $12.5m.
Fast forward and amazingly this time last season, the Magpies were headed to the promotion play-offs following a 5th place finish that left them only 7 points shy of automatic promotion. They lost the play-off semi-final, controversially, to eventual final winners Coventry City, who thus earned promotion.
Further back, the seventies had been a golden period for County under legendary manager Jimmy Sirrell, with three promotions taking them from the Fourth into the old First Division over a period of 11 years. Indeed in 1980/81, their first promotion to the old First Division since 1926 was clinched by a 2-0 victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. How football times have changed.
Then, in 1991/92, the last year of the old First Division, County were relegated, missing Premier League riches by one season.
Internationally, the most successful club in Italy also have Notts County to thank for their famous black and white striped shirts. Continual washing had faded their original pink tops and Juventus asked one of their team members, Englishman, John Savage, if he had any contacts back home who could supply new shirts that would better withstand the elements.
As it turned out, Savage had a friend in Nottingham, a Notts County supporter, who shipped the first consignment of black and white striped shirts to Turin.
As an indicator of the importance of this event, when Juventus opened Turin’s new stadium in 2011, they invited Notts County, then in England’s third tier, for an historic exhibition match. After a spectacular opening ceremony referencing Juve’s history, the game ended 1–1 with second-half goals coming from Luca Toni and Lee Hughes.
Now the relative glory days have gone for the time being, a legion of County fans will be put through the mire later this afternoon. Almost 3,000 will leave the club’s modest Meadow Lane home for the trip to Swindon’s ironically named, County Ground. There they’ll discover their beloved club’s immediate destiny by at the latest, 1645 (UK time). It will be an anxious, gut-wrenching and probably disappointing afternoon, cheering on their own team and keeping abreast of events in Cheshire, 230 km away.
I hope this morning, Montreal fans cast a thought for little, old, Notts County and their suffering fans, before turning their attention to events later in the day when New York City FC visits Stade Saputo.
I know of at least two Montrealers, not by birth, but by repatriation, who most certainly will.
Good Luck Notts, in your hour of need ....