The Tears of a Clown

Now if there's a smile upon my face…

Rest in Peace, Jackie Sewell

In this past week, the news came through that former Notts County hero and England forward, Jackie Sewell has passed away at the age of 78 years young.

Jackie was pretty high up in my English uncles’ estimation when I used to get taken to the games in Nottingham as a youngster and I recall the hushed tones in which he was spoken of by them, referring to when they watched him at his peak in the 1950s.

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Jackie played alongside the legendary Tommy Lawton for the Magpies as his inside man and rattled in a startling 104 goals in 193 appearances for the Meadow Lane side. He later featured in the British record transfer fee at the time of £34,500, to Sheffield Wednesday and also appeared six times for England among a galaxy of star names.

It’s fair to say that Jackie was a legend of Nottingham football and his presence upon his passing at 89 years will be sorely missed. Not least at Meadow Lane where he was often to be found attending games into his senior years.

Jackie was quite some player  and ‘Lawton and Sewell’ were quite the thing in the Lace City in their day by every account and they were synonymous as a pair. England centre forward, Lawton was the perfect, classical number nine according to accounts from people I have spoken to whilst Jackie feasted expertly and clinically from the prowess of his partner. They must have been a pretty awesome pairing, to employ a sometimes overused word

Good night and God bless, Jackie.

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September 30, 2016 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , , | Leave a comment

Notts County 1975/6

This is Notts County pictured in 1975/6 when they finished fifth in the old Division Two. Apparently this was the last time the Magpies finished above neighbours, Nottingham Forest in the league. Of course, a genius had just taken over the reigns on the opposite bank of the Trent and truly amazing things were just about to happen in Nottingham…

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At that time I watched a lot of football, each Saturday afternoon visiting Notts’ Meadow Lane or Forest’s City Ground. Most Tuesday and Wednesday night fixtures too. These familiar and affectionate imposters in my football allegiances were however only ever secondary to my one true football love residing at Easter Road and the always treasured trips home to see the green and white. What a team and what players we had in that era too…

The interesting thing about this shot to me is that I can instantly, without hesitation, name every single individual in that team photo, even the reserve goalie. In these times, of numerous loans, Bosmans and short term contracts we can barely even remember who played for our team the season before last.

Just to prove the former point, here goes:

Back row: Dave McVay, Kevin Randall, Pedro Richards, Les Bradd, Arthur Mann
Centre: Ray O’Brien, Steve Carter, Eric McManus, Frank Lane, Dave Needham, Ian Bolton
Front: Jack Wheeler (Trainer) Eric Probert, Paul Hooks, Ronnie Fenton (Manager) Brian Stubbs, Ian Scanlon, Mick Vinter.

September 18, 2016 Posted by | Sporting Tales | , , | Leave a comment

Nottingham Football Report: March 2016

SO CURRENTLY, we have the world’s oldest league football club, Notts County negotiating stormy seas by way of the club being for sale and the team toiling somewhat in the lower reaches of League Two, it’s play-off hopes diminished to a practical state of no return. Unpopular Chairman, Ray Trew has been quoted as saying that ‘oh so brave keyboard warriors’ and their comments on social media about him and his family have finally drawn the conclusion that he wants out – at a price.

On the opposite bank of the River Trent, Nottingham Forest flounder listlessly mid-table with perhaps greater concerns over the ownership of the club than on the pitch. My understanding is that £70m is still owed to former owner, Nigel Doughty’s estate and that a sum in excess of that is owed to the current ownership in loans. I stand to be corrected. Court appearances for non-payment of debts are now becoming a way of life for the City Ground club with the latest set for March 14th for an unpaid tax bill. Only last week Forest were in the media for late payment of their staff which chairman Fawaz claimed was due to a Bank Holiday in his home country of Kuwait. In addition to this, the club still find themselves under a transfer embargo with no guarantee of emerging from it at the end of the season, or if they do, to no great avail.

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On the pitch, Notts County have a huge squad of players, particularly at that level of football, who have underperformed and not gelled by all accounts. It would be easy to suggest that it is a case of ‘quantity not quality’ but the truth is that the club acquired some useful signings for this campaign. They have though shipped goals consistently throughout the season and are now struggling manfully under new manager, Scot, Jamie Fullarton’s stewardship. The ex-Forest coach is arguably the least popular manager in County’s long history whilst the atmosphere at Meadow Lane is absolutely poisonous.

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Angry scenes as trouble erupts between the Notts bench at spectators during Bristol Rovers’ visit

Forest’s quite recent unbeaten run, characterised by many uninspiring draws is now a memory and the support appears increasingly unhappy and disgruntled about manager, Freedman’s cautious ‘style’ of play which encourages teams to come on to them and take majority possession of the ball whilst the Reds sit back and wait for a break.

This is clearly not Nottingham Forest football.

Back at Notts and one thing about this whole sale matter that appears to have emerged is that although chairman Ray Trew claims it is personal abuse that has driven him out of Meadow Lane (and I have no truck with that) it appears emphasised that this kind of thing has become much more apparent since his appointment of Fullarton as Notts’ Manager which is a deeply unpopular decision among the support. We see from reports though that Trew was actually in negotiation with a ‘Danish billionaire’ before Christmas. to take over the club.

Trew has done some good things for Notts County, especially initially when he basically rescued them from administration and possible oblivion and that should be recognised but his apparent arrogance and inadvisable decision making has since caused the club great harm. I do believe, for example, that a great number of the support have viewed the appointment of Fullarton as a ‘two fingers’ at them and this is one of the reasons for the angry ructions at Meadow Lane since. There is a huge gap between the ownership and the support causing a divided and aimless club.

What’s more, I wouldn’t particularly trust Trew as far as I could throw him the way he is conducting business to sell the Magpies. Only when he finally leaves can that club turn a corner and begin rebuilding this great damage sustained. Hopefully a sale will happen sooner rather than later.

What with the happenings on the black and white side of the local football community and Forest’s apparent inability or refusal to pay their bills on time and now the delayed payment of their staff due to a Bank Holiday in Kuwait. I have no confidence in the state of the way either of our city clubs are being run. I particularly felt for the rank and file staff at Forest, in ordinary jobs, waiting to be paid what they have earned last week. In Forest’s case I think the owners are beginning to make a fine old club look a little disreputable and it’s not good to see. On a practical note, potential signings for the club too will make themselves aware of what is happening in terms of the financial irregularities at the City Ground and be much less likely to sign for Forest.

Sad stuff then from both sides of the Trent. Let’s hope both clubs can turn a corner at some point in the near future.

March 7, 2016 Posted by | Ripping Yarns, Sporting Tales | , , , , | 1 Comment

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: The Great Escape

DURING THE PAST FEW WEEKS I’ve been visiting Meadow Lane, home of Notts County with a couple of friends for a diversion of a bit of Saturday afternoon football, old habits die hard, and taken a big interest in the Magpies’ fight for survival in League One. Chairman Ray Trew has publicly acknowledged that he was preparing the club for the bottom flight of teams. With Notts fully seven points adrift at the bottom of the table in March, this could only have been viewed as prudent. Over three home games though I watched the team, never shorn of fight, grow in confidence, winning each one of those games – one from being two goals down.

Jack Grealish

It’s been an interesting experience watching the players’ performance grow along with their confidence and there have been some outstanding displays from the likes of Spencer, Grealish, Sheehan, Campbell-Ryce and Liddle. It almost seems churlish to single out individuals though as it has truly been a team effort.

The Notts I viewed in the first game played some pretty awful football if truth be told. A lot of head-tennis in the middle of the park and desperate no-look hoofs up the field to nobody in particular. Some of the defending was very shaky too. Over the weeks though they have come to play a good deal of decent football, passing the ball and using the wings, especially the clever ball play of on-loan youngster, Jack Grealish.

I have to confess, I had no particular thoughts about manager Shaun Derry, a man who appeared to be something of a cheap option with no managerial experience at all. Seeing the local man’s belief, determination and shrewdness has however convinced me that he has done a great job in the short time he has been back in his native city of Nottingham. In addition to that, his open letter to the Notts fans and the people of Nottingham a few days before the game was top-class – as were his interviews pre and post game around the final fixture of the season. Let nobody say that this man doesn’t have great determination and is very sincere too. Well done, Shaun.

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Shaun Derry

I read a small article about team captain, Irishman, Alan Sheehan recently too who touchingly explained how his faith kept him going through the tough times with a weekly visit to his local Roman Catholic church in West Bridgford, nice stuff for someone to say in these cynical times.

The final Saturday against Oldham in Lancashire saw Notts needing at least a point for safety after all their courage and fortitude over the past few weeks. Well into the second half it appeared that things were going terribly wrong when Oldham went ahead and Notts were looking down the relegation barrel with just fifteen minutes to go. A handling offence in the area however and a penalty to Notts with that man Sheehan stepping up to the spot saw Notts home, to great relief. Results elsewhere additionally going the Magpies’ way to ensure safety also. You can view Sheehan’s coolly taken spot kick here and feel the palpable relief from the black and white part of the stadium.

So, on to the close season and a job well done. The club have only three members contracted for the next campaign so there will be changes. For my money it world be an excellent idea if Notts were able to keep this nucleus of players together as much as possible. With a modest fan base that may proved economically difficult but with the end of season spirit and fight shown by this group of players they could do very well indeed next year. They’ve fought as one – a true team. Well done to all involved, you’ve made your fans proud and been truly worthy of the black and white striped jersey.

May 5, 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

Nottinghamshire History: Mordecai Sherwin, ‘Nowt Fears Me’

The name of Mordecai Sherwin, a local and internationally-known sportsman of his era was known to me from doing a little research and reading on the golden age of cricket in the nineteenth century and the county of Nottinghamshire’s part in it. I recently came across his name once more as being a former mine host of The Grove Hotel at Daybrook, Nottingham, approximately a mile down the road from my own home just a few minutes north in Redhill. The Grove is sadly no longer. Never a public house that I visited and now earmarked for demolition, it did however have an interesting cave system underneath the bars and a significant slice of history surrounding it. On reading that Nottinghamshire-born Mordecai was at one time the landlord of The Grove, I decided to take a little look at his story.

Mordecai Sherwin

Mordecai Sherwin

The man himself not only played professional cricket for Nottinghamshire and England but also appeared in goal for Notts County Football Club before retiring to become a cricket umpire and publican. In the mid-1880s, Mordecai was in his pomp and feted as arguably the leading wicket-keeper in the land and more than useful batsman. This was all achieved despite possessing a less than sylph-like 17 stone frame coupled with a reasonably modest height of 5ft 9ins for his bulk!

In the age of distinction between professionals and gentlemen (amateurs generally from the upper classes) in cricket, with few working-class professionals being bestowed the honour of leading their county, Mordecai was apparently the very last professional captain until many years later in the mid-1930s.

 

The famous Nottinghamshire back-stop was also well-known as something of a joker on the pitch it is said. Wisden, in choosing it’s wicket keeper of the year for 1891 said of him thus:

‘Always in the best of spirits, and never discouraged, however much the game may be going against his side, Sherwin is one of the cheeriest and pluckiest of cricketers.’

The almanac also added:

‘In point of style behind the wicket he is more demonstrative than his Lancashire rival, but, though the applause and laughter of the spectators may occasionally cause him to go a little too far, he has certainly never done anything to really lay him open to censure.’

Mordecai is further described as being of ‘great bulk’ but nevertheless ‘wonderfully quick on his feet’ and capable of acts of extreme brilliance behind the stumps.

Giving further colour to Wisden’s review, Mordecai is also immortalised by E.V. Lucas, humourist, essayist, playwright, biographer and publisher in his ‘Cricket All His Life’  book, as follows:

Moredecai Sherwin, the famous wicket-keeper in the great period, and as leader of the side in 1887 and 1888 the last of Nottinghamshire’s professional captains, was a very notable man … When interviewed … by Captain Holden at Trent Bridge as a potential wicket-keeper, he had been asked if he was afraid. “Nowt fears me,” he replied.  He followed by keeping wicket for Nottinghamshire for eighteen years with a remarkable record.  Mordecai (and I think Sherwin must have been the only cricketer with that name) was a rotund man of mirthful character and a leading member of the Nottingham Glee Club, which used to meet at the Black Boy to sing and be hearty together.’

The theme of Mordecai as entertainer persists with tales of him offering renditions of Oh Dem Golden Slippers and performing various somersaults and jigs to the amusement of others at social events!

As has been stated, the Nottinghamshire man was also a hit between the posts with Notts County Football club in the late 1970s and early 1880s. From an age when it was customary to attempt to bundle the custodian into the net along with the ball, Wikipedia informs us of a memorable incident. Young and sturdily built Joseph Lofthouse (an apt name for this particular event) of Blackburn Rovers decided to have something of a run at Mordecai but unhappily for him rebounded harmlessly off the Notts goalie with Mordecai stating nonchalantly: ‘Young man, you’ll hurt yourself if you do that again’.  Not to be deterred, Lofthouse attempted another physical charge on the last line of defence with Sherwin, belying his size, dancing deftly to one side and watching the young Blackburn forward crash painfully into the goalpost.

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The Grove Hotel, (right) Daybrook, Nottinghamshire, C. 1900

Finally, an interesting link has also been suggested between Mordecai Sherwin and no less than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. A strong theory exists that Sherwin, along with fellow Nottinghamshire team-mate Frank (T. E.) Shacklock was the inspiration behind the Edinburgh writer’s classic Sherlock Holmes character with the legend ‘caught Sherwin, bowled Shacklock’ appearing with monotonous regularity on Notts’ scorecards in the 1890s. The two surnames being amalgamated to form the name of super-sleuth, Sherlock.

Mordecai Sherwin was most definitely a sportsman characteristic of a different age. An unusual sporting hero by today’s standards and criteria but nonetheless a high achiever and a success in two professional disciplines in a great era of professional sports.

May 9, 2013 Posted by | Sporting Tales, Times Gone By | , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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

Diary of a Football Nobody

WISTFUL SEVENTIES SATURDAY AFTERNOONS spent in the surroundings of Notts County’s County Road Stand were happily brought to mind whilst attending Billy Ivory’s Diary of a Football Nobody at Nottingham Playhouse last week. The production – eagerly awaited by myself – is based on former Notts County player Dave McVay’s diary-turned-book of 1970s provincial football life, Steak… Diana Ross: Diary of a Football Nobody.

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I was at senior school at the time Dave McVay – a local Clifton lad – made his debut in Jimmy Sirrel’s Magpies side and watched Notts through the entirety of the young defender/midfielder’s stuttering career in the old Second Division of the Football League. Whilst Dave’s football career never met the heights of early expectations, his true vocation was found after leaving the game at relatively young age and signing on as a football writer and later features writer for the Nottingham Evening Post. He later became Midlands correspondent for The Times and finally a freelance journalist forThe Daily Telegraph.

David has a wry turn of phrase and a dry humour that I particularly enjoy. Reading Steak… Diana Ross was a great pleasure for me as it chronicled a period in football and an age for me in which I really enjoyed the game and attended matches regularly. It was in that context that I attended a performance of Diary of a Football Nobody at Nottingham Playhouse.

The production sprang to life to a backdrop of excellent and nostalgia-rending black and white slides of mid-1970s Nottingham. Places I remembered well, many now lost to us. A great opening and mood builder. Throughout the play, original, striking and comedic cartoon backdrop displays enhanced proceedings, adding support to some excellent performances. Particular credit should be given to Perry Fitzpatrick as Dave McVay who spent the majority of the evening on stage – a huge undertaking. Narrating the story, his character was likeable, funny and portrayed almost word-perfect. Equally impressive was Eric (Sgt Cryer from The Bill) Richard’s portrayal of ‘the Gaffer’ Scot, Jimmy Sirrel, the eccentric and knowledgeable Manager of Notts County, charged with whipping a team of largely journeyman footballers into a semblance of shape – something he did with unequalled success at Meadow Lane. Richard caught the man perfectly, the thick Glaswegian accent, the idiosyncrasies and all. I can say this clearly after meeting and chatting with ‘Sir Jimmy’ for a couple of hours one afternoon a few years ago.

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Notts County – seventies style, with McVay back row, third from left.

The play as well as documenting the boozing and womanising of a section of local seventies footballers also contained many poignant moments, chiefly revolving around Dave’s family life and his Grandad’s deteriorating health and passing away at his old Clifton family home. The author claimed that many of his memoirs were not necessarily for public consumption, thankfully Ivory’s persistence in featuring them as a counterpoint to the show’s stream of humour was an unqualified success. Intriguing too were McVay’s reflections on his decision to embark upon a football career instead of going to university, an option which was certainly rarer in those days. His agonising over his seemingly unfulfilling life choice was interesting when noted against a similar choice to be made in the current day of millionaire footballers.

Diary of a Football Nobody was an enjoyable race through two football seasons in the middle seventies with some familiar and hilarious tales. From McVay’s leaving home to share a house with fellow player Geoff Collier in ‘the village of the damned’ – Bingham, Notts – and the boisterous,  laddish behaviour that ensued, to the regular egg delivery round that the leading character shared with full-back and journeyman pro, Billy Brindley. Particularly funny was the enactment of the infamous Meadow Lane game versus Manchester United and the rioting that ensued after plucky Notts pulled two goals back for a 2-2 draw. The plot relating Jimmy Sirrel’s celebrated potential attack on the Mancunian hoards with trainer Jack Wheeler’s bunion scalpel!

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Jimmy Sirrel hails the Notts fans on the pitch after promotion to Division Two in 1973 with his captain, Don Masson

Knowing these players so well, I was particularly interested to see how they would be portrayed in 2012. During those days I semi-hero worshipped Notts captain, the mercurial Scottish maestro, Don Masson. Sirrel’s ‘Jewel in the Crown’ could do little wrong on the pitch, playing several levels below his true station at Notts County but his then persona was given a pantomime villain’s role by McVay as a particularly sour, obnoxious and hard-to-please character. Masson later went on to play at the highest level and although an extremely clever and highly skilled midfield schemer his personality had been partly confirmed to me by Sirrel in our chat when he mentioned that ‘The Don’ often had to be reigned in in the way he treated and talked to his team. Here, I would offer a minor criticism of the production in that while suspension of belief has to be carried out a little in these things, the visual portrayal of Masson was nothing like the player. I felt the actor could have easily been made to look more like the Masson I remember. A similar criticism would be of the way trainer, Jack Wheeler was depicted with the thin and wiry Wheeler being played by a much larger-built man. These and an occasional early difficulty in hearing some of the dialogue would be my only slight criticisms though from a hugely enjoyable evening feel a little churlish it should be said.

I left the Nottingham Playhouse wishing I could go back and revisit those heady days. The seventies are often a much-maligned decade but hold some great memories for me personally. I could almost taste the beer in Nottingham’s historic old watering hole, the Flying Horse, feel myself raking through the shelves of records in Selectadisc or casting an envious eye in Paul Smith’s original shop window. There are so many memories. Thank you Dave – you brought them all back beautifully. I might just head back to the Playhouse for a second helping.

October 11, 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