Terrace Thoughts 30, 10/05/2019

‘What does John think about Notts County?’ asks Michael Weir (HUST Board member, Alan Partridge fan and wannabe Dean Emerson)…………..

Dean Emerson was one of the best midfielders ever to wear a Pools shirt; Michael, Richard Ward tells me that you’re not.

Deano joined Pools in July 1992 and was superb until he suffered a broken jaw and the then broken Pools team failed to win in the twelve games that he missed. I can’t recall why he then left early in the 1993-94 season.

So Notts County?

What do I think?

They’ve had three managers this season. Well, so have we?

Ex-Poolie Lewis Alessandra played 26 games for Notts County this season, scoring twice. His contract is apparently ending this summer. Would you have him back? I wouldn’t.

And we all know about the Chairman’s ‘little Alan’, don’t we? I sleep well in the knowledge that our own Chairman wouldn’t make the same mistake. And most will be aware of how he alienated Nottingham Forest and so lost access to loan players.

I read talk that they’ve lost their identity! Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. “It is the relegation that has robbed a club of its identity”. No longer are 157-year-old Notts County the “world’s oldest football league club”. Next season, for the first time in their history, the Magpies – a founding member of the Football League in 1888 – will be a non-league side. The team that gave Juventus their famous black and white stripes and who helped the Italian giants celebrate the opening of their new stadium with an exhibition match less than eight years ago will next season be playing in the fifth tier of the English game. Signs that have long adorned their Meadow Lane home proclaiming their place in the game will now have to come down ahead of visits from the likes of Boreham Wood, Bromley and Sutton United – sides they have never before played competitively in league football.

And this is being referred to as a ‘tragic relegation’. Well, did they really expect any sympathy from the likes of a longsuffering Poolie? Or a Morpeth Town fan for that matter?

According to Sports Historian Dr Andrew Davies (by the way, does anyone know how you get a job like that?), “It’s not just sad for Notts fans – they will be distraught, no doubt – this is one relegation that the general football fan, anyone who loves the history of the game, will also feel. They were there at the birth of the professional game”.

Sorry Andrew, I’m not feeling it. And isn’t the question, ‘who can now claim to be the oldest football league club?’ And given that the answer to this could be Stoke City, then I’m not really bothered about this either.

Andrew continues, “Their story is very important because not many teams went from being purely amateur to completely switching and going professional. When professionalism was legalised in 1885, Notts were there developing the game as it became more serious. To lose their Football League status after so long is tragic, but they have their oldest professional club mantle to cling to.”

Still not feeling it, Andrew. For me, ‘what is important’, and thus what may be deemed to be the tragedy, is how did they get to where they now are? And, as usual, we can see a myriad stories of mismanagement, bad decisions, unusual ‘goings-on, and ownership issues which can garner sympathy and understanding from the likes of we Poolies.

But first, Pools v Notts County. Yes, I’ll admit to spending many a happy hour in Hooters on the way to and from Meadow Lane….

We’ve played them 32 times in the league – winning 11, drawing five and losing 16. Our last match was away on 11 March 2017 – a 2-1 defeat with our celebrations being focussed on a late own goal from Haydn Hollis – and from that team only Lewis Hawkins and Nicky Featherstone remain on our books. Our one FA Cup match was on 10 December 1988 with a goal from Joe Allon separating the two teams.

Notts County are a club that have experienced more ups and downs than any other, with this their 17th relegation. It would take winning promotion for a 14th time to see them return to the EFL. But they’ll have to wait their turn – they are behind the mighty Pools in the queue.

As is always the case, it is the fans who suffer. But there is an interesting point about the club which, a decade ago were named English football’s most stressful club to support, and that is the role of the Supporter’s Trust in the financial history of this once proud club. Back in 2009 the Supporter’s Trust gave their 60% stake in the club to Munto Finance (a Middle Eastern consortium) – on the promise of a massive investment in the team and club – and that really was the beginning of an amazing pantomime of ownership and manager changes – with parallels to the goings on at so many clubs in recent years. That 60% stake had been acquired by the Trust via its own fund raising efforts and a bequest of 30% and, in fairness, the Trust chair of the time has regularly and very openly admitted his mistake and sorrow over that fateful decision. And with that it is perhaps right to remind ourselves that all supporter focused trusts are run by volunteers who are simply trying their best – doing what they think is right – for the benefit of all followers of their particular team. We all make mistakes. Look at the photo of Michael Weir in a Pools kit on his Facebook page. But, irrespective of this, we should appreciate and respect the efforts of the likes of the HUST Board.

Back to Notts County. And they’ve had far more ‘ups’ than Pools, and many of their ‘downs’ resemble our own. Now, I haven’t the space or time to look at all of the parallels between Notts County and so many other clubs who have been in and out of, or remain in distress, so here are a few highlights which make me squirm or smile.

Ex-Poolie Neil Warnock has been there and he brought success such as winning back-to-back play-off finals at Wembley to reach the top-flight in 1991.

Following the involvement of Munto, Sven-Goran Eriksson, just three years after leading England to a World Cup and months after leaving Manchester City, was lured to Notts County by their historical significance – the romance of taking them to the Premier League from the depths of League Two was “a unique project”. Or was it the proximity of Hooters to Meadow Lane?

Sol Campbell, who consigned Notts County to relegation by leading Macclesfield Town to safety on the final day of the season, was the star recruit in 2009; the face of the rich new era promised by the folk associated with Munto – but, the money to pay the box office additions, however, never materialised. Campbell made just one appearance for Notts County before leaving less than a month into a five-year deal with the club. Now, spookily, folk may have noticed that the Macclesfield Town players haven’t been paid – this obviously isn’t Campbell’s fault, but we see another club teetering on the edge of a financial abyss.

Former striker Mark Stallard, who played for the Notts County while it was in administration for a record 534 days in 2002 and 2003 (including their 1-0 victory over Pools at Meadow Lane on 1 November 2003 – a Pools team including Ashton favourites such as Darrell Clark, Mark Tinkler and Marcus ‘Bambi’ Richardson), when talking about their relegation from the EFL, says the Magpies have a “compelling case to be top of the tree” when it comes to stressing out supporters. You cannot be serious Mark!

“They really are put through the mill time and time again,” said Stallard, who works as a summariser for BBC Radio Nottingham. “If it’s not trouble on the pitch, then it is financial, a takeover or threat of administration. But this is a real low point. It means just about everything to be the oldest professional league club. Even during the hard times, when money was being raised and the club were close to extinction, it’s that moniker and history that got people from around the country and world to put their hands in their pocket to help out. To lose it is devastating and it will hit the club hard.”

Sorry Mark. I’m not getting this ‘oldest club sob story’. And all this at the end of a season which started with Notts County among the favourites for promotion. Yes, experts such as Stallard had them down for promotion.

Kevin Nolan, who took the Magpies to the play-off semi-finals last season, was axed after five league games and was replaced by former Liverpool and Leeds United player Harry Kewell.

The Australian lasted just 10 weeks, with Neil Ardley coming in as the club’s third permanent boss in three months. I guess that Richard Money wasn’t available?

Managerial turbulence and poor form turned into a crisis on 27 January 2019, when the club was put up for sale just hours after owner Alan Hardy inadvertently included a nude photo of himself in a post on Twitter.

Financial issues at Meadow Lane have since seen the club handed a winding-up petition over an unpaid tax bill, with the threat of administration still looming with a second court date over the matter approaching. Financial arrangements between the club, Hardy and Hardy’s other business interests are becoming clearer as the Administrators of Paragon Interiors (a Hardy company) publish their findings – and a £1.4m debt from the club to this company may well result in the extinction of what was once the oldest club. Any buyer will have to deal with these Hardy created issues – and the Administrator of this company – before being in a position to attend to an upcoming HMRC related Court appearance. So, Notts County are another club teetering on the edge of the financial abyss – you’d have thought that, given their age, they’d have known better…

Relegation could actually assist Notts County in its fight for survival! As dropping out of the EFL may make it cheaper to buy! And there is also the issue of the parachute payment….and put those two points together and you might find someone willing to take a punt on getting the club back into the EFL at the first attempt. Oh, hold on, that’s been tried before, hasn’t it? And what about the existing debts? Will those creditors be as understanding as John Blackledge was for Pools?

As we Poolies know, there is a £500,000 parachute payment in year 1, £250,000 in year 2, and then nowt. And so we see numerous ‘experts’ talking on social media about the ‘need to get back into the EFL within two years’. It all sounds frighteningly familiar, doesn’t it?

One post made me smile in particular – “To be the oldest football league club in the world again should be the motivator to get back” – I’d have thought about issues such as the quality of the football, the opposition, the refereeing, the away facilities, etc. But if all they want is to be the ‘oldest’, then who am I to argue?

But they must get ‘new owners’. Quickly. And, as they may soon have new owners, the Notts County Supporters’ Trust want a ‘direct say in the running of the club’ when a takeover is completed. Well, all Trusts want a say in the running of ‘their’ club, don’t they?

In a statement, Notts’ Supporters Trust says they will look to meet the new custodians to explore the possibility of offering assistance. “The relegation of Notts County to the National League is the inevitable result of a season where everything that could go wrong did,” it read. “We began the season hoping to go up and instead we’ve gone down. It’s easy to list the mistakes that were made, but the reason behind all of them is the broken model of football ownership. Alan Hardy thought – as Ray Trew did before him – that because he’d succeeded in business, he could do the same in football. We, the supporters, have been fantastic this miserable season. We’ve come out in droves in all weathers and done everything we possibly could to lift the players. We’ve been the only success County have had. Notts supporters are all too used to things going wrong: relegation to the National League is just one more twist in the tale. We will be back next season and we’ll be expecting the Club to make a strong challenge in a difficult league. The Trust will approach the new owners as soon as we know who they are and will be putting the case for Notts supporters to have a direct say in the running of the club. None of us have got a few million quid down the back of the sofa, but in a real sense, we are the club and we always have its best interests at heart. If the sale doesn’t happen for some reason and Notts goes into administration, we will be there to organise the campaign to save our club. We did it before and if necessary, we’ll do it again.”

So, putting aside the fulsome self-praise, we can only wish ‘good fortune’ to the Trust and other supporters of Notts County. I can’t really too hung up on this ‘oldest’ malarkey and, frankly, I see them as no different to the many other clubs who face similar challenges – and the common denominator? Yes, the authorities have failed the supporters. Fit and proper? You have to laugh. Look at the recent failed purchase of Bolton!

Right! Back to Pools. I’m not going to talk about retained lists (some folk forget that we’re talking about livelihoods and futures), what next season may hold, or Wayne Goldthorpe. We’re going to start the HUFC Summer Quiz – the first five questions are below. No prize. Answers and more questions next week.

1. Which legend made his debut in October 1999 in the FA Cup 1st round match v Millwall?

2. Which club did manager Len Ashurst take over when leaving United in 1974?

3. Which other ex-Pools manager also worked there?

4. Who took over from Vince Barker as Chairman in 1984?

5. In 2004 which player was called up to the Wales squad but sadly got injured prior to the match?

And now to my quick final points….

1. Talking about clubs teetering on the edge of the financial abyss, I’m hearing worrying stories about Bury, Oldham Athletic, Ebbsfleet (who I mentioned last week) and Gateshead – and I’ve been talking about the Bolton Basket Case all season but here’s a thought – with Bolton now moving into Administration, will Notts County drop out of the league if Bolton Wanderers then go into liquidation? Could they be saved to keep the numbers right? Answers on a postcard please.

2. And in recognition of those celebrating another Royal birth and the ‘Markle Sparkle’, a special non-footballing quiz question: what is it that John couldn’t give about this?

3. These days my back goes out more than I do.

4. I’ve been following the crazy developments at Gateshead all season and the situation becomes more surreal, almost by the day. Will Cala have a team in the National League next year? Comprised of kids and loanees? Will the fans start a phoenix? And now, will Spennymoor Town become our big derby match? Good luck to Spennymoor Town and their fans (and Lewis Hawkins) and to the supporters of what was/ is Gateshead FC.

5. John’s (sort of) football website of the week – take a look at the twitter account of Andy Holt, the Accrington Stanley owner/ chairman – @AndyhHolt. Refreshing to see the way that he engages with fans, answers questions, and talks about his concerns about football and finances in particular. One comment resonated with me – ‘a club can’t afford to go too far backwards’. Boom. And here we are without any more parachute payments. I recommend everyone who is interested in Pools (including a number of individuals who I have left alone this week) should follow this guy.

Pip Pip

John

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.