Notts County 2015-16 [illustration: Natalie Owen]
The last month or so has been one most Notts fans would rather forget, as the unrest highlighted in the previous Left Pie-On
spiralled out of control into open warfare between terrace and boardroom. Indeed, rather like a Jung Chang
novel, just when you thought things couldn’t get any more depressing, the page turned and there was worse to come.
There has been considerably more action off the pitch recently than on it, where a paltry three goals have been accumulated in six games since the last column. Significantly, Notts are now formally up for sale, with reports suggesting a deal will be completed – with persons as yet unknown – in the next couple of weeks. With this in mind it is surprising that the outgoing regime (rightly) pulled the trigger on the unwanted Jamie Fullarton, particularly at a time when the club has a winding up order pending for keeping the taxman waiting and could therefore be assumed to be unwilling to sanction a severance package.
The sale itself is hardly unexpected after the home defeat to Leyton Orient last month, a game that took place amid an atmosphere akin to that of a public hanging. This was the day when the average punter finally lost patience with the Trew regime and five years or so of accumulated disenchantment oozed from the terraces like the popping of a particularly well-embedded spot.
Fans kicking off earlier in the season
The fans are revolting, certainly in the eyes of Ray Trew. A press release citing sections of supporters, “keyboard warriors” amongst them, as the provocation for him calling time on his tenure was perhaps understandable, given some of the abuse dished out to his family. At this point the outgoing Chairman was believed to have resolved never to set foot in Meadow Lane again, a power vacuum compounded by the subsequent resignation of Chief Executive Julian Winter, leaving no-one in place to steer a ship drifting rudderless and perilously close to the abyss that is non-league football.
While Modern Football’s boardroom-dwelling high flyers and bean counters would like to believe the man on the terrace incapable of appreciating the subtleties involved in running a multi-million-pound organisation, one facet grasped quite clearly is the importance in selecting a suitable football manager to direct operations where it matters most. That’s on the pitch, by the way. In contrast, and despite some canny activity behind the scenes, managerial recruitment has proven to be the area Ray Trew is most willing to take a gamble.
In appointing Jamie Fullarton, a managerial novice, when the club were crying out for an experienced hand to piece together the puzzle Ricardo Moniz couldn’t solve, the Chairman went against the wishes of pretty much everybody. The gamble failed spectacularly, forcing Mr Trew to end his self-imposed exile from Meadow Lane and replace Fullarton with Mark Cooper, essentially to protect his investment, which would devalue considerably should our status as the world’s oldest league club come under threat.
Ricardo Moniz, wearing special axe-repellent coat
It can be dangerous to give the people what they want every time, yet there are certain occasions – putting your hand in the fire for example, or invading Iraq – where no empirical evidence is necessary to disprove the sanity of a course of action. The monumental error of judgement behind the 70 days and 12 games of Fullarton’s managerial reign will come to be seen as Ray Trew’s gorge-himself-on-Toblerone-and-drive-to-Dundee-in-his-bare-feet moment.
Enough has been written about Fullarton’s shortcomings; he is the past and Mark Cooper is the future. The key point is that his appointment became the smoking gun for a terrace rebellion on a scale not previously seen at Notts, plunging the club into crisis and giving licence to angry mobs everywhere to scrawl on bedsheets and rouse an almighty rabble through the medium of social media.
As painful as it may be, it’s worthwhile reliving the matches leading up to the sacking, if only to document the mounting clusterfuck.
With the atmosphere in NG2 growing ever more poisonous, Notts had a tricky pair of away fixtures to look forward to at Accrington Stanley and Plymouth Argyle. Both games unsurprisingly yielded nothing, the Plymouth match in particular underlined the lack of creativity characteristic of Fullarton’s Notts, especially frustrating given the side couldn’t stop scoring under Moniz. Here, it seemed, Fullarton had thrown not only the baby out with the bathwater, but also Jimmy Spencer and Stanley Aborah.
"Go and save my job, Smudger"
Of all the overseas arrivals in the summer, it was Stanley Aborah who most captured the public imagination. Yet despite strong performances in the first half of the season, where he tormented opponents with his skills to delight the crowd, Aborah was mystifyingly absent from the team throughout Fullarton’s reign. The manager initially pointed to stylistic reasons behind the omission, only for Aborah himself to give a bizarre video interview claiming he’d been outcast, in turn prompting a club statement suggesting the player had requested a transfer. The truth is undoubtedly somewhere in the middle, yet sadly it’s another example of Notts airing dirty laundry in public and only served to inflame the hostility between management and fans, the "Ooooo Stanley Aborah" chant quickly becoming another stick with which to beat Fullarton.
Devoid of Aborah, Notts began March by hosting bottom club Dagenham and Redbridge on a cold Tuesday evening. Fullarton broadly chose to keep faith with the side that had looked so toothless at Plymouth and another dull affair played out in front of the natives, only prevented from becoming truly restless by the freezing temperatures. Inexplicably Notts were unable to muzzle former carthorse Joss Labadie, allowing him to impose his physical advantages over an out of sorts Curtis Thompson, as Daggers had the best of a goalless draw.
This was the game when, if there had previously been any doubt, it became abundantly clear that Jamie Fullarton simply wasn’t going to succeed. Players are like schoolchildren and dogs in that they can instinctively sense weakness and, without the authority of strong management, that sought-after benchmark of 110% cannot be achieved. This is not necessarily a slight on the character of Fullarton himself; rather, it is to point out that the unrest that cleared out the boardroom had eroded his mandate to such an extent that he became a dead man walking, only sticking around to collect his severance pay from the new owners who, in all likelihood, would have hastily sacrificed him as a totem of the outgoing regime in order to curry favour with the terraces.
The visit of Jordanian-funded Bristol Rovers offered no respite to the misery. Notts were atrocious, letting in two very preventable goals and again offering little going forward, slumping to a 0-2 defeat. The airing of public grievance continued with the unveiling of a ‘Fullarton Out’ banner in the Kop during a second half, leading to the peculiar spectacle of stewards trying to confiscate it, apparently due to size restrictions as clarified in an official club statement a few days later.
Predictably, social media exploded at this point, and not unreasonably. The rhetoric from the club has proved something of an own goal, rubbing salt in the already severed bond with the fans which are its lifeblood. The now infamous “keyboard warriors” statement from Ray Trew was inflammatory when the tone should perhaps have been conciliatory, only serving to provide further fuel to the pyre beneath him.
Less than 200 hardy souls made another long journey to the south west for the defeat at Yeovil Town, a match notable only for the heroics in goal of Scott Loach, which kept the score down to 0-1, and the appearance of more customised bed linen. By the time Exeter City arrived at the San Sirrel, Fullarton’s position was untenable, at least under normal circumstances. In front of less than 4,000 fans, on a Saturday afternoon, Notts capitulated in the second half to finish up losing 1-4, although Izale McLeod did at least score the first – and, of course, last – home goal of Fullarton’s tenure. Every cloud…
The chorus of unrest on the terraces reached crescendo levels in the final 20 minutes with more brandishing of bedsheets, fans remonstrating with journalists in the Pavis, and the ominous gathering of a mob around the home dugout at the final whistle. Fullarton was ushered away for his own safety at full time, picking up his P45 shortly after. It is doubtful he will look back on his time at Meadow Lane with any fondness, and the whole saga has been a sorry affair in which few emerge with any credit. The exception perhaps is veteran journalist Colin Slater who has been positively Paxman-esque in cutting through the vague platitudes offered by Fullarton in his post-match interviews.
In appointing Mark Cooper until the end of the season, Ray Trew has gone some way to preserving his legacy, or at lease mitigating the risk of being the man who took Notts out the league, and for this he deserves credit. In two of the last three seasons, Bristol Rovers and Barnet have both been relegated with 50+ points. Whilst York and Dagenham are particularly poor this year, Notts under Fullarton achieved only a single cumulative point from the pair, bringing our current total up to 40. Were the Scotsman to have been persevered with, it is not especially far-fetched to suggest that we wouldn’t have won another game. Cooper’s sole aim now is to get the club safe, a considerable downscaling of expectation from when he was originally interviewed around Christmas, when the play-offs were still an outside chance.
It never rains..
The other priority is to get our house in order. Three generations of the Taylor family are known to have taken the long march down Meadow Lane on a Saturday afternoon, at no point with the club on a particularly even keel. The excellent Tommy Lawton biography, ‘Get In There’ by Tom Lawton Jr, suggests the club has long been a shambles behind the scene, even back in the days when no-one saw a banana until they were twelve. More recently, in the 20 years or so since the relative stability of the Pavis era, Notts have experienced every type of ownership model from local businessman made good, shady foreign consortia and the great-on-paper but dreadful-in-reality supporters trust. None have worked, so it is unsettling to speculate about what the future may hold, albeit tinged with excitement at the possibilities nonetheless.
Moreover, with Fullarton now gone and seemingly the Trews to follow shortly there remains little left to fight about amongst ourselves. It is hoped that in the aftermath of this civil strife the factions previously at war on the terraces and social media can now unite behind the push for survival and beyond, as Notts again undergo the process of regime change. After all, the club can never truly be loved by any new owners, in whatever form they take, until it finally learns to love itself.