The Tears of a Clown

Now if there's a smile upon my face…

Notts County: ‘Digging tunnels’ again come the Springtime?

I had a seat in the Main Stand at Meadow Lane yesterday, as I’ve got into the habit of late, for the Notts County v Fleetwood game. With yet another fresh season upon us, those with an interest will recognise the sterling efforts of the boys of 2013-14 to keep the old club afloat in League Division One before what seemed like an impossible task at regular intervals came to pass, with the team and manager eventually doing themselves proud – with the club seemingly readying itself for what appeared inevitable relegation.

So it was with some optimism, notwithstanding the huge turnover of players at Meadow, that I alighted the Nottingham tram at Station Street and walked alongside the canal by a busy London Road on a pleasant, part-sunny August afternoon. Meeting my friends at the busy Trent Navigation pub on Meadow Lane, adjacent the ground, it was good to catch up after what seemed a very brief close season.

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Pensive – Notts manager, Shaun Derry

It wasn’t an auspicious start for the Magpies however, the first home league game of the season ending in an insipid and dull 0-1 defeat. Notts, in my humble opinion, lost some very decent players over the course of the close season and whilst it was always going to be difficult to adequately replace one or two of them, I expected a little more fight, urgency and determination from a side put out there by Shaun Derry, a man who’s attitude and integrity I’ve come to respect.

For the opening home game and considering Notts’ terrific and successful fight against relegation last term, I was a tad surprised at many supporters’ criticism of Derry at this early point, both in the ground and online afterwards. For me, he’s done a very decent job so far with few resources. Shaun, being a former Notts player and brought up a gritty local lad appears to ‘get’ Notts and the club’s fans better than most I’ve observed. Probably in common with many others, I’d originally viewed him as another, slightly strange, left-field choice – or more likely a cheap option – but I’ve enjoyed the way he talks about Notts and more importantly, what he seems to instil into the players in black and white stripes.

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‘The Great Escape’ of 2013-14

For the event itself, there is little I can impart that would make it sound like an exciting affair. Notts, though reasonably secure in defence, manifested a great lack of creativity in the middle of the field in particular and were fairly toothless up front too with Jimmy Spencer-replacement, Jake Cassidy having a somewhat lean afternoon. In truth it was extremely poor fare, particularly in the opening half with Notts seemingly unable to string more than a couple of passes together. The Magpies’ engine room huffed and puffed but showed a lack of energy, drive and in particular, subtlety which does not bode well for the coming winter. Notts missed their wide outlets of last season, appearing for a good deal of the game to play a more compressed style. It must be said that there were few, if any, highlights or eye-catching individual performances.

The typically bold, Derry substitutions of bringing on Balmy and Ismail in the second half brought about a short-lived improvement in the side and a little more life to the proceedings but ultimately, Fleetwood ran out with a deserved single goal victory which could hardly have been denied them. It’s early days with the season but an infant currently, first signs however, appear that the level of player brought in will see the Magpies endure another uncomfortable season. One hopes for better.

Without major improvements, sad to say, Notts County will be ‘digging tunnels’ once more when the season moves towards the sharp end…

 

As a footnote. I’d like to pay tribute to club stalwart of so many years, John Mounteney who passed away last week. His stewardship of the club will be remembered and appreciated by all. John was that most rare of individuals in the modern game, a gentleman and one-club man for many, many decades. Sincere condolences go to his family and friends, Rest in Peace, John.

August 17, 2014 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | Leave a comment

Notts County: Jimmy Spencer

I’ve been spending a little time going to visit one of the local football teams recently with three visits to Meadow Lane in Nottingham to see Notts County. The Magpies have unfortunately been bottom dwellers in League One pretty well all season long and as I write are in the midst of a desperate fight against relegation with just two games to play.

In the intervening weeks since my initial visit down the ‘Lane’ Notts have appeared to grow in confidence a little and have picked up a series of hard-fought victories. I’m out of touch with the playing staff at Notts but one or two individuals have stood out with the likes of young ball-playing winger, Jack Grealish coming to mind. Most impressive for me however has been the 22 year-old striker, Jimmy Spencer who has been reasonably prolific of late and put in some fine and mature performances.

Jimmy Spencer

It’s clear to me that Spencer is playing significantly below his level in League One. He is strong, holds the ball up well and has an almost uncanny ability to lay the ball off to a teammate, even under extreme pressure. Not least, the tall striker has superior ball control with the ball at times appearing glued to his foot before another subtle layoff to a teammate. He is quite remarkable in this ability at times and manages to keep possession in some quite impossible-looking situations. As one might expect of a spearhead, his heading is top-class, accurate and when need be, powerful as well as being well-directed.

Jimmy spencer is probably one of the best target men I’ve seen operating outside the top flight of football in this country in many a year. Perhaps the only trait that lets him down a touch is a tendency for constantly complaining to the match officials, which in spite of the rough treatment he receives from defenders he would do well to eradicate or at least temper.

The next couple of weeks are pivotal for Notts County and whether Jimmy Spencer continues his career at in a black and white jersey. I do hope the Meadow Lane club can manage to hang on to his talents. They couldn’t do better in the circumstances.

April 23, 2014 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | Leave a comment

Notts County’s FA Cup dreams lie shattered

Now, I really don’t ‘do’ match reports of football matches I’ve been to, in spite of writing about Hibs many times and to a slight degree the local teams in Nottingham. I like to catch up now and again though and keep up to date regarding what’s happening. I do really appreciate a live game too – never having caught up on  the ‘Sky generation’s’ appreciation of televised football. I like to be there – looking down on what’s really happening with the sights, sounds and smells first hand.

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I visited Meadow Lane to see Notts County for  the first time in a couple of years this week after an aborted attempt at last week’s postponed fixture which was called off shortly before the game was scheduled to kick off. I met friends at Nottingham Midland Station and walked through the Meadows district – the original and traditional heartland of Notts’ support – now much changed since younger days of slum clearances, being taken to watch the Magpies.

On a cool December evening and with a sparse crowd in evidence, we took our seats in the Derek Pavis Stand (the ‘Main Stand’ of my youth) and witnessed the pre-game warm-up. Eventually the players strode out on to the slightly heavy pitch, my friend remarking that it could be ‘Arsenal v Newcastle United’ emerging from the tunnel, considering the two lower league teams’ colours and if you half-shut your eyes and dreamed a little. The remark took me back a good while to when I witnessed the mighty Arsenal playing in the FA Cup at Meadow Lane against the team in Black and White from north of the Trent. Although Notts generally acquitted themselves well against high-grade opposition in that era, that day the Arsenal were impressive even in the warm-up and you understood that they were adjacent to ‘as good as it gets’.

And so to modern-day rebuilt Meadow Lane and a little casual resume of happenings on the night. It has to be said that Notts 0 – 3 Rotherham hardly even tells the story of a game where the Magpies were never at the races – it could have been six or seven nil and I don’t exaggerate.

From the first whistle, Notts seemed to want to just play their neat football – without getting stuck in and winning the battles presented by a tenacious League Two side, all over the pitch. In around half an hour they were two down and reduced to ten men after a silly and unnecessary incident. After forty minutes or so it was game over and playing for pride time at 0-3. Debut goalkeeper, local boy, Mitchell, after a fine early save had a torrid and nervous time though was not helped by a sieve-like Notts rear-guard.

The thin crowd, no doubt hit by pre-Christmas finances and the lack of appeal of the Cup grew increasingly disgruntled and they could hardly be blamed for that. Notts were second to everything and totally outplayed by a Rotherham side who themselves were playing some neat football and slicing open the middle of the host’s defence time after time.

In the second half Notts’ ten men fought back manfully but couldn’t remotely create any openings. Meanwhile, the visitors went close on several occasions. Notts looked completely toothless up front with barely pass marks possibly only being afforded to Bishop and to a degree, Judge, in the middle of the park. Wide man, Rice showed some good footwork and fast feet but nevertheless, little output.

Manager, Curle presided over all this fairly dispassionately . It was interesting to hear the very mixed views from Notts fans about his abilities or otherwise – definitely a very mixed vote on the former Wimbledon player – despite County being only six points from the top of League One.

If last night was indicative of Notts County version 2012/13 then I feel they have a long way to travel and the coming months will see them slipping further down the division. Let’s hope it was something of a one-off because they were truly poor in practically every respect last evening.

Friends who I was with tell me they play some nice football at times and I can believe that. It just seemed like last night they weren’t interested in getting stuck in and asserting themselves, in order to earn the right to play their football afterwards. Rotherham by contrast were really up for it. Notts were stunned by the first couple of goals and realistically – with a man sent off – they were never likely to make a contest of it. After around thirty minutes the game was all but over as a spectacle.

Neil Bishop showed some authority, leadership and professionalism in the middle of the park but there were too many posted missing on the night. As former Notts centre-back Dean Yates said on the radio afterwards, Curle could have substituted ten of them.

I was quite impressed with Rotherham who played some very nice football allied to plenty of graft. Their striker Nardiello had a fine game as did a few others.

It seems a bit churlish as he has done pretty well but I’m still a little unconvinced about Notts manager Keith Curle. There was nothing he could have done with what was I’m told was practically a full-strength Notts side on Tuesday night though. As soon as the Magpies crossed that white line they were chasing shadows all evening long.

We hope for better for Notts.

December 22, 2012 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | Leave a comment

Notts County – Graveyard of Managers

The news was announced this past weekend that the oldest league club in the world, Notts County have decided to part ways with their current manager, former Notts defender, Craig Short. Nothing too unusual about that you might suggest as yet another manager is unceremoniously sacked but by the local media’s reckoning this announcement means that the Magpies will shortly be announcing their sixth manager in just imageone year including caretaker bosses.

It was the mid-sixties when I attended my first game at the old Meadow Lane ground with a maternal uncle who, like others in his family, had watched Notts in their earlier fashionable days. As anyone with an inkling about Nottingham football history will inform you, the 1940s and 1950s saw the heady days of England centre-forward, the magnificent Tommy Lawton signing for the then Third Division (South) club for a fee of £20,000 which was sensational news that stunned the football world at the time. The England spearhead signed from Chelsea and came to preside over average crowds of around 35,000 at Meadow Lane. In those days Notts were arguably the glamour club in the city, scoring barrow loads of goals through Lawton himself, aided and abetted by an outstanding inside forward Jackie Sewell and other aces in a strong line-up.

A few short years later however and the writing was on the wall for County with, apart from the brighter news of a smattering of young stars who were sold off such as Jeff Astle and Tony Hateley, some generally very glum and depressing times indeed for the old club. It was in that dismal era with the club floundering amongst the dead men applying for re-election to the league’s old Fourth Division that I first heard the phrase used by my uncle ‘graveyard of managers’ for that is surely what Meadow Lane had become.

A little research tells me that in just over a decade leading up to 1968, Notts County had earned that tag by employing no less than eight different men at the helm. This era began with Lawton himself who lasted a miserable fifteen months and ended with former Forest hero, Billy Gray who managed just a year at the club. I think it’s fair to say that these statistics of the day were outstanding and for all the wrong reasons. Whilst maybe they would not be completely unusual in current win-at-all-costs modern football they were a damning set of figures at the time.

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Glory days – Lawton scores his hundredth goal for Notts in front of another big crowd

To the present then and we can see that the more some things change, the more they stay the same as in a similar ten-year period the Magpies hot seat has been filled by no less than twelve managers, not counting caretakers. As previously mentioned, the local media is quoting six in just the last year including short-term appointments.

Craig Short, as far as I’m aware a reasonably popular signing due partly to his former popularity as an excellent central defender for the club has been shown the door after just five months and thirteen games in charge. Five of those games were won and at the time of the sacking Notts stood at a respectable sixteenth in their division. One has to ask, exactly what chance did Short have in that time of creating success at the old club? In furthering his case it has to be remembered that Notts are a newly-promoted side having gained access to League Two this season after a barn-storming finale to season 2009/10. They are now playing at a higher level and with many members of last season’s successful side needing replacement.

Short is very much a rookie, a tyro in football management terms with just a few months experience in an interesting looking former appointment at Hungarian side, Ferencvaros. He undoubtedly has much to learn but arguably showed signs that he was capable of doing so astutely and quickly. In any case, if he had been seen as too inexperienced to lead the Magpies just five months ago what has really changed in this time?

I’m a casual bystander in what happens in the Nottingham football world these days but I enjoy seeing both local teams excel. I have to say that when Ray Trew took over the ownership of the club a short while ago his common sense and financially prudent approach seemed to be exactly what Notts County needed after the ridiculous pie-in-the-sky Munto Finance days. His manner was straight talking and to the point and I liked the cut of his jib in sorting out what were worrying and quickly mounting problems at Meadow Lane. That’s partly why I am surprised and disappointed at the short-termism being shown here.

Notts County are not a big cheese in the world of football these days but I do believe in this case here they provide a very good example of one of the ills of the modern game. There is a lack of patience and tolerance shown to managers generally in what is at 95% of clubs an incredibly difficult job. These men get little leeway to bring to fruition the plans they formulate for the teams that employ them. It is a mathematic fact too that only the few can win things in any given season. There are a myriad of reasons why success comes to certain clubs, huge support and financial backing probably at the forefront but it is not unconnected that even at a peak level such as that seen at Manchester United and Arsenal some of the most successful clubs are those that stick by the man in charge of team affairs on a long-term basis. Former Notts County legend, Jimmy Sirrel a man I met and was fortunate enough to talk to at length one sunny afternoon and a manager who never once suffered the indignity of being sacked, I know would be the first to agree.

October 26, 2010 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , | Leave a comment

Notts County – Nott$watch: The Sad Incidence of Ian McParland’s Departure

Scanning the online news last evening I viewed with some dismay the sad story of Notts County’s Manager and former playing hero, Ian McParland.

I’m pretty well disposed towards ‘Charlie’, I watched him from the Meadow Lane terraces on many occasions when his hugely impressive goal-scoring output made him an enigmatic and revered figure to the black and white faithful. Those days brought him many plaudits in local football of the era – not least when Brian Clough attempted to sign him for the high-flying Nottingham Forest of the day. Notts County vetoed that career move for the man from East Lothian and it seems that history now repeats itself in the way they treat this man with the blood of the game running through his veins, as they unceremoniously dump him from the Meadow Lane managerial role.

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I have to confess here, I’m a little angry about this decision. I follow Notts these days as merely a (slightly intrigued) observer but I feel a wrong has been done here. I also feel that Sven and/or whoever has made this crass decision may have misread the public’s attitude towards what they are attempting to achieve at Notts County and the methods they are employing in going about that.

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October 14, 2009 Posted by | Ripping Yarns | , , , | 6 Comments

Sven-Goran Eriksson signs for Notts County!

Staggering – that’s the only word!

I’m talking of course of the local football news story that former England coach Sven-Goran Eriksson has signed for the world’s oldest league club as Director of Football. Apparently Sven’s duties will include the overseeing of player development and training facilities at Meadow Lane. Other responsibilities will include looking after the youth academy, negotiating transfers for the club, scouting for new talent and the general health and fitness of the players. Joining him in dealing with these duties will be his long-time assistant Tord Grip.

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It’s all become a reality due to the recent takeover of Notts County by Munto Finance, a Middle-East based consortium who have highly ambitious plans for the club which include a realistic establishing of Notts in the Championship within the next five seasons. This patience makes a refreshing change in these kinds of matters. Those close to Munto Finance, the ambitious consortium which took control last week with plans to establish the club in the Championship within five years, say Eriksson is in for the ‘long haul’.

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July 22, 2009 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , , , | Leave a comment