County ‘Til I Die - My Notts memories

Published: 19/09/2023 12:06

Author: Oliver Heathcote

Looking back on the last 16 years of my life of being a Notts fan, it has been a rollercoaster of a ride with varying emotions along the way. I was brought up as a Notts fan following the influence from my dad. Growing up alongside my mates and asking who they support, the replies are mostly the same. “Man United”, “Chelsea”, “Arsenal” were the common ones. Then they ask “So, who do you support Ollie?”. Filled with pride, I reply “Notts County”. I can recall my five year old self speaking to my school teacher about Notts County’s matches. I was obsessed to say the least. 

The headteacher then calls me into his office. “Am I in trouble sir?”, with a worried look on my face. “No” he replied, continuing to explain “I wanted to give you a matchday programme from an old QPR vs Notts County game. Hope you like it”. I was ecstatic. Mr Heasman his name was. A massive Queens Park Rangers fan who always had time for me to speak about my beloved club.

My first game at the game couldn’t have been timed any better after seeing Notts score 5 against Cheltenham in that infamous 2010 season. Seeing John Thompson lift that trophy was the best feeling for myself and was buzzing to speak about this to both my family and school. The atmosphere was electric. Seeing that many fans try to do the Lee Hughes celebration (which I still cannot do), it seemed as if the only way was up. Next stop League One.

League One was another fantastic moment of my life, pretending like I was Mike Edwards in defence and Alan Judge in attack. That enjoyment was shorted lived, although we narrowly avoided relegation in 2013/14. The following season, we were relegated in 2014/15, away to Gillingham. Safe to say I was heartbroken. I had never experienced relegation before with Notts County until then. We needed to make a swift return to League One and I did not know how we were going to do it.

So back to League 2 we went. I am sure Notts were one of the favourites to go up for multiple seasons. However, I felt that being in League 2 was a good level to rebuild in hope of progressing up the leagues. A couple of years later was our chance in the playoffs against Coventry in the 17/18 season. Having to rush out of school to get to Meadow Lane early, I was filled with hope after holding the Sky Blues to a 1-1 draw in the first leg. Unfortunately, a fast start from Coventry sent them 2-0 up before Jorge Grant pulled a goal back before half time. I thought we had drawn level following Jonathan Forte’s header, sending the Kop into raptures. This was only to  be cancelled out by the linesman, signalling an offside. Coventry went on to win 4-1 and progress to the playoff final. Shocked, annoyed, saddened I was. However, there were obvious signs that we were improving.

The 2018/19 season was definitely a season to forget, once again being tipped to go up. The optimism was there, but results were just not in our favour. However, from January onwards I started to believe we could stay up again. Stevenage away was a personal highlight, as I led the Magpies out onto the Lamex Stadium pitch as mascot. Although a part of the other team, Boro record appearance holder Ronnie Henry had sorted this unforgettable experience out for me- his son being and still is one of my best mates. I couldn’t believe what I was watching from the Stevenage end. 3-0 to Notts at half time and we continued to believed. Following this euphoria, the darkest moment in the club’s history happened.

I was in Norfolk celebrating my Grandad’s 60th birthday, watching Soccer Saturday. This was when the nerves truly kicked in. I remember running around the room when Kane Hemmings fired home a penalty. Eventually, we capitulated meaning Notts County Football Club were no longer “The Oldest Professional Football League Club”. A rebuild was needed and a return to the football league was the main priority.

Following the takeover of the Reedtz brothers, Notts began their climb, in hope of an instant return. However, lockdown struck and we were unable to watch any form of football. This was a tough moment for all. Once we had got back to playing again, Notts made the playoffs every season of participating in the National League. However failure to secure promotion was the outcome. Although devastating, I believed that these losses were learning experiences and a return to the Football League would not be far away.

After Ardley and Burchnall left during our tenure, there was deliberation as to who was going to be the manager to finally take us up. The announcement of Luke Williams shortly followed and I was interested as to what he would implement. After a few games, I could see why he was brought in. It was some of the best football I have ever witnessed from County. The season progressed, with the long-awaited clash of the top two awaiting in April this year. Once again it ended in disappointment. I said after the game “winning the league is boring, the playoffs will be worth it”.

It soon came around, and after watching the eliminator at the Hive between Barnet and Boreham Wood, I fancied our chances massively. Sacrificing playing my football match because I was “ill”, I made the early 2 hour trip to Meadow Lane with a place at Wembley at stake. We dominated the early stages but could not find way through Boreham Wood’s defence. By half time, I felt the same feeling I had been feeling with Notts for 8 years: disappointment.

Baldwin pulled an early goal back and we were seriously pushing for an equaliser. Then the pivotal moment came when Ruben Rodrigues was tripped in the box by George Broadbent. Out came my phone, ready to video the potential equaliser from the spot. His effort was saved and I was unhappy to say the least. It looked as if it was all over. The 96th minute approached where Baldwin turned the ball into the back of the net. I was unbelievably happy. However, extra time was looming and we needed a winner.

Up stepped Jodi Jones with a fantastic strike to send us to Wembley. I had lost my voice at this point and could not believe it. After years of disappointment and heartbreak, Notts finally made it to Wembley. The following football training session after, my manager figured out that I was not actually ill, but he said to me “I don’t blame you, I would’ve done the same thing.”

It was an early start for me as I got on the train with my dad, brother and a few mates to the home of English football. Many times in the past my dad tells me his experiences of the Division 2 playoff final against Brighton in 1993. This time, I was able to take in the amazing view of the arch. And what a day out it was. We spent pre match in the fan-zone before heading to our seats; the vibe around the place was buzzing. 

The playoff final was one of the most nerve-wracking games I have ever watched with a mixture of emotions during the game. However, no matter the outcome of the result, I was proud of every single person who contributed to the historic season. Having to fight back twice was incredibly pleasing to watch for a neutral. Both sets of fans were spectacular in urging their team onto the final whistle. Then came the dreaded penalty shootout.

The penalty shootout was the difference between gaining promotion and losing out, however I was confident in Notts. It seemed like it was our season with the record points total and the record goals in a season by Langstaff. After 2 magnificent saves from Archie Mair, it just seemed that it was going to be our day. The responsibility laid with Bostock who attempted an audacious panenka which struck the crossbar. Despite the minor set back and Quigley scoring his penalty, it was a redemption story for Cedwyn Scott who sent us back into the football league. Promotion had never tasted so sweet and it was probably the best moment of supporting Notts during my lifetime. 

Fast forward to present day where we are now back into League 2, showcasing our fantastic play style and progressing week on week. I could not be prouder to support this football club. Although there have been bumps in the road, Notts County have and will always be a special club for me. This leaves me with 4 words left to say…