Growing up a football fan in the greatest decade of them all, the 1960’s, you knew there were certainties in the world of football. George Best was the greatest player displaying his skills in the English league. Bobby Charlton would score for England. Merseyside was blessed with Bill Shankly in charge at Liverpool and across Stanley Park, the Golden Vision years continued and Ball, Harvey and Kendall were a delight to watch for any football fan, Everton supporter or not.
Compiling those league tables you got free with football magazines each summer, you could always be assured that a club called Notts County would be in there somewhere. It as important to call them Notts County, not Nottingham. Across the River Trent, that’s where you found Nottingham Forest, founded in 1865. Other clubs may come and go or, as was the case back then, the odd club might “resign” from the football league. But Notts County would always be there, as they had been since 1862. The oldest club bragging rights were theirs.
No more. At the weekend, Notts County dropped into the National League. Another club falling victim to a club owner who is neither “fit” or “proper”
The narcissist in question is Alan Hardy. He likes to be called “Big Alan.” He bought Notts County two years ago since which time his attention seeking has known no bounds. When caught speeding he said: “I don’t agree speeding kills.” The magistrates begged to differ and Hardy, who already had 11 points on his driving licence, was disqualified from driving for three months.
Earlier in the season he suspended seven members of the non playing staff and two others left, unable to work with the Chairman who takes advice from Peter Ridsdale, the man whose arrogance led Leeds United into a financial quagmire.
Pre-season, Hardy predicted Notts County were a “dead cert” for promotion. After losing their first five league matches of the season, he sacked manager Kevin Nolan, someone Hardy had previously predicted would be the next England manager. While Hardy claimed sacking Nolan was a unanimous boardroom decision, fellow director Jon Enever said “That is simply not true.” Vice-chairman Darren Fletcher quit soon after.
Incredibly, Kevin Nolan was replaced by former Leeds United player, the Australian Harry Kewell. That marriage of convenience lasted just 73 days during which Kewell proved he was not managerial material. Hardy asked Nolan to come back. When that move failed, Neil Ardley was appointed as the next Notts County team manager. With 38 players on the books, the wage bill was 3 million pounds. The owner turned off the scoreboard to save money. It probably also eased the depression suffered by loyal supporters at Meadow Lane.
I go back to the time when Jimmy Sirrel was manager of Notts County. The first time around. He was a character and managed for six years from 1969. He returned as manager in 1977 and took County from the old Division Four to Division One. Those were the days. Happy times for County fans.
Any youngster excitedly playing with those football league tables next season will notice that Leyton Orient – a club that spent two years in the National League after falling victim to another dubious owner – are back. But Notts County will not be there. In an ironic twist, Nottingham Forest can now claim to be the oldest surviving league club.