Easy come, easy go…

October 26, 2010

I’m still in a state a shock. No, not about Celtic’s dismal defending against Rangers yesterday, that I expected (and I have a post on that coming!) Instead, I’m shocked that while watching said Old Firm game I received a text message from a mate saying “Shorty’s been sacked!” I know I should never be surprised by anything in football, but I was certainly caught off guard here. I can’t help but feel a little disappointed, too.

For a new squad, in a new division and under a new manager, I’ve thought we’ve been doing alright. A couple of good solid performances at Wolves and Peterborough, as well as the demolition of Yeovil have shown real potential in our squad, and if we’d had a bit more luck we’d be flying high. Perhaps it is because of Short’s previous connection to the club, but I was personally willing to give him the time to provide us with some much needed stability.

There have been a few dissenting voices towards Short from the first day of the season, but I myself thought that given a bit of time, the side would come together. Indeed, the majority of Notts fans I’ve spoken to this season seem to have had the same opinion, so yesterday’s news came as a shock to a few of us.

Even more disappointing though was the news that Dave Kevan had also lost his job. Dave was a vital part in last year’s promotion, holding the playing squad together while we went through manager after manager, and throughout the turmoil at board level. From what I’ve heard he was very popular with the players too, so it does then seem a little harsh for Dave to be removed from his position.

However, I can see the other side of the coin. We clearly have a highly ambitious chairman, who has the best interests of Notts County at heart. If he didn’t then he wouldn’t have pumped so much money into our beloved club, sold a business for the sole purpose of adding extra funds to the club’s budget, or bought Nottingham Rugby, for that matter. It seems he’s looking to protect that investment, and rather than let too much time slide by, he’s made the decision quickly. Ultimately, this suggests he believes he made a mistake in appointing Short in the first place.

Many of us can make a defence for Short, beginning with just how unlucky we have been under him. So many games we’ve dominated, playing good football in the process, but just unable to take our chances. If we’d scored a second against Colchester the game was in the bag. Sheffield Wednesday were there for the taking as well, and if we’d taken one of our many chances in the first half we could easily have gone on and scored two or three. That’s just to name two matches. However, football is a results business, and “what ifs” ultimately don’t win points.

As a fan I have to trust the chairman’s judgement, something which I’m certainly prepared to do. Now we have heard that the new man “will be an experienced head”. A wise decision I believe, but it has to be the right appointment. I’m not convinced by many of the names I have heard mentioned so far, but I’d suggest there is somebody already lined up. I believe Kevan lost his job because most managers these days expect to be able to bring in their own back room team, or at least an assistant manager. I just can’t see any other explanation, so if you have one please feel free to enlighten me.

So now we have to ask just who is next? I’ve heard a few people suggest Paul Hart, but I’m not convinced that would be the right move. Peter Reid would be a strange one for me too, and some of the other names in the mix are just ‘pie in the sky’. Gordon Strachan? Phil Brown? Never going to happen. I think Paul Ince would be a decent shout, as would Alan Pardew. An outside bet for me would be someone like Micky Adams, who has Port Vale flying in League Two, and who has experience in all four divisions. However, I’m not convinced he’s a big enough name for Ray Trew’s ambitions, so perhaps I should raise mine accordingly. In that case I’d go for Alan Curbishley, but I just couldn’t that happening (see above ‘pie in the sky’ statement!)

Ultimately I’ll back whoever comes into the club. What we need is a manager who will come in and tighten the defence up, and demand more from our front players. We need to turn these good performances into victories, and as much as I accept that Steve Cotterill is ancient history at Notts, I can’t help but think if he’d been in charge we’d have at least six extra points thanks to his demands of the players.

All I would personally ask is that Tony Mowbray gets nowhere near the Meadow Lane hotseat, and I hope Middlesbrough hurry up and appoint him. Nine months of Mowbray as a manager of your team is enough to provide a major dose of the blues to even the most optimistic supporter. For it to happen to both of my clubs within twelve months may see me off to the doctor for a course of valium!

If you need convincing otherwise, YouTube has dozens of examples of Celtic’s dismal performances last season. Get some popcorn and settle down for a true horror show. Just make sure you tell me first so I can hide behind the couch…

Once again I must apologise for my lack of blogging activity, I’ve had a crazy month. More commentaries than I’ve ever done before have limited my time to post, but it’s always better to be busy, right? And don’t ask me about ‘Football Manager’ either…

So it’s been a strange start for Notts and for Craig Short. An opening day thumping from Huddersfield brought us all back down to Earth with a bump, and maybe gave us the reality check we needed. Followed up with another battering at Oldham, some of us were a little concerned, but with 44 games of the season left, there was no need to panic.

Tell me then, why are a section of the support calling for the head of Craig Short already? I mean, football management is hardly renowned for longevity, but seriously, TWO games? I don’t like criticising our fans generally, after all the pain that the team have caused us over the years, Notts fans are a special breed. However, there is a ‘spoilt child’ act amongst those demanding action from Ray Trew. Yes, we had a great year last season, and we haven’t made the best start this, but it is a more difficult league. As a result, it is a gradual process. If we were to sack our manager after TWO league games, no manager worth their salt would want the job.

I said myself that the priority at the start of the season is to stay in the division, and anything better than that is a bonus, and I stick by that. Yes, we’d all like back-to-back promotions, but compare where we are now to just two years ago. It’s a night and day comparison.

Of course, there are now some positives to talk about. Two rounds of the League Cup successfully negotiated, with a fantastic win away against Championship opposition last night, and two clean sheets. Add that to the first league win (albeit a scrappy one) against Dagenham on Saturday, and all of a sudden things are looking much better.

However, I see the vultures from the bigger clubs are circling around Meadow Lane, with Ben Davies their main target. If rumours are to be believed (I’ve never been a big one rumours, but this one certainly concerns me) a deal has been signed and ‘Super Ben’ is away up the A52. I really hope this is not the case, as this would be a massive backwards step.

OK, selling him would open up a fairly hefty transfer kitty for the club, but if we are to progress we need to keep our best players. I’ve never seen a player at Meadow Lane with the amount of ability Davies has on a dead ball, and we should be looking to build our side around him for a number of years. In my opinion, the £400,000 that has been quoted is pretty miserly, and I fail to see how we can both replace Davies and then strengthen the squad with that kind of money. I’d suggest it might take more cash than that to simply replace him.  However, I’m still hopeful that this rumour is simply that: a rumour.

Everything I’ve heard from Davies indicates he’s happy at Notts, and us fans certainly love him, so I’d like to think Mr Trew will give the Derby approach the dismissal it deserves. The quicker this transfer window slams shut the better.

OK, I admit it. This blog is going to be a ‘filler’ piece because I have absolutely nothing to say about the dire Uruguay v France game, and didn’t really catch the opener to the World Cup. I may follow this with a post on England and my predictions for tomorrow, but first I feel the need to concentrate on my club teams, Celtic and Notts County. Bizarrely, and for the first time ever, I can do that in the same post.

Both sides have now appointed new managers. Both managers have appointed club legends with very little management experience. Both clubs are looking to appoint an experienced technical director to aid the young ‘gaffers’. And both sides can be tied to Sol Campbell over the past 12 months.

Now I’ve had a chance to get used to both appointments, I’m actually getting excited. I was a little disappointed about both initially as I’m always one of those annoying fans who calls for an “experienced head”. Indeed, I can be a little cynical at times, and I had questioned the ambition of both clubs with their choice of managers. However, I’ve since changed my tune.

Craig Short should be great for Notts, and Notts should be great for him. He is clearly ambitious, knows the club very well and has the basics of a decent squad already. The news that Stephen Hunt, Craig Westcarr and Mike Edwards have all signed new deals is good news, as is the earlier contract signed by Lee Hughes. Then there is a good young goalkeeper in Rob Burch lined up from Lincoln, and with a little wheeling-and-dealing, ‘Shorty’ should find a really good squad in front of him come pre-season.

Then there is Celtic. In those last eight matches of the season, Neil Lennon brought fire to the belly of a Celtic squad that had rolled over and died under Tony Mowbray. Of course, ‘Lenny’ is Celtic through-and-through, and he is well aware of the players at the club who have no right to pull on the Hoops. A new manager might have needed a few months to discover who was deadwood, but make no mistake about it, Lennon already knows and is planning on squad surgery even as I write this.

Both clubs are shopping in very different markets ahead of very different seasons, but both clubs are at an important precipice. For Notts, surely the priority is staying in League One, although Short will be pushing for much more, as will Mr Trew. Indeed, I’m hopeful that with a couple of decent signings (such as Lee Trundle, who is being widely touted as a candidate) that we may nick a play-off spot.

For Celtic, however, only one thing will do. The SPL title is the absolute minimum on Lennon’s list, and the board must back him with the cash to deliver it. Indeed, I’ve suggested on this blog that he should take the £10m for McGeady and buy two quality central defenders and a midfielder, trusting in the fitness of Shaun Maloney and Paddy McCourt next season. I’m even cautiously optimistic about the news of Sol Campbell’s signing (although I say that through gritted teeth after his debacle at Meadow Lane) and the thought of Keane or Bellamy back at Parkhead has put a smile back on my face.

Fingers crossed that smile is enhanced by a couple of exciting signings at both Meadow Lane and Celtic Park in the next couple of weeks. Failing that, Rangers and Forest going bust would be equally acceptable…

An update

April 14, 2010

Once again, please accept my apologies for the delay in posting. I’d like to say that the major reason was due to work commitments, but if I did I’d be lying. Other than a few games worth of commentary, I haven’t really got an excuse other than my addiction to Football Manager 2010 (but don’t tell the wife!)

So a lot has happened since I last posted, at both Celtic Park and Meadow Lane. Since I’m feeling optimistic today, I’ll start with Notts.

Steve Cotterill’s appointment has quite simply been inspired. The side seem to be much more secure at the back, and have only conceded in two of his games (Bournemouth and Lincoln) and have scored 24 goals. After a long, controversial and emotionally draining season, promotion is all but assured. Good times.

Now, we have to hope that the players can keep the run going and secure the championship, although if I’m honest that’s just a bonus as far as I’m concerned. Promotion was the only thing that really mattered. However, I’m sure we would all be disappointed if we missed out on the trophy after coming so far.

My eyes are already drifting towards the Summer, where I’m certain we will see the new chairman look to address the club’s bank balance. The sale of Kasper Schmeichel will go a long way towards this, as will getting his £18k a week off the wage bill. That being said, I am pleased with the news that both Hughes and Davies will be staying at Meadow Lane. I’m also certain Steve Cotterill will have his eyes on several targets once the embargo has been lifted, so overall I think we’re in for an exciting few months, before we even consider the World Cup!

All I will say is that if my contact near to the chairman is to be believed, we may see a couple of ‘ambitious’ summer signings. Anyway, I’ll worry about that in a few weeks, as we have a party to enjoy first.

As always, I will see you on the Kop.

Again, apologies for the delay on this post. My time last week was spent researching for my Asian Champions League commentary, and although I was following the Notts news closely, I never quite got a chance to blog on it.

Like most Notts fans, I was absolutely delighted by the news that we have avoided administration. Even though I have a contact close to Trew, when the news broke we were as much as £6m in debt I was fearing the worst. However, last week’s news really did bring a smile to my face, and I was also greatly heartened by the appointment of Steve Cotterill. Although Cotterill has been out of the game for a couple of years, he has pedigree at this level, having earned promotion with Cheltenham, and already I’ve been impressed by his enthusiasm.

The best thing about this appointment is that it allows Dave Kevan to go back to his number two role, something he was adamant he wanted to do, and also provides the squad with a real lift. The effects of this lift were there to see for us on Saturday, and the 5-0 victory over Hereford was greatly deserved.

Even without Hughes we never looked in danger of getting beaten, and this spirit should galvanise us for the rest of the season. It is of great credit to the players and the coaching staff that Notts are in the position we are despite the troubles of the season, and now I am extremely hopeful that Cotterill will see us over the finish line.

With up to five games in hand on some of the clubs around us, plus most of the sides around us still to come to Meadow Lane (Rochdale, Bournemouth, Bury, Rotherham and Chesterfield are the ones that stand out) we’ve got a hell of a chance at automatic promotion.

I’m also going to take this opportunity to talk again about Ray Trew. Despite a few ridiculous comments I’ve read on the Nottingham Evening Post site, I feel Trew deserves real credit for his stance. His actions not only benefit the club on the pitch as we don’t lose the 10 points, but they benefit the businesses who have supported us in the past.

I’m personally pleased that a deal with the rugby club has been reached, despite the potential damage to our pitch, too. The last thing I wanted were for the actions of Notts to kill off Nottingham Rugby Club, so the news that the Green and Whites will share Meadow Lane is good news all round. Not only does it settle one of Notts’ many debts, but it also allows the rugby club to build for the future.

I also read a few comments criticising the fact we will undoubtedly sell off some of the top-earners in the Summer, in particularly Kasper Schmeichel. Depending on what paper you read, Kasper is on up to £18k a week, and despite how disappointed we will be to lose him, that his just not sustainable at League 2, or even League 1 level. Indeed, £18k is probably the entire wage-budget at many clubs in this division, so to spend it one player is quite simply frightening.

I’d suggest we just enjoy having him at the club until the summer, hopefully thank him for his part in achieving promotion, and then wish him all the best for the rest of his career.

However, fingers crossed that Cotterill will be able to keep the likes of Hughes and Davies with promotion, and the promise of stability. But I’m not going to get ahead of myself, we have to win promotion first. Instead, I’d like to wish Cotterill all the best in his new job, and get right behind the boys.

Hopefully, we can roar the team up the league, starting against Macclesfield tomorrow night. Once again, I’ll see you on the Kop.

So that’s it then. Sven Goran Eriksson has left Notts County following Ray Trew’s acquisition of the club on Friday, waiving his right to £2.4m in the process. What has been the most controversial period in our club’s history has come to an end, and with it our Premiership dream, just a little over 6 months after it began.

In the cold light of day, the whole sorry scenario was little short of an elaborate scam. The ‘billions of pounds’ that the so-called group were to invest were not there, and in all reality, never were going to be there. It seems that the players were lied to, Sven was lied to, and most importantly of all, the fans were lied to.

There are all kinds of issues here to asses, and one of the most important ones must be the ‘fit and proper persons’ test that the Football League require all club owners to pass. Now we all know it was difficult for the owners to get the takeover ratified, but I’d suggest the Football League need to cut red tape, and representatives need to be involved at the beginning of takeover deals. This way, new owners would be forced to show their hand right at the beginning of the takeover process, but at the same time would hopefully ensure that no more clubs are thrown to the wolves. The current system seems to allow too much to go the way of chance, and even if the Football League is suspicious, the time window ratification requires can leave many clubs in limbo.

Now Sven has left the club, his first instinct has been to talk to the journalist who has been most keen to unravel the mess at Meadow Lane, a man who had previously irked him, The Guardian’s Matt Scott. In this interview, Scott has suggested that Eriksson leaves Notts County with his reputation damaged. Personally, I disagree. Sven’s reputation took a battering after his time with England, but at Notts he has been a gentleman. He could have walked away several times, but chose not to. He had the right to a multi-million pound pay-off, which he waived. And most importantly of all, he genuinely cared about the football club. His only fault was being too trusting, but on the face of it, who wouldn’t want the chance to transform a small club into European contenders. Indeed, as fans how many of us dream of a Euro Millions win and the opportunity to do just that?

Peter Trembling has also come under fire, and his acumen as a businessman is being questioned. I’d suggest he was simply duped by a friend he had known for ’10 years’ (Nathan Willet) and because of his past relationship, he naïvely believed a friend’s word. I’d like to believe there was no malicious undercurrent in his intentions, something which is backed up by his reported £500,000 loss from his venture.

According to Trembling, Munto invested just £50,000 in their time at the club. However, they had promised to pay the players wages (which were ‘vastly over’ the 60% of the club’s turn-over wage cap installed by the Football League). It seems the only way the club could pay these wages were to stop paying bills, and by using the club’s assets. It is little wonder then that we find ourselves with £4m worth of debt.

But in this ultra-capitalist era of English football, Notts are not alone in the financial wilderness. Indeed, I’ll go into finances in more detail in one of my next entries. However, we should be thankful for the investment we have received this week.

I’m lucky enough to have a contact close to the new owner Ray Trew, and feel vastly reassured by his influence. Indeed, he is an ambitious man, who has his sights set on the Championship in three years, and part of that plan involves promotion this year. I’m also of the understanding that providing his accountants don’t discover too much more debt (ie the debt is under £5m) the club will avoid administration, something which should be music to our ears.

Indeed, even the involvement of Jim Rodwell, a man previously connected with Boston United, does not concern me. The man is involved solely as a mouth-piece for Trew, who is notoriously camera shy. Rodwell has no real power, and as such, his previous experiences are irrelevent.

All-in-all, I’m optimistic that come May we’ll still be celebrating promotion. However, we’ll also have a club built on stable ground, away from the quick sand base Munto left behind. Hopefully, the boys will welcome the new owners to the club with a performance against Fulham tomorrow.

A fitting way to end Sven’s time with us, and who knows, the possibility of a place in the sixth round of the Cup.

“Wembley, Wembley…”

Good news for Notts fans at last. In a story I have been personally close to (you won’t believe how difficult it’s been to keep this quiet for a fortnight!) Notts County are set to be taken over by former Lincoln City chairman Ray Trew.

The deal is believed to have cost Mr Trew just a pound, and the investment will clear all the club’s debts.

It would appear that Mr Trew is in the club for the long term. The 55 year-old, who is based in Lincoln, released the following statement.

“I know fans have been hoping for a miracle investor who will spend an astronomical amount of money for a shortcut into the Premier League. Our vision is not for the short term but for the long term. Notts County Football Club is in a difficult financial position. We are here to make sure that in the short term the situation is resolved to provide a platform for the club to move forwards in the long term.”

In other words, the priority of the club is no longer the Premiership. Instead, the chairman wants to ensure we have a club to support in 2, 5 and 10 years time.

My source close to Mr Trew suggests that the quotes attributed to him in the Times are untrue. However, we are inevitably going to see speculation on the future again of Sven Goran Eriksson. Although I do not have any definitive proof, my instinct suggests Sven will leave the club, and in the Summer we may lose our big earners such as Kasper Schmeichel and Lee Hughes. That being said, there’s a fair chance they will leave us a division higher than we are now.

Now as fans we may have to rein our ambitions in, but it at least looks like our debts of approximately £4m will be cleared, and the future of our club secured. And if we achieve our aim of promotion, we’ll at least have League One football at Meadow Lane.

A consolation prize, maybe, but our club exists. Whilst Munto Finance burns, Notts County FC lives on. And that, my friends, is far more important than ‘chasing the dragon’ of the Premiership.

Chin, chin.