Notts County: Breaking The Cycle
So, Notts County have been saved again. It’s not the first time that this has happened, of course. The club was saved by its supporters trust in 2004. It was saved by Qadbak Investments in 2009, by Peter Trembling (briefly) and then Ray Trew the following year, and then by Alan Hardy at the start of 2017. Last week, the Danish brothers Christoffer and Alexander Reedtz saved the club again, finally confirming their takeover of the club. It is to be hoped that the Reedtzs don’t end up filling the same role that all of these previous owners of the club have because, if there’s one thing that all takeovers of Notts County have had in common, it’s been that that the club has had to be saved from the previous owners. Notts County have already had more chances than most. This cannot be allowed to happen again.
So far, though, everything coming from the brothers has been quietly encouraging and, in the absence of any reason to doubt their sincerity, they should be given ample opportunity to prove that they can turn the club’s fortunes around. The players and staff, they have promised, are to finally have their wages brought up to date, whilst they have also confirmed that an application to get the winding up petition brought against the club dismissed. We may be entering the final phase of the recent history of HMRC acting quite so aggressively against football clubs who continue to use the non-payment of tax and National Insurance as a form of free overdraft.
As of April 2020, HMRC will regain its position as a preferential creditor in the event of insolvency events. Whether their stance will soften over this after that date remains to be seen, but there’s every possibility that this season will come to be regarded as the very end of an era during which the very existence of dozens of football clubs was threatened by a government agency. None of this, however, negates the importance of getting this bill paid as absolutely the most pressing priority facing the new owners of the club. The winding up petition was due to be heard at the High Court on Wednesday. At least that fixture – by a country mile the most important of Notts’ pre-season – now seems likely to be cancelled, and in the overall map of how to get this club back on its feet, this is the first and most important step.
It’s important to remember that there is nothing inherent about Notts County that has got the club into this position so many times. The ills that the club has experienced over the last two decades is really little more than a distillation of things that have gone wrong at other clubs over the same period of time. And we should remind ourselves that Notts have almost completed a full house of different ownership styles. From the old-fashioned patricians like Derek Pavis, through borderline fantasists such as Albert Scardino, the American journalist whose judgement seemed to go absent without leave upon arriving at Meadow Lane, the club’s supporters trust, a scam which claimed that it would bring the club untold riches, and two of the more modern, business-orientated forms of chairmen in the form of Trew and Hardy, who seemed to convince themselves that their business acumen elsewhere alone could find a way of reviving the club while they could profit from it.
Possibly hanging over all of this are eight words which define Notts County FC. “The Oldest Professional Football Club In The World.” Such a description will bring the club attention, but not all attention is good attention. On the one hand, Notts’ place in the history of the global game was always likely to attract the romantics. For any potential white knight, the prospect of “saving” an institution as venerable as Notts County has an obvious appeal. The same applies, however, to those with less noble aims. When convicted fraudster Russell King identified football as a potential means to the end of securing valuable mineral rights in North Korea, the combination of the name of the club and the involvement of former England manager Sven Goran Eriksson was undoubtedly believed to help their case.
At the same time, though, it’s entirely plausible that Notts County’s unique position has at least granted the club a steady stream of people who wanted to try when things have started to go wrong. When the club’s latest round of woes were reported last week, Notts were able to solicit support from Juventus, whose famous black and white stripes – although abandoned this summer – were derived from the club asking one of its team members, Englishman John Savage, if he had any contacts in England who could supply new shirts in a colour that would better withstand the elements than their previous pink shirts had been able to. It’s a luxury that not many non-league football clubs can fall back upon.
Manager Neal Ardley is still at a considerable disadvantage over other National League clubs, however, with the new season just a few days away. Having been under transfer embargo for some time, Notts have a threadbare first team squad going into the start of the new season, and finding a team that is competitive in a difficult decision is far from a foregone conclusion. Perhaps the best season that Notts County could have this time around would be a genuinely transitional one. It is entirely natural that the supporters of any relegated club should be optimistic that promotion back should be possible at the first time of asking and yes, in a relatively open field there is no reason why a club with the support of Notts County couldn’t be there or thereabouts at the end of this season.
The mantra coming from Meadow Lane, however, should steer clear of hackneyed lines about “ambition.” The immediate afterglow of securing safety is a time when talk about ambition is likely to modified by most people. The test, for everybody concerned, will come in a few weeks or months, when a few matches might have been lost and the curious certainty that football supporters seem to have that theirs is the team that should be winning most of its matches starts to creep back in. If the new owners of Notts County should be aware of anything, they should probably be aware of how quickly the mood around a football club can change. Perhaps, though, this time it will be different. Perhaps this time Notts County will break the cycle that has blighted so many of their last twenty years or so. We shall see. At least Notts County have been saved, and perhaps the statistical background of the new owners will allow for a clarity of vision that has eluded the club for the last couple of decades. We can but hope.