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Simon Clark

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Simon Clark last won the day on November 14 2019

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  1. What a contrast to our previous regimes. For all his rights and wrongs – and I think there were more rights over his tenure – Ray Trew found it difficult to stay away from social media and club message boards, often falling into the trap of over promising some new signing. He also seemed pretty keen to hit the fire button as the revolving door rarely slowed down on the manager’s office. Then, of course, we had the ego which took the club out of the league and almost out of existence, alienating our closest neighbours and making the club a laughing stock while retaining the trigger happy nature of hire and fire. What we needed is exactly what we have now – stability and a great relationship between owners and manager. They’re putting no pressure on Neal Ardley and that must be a great situation for him, allowing him and his staff to look on a longer term basis than most managers are allowed. In fact, they haven’t really said a lot at all, so maybe the things they haven’t said are quite interesting: - They’ve not shouted about any ‘game-changing’ new signings - They’ve not made outlandish predictions of where we’ll be in 5 years - They’ve not been critical of any other team or organisation - They’ve talked up how good we are They have: - Stayed in the background - Provided steady hands while bringing the club under control - Given good, honest answers in the few interviews they’ve done Of those rare interviews, they actually seem quite reluctant to garner publicity for themselves – how about that for club owners?! I enjoyed listening to them on Radio Red not so long ago. A half hour chat, thoughtful, constructive and a great insight into how they work. What I found interesting was that they seem to have a great relationship with Ardley and view changing the manager as a last resort. From studies they’ve done, they’ve identified that it often doesn’t work, so things will have to go pretty badly for the axe to fall, and that stability must be a better place for the club. So often you see a change of manager followed by wholesale changes in the squad. I’m a big believer that it takes a good 2 or 3 transfer windows before a manager can call the squad his own so unless it’s going badly wrong, give the guy time. Another thing we need to do, and it’s great that they are so open about it, is that the manager has to be willing to work with them, using data as part of the process to sign someone. We’ll probably never know how they do it, what info they look at, etc, but you know that some managers would rebel against that and class that as boardroom interference, so the manager needs to see this as a tool to help him. Brentford brought out a similar process a while ago and Mark Warburton immediately announced he would leave the club, although he did see out the season. When Leicester City won the Premier League, 2 of their best players were Mahrez and Kante, plucked from Le Havre and Caen respectively. I remember reading that both players came onto their radar because of data they’d used – how far they ran during games, how many tackles, etc. That was followed up by watching them play, but it wasn’t just a gut instinct, as so much recruitment seems to be. In fact, I can see this being the way things move in the future and I’m certain the big clubs use this and have been for some time. We’re lucky to have these guys in charge and I hope they stay a good long time. It could be a real success story of how we appeared to be on the brink of liquidation and ended up with a stable, successful club. You never know, it could be a blueprint for other clubs to follow. Share your thoughts about this feature article on Pride of Nottingham by signing up to the website, visiting the forum and joining in the chat with hundreds of fellow Notts County fans. Fancy showcasing your brand or business on Pride of Nottingham? Click here to find out more about sponsorship and advertising opportunities with us.
  2. I should nail my colours to the mast before we start here. I’m firmly on the side of ‘Ardley In’. In the last 10 years we’ve had 15 managers and he’s only the third to last over a year. In that time, we’ve been to the brink of League One play offs and now face our first season in non-league, having to qualify for the FA Cup proper and making our first appearance in the FA Trophy. We will never prove this, but in my mind one of the reasons for that is the lack of stability caused by changing manager so many times. When a new one comes in, they inevitably want their own players which means a year or two of upheaval and wages being wasted on players who don’t have a prayer of getting in the team. So, how do I see his first 12 months? Let’s face it, Ardley took over a club in turmoil. We were in a mess, sacking our second manager of the season just 3 months in and an owner who was becoming a laughing stock. Little did we realise how much worse it would become. Many’s the time Ardley must have wished he was back on holiday, or at home with his family, and most Notts fans were grateful that he came to try to rescue us. At that time, though, I don’t think most of us actually thought we would go down. It looked bad, but there was plenty of the season left. Lots of points to play for, we’d never been out of the league, there are plenty of clubs smaller than us and in trouble, so surely we’d be able to get our way out of it? 5 points from his first 4 games gave us hope but it was almost 2 months until we won again, and I think that period is what ultimately cost us, especially the home defeat to a Macclesfield side which looked a whole lot more fired up that we did, and tore us apart at times, albeit only winning by 1 goal. Good business was done in January, but late, and who can blame players for not wanting to commit to us early. Another false dawn with 7 points in 3 games against promotion chasing sides made us think the new blood was what we needed, and those games certainly showed they had the ability, so why didn’t we get more out of them? Ardley gets a lot of criticism for being negative, and did often set up with 7 or 8 defensive minded players but was that because of circumstances? I’d have like to see us go at teams a bit more, but he’s quite right that if we did that and found ourselves 2 down inside 15 minutes, the game had gone. Over the summer he had every right and every chance to walk away, and many would have done. That he stayed is something all Notts fans should appreciate. Not only did he stay, but he somehow managed to recruit the basis of a squad despite rumours of the club being sold to property developers, wages not being paid and a very real chance that the club would fold during the closed season due to unpaid tax bills. And we were under a transfer embargo! Naturally the start of this season was tough, disjointed and scrappy, but we still had a club and hope once again. The same criticisms rose again, that he didn’t motivate the team, they made too many errors and weren’t attacking enough, but a run of 2 defeats in 14 games while playing twice a week with a new squad was surely more than we were entitled to even hope for when most of us just wanted to survive in the league this season? Ardley must take a lot of credit for raising those expectations and faces the backlash when we stumble. We’re about to enter a great part of the season in a position. far better than most of dared hope for. Within touching distance of the play offs, a settled squad, great owners and (whisper it) stability within the club. Let’s not spoil it. Share your thoughts about this feature article on Pride of Nottingham by signing up to the website, visiting the forum and joining in the chat with hundreds of fellow Notts County fans. Fancy showcasing your brand or business on Pride of Nottingham? Click here to find out more about sponsorship and advertising opportunities with us.
  3. Michael Doyle 1,2,3,4……… A man who has certainly divided opinion, if a scan through social media is anything to go by. The main signing of the January transfer window, and the man touted to keep our Football League status, he made the perfect start by led by example as Notts won 7 points in his first 3 games, all against promotion chasing sides. We all know what happened after that and, in my opinion, he tried to do too much, taking all the set pieces (not particularly well, either) and not giving other players the space to operate. At the time, I would have been quite happy if he’d left during the summer. After all, why would we want a 38 year old who had hardly set League 2 alight in the final 14 games of a relegation season. I felt the same after the opening game of this season when an indifferent performance was capped by a thoughtless sending off as we were trying to get back into the game at Eastleigh - a straight red, 3 match ban, lack of discipline. With hindsight, I think that could be a turning point in his spell with us. Let’s face it, as a 38 year old, it won’t be a long playing spell but for me, he would now be the first name on the team sheet. Since coming back, it seems to me as if he has accepted he can’t do everything and is happy to be the conductor of the band. We have some excellent players for this level, and Doyle’s experience is vital. We hear about ‘game management’. Well this guy knows how to do that. As captain, he’s often in the ref’s ear to make sure he knows what’s going on and to stand up for his team mates against what may appear over aggressive treatment. His work rate is still second to none, but Ardley may need to manage his load over the season, although seeing red for the second time and getting a 4 match ban may actually help as he’s already sat out 7 games. And it may just have hit home to Doyle that he has a limited career and can’t afford to sit out too many more games. With over 700 appearances to his name in professional football, young players coming through can’t fail to learn from him and in the absence of Jim O’Brien, Doyle’s performances seem to have got better and better as he takes on the responsibility of being Ardley’s voice on the field. His influence was hugely noticeable in the recent game against Dagenham & Redbridge when he returned from suspension, coming off the bench as the visitors were taking control of the game and our one goal lead looked precarious. We were looking hesitant at the back, over-playing and inviting trouble. Doyle immediately took charge and there was a noticeable increase in energy from the moment he entered the field. His first thought was to get the ball away from our goal as quickly as possible, always into areas where the visiting defence had to turn and chase thereby giving us time to reorganise, and often giving us chance to launch a counter attack. What happens next? I’m sure he has some influence on the training pitch now, but is coaching something for him in due course? And, to contrast with my feelings last summer, I’d be sorry to see him leave. Share your thoughts about this feature article on Pride of Nottingham by signing up to the website, visiting the forum and joining in the chat with hundreds of fellow Notts County fans. Fancy showcasing your brand or business on Pride of Nottingham? Click here to find out more about sponsorship and advertising opportunities with us.
  4. The National League, cha cha cha…….. 10 games in, and what do we think? I guess to keep thing in perspective, we need to look at the starting position, let’s say the end of July. A week before the season started and you should be organised, settled and ready. At that time, Notts still had an owner who was more famous for accidentally putting a picture of his genitals on social media than anything he’d done in football, hadn’t paid the wages for 2 months, we under a transfer embargo and were in ready danger of being liquidated. Now, when a team is relegated they are very rarely in a good position. When a team is relegated from the EFL, it is usually worse due to the nature of dropping out of the league. When that club has been in the Football League since day 1 and was pre-season favourites for promotion, you can only imagine the disarray behind the scenes. For some inexplicable reason (maybe punters having a real gamble?), the bookies had Notts as pre-season favourites to win the league – equal with Chesterfield and more of them later. As we know, Notts were rescued by new owners who seem content to stay behind the scenes, and I’m happy with that. I’m sure they’re watching, taking it all in, and will impose their own personalities on the club, but there’s nothing wrong with taking a little time. A lot of new faces came in. Not quite as drastic as it sounds because somehow, the management were able to get some of these to train and play over the summer while the club was on a knife edge. But still a massive overhaul as the season was starting. I’ve watched an awful lot of non-league football over the years, having covered Grantham Town home and away for local media for around 15 years and I was one of those people who really thought there was very little difference between League 2 and National League. Having seen 7 of our first 10 games, I think I was way off the mark. We expected officials to be worse, that’s natural, but it almost seems as if they have different rule sometimes. The game is a lot more physical and they let more go unpunished. We need to get to grips with that and do the same. The quality is not good at all. We’ve played 6 of last season’s top 10 and, Wrexham apart, they have been functional and effective teams and I’ve not seen anyone better than Notts. (I didn’t see the Harrogate game) Let me be clear, I’m enjoying Non-league. I didn’t want it, I don’t want it, and I want to get back into League Two as soon as possible, but I’m enjoying the experience. It’s seems more relaxed, less confrontational. It also really makes you appreciate the stadium and facilities we have at Notts! 6 weeks ago, most fans were saying they’d just be happy to survive, to have a club to watch and success this season would be finishing one place above relegation. That seems to have changed very quickly for some, and we’ve had fans getting on players’ backs inside the first 15 minutes of a game. The team has been booed off at half time and the end of games. There’s been plenty of patronising comments about other clubs. My own view? I’m willing to give Neal Ardley time, but the start has been frustrating. For a manager and assistant with around 1,000 appearances in League football between them, the defending seems to have stood still. We give away far too many goals from unchallenged headers in the area, especially from set prices when we’ve had time to organise. The set up seems more concerned around keeping things tight rather than putting the other team under pressure. For example, watch Dion Kelly-Evans. He’s a player I really like, he doesn’t stop working and is hard to beat. However, he seems terrified of crossing the halfway line while in possession. With the ball at his feet, he looks for a square pass inside rather than running into space ahead of him, time and time again, and it’s so predictable. I appreciate that the club has been through a torrid few months and I have patience, but I’d love Ardley to set up as if he has belief in his players. If we went for the opposition from the first whistle, I’m sure there are some games which would see us take early control of the game and then we can grow into the league. Yes, there are games it may not work, but at the moment I feel there are plenty of chances to win going begging. We could (should) have beaten Ebbsfleet comfortably, and with a bit more positivity could have taken wins from Solihull, Sutton and maybe even Eastleigh. How do we sit compared to other favourites? Fellow title favourites with the bookies, Chesterfield, have failed to live up to expectations and sit bottom of the table without a win. Wrexham, 4th last season and also a pre-season favourite, have made a slow start and are sitting in 18th, a point behind Notts with a game in hand as are big spending Fylde (5th last season) in 20th place. All in all, I think we’re taking time to adjust to the league but there are signs that it’s not a million miles away. 1 defeat in 7 games is certainly a move in the right direction and a win or two extra would have made everyone feel that bit better. But to the complainers, just remember how close you were to a season without a club then watching Notts AFC in Step 7 against the likes of Linby Colliery and Mansfield Hosiery Mills. Share your thoughts about this vlog on Pride of Nottingham by signing up to the website, visiting the forum and joining in the chat with hundreds of fellow Notts County fans. Fancy showcasing your brand or business on Pride of Nottingham? Click here to find out more about sponsorship and advertising opportunities with us.
  5. It’s certainly a fact that a toxic atmosphere within a ground has a negative effect on performances, we only have to remember back to the brief tenure of Jamie Fullarton. At that time, it felt as if a reasonable number of fans were turning up wanting us to lose. Now, I’m not suggesting that was the case this season. In fact, quite the opposite as I think our supporters – in the main – have been really supportive and patient, far more than the performances have deserved. It’s an expensive hobby to follow a football team. Even if you only watch home games, it’s approaching £500 a year when you add in travel costs and maybe the occasional cuppa. For those who go away, it must be getting on for £2,000 as a season or even more, and that’s not including any overnight stays. We don’t do it for glory, this is Notts and anyone who does this for glory must have started watching at a very narrow point in our history. However, most of us have pride in the club. Or at least have had pride in the club until the recent past. Incidents such as that infamous photo accidentally published on Twitter, boardroom resignations and plenty more have made Notts fans an easy target for friends and colleagues who follow other teams. Hopefully, we’re very close to new ownership now and we can look for closure on a period of the club’s history which will make a fascinating read should Charlie Slater, Jon Stead or anyone else with inside info over that period choose to write it in the future. Regardless of what happens next season, it’ll be the lowest position the club has ever ended a season so what can the new owners do to help restore some pride and let fans hold their heads up high again? Here are some ideas, in no particular order... - Remember that you are only custodians of the club. At some point, you’ll move on. Every player who is currently at the club, will move on. I dare say some fans will also move on, but the vast majority will still be here long after you and everyone else has forgotten about us. Fans will pass the love onto their sons and daughters, they are the lifeblood of the club and they are the basis for a successful future. Treat them as that, and not as customers buying a product. We can’t decide we want our product from somewhere else, it won’t happen. - Stay away from extravagant promises. We’ve had plenty of those. Not just Hardy, but Munto, etc. Be realistic, we’re happy with that. - Be professional. Don’t turn it into a circus. Yes, some attention can be good, it can get some TV money, it can promote the club, but it can also turn very quickly and bite you. - Don’t gamble big. The lower leagues are under a huge amount of pressure at the moment, just look at Macclesfield and Bury among others. The Premier League runs football, the EFL does an appalling job at looking after its members. They certainly won’t help us out if we get into trouble, so do all you can to keep us on an even keel. - Put your ego away, it’s not about you. If we get the rewards we all hope for, you’ll get the plaudits without needing to go looking for them. It’s a bit like being a referee, you often don’t notice the really good ones. - Appoint good people and let them get on with the jobs you’ve asked them to do. - Certainly create that environment where it’s an expectation that the players put in the same effort on a Saturday afternoon as we fans do during the week at our jobs. - Finally, be proud to own this fine club. Without a doubt, we’ve been through the mill in recent years. I think I read that we’ve been in a relegation battle for 13 of the last 16 years. But we have history. We have a great fanbase for a club at this level. It’s a great opportunity and we all hope to enjoy the ride. Share your thoughts about this feature article on Pride of Nottingham by signing up to the website, visiting the forum and joining in the chat with hundreds of fellow Notts County fans. Fancy showcasing your brand or business on Pride of Nottingham? Click here to find out more about sponsorship and advertising opportunities with us.
  6. I’m a huge fan of the work Jorge Grant did when he was on loan with us, and by all counts, he’s a genuinely nice bloke, which is great to hear. In 2016-17, when we were in trouble following the John Sheridan fiasco, he missed only 2 minutes of the last 15 games and was instrumental in pulling us away from trouble. In 2017-18, he played 21 full games (plus an 88 minute game) and came off the bench 5 times, scoring 14 times and making 5 assists as we took our place at the top of the league and had one foot in League One. Although I think Jon Stead’s role in this is vastly under-rated. He’s one of the most intelligent footballers at this level, and some of the runs he made took defenders out of the way to create space for Grant to run into. And this is where the huge January love in doesn’t fit with me. And, as far as Forest fans are concerned, they punished us by sending Grant to Mansfield. But is that right? Let’s look at what he’s done when put under real pressure and you need to roll your sleeves up and fight. The final 19 games of that season produced just one goal and one assist as we slipped out of the reckoning and hung on for a play off place. At the time needed big players to step up, he was one of the many who didn’t, starting just 12 of those games as his inconsistent form took its toll. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not singling him out or blaming him for what happened, but is he the man for the crisis we were in at the end of January? I’m sure he’ll do very well in a good League Two side, and his start at Mansfield has confirmed that. In a team which has a lot of the ball and a lot of pressure, with other attacking players to occupy defenders, he’s one of the best to take advantage of the space his teammates create. But is he any better than a good League Two player in a good League Two side? He’s 24 years old now, the days of having potential are slipping away. He’s not been part of a Forest matchday squad for 2 seasons and doesn’t seem close to it, while other young players are starting at that level and higher. He was given a chance in League One in the summer, and I thought Luton would be a good fit for him. An attacking side, plenty to occupy defences, and a manger who wants teams to play expansive football. And he did well initially, starting 12 of the first 15 League games of this season, as Luton made a solid start to life after promotion, finding themselves in 9th place at that point. Luton played 11 more league games before he returned to Forest. Of those 11 games, he wasn’t in the squad for 2 of them and an unused substitute for 5 of them. He came off the bench in 2 games, playing a total of 11 minutes and started the other two, coming off after just over an hour in each of them. At the end of that run, Luton were second. His start at Mansfield has confirmed my thoughts. His first 6 games brought 4 goals and 2 assists, missing only 3 minutes of football. But, in game seven at Meadow Lane when everyone needed to roll up their sleeves and battle for the cause, he flitted in and out, making some good runs and passes around the half way line but very little where it hurts the opposition. A lot of the credit for that is down to the way Notts played, of course, but with a reputation comes more attention and tighter marking. The really good players deal with that. When we’ve signed winners like Jim O’Brien and Michael Doyle, and the huge change in Enzio Boldewijn (who’d have thought he’d put an opposing player into the third row of the crowd?!), is there really room in our squad for a luxury? Share your thoughts about this feature article on Pride of Nottingham by signing up to the website, visiting the forum and joining in the chat with hundreds of fellow Notts County fans. Fancy showcasing your brand or business on Pride of Nottingham? Click here to find out more about sponsorship and advertising opportunities with us.

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