His witty manner and sharp tongue often left reporters and supporters alike laughing in his company. One classic quip immediately upon his appointment was: ‘Ask any kid what he knows about Notts County and he’ll tell you they’re the oldest football team in the world. By the time I’ve finished he’ll know a lot more.’
Cited as the major managerial influence on Manchester United’s Alex Ferguson, Jimmy arrived in November of 1969 and over the next decade transformed the magpies fortunes, almost to the point of overshadowing that other manager over the river Brian Clough. In 1993 the newly redeveloped County Road Stand at Meadow Lane was renamed the Jimmy Sirrel Stand in his honour. We managed to grab a few words with the great man at his home in Burton Joyce in May last year…
Who did you regard as your best ever signing for Notts County?
I couldn’t just give you one player. If you go through them, you’ll find lots of players, Raddy Avramovic, Iain McCulloch and little John Chiedozie… they could all play.
What about the most influential?
Well football is a matter of opinion and in my opinion the goalkeeper is the number one man in your team. You start with a point and if he doesn’t lose a goal you get that and if you score one you’ve won. So possibly Raddy Avramovic.
As a Scotsman you seem to have adopted the City of Nottingham as home…
Well I’ve lived here since I came to Notts County and I enjoy living in Burton Joyce. Me, the wife and the children have enjoyed a good living here. Unfortunately my wife’s no longer here, she died twenty years since.
When your wife Kathy was still with us where did you take her on a night out in Nottingham?
I don’t think we went out too much as a couple. In them days there were lots of association meetings with supporters clubs and the likes, so we socialised at them and spent the rest of the time at home. We enjoyed our life here.
How did you get on with Brian Clough back in the day?
Oh we were very friendly. He was a nice person, but a bit bombastic about his football. He seemed to be able to handle players successfully and was a tremendously successful manager for his time. Indeed, I was at his funeral.
What are your hopes for the future for Notts County?
I hope they are successful, and you say ‘How do they become successful?’ And you become successful from better players, so I hope they do well!
In a recent poll by Ladbrokes, Notts came out as the most depressing Club to support. Do you remember Meadow Lane as being a difficult place to win at during your reign?
I don’t think so. In 1970-71 we went through the season at home without losing a match. We won three promotions and you don’t do that by losing many games at home.
Do you wish you had managed in the modern game with the greater financial rewards and media attention?
No. There comes a time when you’re not wanted or aren’t good enough or don’t feel up to it. People talk a lot about the money footballers get, but they won’t be getting a fortune at Notts County nowadays. The big money doesn’t come to people in the fourth division or the non-league, it only comes to special players and clubs don’t pay large amounts of money for them unless they’re forced to.
What would you say is your all-time Notts eleven?
I can’t even begin to think about that! How many years was I here? How can I pick a team out of all those? When I start thinking, who was my goalkeeper, who was my full-back… I just can’t do it! You need to be a genius.
Some would say you were…
(laughs) Well that’s their opinion, but some thought I should have been out of here a year before I was! That is how football goes.
How would you go about changing Notts’ fortunes nowadays?
I’ve no idea because I’m not working there so I don’t now the circumstances. Financially, is there any money to buy players? How do you go about getting players? If you look at the young players that I got here, they were tremendous footballers but that took a lot of time working with the people in schools. Also, when I was here I was at football virtually every night of the week. On a Monday night when I wasn’t at a match, I had the young kiddies down to look over. The likes of Tommy Johnson and the big centre-half Dean Yates were coming through then. I knew where they were and I had people finding them. You’ve got to be looking all the time. Somebody once said to Kathy: ‘Your Jimmy is never in,’ and she said: ‘Well you cannot cage a tiger!’
What do you feel is the key to a rise up the football leagues?
Winning football matches and nothing else. If you win football matches and you don’t lose many over a year, then you move into a higher division. Then when you get to a higher division like the Premiership now, your problems are relative.
How much money you have, what are the gates like and is it bringing enough money in?
At Chelsea and Manchester United, they’ve got people throwing clouds of money in, that’s why they are at the top!
How many Notts games do you go to these days?
I only go to the home games and only when I’m in the country. This season has been a bit disappointing, but it’s important to come along and support your team.
Where do you see Notts in five years time?
I’ve no idea. Christ I might not be here in five years time and if so I won’t be able to go and see them will I? Not if they’ve boxed me in…
Any chance of a comeback as Notts manager?
No chance. I don’t have the enthusiasm or ability now to handle footballers, teach them and drive them and argue with them. I don’t have the ability to drive the motorcar from here to Motherwell for instance and back again to start training, which is all part of it. If you are the manager of the football club, you need to be lively and bright and teach them well or you are no good to them. But I don’t miss it because I’ve already lived it.
A podcast of this interview can be found on www.nottscounty-mad.co.uk