Life at Meadow Lane is rarely dull and the 2016-17 season was no exception; the club doing its usual trick of taking a merry band of followers to the very edge of despair before, rather unusually, getting its shit together long before the traditional scramble to avoid relegation. The real intrigue, however, has been in the off-field matters...
There is no getting away from Alan Hardy; his presence around NG2 is omnipotent. A prolific Tweeter, Mr Hardy is very much in the Darragh MacAnthony mould of ‘personality’ chairman. He’s happy to converse candidly with fans on a variety of subjects, and unconcerned by the strange new age in which we live; where crying outrage is seemingly a valued currency to obtain more followers.
It is all very different from the days of Jack Dunnett and Derek Pavis, but then so is the world generally and, by definition, the game we occasionally profess to love. What cannot be denied is that Mr Hardy purchased a train wreck, a team in the midst of a record losing sequence of ten consecutive games and heading out of the league; either via the snakes and ladders of the football pyramid or at the behest of HMRC and other disgruntled creditors.
Happily, in no small part due to the force of his personality, Alan Hardy quickly managed to manoeuvre the club back on track long enough for us to enjoy a surprisingly calm end to the season. We were safe from the drop by Easter and free of more unwanted summons to appear before the beak.
That this was achieved in front of gates averaging over 7,000 is genuinely remarkable and testament to the enthusiasm generated by the Hardy-effect. Whether this upturn has been achieved by beginner’s luck or genuine nous however, only time will tell.
With the managerial merry-go-round following the departure of the potty-mouthed John Sheridan, few fans had the former Bolton, Newcastle and West Ham midfielder at the top of their wish-list.
As it was, in the first of a number of strong decisions by the aforementioned incoming chairman, Nolan was swiftly installed as manager; a selection which would no doubt have seen the sky fall in if made by our former owner. However, from the first press conference it was clear he was no Jamie Fullarton and so it proved, as Nolan quietly improved all aspects on the field to haul us safely without incident, largely with a squad written off by most observers as the detritus left by years of mismanagement under Ray Trew.
It is a tough ask to think of a similarly successful football outcome for comparison, one resulting from such a brave decision as to appoint Nolan and overlook an experienced head for our time of acute crisis. Certainly not since Escape To Victory with Michael Caine’s Allied Forces XI, trailing 1-4 to the Third Reich at halftime and carrying an injured Pele, elected to stay and draw the match; declining the opportunity of escaping back to Blighty in time for a slap-up tea.
Early days, but it appears Nolan is going places as a manager. Hopefully with Notts.
There can be very few supporters left whose first introduction to following Notts wasn’t via the distinctive tones of Colin Slater across the airwaves. For 49 years, ‘Uncle’ Colin has been the public voice of Notts County, commentating on matters on the pitch with considerable aplomb, in addition to gravely summarising our various disasters off it with levels of tact akin to an experienced undertaker.
Furthermore, he has been instrumental in saving Notts from going out of business on several occasions, on average about once every twenty years. The club came perilously close to being wound up in the sixties and would have folded had Colin not been able to cajole new local investment.
By the eighties, the club was on its knees again and Colin was at the forefront of the crisis movement which helped lead to Derek Pavis assuming the role of chairman. In the early noughties, many will remember his emotional plea for someone to save the club following the collapse of the dubious Strang-Bhatia consortium, a plate stepped up to by the well-intentioned but inadequate Supporters Trust.
To many, particularly those unable to get to games, Colin Slater is Notts County and his retirement from live commentary will draw a line under almost a third of the club’s long existence, during which time the game and society in general has changed beyond all recognition.
It is with the best wishes of everyone associated with the club that Colin now begins a new chapter of hopefully a very happy and healthy period of his life.
The Ladies Team
Whatever your thoughts on the merits of women’s football, the decision to fold Notts County Ladies attracted much negative coverage from the wider world.
The Women’s Super League is a bold initiative to promote the female game on an elevated platform and make stars of the players and clubs involved. Unfortunately the financial model of professional players and infrastructure does not balance against the revenue streams and, regardless of whose figures you choose to believe, Notts County Ladies were clearly a heavy loss maker once the FA subsidies dried up.
The Arsenals and Manchester Cities of this world can support such negative equity, however to a club the size of Notts it is unsustainable. Continuation of the ladies team would have drained significant resource from the men’s team, youth set-up and Football in the Community scheme.
The genuine disappointment felt by many, however, illustrates that there is a groundswell of enthusiasm for ladies football locally, which should be harnessed to provide local girls the chance to represent the club in age-group competitions. As for the professional game, there appears to be a clear passion for the sport, regrettably just not in enough numbers to make the venture financially viable.
Moreover, based on the quite astonishing levels of vitriol directed at Alan Hardy on social media from disgruntled NCLFC supporters, he would be well advised to avoid a night out at NG1 for the time being.
Since the club relocated to Meadow Lane in 1910, there have been few constants in life and it was with genuine sadness that one of the large horse chestnut trees standing at the gates was felled prior to the final home game of the season.
Bearing silent witness over several generations, the memoirs of our dearly departed friend would make for interesting reading. Unfortunately the grand, old looming presence expired before a ghost writer with sufficient tree-whispering talents could be found, taking its secrets with him to either the big forest in the sky or the Eastcroft Incinerator, depending on your beliefs. RIP the tree. X
A fair bit of water under Trent Bridge, then. Looking back on the 2016-17 season, it feels as if we have drawn a line under a distinct period of the club’s history, which now leave us on the cusp of a brave new world.
Where before there was darkness, there is now light and it seems that for the first time in a long time, the overwhelming mood at Meadow Lane is one of positivity.
Looking forward, the bookies have us priced at around 14/1 to win the league next season, a division which will now feature Lincoln, Chesterfield and Coventry to bring added local zest.
Is it too early to dream? Probably, but then that is what football is all about.
Notts County season 2017-18 begins at the end of July. Ish.
Notts County Football Club website