Since assuming the crown, Mr Hardy has wasted no time in using his considerable PR skills to blow the winds of change through his demoralised kingdom, much needed to recover from the reign of terror imposed on it by the previous owners. From having the air of a plague-pit, the atmosphere at Meadow Lane has been lifted markedly by various initiatives to cultivate positivity and galvanise the masses for the considerable battle which lay ahead to keep us in the Football League.
Indeed the San Sirrel has become something of a fortress in 2017, a far cry from last year where Notts achieved a meagre total of just three home league victories. During the time Alan Hardy has been parking in the Chairman’s space Notts remain unbeaten at home; enjoying wins over relegation rivals Crawley and Cheltenham, in addition to a last gasp 2-2 draw with form side Exeter City, all following on from our initial blank with Mansfield last month.
Football has in essence become fun again, an afternoon out one can expect to enjoy rather than feeling compelled to turn up out of a misguided sense of duty. The Six-Pack initiative, offering supporters six tickets for £100, has gained traction with many former season ticket holders who had begun to ‘pick and choose’ their games. Coupled with other examples of clever marketing, such as free entry for under-12s and removal of the ridiculous restrictions on the bring-a-friend scheme, attendances have swelled. Greater numbers of spectators are no use when the team are losing and playing badly though, you just put off more people from coming again, yet when the team are winning it generates the positivity and momentum necessary for another Great Escape™.
Much has been written about the new Chairman’s prominence as a public figure, a frequent presence on social media (complete with blue tick) and on the Meadow Lane pitch at half time (complete with ‘AH’ labelled club training gear). Whilst opinions differ on the merits of this approach, it is undeniable that the enthusiasm shown by Mr Hardy for his new venture is in welcome contrast to his disinterested predecessor. However fans are fickle (Ian McParland – 2009) and the challenge is to maintain the chants of ‘There’s only one Alan Hardy’ from The Kop longer than Ray Trew or Peter Trembling managed.
On the pitch, manager Kevin Nolan has now begun to shape the squad to his own specification following a frantic last day of the transfer window, along with shipping out a number of leftovers from Ricardo Moniz in Graham Burke, Genaro Snijders and Stanley Aborah. In all cases there is a player in there somewhere and it is frustrating that none were able to capitalise on the opportunities afforded them by various managers to make the most of their obvious potential, particularly in a side often devoid of the creativity each possess. Notts being Notts, it is beyond doubt that Aborah, now at Portsmouth, will return to haunt us.
Nolan’s Notts certainly appear a different beast to under previous manager John Sheridan. Whereas shipping a goal or two before Christmas would typically bring down the whole perilous house of cards, team spirit seemingly so fragile it could be undermined by a pointed finger and cross word from the left-back area, Notts under Nolan are undoubtedly more man than mouse. The manager’s faith placed in key partnerships at the back (Thierry Audel and the much-maligned Richard Duffy) and in midfield (Rob Milsom and Michael O’Connor) has been rewarded by much improved individual performances to give the side a solid core.
When fitness allows for the inclusion of Shola Ameobi to relieve Jon Stead from the target man duties which are so clearly not his strength, in addition to the resurgence of Adam Collin who suddenly looks more confident in goal, the team now has the spine it lacked previously, both literally and metaphorically.
Unfortunately much damage has already been done, the Mighty Magpies now mired in a relegation scrap with Leyton Orient and a number of sides which, not so long ago, we would have justifiably labelled as pub teams. That is the reality, regardless of Kevin Nolan’s protestations to the contrary, and it will be necessary to bottle up the fighting spirit shown at Meadow Lane to take on the road, where away performances continued to disappoint in the early weeks the new manager’s reign.
Drab defeats at both Grimsby and Accrington did much to dampen any optimism arising from preceding positive home results. Prior to our horrific (and record breaking) run of 10 league defeats on the spin, paradoxically Notts were more at home away from home and would be in an even more dire situation were it not for a number of credible early season away victories. If we are to drag ourselves clear of danger, this ability to win points on the road needs to be rediscovered.
A trip to east London offered an opportunity to right our away day wrongs. Notts fans have much to empathise with the ownership tribulations of Leyton Orient, although for 90 minutes any sense of #FootballFamily (cringe) was forgotten as the sides duelled over the prized ‘six pointer’. Happily on this occasion goals from Jon Stead (2) and Forest loanee Jorge Grant saw us over the line, picking up an away victory for the first time since October and, more importantly, putting a degree of clear water between ourselves and the relegation drop zone.
All in all then a good month for those with a bent for the black and white. Not so long ago the prospect of a day out watching Notts held comparable appeal to a lad’s holiday in Rostov, yet thanks to the combined efforts of Alan Hardy and Kevin Nolan, supporters have had their vigour renewed. The war is far from won however and this sense of positivity, so alien to our fan base that it is almost frightening, needs to be maintained to carry us over the line of preserving our league status, before mounting an assault on whatever the future may hold. In the meantime though, it is worth noting that it is fun to be a Notts fan once again.