Notts County Football Club is 150 years old
By Alan Butler
The history of the oldest football league club in the world goes back to 1862 (although a football club had been formed in Sheffield in 1857) when the Nottingham Guardian of November 28 reported that the ‘opening of the Nottingham Football Club commenced on Tuesday last at Cremourne Gardens (in the Meadows district). A side was chosen by W. Arkwright and Chas. Deakin’.
Finding opponents in the early years appears to have been rather difficult. As there were no structures in place in the form of a recognisable football league; the ‘Lambs’ as the club was then known, played friendly matches with clubs in England and Scotland.
This state of affairs lasted until 1888 when Nottingham (no mention of County yet) were one of the founder members of the English Football League. Of the eleven other members, Derby County, Everton, West Bromwich Albion and Wolverhampton Wanderers were some of the more notable teams included.
In 1890, the now familiar black and white kit was introduced leading to the change of nickname to the ‘Magpies’, still the same today. This decade saw the start of an improved period for the club but things didn’t look too good in 1892 when they were relegated to the newly formed second division. In the same year the club’s near neighbour, Nottingham Forest, were admitted into the league with the backing of Notts. County. The improvement began in 1893 when they became the first Second Division team to win the F.A. Cup (for the first and only time!). In this match, played at Goodison Park, the home of Everton, they beat Bolton Wanderers 4-1.
Promoted in 1897 as champions they performed reasonably until, in 1900, they reached the dizzy heights of third position. This was to be a moment to savour as, over the ensuing years, there weren’t many more highlights!
Notts. County played at several venues in the early years up to 1910. From 1883 Trent Bridge became their home until 1895 when, after a short stay at the Castle Cricket Ground, they moved first to Nottingham Forest’s Town Ground and then, from 1899 to 1909, to the Forest’s City Ground. In 1910 Notts. County moved to the ground which is still their home – Meadow Lane.
In the years from the turn of the century to the outbreak of the First World War, Notts. struggled to remain a First Division club. Their highest position in this period was ninth but for the majority of the time they languished in the lower half of the league, escaping relegation by the skin of their teeth on a number of occasions. In one season Notts. were doomed to relegation but escaped due to the number of clubs in the league being increased by one. This proposal had been put forward the previous season, a proposal that Notts. opposed strongly. Nor surprisingly, on this occasion, Notts. firmly supported the move! Between 1919 and 1951, the performances of Notts. County could be described as pretty dreadful. During this time they spent four seasons in Division 1, 11 in Division 2 and 10 in the old Division 3 South.
In 1947, an unexpected turn of events brought the most famous of players to the club; Tommy Lawton. Lawton was the centre forward at Chelsea and captain of the England team and was considered one of the greatest centre-forwards of all time. this seemingly foolhardy move on the part of Lawton changing from a thriving First Division club to a Third Division team appears to have been greatly influenced by the arrangement by Notts. County of a business appointment which he saw as a safeguard for his future.
Partnered by the equally talented Jackie Sewell, the Lawton era continued to progress but was unable to reach the heights of the First Division. The season 1949/50 was to end in promotion to Division 2 with reasonable performances in the next two seasons, the final league positions being just in the top half of the Division in each season. The dream was about to end, however, when, in March 1950 the Lawton/Sewell partnership was broken by the sale of Jackie Sewell to Sheffield Wednesday for a (then) record fee of £35,000. This move caused a storm of protest from the fans and also in the Boardroom. Exactly a year following this event, one of equal moment was caused by the sale of Tommy Lawton to Brentford. Without Lawton, Notts. struggled, taking only one point from six matches.
In November 1969 the legendary Jimmy Sirrel was appointed to the position of manager. This appointment produced immediate favourable results with promotion being achieved into Division 3 in 1970/71. The team almost repeated the feat a season later and finally finished fourth in the third Division. Promotion was not too long deferred, however, and the 1972/3 season resulted in their elevation to the ranks of the second Division. The first Sirrel era ended in his departure to take over as manager of Sheffield United at the end of 1976. His time there was not very happy and in 1978/9 he returned to Notts. In 1981, the team achieved the longed for promotion to Division 1 where they spent three seasons under Sirrel’s guidance. 1983/4 saw yet another relegation battle which County lost to be followed a year later by yet another relegation to Division 3. This was doubly disappointing since the club was now in financial difficulties and these problems almost resulted in the demise of the club in 1986 and it was only with the support of players, directors and the fans that survival was achieved and the threat of liquidation avoided. With the arrival of a new Chairman, Sirrel was replaced by John Barnwell. Successive relegations were followed by successive promotions and in 1990/91 Notts. returned to Division 1. Managers and players came and went until the arrival of Bill Dearden in 2002, but his task was that of working with the same squad of players for two years following the club’s entry into administration. They were only rescued from extinction by the Blenheim Consortium. Dearden left soon after their arrival and Gary Mills became manager. Notts. were, however, unable to recover sufficiently from the former difficulties and were relegated to the league’s bottom Division at the end of that season.
On 14 July 2009 the Magpies and their fans became excited to find that the Munto Finance Group had acquired the football club. The former England manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson was appointed as Director of football at Meadow Lane. Optimism ran high but hopes were soon dashed. The following year saw Munto short of funds which lead to a Management buy-out.
So, after a history spanning 150 years, Notts. County continue to strive for success. Their supporters are arguably some of the most loyal in the country. They are not too many in numbers but their dedication to what is above all a family club cannot be denied.