“ Who has never tasted bitter does not know what is sweet”
There were sniggers on the red side of the River Trent when at the beginning of last season Notts County announced their five year plan. It was a vision of Munto Finance, the Middle Eastern consortium that had bought the club.
But to be honest, it wasn’t so crazy. They were promising investment of millions of pounds, and wanted the club to be playing Premier League football in five years. The club had signed Sol Campbell and Kasper Schmeichel and had Sven Goran Eriksson at the club. Notts County were the oldest league club in the world, and this was their tagline.
Now as we all know, this was pride before the cataclysmic fall. Munto did not have the funds to invest, and more importantly did not have the means to generate any. From a position of confidence, a feeling that had probably been earned by County fans, financial meltdown was nearing. Kasper Schmeichel was on a reported £15 000 a week, and the wage bill stood at £4.8million for the financial year. It looked remarkably like another episode of the NCFC economic soap opera, with administration an almost inevitable step away.
But here is the catch. Here is the fairytale bit. Notts County have responded. They have risen.
Ray Trew bought the club for £1 and immediately invested £2million of his own money. He set about immediately moving the club from a points deduction, and began to redress the balance in the books. On the pitch, the club were able to seal promotion to League One, a level to which County returned for the first time since 2004.
Although Steve Cotterill, the manager who guided them to promotion, left the club in the Summer, they replaced him with Craig Short, a former player. County struggled at the start of this season, but yesterday beat Yeovil 4-0 to give them their second consecutive home win. For this story, however, these are mere details.
Notts County is now a club with a degree of stability. Lee Hughes, last season’s top scorer, has returned to fitness, and the club were able to refute the advances of Derby County for creative midfielder Ben Davies.
More importantly, Trew has recently announced that the club hopes to be debt-free by the end of the year. This will be celebrated like a second promotion by the fans singing in the Jimmy Sirrell stand.
Maybe it is football’s unique life cycle. After adversity comes new life, with supporters providing the everlasting backbone. What is certain is that it takes hard work, honest appraisals, and the presence of an owner who is willing and prepared to right the wrongs.
Notts County have a chance to be a pheonix from the flames. But they can be more than that. They have the potential to act as an incessant light at the end of bleak tunnels for fans of Portsmouth et al. Hope, as they say, springs eternal.
The five year plan has been dramatically altered. In fact it has probably been thrown away with the Munto headed paper and pens. But try telling a Notts County season ticket holder that that is a bad thing.