'The opening of the Nottingham Football Club commenced on Tuesday last at Cremorne Gardens. A aide was chosen by W. Arkwright and Chas. Deakin. A very spirited game resulted in the latter scoring two goals and two rouges against one and one.' - The Nottingham Guardian from 28 November 1862
Notts County Football Club, now universally recognised as the world's oldest Football League club, was formed in 1862. Official formation followed two years later as the 'Notts. Foot Ball Club'.
Pre-dating The Football Association, the club initially played matches of its own devising at Park Hollow, inside the grounds of the old Nottingham Castle. In 1864, the decision was made to take on outside opposition from both England and Scotland, which led to a move away from the club's initial home to allow for larger crowds.
The following years saw the club appear at numerous locations, including Castle Cricket Ground (1894), and Nottingham Forest's Town Ground (1895 and 1896) and City Ground (1899 to 1909). However, the club's main home, from 1883 onwards, was Trent Bridge, until the permanent switch across the river to Meadow Lane was completed in 1910.
In 1888, Notts became one of 12 founder members of The Football League and ended the first season in 11th place, above Stoke City. A highest ever league finish of third was achieved in 1890-91 – a feat that was replicated in 1900.
Notts had representation in the first ever international match as full-back Ernest Greenhalgh played for England against Scotland in November 1872, thereby becoming the club's first international player.
DID YOU KNOW? Notts have not always played in Black and White stripes, having started out in black and amber hoops. This style was replaced by a chocolate and blue combination before adopting the trademark design. The club has moved away from the stripes from time-to-time, including a white jersey with a single black chevron, plain white with black cuffs, pin-stripes, 'V'-style stripes and the classic 'Barcode' design. Yellow and, more recently, gold have been added as a complimentary trim in recent years.
In 1890-91, Notts reached the FA Cup Final for the first time, only to be defeated 3-1 by Blackburn Rovers at The Oval, despite thumping the trophy winners 7-1 only a week prior. The club made amends on 31 March 1894, with Jimmy Logan netting a hat-trick in a 4-1 triumph over Bolton Wanderers at Goodison Park.
The fixture is also memorable for another reason, as Notts became first team outside the top flight to win the tournament, having been relegated to the Second Division in 1893. Promotion back to the top tier was confirmed in 1896-97, after a series of 'test matches' – meetings between the bottom sides in the First Division and the top teams in the Second Division to determine which clubs would play in each league the following season.
DID YOU KNOW? Harry Cursham is the current top-scorer in the FA Cup and has held the record since 1887. The striker scored 49 goals – all of them in a Notts shirt.
In 1912-13 Notts were again relegated but returned the following season as champions of the Second Division. 1919-20 saw another demotion, though another Second Division championship was added to the trophy cabinet in 1922-23.
Despite a ninth-position finish in 1924-25, Notts dropped back down to the Second Division the following campaign. Then, in 1929-30, the club fell to the Third Division South, only to bounce back at the first time of asking – as champions.
After 16th, 15th and 18th placed finishes respectively, Notts ended the 1934-35 season at the foot of the Second Division. Prior to the Second World War, Notts narrowly missed out on promotion, as they finished 1936-37 second in the Third Division (South) – two points adrift of the champions, Luton Town.
DID YOU KNOW? Between 1905 and 1926, goalkeeper Albert Iremonger played 564 league and 37 cup games for the Magpies. He remains the club’s highest appearance holder and is unlikely to be beaten. The eccentric giant also has a road named after him, which runs behind the back of the Derek Pavis Stand.
The leagues took an extended break, as football was suspended between 1939 and 1946, due to the Second World War. Only regional matches and cup competitions, which allowed clubs to field guest players, were played.
On the night of 8 May 1941, bomb damage produced craters at Meadow Lane and the ground was subsequently closed. This meant that 1941-42 was the only season when no football was played by the Magpies.
In November 1947, Notts stunned the footballing world with the recruitment of England international Tommy Lawton. The England number nine had left top-flight Chelsea to join the Third Division South Magpies - much like Wayne Rooney dropping down to League 1 nowadays.
Lawton's signing was for a British record fee but his arrival added around 10,000 to the gates at Meadow Lane. The average home crowds for the next eight seasons remain the highest in the club's history.
An example of the bolstered attendances was a Boxing Day encounter with Swansea that saw 45,000 pack into Meadow Lane, with an estimated 10,000 locked outside. A number of attendances were over 30,000 and 40,000, and, in 1949-50, with an average of over 34,000, Notts gained promotion to the Second Division.
The passing of then club captain Leon Leuty sparked the rapid break-up of the side that had transformed Notts from an unfashionable lower-league outfit into a steady Second Division club. Just two seasons after his death - 1957-58 - Notts suffered relegation to the Third Division and again into the basement tier in 1958-59.
Despite a quick return to the Third Division, following a second-placed finish in 1959-60, it was not long before Notts were back in the Fourth Division. Between 1963-64 and 1970-71, Notts fought it out in the doldrums of the Football League and, on 21 September 1968, the club slumped to its lowest point at the bottom of the table, but luckily found form and moved clear.
It was tough times but, when the most successful manager in the club's history walked through the Meadow Lane gates, fortunes took a turn for the better. Jimmy Sirrel took over with the aim of lifting the doom and gloom – and he did just that by guiding the Magpies to the Fourth Division championship in his first full season in charge.
Sirrel's players became legends, such as the club's all-time leading scorer Les Bradd, central defensive colossuses Dave Needham and Brian Stubbs, who experienced a solid eight-year partnership, and, of course, the Scottish midfield maestro Don Masson – deemed the greatest player to ever pull on the Black and White Stripes. Not forgetting the likes of Tony Hateley, Kevin Randall and Arthur Mann, who made up the spine of a team that would eventually complete Sirrel's complete set of promotions from the gutter to English football's elite division.
The next promotion arrived in 1972-73, as Notts finished Third Division runners-up, which preceded an eight-year stay in the Second Division. So many promotions had usually been followed by relegation but not on this occasion, as Sirrel – helped by innovative coach Howard Wilkinson - led Notts to the First Division via a historic victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
Against the odds, Notts spent three consecutive seasons in the top-flight, which were kicked off with a historic 1-0 triumph over champions Aston Villa on the opening day of the 1981-82 season. This proved to be just one of many unforgettable days for the fans of this era, as the Magpies recorded emphatic wins over Arsenal, Nottingham Forest and Leeds United.
Off the pitch, Notts faced a battle to stay afloat and a crisis meeting on 15 September 1986 drew 1,500 supporters to the Astoria Night Club, with many more locked outside. Debts of £2million had forced directors to consider liquidating the club but it was agreed that business would resume thanks to the financial support of the fans.
This came in the shape of a friendly match with Forest, where a crowd of 3,299 added £14,000 to the survival funds, and the formation of Notts County Lifeline, which involved supporters paying £2 each week to enter into a prize draw. Since that meeting, the scheme has gone from strength-to-strength and has continued to pump over £100,000 into the club every year.
Notts' true revival came from an unlikely source in 1989, when, following a run of poor results, boss John Barnwell was dismissed and replaced by the youthful figure of Neil Warnock, who had guided Scarborough into the Football League as champions of the Conference. The signings of goalkeeper Steve Cherry and skipper Phil Turner boosted the squad and, in Warnock's first full season, 1989-90, the club achieved a third-placed finish and a spot in the Play-Offs.
Unlike two years prior, Notts flourished in the end-of-season knock-out and overcame Bolton Wanderers across two legs – a 1-1 draw on away soil and a 2-0 win back at Meadow Lane. This kicked off the 'Wembley Years' and, on an unforgettable day under the Twin Towers, the Magpies overcame Tranmere Rovers in front of 29,252 spectators thanks to goals from Tommy Johnson and Craig Short.
Away from the league success, Notts reached the quarter-finals of the FA Cup thanks to a famous 1-0 win against Manchester City – a day where Steve Cherry performed heroics in goal and Gary Lund secured his side's progression with a solitary strike.
This set up a controversial encounter with Tottenham Hotspur that saw Don O'Riordan score a wonder-goal in front of a packed-out away end at White Hart Lane. But that was as good as it got, with Paul Gascoigne - who should have been dismissed for an elbow on Paul Harding - setting up the equaliser and scoring an 83rd minute winner to end the Magpies' hopes of a second FA Cup crown.
Warnock kept the faith in a large part of the squad that gained promotion, but Notts' stay in the top tier was short-lived and lasted only one campaign, as the club finished the season ranked 21st. The relegation meant that the club missed out on becoming an inaugural member of the Premier League.
Regardless of the drop to the newly-named Football League Division One, the Magpies' season in the top flight was eventful and provided trips to the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal. The club also cashed in on strikers Paul Rideout – sold to Rangers for £500,000 just four months after he was signed from Everton for half that amount – and Johnson, who raked in almost £2m, which was pumped into the £5m redevelopment of Meadow Lane.
Warnock was succeeded by Mick Walker, who kept Notts in Division One and introduced a passing style of play, much to the appreciation of the supporters. The following year, the Magpies narrowly missed out on the play-offs with a seventh-placed finish but the season is most fondly remembered for the 2-1 triumph over local rivals Nottingham Forest, when Charlie Palmer scored the winning goal with just four minutes remaining on the clock.
Allardyce had the players in for regular sessions over the summer break in an attempt to halt Notts' freefall and the hard work paid off - massively. 1997-98 was a remarkable and unique season in the club's history, as the Magpies smashed a number of national and club records to clinch the Division Three championship.
Notts became the first club to pass the 4,000 league games landmark and clinched a league championship at the earliest ever date (28 March) by the largest number of points (19). With Allardyce at the helm and the likes of Darren Ward, Gary Jones, Sean Farrell, Mark Robson, Ian Richardson and Steve Finnan populating the squad, things were really looking up.
By October 1999, Allardyce had guided Notts to the top of Division Two but, out of the blue, he resigned to take up a post at Bolton Wanderers. Without ‘Big Sam’, the Magpies slipped to an eighth-placed finish and rockier times were on the way - both on and off the pitch.
In 2001-02, Notts were nailed on for another relegation but, with just 11 games remaining, something incredible began. The Great Escape, a campaign driven by the iconic Steve McQueen film that included posters, music and the full backing of the County faithful. Kicked off by a 1-1 draw at home to Colchester United, the Magpies accumulated an astonishing 23 points from a possible 33 and clinched safety on the final day in front of a 15,618 home crowd.
Danny Allsopp played a massive role in getting the club to the 50-point mark with 12 goals in the conclusive run-in, including the opener in the decisive 2-1 victory over Huddersfield Town, which saw Kevin Nicholson net the winning goal in full view of the Jimmy Sirrel Stand z-block. Emotions spilled over onto the pitch after the impossible was confirmed but this magic moment was one of very few highlights in the coming years.
Troubles away from the pitch hampered Notts on the field and relegation to the bottom tier, League Two, followed in 2004. Aside from securing the club's future, the season's highlight was the League Cup clash with Chelsea at Stamford Bridge – an encounter between Roman Abramovich's millionaires and the penniless Magpies.
A big turnover in players followed, as Gary Mills attempted to bring the good times back to Meadow Lane, but Notts fought it out at the bottom end of the table and Ian Richardson took over as player-manager to guide the club to safety. More difficult times followed under Gudjon Thordarson in 2005-06, when Notts came within a whisker of dropping out of the Football League, only to stay up on the final day thanks to a 2-2 draw with Bury. The Magpies came back from two goals down through Dan Martin and Julian Baudet to spark mass celebrations between both relegation-threatened sides.
In the summer of 2009, Notts moved into a new and exciting era when it was revealed that an ambitious consortium wanted to gain control and invest significant – some might say ridiculous - sums of cash into the club. A media circus unraveled at Meadow Lane and the Supporters' Trust voted overwhelmingly to gift their shares to Munto Finance.
Peter Trembling became executive chairman with immediate effect and, less than two weeks later, the arrival of former England and Mexico manager Sven-Goran Eriksson as director of football had Notts fans pinching themselves. More big names followed, with the addition of Kasper Schmeichel, son of Manchester United legend Peter, and former Arsenal and England international Sol Campbell - all eyes were on the Magpies.
A return to a sensible business approach was welcomed by the County faithful, as was the appointment of new manager Steve Cotterill whose message to the players was "we're going to win the league." Nobody argued, despite being 14 points adrift of the league leaders at the time.
Under the new gaffer, Notts embarked on an incredible run to make up significant ground and confirmed promotion with a 4-1 win over Morcambe in front of 8,500 supporters at Meadow Lane. Even more rewarding was the 1-0 triumph over championship rivals Rochdale, who were beaten by a solitary Hughes finish, which put one hand on the League Two title.
The job was complete just a week later on an unforgettable night in Darlington, as Notts ran away 5-0 winners and were crowned champions. This set up a joyous day back in Nottingham, where 11,331 witnessed the Magpies lift the trophy. It was a rollercoaster journey but one that no Notts fan will ever forget.
Based on the club's history, it would be safe to say that there is rarely a quiet moment and there were no surprises when this remained the case beyond the whole Munto façade. Cotterill departed at the end of the title-winning campaign and Notts' first season in League One saw the revolving door pick up speed.
Craig Short, who, as a player, had been sold for a club record fee of £2.5million to Derby County, took up the manager’s post ahead of the 2010-11 campaign, but was dismissed in October 2010 and replaced by Paul Ince. The former England midfielder and Blackburn Rovers boss got off to a great start and particularly excelled in the FA Cup, with Notts fans treated to a run that included an upset against Premier League Sunderland and a 1-1 home draw with giants Manchester City.
Into the New Year, Notts’ fortunes took a bad turn and seven losses in eight games made relegation a serious possibility. A swift change behind the scenes resulted in Martin Allen taking the reins and the Magpies avoided the drop on the final day of the season with a 1-1 draw against Brighton & Hove Albion, who had already been crowned League One champions.
In 2011-12, Notts were invited to take on Juventus in a friendly fixture that marked the opening of the Italian giants' new stadium in Turin. The Magpies were merely expected to make up the numbers on this historic trip, but it was not the case as Lee Hughes struck late on to earn a 1-1 draw in front of a passionate Juventus Stadium crowd and millions watching live on ESPN.
The campaign brought more changes to the Notts backroom staff, as Allen and his coaching team were relieved of their duties and replaced by Keith Curle. Despite initial unrest at the decision, the appointment sparked an incredible run that saw the Magpies climb the League One table with 10 wins and three draws in the remaining 16 games.
This sequence of results included a dramatic 4-3 success away at Wycombe, where the Magpies were behind in the dying stages, before two late goals took the play-off race to the final day. Another win against Colchester United was not enough to secure a top-six finish, though, and the club missed out on the play-offs on goal difference.
2012 marked Notts County Football Club's 150th anniversary and the milestone was celebrated with a variety of events. Initiated by a Civic Reception, the event welcomed former Football League chairman Lord Mawhinney, Sir David Bernstein, and a host of club legends and personalities.
On the back of the previous season's positivity, Notts added further quality to the squad but only managed to languish in mid-table. Curle was removed from his position and development squad coach Chris Kiwomya was promoted to first-team duties.
A poor opening to the 2013-14 campaign saw Kiwomya leave the club by mutual consent in November 2013. His replacement, Shaun Derry, along with his assistant Greg Abbott, was tasked with steering the Magpies to League One safety.
With just nine games remaining, Notts appeared dead certs for the drop - nine points adrift of safety and having played more games than the other clubs fighting against relegation. But County defied the odds, picking up six wins and a draw during the run-in, incuding an emotional 1-1 draw with Oldham Athletic which saw the Magpies secure League One status for the 2014-15 campaign.
The hugely impressive run was, again, labelled The Great Escape and pulled the club together at a difficult time. Posters and the iconic theme song will live long in the memory of fans that played such a big part in the turnaround.
Unfortunately the momentum from the Great Escape could not be maintained and Derry was dismissed in March 2015 as the Magpies slid towards the relegation zone once again, despite occupying a play-off spot in the early part of the season.
Derry's replacement, Ricardo Moniz, was unable to keep the club in League One and a 3-1 defeat at Gillingham on the final day of the campaign confirmed relegation back to the basement division of the Football League.
Flanked by Dave Kevan and Notts legend Dean Yates, Moniz struggled to mount a challenge for an immediate return to the third tier and was sacked in December 2015. His replacement, Jamie Fullarton, lasted little over two months before Mark Cooper saw out the remainder of the season, which County finished 17th.
Hopes were high at the start of 2016-17 with the appointment of John Sheridan as manager alongside a raft of experienced signings. However, a run of ten straight league defeats saw the former Sheffield Wednesday midfielder lose his job at the start of January - a month of significant change at Meadow Lane.
With the club up for sale and perilously close to going out of existence, local businessman Alan Hardy stepped in to take control of the club on Thursday 12 January. Hardy's first move was to appoint former Bolton Wanderers and Newcastle United midfielder Kevin Nolan as the club's manager in a bid to secure its EFL status.
The chairman wasted little time in bringing back a feel-good factor to the club, reducing ticket prices and setting out his stall to have the Magpies in the Championship within five years.
Aided by signings such as Nottingham Forest loanee Jorge Grant and iconic former Newcastle striker Shola Ameobi, Notts comfortably secured their Sky Bet League Two status.
The end of the season was not to be without drama, however, as Portsmouth secured promotion at Meadow Lane before Newport County completed an incredible great escape by scoring a last-minute winner against the Magpies - sending Hartlepool down on the final day as Colin Slater MBE's legendary commentary career came to an end.
The start of the 2017-18 campaign was tinged with sadness as former chairman Derek Pavis passed away on 26 May at the age of 87. In his memory, Notts played near neighbours Nottingham Forest in a pre-season friendly at Meadow Lane to contest the Derek Pavis Trophy, which the visitors won 2-0.
Ahead of the season, Notts announced an innovative new campaign which would see their front of shirt sponsors change each month. It was a resounding success which brought new business to the club and allowed supporters to choose which logo they had applied to their shirt – if any at all. Perhaps the most eye-catching sponsor was musician – and Notts fan - Jake Bugg.
A host of new players arrived over the summer, including Lewis Alessandra, Dan Jones and returning loanee Jorge Grant, and a state-of-the-art home dressing room was unveiled as the club looked to mount a promotion push.
The renovation had a positive impact on the players as Notts went the remainder of 2017 unbeaten at home and looked set for promotion at the turn of the year.
Colin Slater MBE was named an honorary vice-president of the club after more than 50 years reporting on the Magpies, whose home record remained impressive in 2018.
Meadow Lane saw only two defeats all season but struggles on the road in the new year hampered the push for promotion.
Notts were forced to settle for a play-off position and a season which looked destined for success ended in sadness and frustration as Coventry – aided by several questionable refereeing decisions - won the two-legged semi-final.
The club was nevertheless victorious off the field, being announced as League Two’s winners of the EFL’s Away Fan Experience campaign, and there was more exciting news to come before the season was out, as the club revealed that a new women’s team would be launched ready for the start of the 2018-19 season.
Promotion hopes abounded as the new campaign loomed large following the arrival of 21-goal Chesterfield forward Kristian Dennis, Nottingham Forest midfielder David Vaughan, Oxford striker Kane Hemmings and many more.
The bookies shared that belief and included Notts among the favourites for the League Two title following their play-off heartbreak in the previous campaign. Sadly, the season didn’t start well and Kevin Nolan was relieved of his duties in late August with the club bottom of the EFL. His departure prompted a restructure of the football department, with Harry Kewell becoming the club’s first Australian manager and the vastly experienced Paul Hart joining the club as technical director.
As Autumn descended, Meadow Lane had the honour of hosting two prestigious matches with England’s Lionesses facing Brazil in a friendly and the British Army Women’s team taking on their German counterparts in the Games of Remembrance. A Fran Kirby goal edged a tight affair for the Lionesses and the Germans narrowly defeated Britain in front of big crowds at the Lane.
Notts, however, were still struggling and parted company with Kewell following an FA Cup defeat at Barnsley, having won only three matches during the former Liverpool player’s tenure. The man to replace him was Neal Ardley, who joined the Magpies shortly after his amicable departure from AFC Wimbledon, where he had been the third longest-serving boss in England's top four divisions.
After a Checkatrade Trophy defeat at Sunderland, the new manager was given a baptism of fire in league action, with his first fixture in charge a visit to local rivals Mansfield in early December. Notts were beaten 2-0, leaving Ardley in no doubt as to the task at hand.
The Magpies were nine points from safety by the end of January and there was uncertainty off the pitch, too, as owner and chairman Alan Hardy put the club up for sale, citing a need to focus on his external business portfolio as the reason for his decision. Despite this, Ardley was able to sign eight new players during the transfer window, with the likes of Grimsby's Mitch Rose, Wycombe's Craig Mackail-Smith and Coventry's Michael Doyle brought in during the last week of a particularly busy month.
The new arrivals made an instant impact as the Magpies kicked off February with a three-game unbeaten run, which included a first league win in the Nottinghamshire Derby since 2005 as Ardley's side showed they had progressed since his opening fixture in charge.
Further off-field problems were to come, however. A winding up petition was issued by HMRC following an overdue payment, leading to fears of administration or even liquidation but, with the club up for sale, a High Court hearing was adjourned in April to give time for new owners to take over. How much the uncertainty over the club's future affected the playing squad is difficult to determine, but the early February momentum wasn't sustained and, after winning just three more times ahead of the season's final game, Notts travelled to Swindon with their fate out of their hands.
Needing a win against the Robins coupled with Macclesfield losing at home to Cambridge, it was a big ask but with an hour played it did, however, look as though the most unlikely of escapes was on the cards. Notts led 1-0 at the County Ground and The U's led by the same scoreline at Moss Rose, with the Magpies on course to climb out of the bottom two for the first time since November. Sadly, the hope was short-lived - Swindon and Macclesfield both levelled within a matter of minutes before Notts succumbed to a 3-1 defeat and were relegated from League Two, losing their proud status as the world's oldest Football League club as they dropped out of the EFL for the first time since its formation in 1888.
Off the pitch, the change of ownership was not completed as quickly as many hoped, with Hardy still yet to find a buyer ahead of the second High Court hearing on 5 June 2019. Due to the ongoing takeover process, the case was adjourned once again, giving Notts until 10 July to settle the debt to HMRC, when, for a third time, the club was given an extension - this time for three weeks - with another court date penned in for 31 July.
All changed on 26 July 2019 when, with just eight days to go until the new National League season began, Danish brothers Christoffer and Alexander Reedtz completed their takeover to bring an end to the most turbulent period in our history. In doing so, they became the club's youngest owners and immediately set to work readying the club for the new campaign. All outstanding debts - including to staff whose salaries had gone unpaid - were settled and our transfer embargo was lifted.
Manager Neal Ardley had several signings in the pipeline throughout the summer and, over the course of a crazy 24 hours which saw seven new arrivals, he was able to bring in the likes of forward Nathan Tyson, goalkeeper Sam Slocombe and defenders Damien McCrory and Ben Turner, who had all played in League One during 2018-19.
With a 'fresh start' on the horizon, season ticket sales soared and a further five additions were made to the squad as Ardley looked to build a side capable of challenging at the right end of the National League.
Understandably, however, the season got off to a slow start as our newly-assembled team adpated to their surroundings. An opening-day defeat at Eastleigh was a sign of how tough the opening month of the campaign was to be as we picked up only one win - a 2-0 victory at future foes Harrogate Town - from our first six matches.
A 5-1 trouncing of Chorley in late August was a sign of happier times ahead, though, and the news that we would be using Nottingham Forest's Holme Road training facility for the duration of the campaign signaled our new owners' determination to forge a positive relationship with our near neighbours.
October saw our all-time leading goalscorer, Les Bradd, inducted into the club's Hall of Fame alongside the likes of Tommy Lawton, Jimmy Sirrel and Don Masson, and December brought our inaugural appearance in the FA Trophy as we emerged 1-0 victors over Chesterfield, with Kristian Dennis striking against his former club.
To the delight of Ardley and our supporters, Dennis' fellow forward, leading scorer Kyle Wootton, who had initially joined on loan from Scunthorpe United earlier in the season, signed a permanent deal at the turn of the year.
And Ardley had even more cause to celebrate a few days later when he was announced as the December 2019 National League Manager of the Month, having spurred his side on to collect 10 points out of 12 as we surged into play-off contention.
Former Newcastle winger Cal Roberts joined the promotion push soon afterwards, arriving from Blyth Spartans having made a huge impact during his brief spell at the National League North club, and the exciting Geordie proved to be the inspiration for a victory which led many to declare us potential title contenders. It came away at league-leaders Barrow, where Roberts' corner proved the catalyst for Tom Crawford to open the scoring before a superb solo effort of his own sealed a 2-0 win and continued our upward trajectory.
While all was well at Meadow Lane, the world was becoming increasingly concerned about the outbreak of Covid-19. Our next two matches - convincing home wins against Aldershot Town and Eastleigh - nevertheless went ahead as planned, albeit with preventative measures in place to minimise the risk of spreading the virus, such as turnstile operators wearing protective gloves.
Sadly, however, with the virus reaching global pandemic levels, the National League suspended the season on 16 March, initially until 3 April, with us sitting in third place.
With the Covid-19 pandemic causing great uncertainty, our owners Chris and Alex Reedtz were quick to ally supporters' fears that the club would be on the brink of yet more financial hardship: "We would like to reassure you all that our commitment to the club is unwavering, even if there is to be a long break from football being played," said the brothers in a message to supporters.
This communication came shortly after it had been announced that Meadow Lane was to close as a precautionary measure, with the players given individual workout plans to complete alone. A number of staff were placed on the government's furlough scheme, with the remaining 20% of their salary topped up by the club, while staff who continued to work did so from home when possible.
As expected, the National League put the kibosh on any dreams of a 3 April return by suspending the season indefinitely. With no prospect of football for the foreseeable future and with lockdown imposed on the nation, public morale was at an all-time low. We wanted to put smiles on the faces of our supporters, particularly those who were elderly, vulnerable and isolating from their loved ones or fighting the virus on the front line, and so gave fans the chance to nominate someone to receive a surprise phone call from manager Neal Ardley, club legend Les Bradd or one of the players. Around 300 calls were facilitated, with national media providing coverage of the very worthwhile initiative.
While our owners had made it clear that the club remained in a healthy position despite the challenges posed by pandemic, we were nevertheless inundated with messages from fans asking how they could support the club financially during such an unprecedented time. By way of response, CEO Jason Turner sparked a Lifeline membership surge by encouraging all supporters to sign up to the scheme. Incredibly, this resulted in Lifeline reaching its full capacity of 2,500 members for the first time in its history - with an ever-growing waiting list to boot!
Supporters were also given the opportunity to pre-order a variety of experiences and packages, such as match tickets, priority access to replica shirts and the opportunity to attend a pre-match press conference when the world got back to normal, via a Crowdfunding campaign. More than £25,000 was raised, with 10% going to our charity partners Age UK Notts to support their increasingly stretched services.
On 22 April came the unwelcome news that a majority of National League clubs had voted to cancel all remaining 2019-20 fixtures despite other league systems, including the EFL, continuing to explore ways they could conclude their seasons. A statement from our board of directors read: "While we appreciate the views of other clubs and respect the overall outcome of this vote as a representation of opinion across the three divisions, our stance has always been that the National League should operate in tandem with the EFL due to the intrinsic link between the two leagues. We were therefore opposed to this vote being imposed – particularly as there was no clear indication of what the next steps would be in terms of deciding the conclusion of the season, including end-of-season play-offs and matters concerning promotion and relegation."
May proved to be a fruitless month in terms of updates as we and our National League opponents remained in limbo. Ardley and the club took proactive measures in June by nominating a 24-man training squad to prepare for a potential play-off campaign. Those not selected as part of said squad were given notice that they'd be released upon the expiration of their contracts at the end of the month. All other out-of-contract players would see their agreement roll on until the 2019-20 season was officially concluded.
We finally had clarity on how the sporting outcomes of the season would be decided when, on 17 June, it was announced that a majority of clubs had voted in support of the National League's Ordinary Resolution, which meant the final 2019-20 National League table was determined on an unweighted points-per-game basis, seeing us finish third with 76.26 points based on a 46-match season. We therefore qualified to participate in the semi-finals of a play-off competition alongside second-placed Harrogate Town, who would face the winners of Boreham Wood (5th) v Halifax Town (6th), while Barrow were automatically promoted as champions. We were to host the winners of Yeovil Town (4th) v Barnet (7th) to determine who progressed to the final, later confirmed to be at Wembley, with all play-off matches to be played behind closed doors.
This positive news led to a frenzy of excited activity at Meadow Lane, with our 24-man training squad and key staff called back to the club for Covid-19 testing. No positive results were returned, allowing us to welcome the players back for Stage One training - with only a small number of individuals permitted in a session at any one time and stringent safety protocols in place, including the sanitisation of training equipment, non-use of showers and players travelling to training alone.
With our testing regime continuing to return all-negative results, Stage Two training was able to commence as the players were able to begin having limited contact with each other during sessions, while still maintaining social distancing whenever possible.