Result: Notts County 2-0 Chesterfield (EFL League 2)
Venue: Meadow Lane (Saturday 12th August 2017, 3pm)
My quest of ticking off as many of the 92 as possible before my railcard expires at some point next year began with a trip down to the home of Robin Hood (allegedly), Nottingham. This would be my first true visit to the city, but I would be visiting the side that carries the whole County’s flag. My destination was, of course, Notts County FC and their Meadow Lane ground for their first home game of the season. What better way to start the quest than with the, as their ground proudly proclaims, “Oldest Football League Club in the World”.
A comfortable trip into Nottingham (via the Piccadilly ticket office and, even more exciting, Ilkeston station) was undertaken with little issue, meaning I found myself on the mean streets of the East Midlands city at just past midday. With a fair while to kick-off and with plans to head to the furthest away of the more interesting-looking bars in place, I set off towards the castle only to….get lost (sort of). Again. What a shocker.
After eventually setting off in the general direction of the castle (it later turned out I wasn’t lost at all and in fact ended up further away), I eventually ended up within the narrow streets around the main entrance to the fortification. By now I was rather parched as well and, luckily, the Crafty Crow was on hand to serve me well via a nice pint of cider which I was afforded a taste of prior to purchase, due to the fact “…most people choose it as it has a cat on”. I stated I was looking forward to experiencing its essence of cat hair, which drew some unexpected, though maybe somewhat generous, chortles from some at the bar. My comedy career is on the march.
With time creeping on past 1pm, I quickly polished the cat cider off and headed onwards towards the aforementioned far away pub. But, again, I was side-tracked after coming across the tubular Roundhouse, in which you access the bar by climbing the stairs to the first floor. Unfortunately, the place was deserted at this time in the day, despite it being a nicely set out venue and so my Aspall didn’t last too long either, as I spied Meadow Lane in the far distance, through the fire escape.
From then on in, though, there was no further distractions and it was straight on past the Sky Mirror, the Playhouse, which brought back memories of seeing a small-time concert there with my secondary school longer ago than I care to remember, and the Cathedral to the door of the Hand and Heart. This pub is something a little different, with the rear of the building being built into a cave. I then found myself intrigued by the Chiffre on the bar and soon found myself handing over £4.50 for a half. £4.50. Granted it was 8% and really good stuff, it still seemed a little on the dear side to me.
After spending some time talking to a group of Notts fans in here about foreign grounds and trips (notably Serbia I remember) and their pessimism towards today’s game, it was time for me to head back through the city and to Meadow Lane, and I left them to squeeze in that final pre-match pint. 35 minutes later, I found myself at the foot of County Road and at the Kop’s cash ticket booth.
After purchasing my ticket (£22) and a programme for a further £3 nearby, I was into the concourse of the ground whereupon I joined the queue for at the bar for a much-needed Balti pie. Not bad, though I did almost take out the eye of the girl sitting just to the right of me in the stand after I’d finished, my plastic fork pinging out of the tray as I crushed it up. Apologies were needed!
Meadow Lane is a nice ground in my opinion. It is, of course, an all-seater stadium with the Kop end housing the second largest of the four stands, covering two tiers and giving views of both the City ground and Trent Bridge over the smallest “Family Stand” at the opposite end. The Main Stand is on the right-hand side and is the largest stand in the ground, with the Jimmy Sirrell Stand straddling the opposite touchline, serving as the away stand only for today. As a result, it was only just over half-full. Meadow Lane has played host to County since 1910, the ‘Pies having previously played at Park Hollow – within the grounds of the Castle, and briefly at Trent Bridge as tenants of Notts CCC and Forest’s City (Town) Ground.
Now, let’s get into the history of Notts County FC. This may take a while…
Notts County FC was formed in 1862, thus predating the FA and association football. As a result, County began playing a game with rules of its own devising. After taking association football rules on board, the club would later go on to become a founder member of the Football League in 1888. Their best finish has been third place, this being achieved on two occasions (1891 & 1901).
County reached the FA Cup Final for the first time in 1891, losing out to Blackburn Rovers at the Kennington Oval, despite having beaten Rovers 7-1 the week before. However three years later, they rectified this by lifting the Cup with victory over Bolton Wanderers and becoming the first club outside the top division to lift the silverware, having finished that year third in Division 2 after relegation from the top division in 1893.
The club’s first promotion would come in 1897 via the Second Division title. After moving into Meadow Lane in 1910, Notts would be relegated back to Division 2 in 1913, thus starting a yo-yo-ing period between the top two divisions. The ended in 1926 when County were relegated from the top-flight and would remain out of it for the next half a century.
The 1941-’42 season saw the Lane suffer serious damage from wartime bombing raids, and this saw the club suspend all its fixtures during that campaign. Bad fortune would go on to hit neighbours Forest post-war, with County’s city rivals being afforded use of Meadow Lane after their ground had been flooded by the neighbouring River Trent, Meadow Lane getting away the better of the grounds. Forest would go on to use County’s home for a second time during 1968, following the destruction of the City Ground’s Main Stand through fire.
1950 would see the Magpies lift the Third Division (South) title, beating Forest to the honour. However, the following season would be the last (to date) that County would play in a higher division than their rivals from across the way. The 1960’s would be a hard decade for the club, with financial difficulties setting in and the club having to apply for re-election to the league. But things would soon turn and the start of the ’70’s would see County take the 1971 Fourth Division title and, two seasons later, County would return to Division 2.
1981 would see the club return to the English top-flight after an absence of 55 years and would go on to defeat champions Aston Villa on the opening day. They’d end the season clear of relegation but would eventually succumb two years later. A second relegation would follow the next season with County finding themselves back in Division 3 once more. 1988 did see Notts miss out in the play-offs, losing out to Walsall.
1990 saw the club return to Division 2, beating Tranmere Rovers in County’s first game at Wembley. The following season would see a second successive promotion, but just a sole season back in the top division would follow, but the club would remain in Division One, what with the introduction of the Premiership, with the D1 now becoming the second-tier. 1994 saw the club lose out in the legendary (to me anyway) Anglo-Italian Cup Final, though they’d go on to win the cup the next season. This was only a consolation however, with the club relegated to Division 2. After missing out in the 1996 play-offs, the club would finish the following season bottom and return to Division 3, meaning a span of six years between top-flight promotion and bottom-tier relegation. The following year saw this rectified, though, with the Third Division being won at a canter.
2003 would see the club narrowly survive further financial difficulties, but relegation back to Division 3 duly followed in 2004. Again, they’d go on to start life in a newly named division, this time the League 2. A couple of season flirting with relegation to the Conference, a consortium take-over would see the likes of Sven-Goran Eriksson join the club in the much-maligned role of “Director of Football” and 2010 saw County take the League 2 title. Further swapping and changing of the managerial role would follow – with little success to show for it – and 2015 saw the ‘Pies return to League 2, with the club finishing up last season in 16th place under the tutelage of current manager Kevin Nolan.
The game got underway with little to choose between the two local rivals (which I only realised as I pulled into Chesterfield en-route) in the opening stages. In fact, the opening half-hour saw little in terms of chances for either side, both looking devoid of a huge amount of confidence and only and off the ball incident involving the Spireites’ Gozie Ugwu giving any sort of interest. Yellow.
It was inevitably Ugwu who’d have the first chance of the half, forcing County stopper Adam Collin into a decent stop, much to the delight of the home support who were giving it to the visiting striker after the prior incident. However, this was pretty much as good as it got for Chesterfield, as County soon gained control of the game and Joe Anyon was forced into a pair of stops, the latter to deny veteran striker Jon Stead. Considering Stead had Shola Ameobi partnering him up front, this must surely be one of the oldest front pairings currently out there?
Then came the major talking point of the first half. Quicksilver winger Terry Hawkridge had been posing a threat down the right for County, and it looked like he’d got through the defence only to be hauled down by Scott Wiseman. It looked from the far end as though cover for the defender was on hand, but the ref and linesman disagreed (they were in a much better place to see than me to be fair) and Wiseman was given his marching orders. Two reds from two games for me this season. (NB: would become three from three on Monday!).
Little occurred in the minutes remaining following the dismissal and the whistle soon went to end a disappointing half. The kids’ penalties came and went with varying amounts of success before the sides re-emerged with Ugwu unsurprisingly withdrawn, with him looking a walking dismissal, to almost coin a phrase heard more often at the Bridge.
Then came the crucial moment in the game and it wasn’t even an on-pitch action. It was a sub. Bolton legend “Super” Kevin Nolan decided Jorge Grant – on loan from Forest – was the man for the job and the #10 strode onto the Meadow Lane pitch for the last 35 minutes or so. Grant would prove to have an almost immediate impact, looping a header over the despairing, back-peddling Anyon and into the net to send the home crowd and players into delight, though not so Stead, who was lying prone in the area.
Chesterfield weren’t done yet, though, and Delial Brewster (whom I last saw as a loanee at Stockport County a couple of seasons back) fizzed a daisy-cutting effort narrowly wide of the target to give the Magpies something to think about.
The dangerous, impressive Hawkridge then forced Anyon into another low stop, but he was helpless with regard to the last meaningful kick of the game. A cynical foul on Jonathan Forte led to a free-kick around twenty yards from goal and just right of centre. Up stepped Grant and he just looked like he was scoring. Lo and behold, the resulting kick was curled beyond the dive of Anyon and into the top corner to confirm the points were remaining at Meadow Lane. Full-time, 2-0.
A swift exit saw me heading back over the canal and to the famed Hooters. Not that this was a decision of mine of course. A fine surprise in here was the discovery of Hop House 13 on draught, despite it coming in a plastic glass, but I couldn’t complain too much so thanks for the idea Ian! Alas, I was soon called upon to leave and go on a trip to another trip. To Jerusalem, that is.
Yes, the famed Trip to Jerusalem would be my final stop for the day and again Hop House was on draught in here, so the day was ending in fine style. A nice bonus was the chat with the Chesterfield fan here who was so down on his side, he reckons they’re going down again. I do find the Spireite fans a friendly bunch (especially after the Bolton game last season) and so I hope this doesn’t come to fruition.
Soon enough, it was time to head out of the cave interior of the Olde Trip and head back to the station, via a visit to Robin Hood. The trip back was a little more stressful, due to the delay of my train making the connection tighter than it ought to have been, but no dramas occurred in the end and so endeth my first true experience of Nottingham and I’m very much looking forward to returning. The game was ok, the ground good, the city really good and no complaints for me (bar the £4.50 half!). Next week, it’s back on the FA Cup trail…
Value For Money: 5