Notts County: 150 Years of History

Words: Jared Wilson
Illustrations: Thomas Goodwin
Thursday 01 November 2012
reading time: min, words

A potted history of the last century and a half in the life of world football's oldest league club...


Notts County are formed and play their first games in a park next to Nottingham Castle. They predate The Football Association, and play a game completely of their own devising. Rules include being able to catch and throw the ball and ‘hack’ (i.e. kick) opponents. Despite the lack of competition, they still don’t win anything.

Along with eleven other clubs, The Magpies become founder members of the Football League. They finish second to last.

Notts win the FA Cup for the first and only time 4-1 against Bolton Wanderers. This makes them the first team outside of the top flight to do so – after a third-place finish in the second tier. Jimmy Logan scores a hat trick after signing from Aston Villa, who originally paid £30 for him. This is less than the price of a match ticket and two pints in the Pavis Stand nowadays.

Welsh striker John Savage is plying his trade for a six year-old Italian football club who play in girlie pink shirts. Problem is that their shirts keep fading in the wash. So he asks a Notts-supporting friend to send some kits over from England for them to try instead.  The famous black and white stripes of Juventus FC are born.

Albert Iremonger signs from local minnows Notts Jardines. At 6ft 6” he is believed to be the tallest player in the league. He goes on to make 564 appearances for Notts, including 222 consecutively, which only end because of suspension. A road near Meadow Lane is later named after him and to this day it is claimed he had hands like “the claws of a JCB” (although JCBs weren’t actually invented until 1945).

The club moves ground to Meadow Lane from Trent Bridge, allowing the cricket club their pitch back. Presumably it helped the players work out where to take corners from too.

Relegation from the first division condemns The Magpies to spend the next half century outside of the top division. After 21 years Iremonger moves on to spend his final season at Lincoln City. Poor sod.

Tom Keetley scores 39 goals in Division Three South, thus becoming the highest ever goalscorer in one season. He had ten brothers too, at least half of whom played professionally. If their mam had been on it earlier, they could have set up Keetley United.

A whole season of fixtures at Meadow Lane are suspended due to the Second World War and a bomb taking out half of the ground. Rumours that it improved the catering stands are totally unfounded.

Forest move into Meadow Lane to groundshare for the season after the River Trent floods the City Ground.


Notts stun the football world by signing England’s main striker Tommy Lawton from Chelsea for a UK record transfer fee of £20,000. They’re in the Third Division at the time and he goes on to score 103 goals in 166 games.

Notts clinch the Third Division (South) championship, with crowds averaging 35,000 as they hold off Forest to win a thrilling championship race. The following season is the last one to date in which Notts play in a higher division than their local rivals.

Early 1960s
Notts are in financial ruin and only just manage to avoid the indignity of having to apply for re-election to the league. This situation continues until Nottingham MP Jack Dunnett, takes over as Chairman in 1968.

Les Bradd makes his debut after signing from Rotherham. He goes on to make 398 appearances and score 125 times for the ‘Pies, a club goalscoring record that still stands today.

Silky midfielder Don Masson signs from Middlesborough. He goes onto make 274 appearances and score 81 goals, but is probably best remembered outside of Notts for missing a penalty in Scotland’s 3-1 defeat against Peru in the 1978 World Cup.
Forest are back ground-sharing at Meadow Lane after fire destroys the main stand at the City Ground. Do the gods have something against them?

1969 - 81

The Yoda-like (in terms of both his appearance and his Jedi-like influence on Notts) Jimmy Sirrel is appointed as manager. The following season his team clinches the Fourth Division title after spending the season completely unbeaten at home. In ’73 he does it again as Notts are promoted to the second tier. Then, after a brief stint at Sheffield United (where he redesigns the club badge), he comes back and finishes the job by getting promotion to the top tier. Sir Alex Ferguson later cites him as a major influence.

Following several more dismal years and relegations, Neil Warnock is appointed manager. In his first full season he gets them promoted after a 2-0 play-off final win against Tranmere at Wembley Stadium. The next he scores a second play-off final win – this time 3-1 against Brighton. (see, Forest, that’s how you do it). Another highlight is a famous 1–0 victory over Manchester City in the FA Cup, booking Notts a place in the quarter-final, which they lose to eventual winners Spurs. Sometime around this time the club’s Wheelbarrow song - a bastardisation of the folk ditty On Top Of Old Smoky - is born.

1994 -95
A seminal moment for Notts: the inaugural Sir Charlie Palmer Day. This is the last time the two Nottingham clubs met in a league fixture, with the Magpies winning 2-1 thanks to a winner from the much-loved right-back. They also win the rather bizarre and short-lived Anglo-Italian Cup at Wembley, beating an Ascoli side that includes German international striker Oliver Bierhoff.

‘Big’ Sam Allardyce is appointed and cannot save the club from relegation. However he makes up for it the year after when they whup the bottom division, winning it by 17 points and becoming the first post-war side to win promotion in mid-March (with six games remaining).

The Magpies almost go out of business. However thanks to the considerable efforts of a group of local businessmen (most notably Haydn Green) and the club's supporters, they are saved from extinction and eventually taken over by a supporters trust. A few Forest fans chuck their coppers in the buckets, and then go on and on about it for ever after.

A Littlewoods Pools survey announces that Notts County fans are the most ‘stressed’ in league football. Local S&M clubs spot a captive audience of self-harmers and start flyering the ground.

After a dubious ‘fit and proper person’ test by the FA, the club are taken over by a mysterious consortium known as Munto who promise Notts a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Hopes are raised as they bring in Sven-Göran Eriksson as Director of football and sign ex-England defender Sol Campbell, among many others. Unfortunately this consortium don’t actually have any real money, just a plan to try and pull the wool over everyone’s eyes and get their hands on North Korean minerals and/or a Formula One team. The club are in a lot of trouble…

Lincolnshire businessman Ray Trew comes in and completely saves everyone’s collective arses. Under the guidance of Steve Cotterill (later to become whipping boy over the river) they get promotion to the third tier. Cotterill then leaves and Trew hires and fires a succession of managers, until finally settling upon Keith Curle. Hopefully. Juventus FC return the favour from 1903 and ask Notts if they want to come over and inaugurate their bling new stadium. The opening ceremony includes fake zebra giraffes, a song from The Lion King and neon light people. Just another day in the life of Notts County FC, then.

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