TRCH Full Monty

Left Magpie: Fans Crave More Than Cheap Chocolate and Stamps

28 October 18 words: Colin Sisson

Every week there seems to be gloomy headlines of some aged standard bearer of the British high street stumbling into crisis. Debenhams seem to be the latest victim, with a reported 50 stores set to close nationwide.

 

I’ve often wondered when the same fate will befall our beloved WHSmiths - a shop that seems to promise much but specialises in...not much at all. Need a book? Waterstones. PC equipment? PC World. I fear WHSmiths are only being kept alive by the rather niche market of customers wanting 1kg bars of chocolate with their second-class stamps.

This may seem an odd way to start my column, but my fear is that Notts are fast becoming the WHSmiths of League 2 football; an organisation that simply can’t rely on being loved just because it seems to have always been there. We have no real, definable sporting qualities or philosophies. I can’t tell you what to expect from a Notts County side, other than inconsistency.

This may seem a little harsh on the two month tenure of Harry Kewell, but I am no clearer in understanding what his Notts side stand for or aim to specialise in. For every enjoyable 45 minute spell, like the one we experienced against Swindon this Saturday, there’s games like Bury away where we look as directionless as we had done under previous managers.

If Kewell’s reaction to Saturday’s second half capitulation is anything to go by, it’s a fact that is not lost on the new manager. He told BBC Radio Nottingham that “January is just around the corner, if they don't want to play the way we want to play, we need to look at it".

One of the biggest problems Notts have had in many years is the ‘we’ that are looking at the problem change so ridiculously regularly. The ‘we’ that put the majority of this side together consisted of Kevin Nolan, his brother acting as scout, Head of Talent ID Darren Robinson, Academy Director Jon Goodman and Sporting Director Darren Fletcher. All have left the club. Their players have not.

For Notts to be anything more than an unsatisfactory patchwork of current and previous management mistakes, there needs to be a core of staff that dictates the direction and philosophy of this club. And stick to it. Paul Hart’s appointment as Technical Director could be a positive step forward in this process and Dave Regis’ appointment as Academy Director could also be a shrewd move in finally establishing a structure that lasts longer than the previous year’s highlights DVD. Employing people with Notts’ best interests at heart and an informed understanding of where we should be as a club is crucial.

Crewe visited Meadow Lane in late September, a side immersed in long-standing traditions of ball possession and youth development. They passed us off the park and, though Notts ran out 2-1 winners on the day, it’s hard to ignore that their consistency and dedication to their beliefs is reflected in them sitting five places and seven points higher in the table. I wonder where they would be had they enjoyed an investment of half a million pounds this season.

Sat at the top of League 2 are Lincoln, a side that models the benefits of consistency. Winners of the Conference in 2017, the Football League trophy in 2018 and are now well on course to adding to their growing reputation and trophy cabinet by doing what they do best. Their approach and acumen is so precise, I think almost any League 2 fan could identify a potential Lincoln player if they possess the necessary attributes of pace, power and know-how.

Notts do neither approach very well.

The club have waxed lyrical about its dedication to youth development, yet there’s no escaping the fact that Saturday’s lineup didn’t have a single player under 24 years old. Sam Osborne and Declan Dunn rotate seats on the first team bench but Pierce Bird, Alex Howes and Remayne Campbell remain underemployed and without a loan spell to keep them sharp.

As Lincoln ably demonstrate, experience can be incredibly effective. I’ve no problem with utilising a player’s understanding and guile to unsettle and overpower sides; Jon Stead’s performances under Kewell epitomise this, as he grafts and grapples every game. But his efforts are not matched by the other experienced campaigners in the squad, with some more guilty than others of errors befitting a player with far less experience. If we’re going to have players lunging in to ill-advised tackles or give the ball away in front of our back four, I’d at least like it to be part of a younger player’s development. There must be some squad members wondering just what they’ve got to do to get a game at the 90th club in the football league.

It’ll take more than a short-term change of staff to rebrand and revitalise Notts to return to the footballing high street. It won’t be easy. But only when we have re-established our footballing identity and stuck to doing something incredibly well will we lose the WHSmiths label and produce a product to be proud of. Because there’s only so much chocolate and second-class stamps fans can tolerate.

Next up, Port Vale. 

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