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Magpie Memories: The Colin Slater Interview

Joe Jones

It’s hard work being a Notts County fan. This isn’t just an opinion – a poll back in 2007 officially crowned the Magpies as the most stressful club to support in the Football League. Financial troubles, relegation battles, backroom changes – and this is just the last few years.

Thank goodness, then, for the calming influence of Colin Slater. The Notts County correspondent for BBC Radio Nottingham has commentated on Magpies games for the past half-century, his dulcet tones interwoven within the very fabric of the club.

What few people know, however, is that The Voice of Notts County could have so easily become The Voice of Bradford City. Colin was born and raised in Shipley, West Yorkshire, and the Bantams were the first football club he followed.

“I was first taken to football aged nine by my dad and I can remember the game against Barnsley at Valley Parade,” he says, sipping a mug of coffee on a warm spring’s day in West Bridgford’s Café Nero.

The young Colin knew from an early age that he wanted to be a journalist, recalling a civic occasion in Shipley’s town square where he noticed the local press reporting on the event from a vantage point.

He proclaims with pride: “That set me thinking that, if journalists get such a good view, that’s what I want to do because that’s where I want to be!”

Colin carried this ambition with him throughout his formative years, getting a job at the Shipley Guardian after finishing his secondary education at Belle Vue Grammar School – which also taught literary genius John Boynton “JB” Priestley – and, within a few years, becoming the newspaper’s editor.

So, how did he find himself in Nottingham, a city with which he had no prior connection? The answer is as honest as it is pragmatic. “I stayed at the Shipley Guardian for nine years, which was perhaps too long. I wanted a change, and the best offer I got was in Nottingham.”

His role at the now-defunct Nottingham Evening News was twofold – he would be the newspaper’s local affairs correspondent as well as being responsible for Notts County coverage. But his lack of familiarity with the Magpies led to him needing a crash course prior to starting work.

“I had just three weeks between moving to Nottingham and getting to know Notts County’s players, officials, and directors before covering my first game!”

After cutting his teeth for nine years covering the Magpies in print format, Colin moved to BBC Radio Nottingham to provide live audio commentary for his newly adopted team, and the rest, as they say, is history.

One of the most notable things about Colin’s presence on the radio is just how well spoken he is. The word “gentlemanly” springs to mind. Bafflingly, some people have accused him of being “posh” and “privileged” – and this accusation angers him no end, especially because it brings back tragic memories.

Colin explains: “I started my working life on 30 shillings a week – £1.50 in today’s currency. So I get a bit riled when anyone thinks I must have been born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I wasn’t, because my dad, who was a great hero figure to me, died when I was 14, so I know what it’s like to lose my father at a young age and start work fresh out of school for little money. Hardly a gilded sort of life, was it?”

The veteran broadcaster also opens up about Jimmy Sirrell, undoubtedly the greatest Magpies manager of all time, and reminisces about an encounter he had with him following their 2-0 win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in May 1981 – a result which saw Notts promoted to the old First Division.

“I went into the players’ dressing room to have a glass of champagne, and Jack Dunnett, the chairman, came in and invited me up to the boardroom. Jimmy eventually came in and asked if my friend – who drove us down to the game – and I were stopping on the way back. I said yes, then asked him if he was going to stop anywhere.”

Colin laughs, then adopts a Scottish brogue: “His reply was, “Aye! We’re going to stop at the first shop I see which is open, I’m going to get the biggest tin of glue that they sell, and I’m going to keep the players’ feet on the ground!”

As heart-warming as those memories are, there is also an element of melancholy and sadness attached, as virtually no fan under the age of 30 is likely to remember these long-forgotten halcyon days. The Magpies were relegated from the top flight in 1992 and it’s been nothing but slim pickings since, with little more than a half-decent cup run now and then and a fourth tier championship to make up for perpetual strife, anxiety and relegation battles in the lower reaches of the Football League.

And Colin believes the fans should not put up with it any longer: “The ground they have, the tradition they have, the great players they’ve had down the years, all demands that Notts should be in the Championship, and it’s against that yardstick that they will be judged, whoever the manager is and whoever comprises the board of directors. It has to be their target to get back there…” and he makes a point of enunciating each and every letter, “ASAP!”

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Pride of Nottingham is an independent fansite devoted to Notts County, the world’s oldest professional football club. Created in 2013, it has served as a source of Magpie news, features, match previews, reports, analysis and interviews for more than three years.

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