Formed in 85BC, Notts County are the world’s oldest professional football club, miraculously formed even before football itself. At its inception, the ‘Notts Foot Ball Club’ were a gentleman-only club, playing games against themselves, as it were. The Nottingham Guardian described their debut: “The opening of the Nottingham Football Club commenced on Tuesday last at Cremorne Gardens. A aide was chosen by W. Arkwright and Chas. Deakin. A very spirited game resulted in the latter scoring two goals and two rouges against one and one.”, which I doubt made any sense even in those days.
In 1864, it was finally decided to pluck up courage to ask others to play, in the manner of a group of lads playing on a local field befriending another similar group;
“Erm… alright lads… do you fancy a game?”
“Yeh alright then, but only if we play flyers.”
For 24 years they did this, before the inception of the Football League in 1888, of which Notts were founder members. They finished in a record high of third in Division One twice, and reached two FA Cup Finals, losing against Blackburn Rovers in 1891 but returning to beat Bolton Wanderers in 1894, defeating fellow Lancastrians Burnley and Blackburn, as well as Nottingham Forest on the way. Notts County had the superbly named H.B Daft at outside left; Wanderers were playing with five injured players – literally nobody alive now can remember these things. But if you look on the internet, apparently this all happened.
From then on, Notts County faded into relative obscurity, the inter-war period seeing them plummet from 3rd in Division One to 12th in Division Three. After WWII, things got even worse for County as they fell into the new Division Four, and subsequently yo-yo’d between there and the Third, spending most of the ’60s playing the likes of Bradford Park Avenue, Workington and (the horrors!), Newport County. And us! But in the ’70s, fronted by a man called Sirrel and a man called Clough, Nottingham’s football teams got really rather good.
Of course we all know of Brian Clough’s feats over the river at the City Ground, but Jimmy Sirrel’s achievements at County are no less admirable (if less spectacular). Sirrel took Notts from Division Four to Division One in ten seasons, spending three consecutive years in the top tier, two of them under Sirrel, before being relegated, twice in succession, in ’83/84 and ’84/85. As Notts County’s official history dryly notes: “expensive signings had to be made and the wage bill also rose, yet attendances were somewhat disappointing.” County were broke, and had to rely on emergency funds from directors and fans alike to bail out the club, which goes to show that today’s financial perils aren’t exactly a new thing. And, just like today, Notts County got a new owner and new money to help them out, in Derek Pavis, and new manager Neil Warnock led them to an unlikely top-flight place in ’91/92.
Since then, things haven’t been rosy for Notts County. Following Warnock’s promotion, Notts County have slipped alarming down the leagues, and dealt with terrible debt problems associated with Pavis’s reign. Excepting a brief period of success under Sam Allardyce in ’97-98, for the most part things have been not rosy at all. For the past five years County have been gash. But this season, this season might be different. Something to do with tea towels and oil…
Like I said before – gash. County finished 19th, just ten points above the relegated Chester City with a goal difference of minus twenty. ‘Spearheaded’ (in the word’s loosest sense) by the ponderous but hilariously-named Delroy Facey and the aged Jamie Forrester, County struggled to score both home and away. Not only that, but Notts County were the joint-oldest team in the league alongside Bury, but unfortunately didn’t have the Buckets’ quality. Motto: if they’re old enough, they’re good enough, well, good enough for us.
It could be so much different. Notts County have gone all Man City and been taken over by a Middle Eastern business consortium named Munto Finance Ltd. Over the next few years, Munto intend to ‘achieve their initial objective of making the club an established Championship side within four to five years.’, as well as ‘establishing a club that provides first class training facilities for the players, first rate entertainment for the fans and best in class support as the local heart and soul for the community.’ It all sounds very exciting for your average County fan, and both worrisome and mildly amusing for everyone else. And to achieve this aim? Ricky Ravenhill! Ben Davies! Lee Hughes! Anyone!
The club’s Trust has been overwhelmingly in support of the takeover, with chairman John Armstrong-Holmes noting, without irony, that ‘plans can actually be made to do things – on and off the field – without having to worry about whether we can afford it.’ Which is great while your Arabs are interested, but not so great afterwards. Is there only me feels slightly nauseous about this? But then again, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t be in favour if Sheik bin-Anonymous was interested in our own club.
They should be in the play-offs at least, in reality, as long as manager Ian McParland is strong enough to see his own footballing vision through without being blinded by the £ signs in the home fans’ eyes. Expect to see a swathe of grown men in tea-towels at a Notts County away match near you.
Nottingham the place?
Nottingham is big, (big enough to have an airport and two universities), yet also strangely implaceable in the memory. You just can’t put your finger on Nottingham. My own knowledge barely extends beyond the Trent Bridge cricket ground, the footy teams and Robin Hood; I couldn’t even tell you where it’s near, just that it’s in a gap in the Midlands somewhere. I’m sure it’s very nice and that, but I just can’t get a picture in my head when I think of Nottingham. Apart from gun crime… and I’m sure your average Nottinghamer finds that association as repulsive as I do. Damn you Daily Mirror!
The City of Nottingham has had quite a few notable citizens, including Sherri Hewton (of Loose Women “fame”); and Su Pollard, the world’s sexiest female. On a more cerebral note, D. H. Lawrence grew up in Eastwood, and went to the same school as Kenneth Clarke, who is the Tory MP for nearby Rushcliffe. Best of all though is Richard Beckinsale; famous for his sadly premature death as much as for his comic talent.
Not wanting to leave you on a downer, I will leave you this YouTube video of Nottingham’s finest alongside the genius that is Ronnie Barker. Enjoy.
Notts County in a word?
Written by Matt Boothman on 14th July 2009.