Notts County: Finally emerging from the shadows, the future is bright

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Supporting Notts County, especially in the modern age of football, has never been dull writes Kelan Sarson.

The 2010s at Notts County saw a ridiculous amount of managers come through the door at Meadow Lane with an often out-there personality occupying the touchline, whether that was Paul Ince, Martin Allen or even The Magpies encouraging Dutchman Ricardo Moniz to swap European football for scrappy affairs in England.

The place had become a circus, the world’s oldest professional football club reduced to a laughing stock. This is, arguably, symptomatic of the money now being pumped into football and tyrannical football owners using proud football institutions such as Notts County for a bit of fun but this hasn’t always been the case for the black-and-white side of Nottingham. Notts County was often portrayed as a steady football club, a stable outfit to support.

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Unfortunately, the basics of geography have always hindered The Magpies. Nottingham Forest and Notts County are merely separated by the River Trent in a geographical sense, but the fortunes of the two clubs have The Magpies very much lurking in the shadows whilst Forest are immortalised in the European glories of yesteryear. Brian Clough is a huge figurehead in English football for his achievements primarily at Nottingham Forest, delivering back-to-back European Cups in 1979 and 1980.

Notts County, at that same time, were also beginning to taste success. Jimmy Sirrel, who was Magpies manager on three separate occasions, delivered unparalleled success during his second spell in charge. The 1980-81 season saw Notts County achieve the unthinkable, clinching promotion to the first division for the first time since the 1920s. The Glaswegian boss even kept the underdogs afloat in the first division the season after, despite everything pointing to an immediate relegation back down.

He would return back to the Meadow Lane dug-out towards the end of the 1980s also, Notts County slumping all the way down to the third division with financial difficulties taking their toll. This should have been a warning sign for the club’s wary predicament in the modern age, falling into non-league. Sirrel’s death in 2008 sent tremors through the Notts County fanbase, the death of a true great.

Just a year after one of their greatest-ever servants died, a new era was on the horizon for the Magpies. This era would turn out to be doomed from the start, Munto Finance taking control of the club and turning the place into a non-stop drama. Signing players such as Sol Campbell and Kasper Schmeichel and appointing ex-England manager Sven Goran Erikkson as director of football kept County in the limelight but the performances on the pitch saw a swift decline.

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The decline on the pitch saw the constant threat of winding up orders behind the scenes, the very real possibility of the world’s oldest professional football club going extinct. Manager after manager came into the building, a revolving door constantly bringing new faces in to lead County before dismissing them in a flash. It was a club in complete and utter turmoil, a bleak situation that saw the Magpies relegated to non-league for the first time in their 157-year history in 2019.

This came about even with the ownership changing, Alan Hardy’s tenure as chairman resulting in this shameful exit from the Football League.

For a large period of time, the footballing landscape in Nottingham was barren of success. Nottingham Forest was no longer a giant in the English game and struggling in the Championship, a similar theme emerging with their manager situation too with head coach after head coach failing to awaken the sleeping beast.

But, with Forest clinching promotion back to the Premier League last season too, football in the entirety of Nottingham is back on the up.

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A general state of calm has found its way back to the black and white half of Nottingham, the steady tenure of Luke Williams enabling The Magpies to win games comfortably in the National League and dream of EFL football once again after promotion near-misses under previous managers. Unfortunately for Notts County, they are lurking in the shadows once more even despite Luke Williams only losing three games in total since being appointed in the summer.

The money-rich story of Wrexham has dominated the National League coverage, Notts County often secondary to stories involving Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney’s new venture in Wales. The two titans are battling it out for that top spot, Notts County is remarkably in danger of having to battle it out in the playoffs despite already achieving 100 points.

Even still, Notts County fans are understandably delighted that their club is on the up and stable again. One Magpies supporter - who goes by the Twitter handle @KRennicks40 - spoke to me about the positive impact Notts County boss Luke Williams has had even in such a short spell in charge.

He said: “What Luke Williams has installed into this football club is a standard that we are all now accustomed to and one that has blown many away so far this season. That is why we are where we are now.

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“The club is definitely stable and far better off than we’ve been for some time now.”

The National League only having one automatic promotion winner means that Wrexham and Notts County will have a straight shoot-out between them for the title between now and the end of April. A crucial clash involving the two National League powerhouses in a matter of days on Easter Monday could well decide it once and for all - Luke Williams’ Magpies and Wrexham are tied at the top of the tree in the National League.

One player that will be pivotal for County between now and the conclusion of the campaign is Macaulay Langstaff - the 26-year-old forward has an astounding 41 goals this season, cementing himself in the National League record books in the process for the most goals recorded by a player at the level in a single campaign. Many Magpies supporters are even heralding their striker as one of the greatest players they’ve ever seen don Notts County colours, a sentiment @KRennicks40 can get behind.

He said: “He’s been more than a joy to watch. The most complete number nine I’ve seen in my lifetime at the Lane! I’ve spent all season trying to describe him, praise him and now I’m running out of ways!”

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The emotional and unexpected death of a beloved Magpies figure in Jason Turner will also add extra incentive to Notts County wanting to gain promotion, wanting to get promoted in honour of their late CEO. Good Friday’s 3-0 win versus Wealdstone was dedicated to him, a moving afternoon at Meadow Lane.

At times in recent memory, Nottingham seemingly had little to no luck with their football clubs - Nottingham Forest always flirting with a return to the top-flight, Notts County perilously hanging onto existing as a football club. Now, with Forest competing in the Premier League under Steve Cooper and Luke Williams’ Notts County exciting supporters at Meadow Lane with a dramatic few weeks in store at the top of the National League, football is once again conjuring up joy for the people of the East Midlands city no matter their allegiances.

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