Twenty games into the season, things are looking pretty good for Notts County. Keith Curle’s team is currently in the play-off positions occupying sixth place, playing good football and with a goal difference of +12. The league, as per most years, is incredibly tight – only four points separate second from eighth, and Stevenage, our bogey team, are breathing right down our necks, so Notts must be careful.
Recent results, however, have been impressive – the number twenty once again of significance, relating to the number of consecutive unbeaten games played away from home – the 1-1 draw away against Rotherham at the New York Stadium ensures the continuation of this amazing run, and also means we get to know who the winner of this tie will play in the FA Cup Third Round. Meanwhile our win against promotion rivals Swindon at the Lane will hopefully mark the turning of a corner with regards to our relatively mediocre home form. Paolo Di Canio compared goalie Bartosz Bialkowski to legend Peter Schmeichel after his commanding display between the posts against the Robins, while the Irish Messi Alan Judge worked his magic once again to net the spectacular winner.
28th of November 2012 marked Notts County Football Club’s 150th birthday, and the club marked this occasion with a special celebration at the 1862 Suite, an event followed by the national press, in which Jimmy Sirrel, our finest ever manager, was the first inductee into the NCFC Hall of Fame.
150 years of emotions, highs and lows, ups and downs, many amazing occasions, some worrying times and some downright bad times. I’ve only supported Notts for around ten years but in that time alone I’ve experienced the amazing highs, such as the win against a Middlesbrough containing Robert Huth, Gaizka Mendieta and Mark Viduka in 2006, and being ten minutes away from winning against a stellar Manchester City side in 2011, who went on all the way to win the FA Cup, as well as lows. Nearly being relegated from the Football League altogether, the financial problems several years back – and the downright bizarre, such as Munto’s takeover and witnessing the likes of Kasper Schmeichel, Sol Campbell and Sven Goran Eriksson turning up at the Lane.
But it’s been a rollercoaster ride which I wouldn’t change for the world. There’s a picture on Facebook doing the rounds at the moment declaring that “if there are no ups and downs in your life, that means you’re dead”. If that’s the case, then nothing can make you feel more alive than being a Magpies fan, and I can vouch for that! Now here’s to many more years of Notts County Football Club, and let’s turn the amazing foundations we’ve built this season into something more concrete! Come on you Pies!
Written by Giuseppe Labellarte, We Are Going Up’s Notts County blogger
In football it is often said that players and managers should not return to their former clubs, for fear of an earlier successful spell being tainted if things went wrong. Bringing back a previously successful manager is usually something which appeases supporters – a romantic appointment if you will – which sometimes has been the wrong one. On the other hand, such a move has proven to be a masterstroke on occasion, with a manager being as good or better during their second stint in charge.
On Tuesday Nigel Pearson was appointed Leicester City manager for the second time, rejoining the club he led to the League One title in 2009 and the Championship play-off semi-finals a year later. He left the Foxes soon after to join Hull while his former club sacked replacement Paulo Sousa after a few games in charge, appointed former England boss Sven-Goran Eriksson and were taken over by wealthy Thai owners. With Eriksson shown the door three weeks ago Pearson makes a surprise return to the King Power Stadium – but will it be a good move?
Here are ten managers in the Football League who proved the phrase ‘never go back’ isn’t always right….
10: Andy Hessenthaler, Gillingham
Having spent four years playing for Gillingham, helping them into Division One in the process, 34-year-old midfielder Andy Hessenthaler became the club’s player-manager in 2000 when Peter Taylor – who steered the Gills to promotion from Division Two that summer – left for Leicester City.
In his first season in the new role Hessenthaler remained a key figure in the team as the club recorded their highest ever league finish of twelfth in the second tier, on one of the division’s smallest budgets. The following season Gillingham again enjoyed a comfortable mid-table position but in the 2003-04 campaign, they avoided relegation on goal difference. After the team continued to struggle in the newly-renamed Championship the following season, club owner Paul Scally relieved Hessenthaler of his managerial duties to bring in John Gorman, although the Kent club were to be relegated come the end of the season.
Hessenthaler, still regarded as a club legend, carried on playing with Gillingham but spent time on loan with Hull City before moving to Barnet in 2006 and winding down his career as a player, managing and playing for Dover Athletic between 2007 and 2010. In May that year, Hessenthaler stepped down and the following day returned to The Priestfield Stadium for a second shot as Gillingham boss. The club had just been relegated to League Two and Hessenthaler took the club to the brink of the play-offs last season as they finished eighth and they look set to challenge for the top seven again this time around, currently sitting ninth in the table.
9: Dario Gradi, Crewe Alexandra
To so many football fans, the name Dario Gradi is synonymous with Crewe Alexandra, the 70-year-old recently stepping down as manager having been in the Gresty Road hotseat for 24 years across two spells. His time with the club began in 1983 as he was appointed manager just after Fourth Division Alex had survived being voted out of the Football League. Throughout his time as manager, Gradi nutured some of the country’s best young players and future internationals in the form of David Platt, Danny Murphy, Geoff Thomas and Neil Lennon amongst many others – all of whom were sold onto higher division sides for good sums of money.
In 1989 Crewe were promoted into the Third Division and despite relegation two seasons later, Gradi took the club back up in 1994. Three years after that the club reached the second tier for the first time in their history via a play-off final win against Brentford, remaining in Division One for five seasons and finishing in their highest ever league position of eleventh, before being relegated on goal difference in 2002.
Gradi led the Alex to an immediate automatic promotion back into Division One the following season, throughout the time continuing to bring through talented youngsters such as Dean Ashton, and encouraging the team to play the attractive, attacking football he preferred.
Crewe were relegated from the Championship in 2007 and the following year, he relinquished managerial duties to Steve Holland whilst remaining at the club as Technical Director. When Holland left his post in 2008, Gradi stepped in as caretaker manager whilst a replacement was found. In 2009 he would turn out to be that replacement when appointed boss for the second time and despite the club dropping down into League Two, Gradi remained manager until 2011, returning to his position as Director of Football. After such long service to Crewe Alexandra, Gradi rightly goes down as one of the most influential figures in the club’s history and a great ambassador to English football.
8: Peter Jackson, Huddersfield Town
Having played for Huddersfield Town as a right winger, making over 100 appearances between 1990 and 1994, Peter Jackson cut his teeth in management when he returned to the club in 1997, replacing Brian Horton. In his first two seasons at the Galpharm Stadium he helped the club avoid relegation and steered them to a tenth place finish in Division One, before being controversially sacked by owner Barry Rubery in 1999, making way for the appointment of Steve Bruce.
Having spent four years away from football, Jackson was approached to become Town manager once more in 2003 and accepted, joining the club as they sat in the league’s basement division and came out of administration. In the 2003-04 season, Jackson took a young squad to fourth and the play-offs, where they beat Mansfield Town on penalties in the Millennium Stadium final to secure promotion into League One in his first season back in charge.
In 2004-05 the club finished ninth, falling a few places short of the play-offs but the season after they finished fourth, although a spot in the Championship was to elude them as they lost to Barnsley in the semi-finals 3-2 on aggregate. After some poor form in the 2006-07 campaign, Jackson had his contract cancelled by mutual consent but will always remain a fans’ favourite at the Galpharm.
7: Dave Bassett, Wimbledon
The story of Dave Bassett’s departure and return to Wimbledon in the mid-1980′s is an interesting one. He became manager of the club in January 1981 when they were ninth in the Fourth Division and after a great run of form in the second half of the season, took the Dons up to the Third. They struggled to adapt to the higher level and were relegated on goal difference, finishing 21st but Bassett guided the club straight back up in 1983 as Champions with 98 points.
The following season Wimbledon emerged as promotion contenders and completed back-to-back promotions with a 2nd place spot and Second Division football to look forward to the following campaign. However in June 1984 Bassett left Plough Lane to take up the vacant manager’s role at fellow London side Crystal Palace – but stayed there for just 72 hours. He changed his mind, refused to sign a contract at Selhurst Park and returned to Wimbledon, citing “unfinished business” as one of the factors.
The Dons finished a respectable 12th in their first season as a Second Division club and in 1985-86, they were among the frontrunners for promotion. On the final day of the season, a 1-1 draw away to Bradford City saw Wimbledon finish third and gain promotion into the top-flight for the first time in their history, a remarkable achievement considering they were a non-league side just nine years before. The Dons mixed it with some of the country’s biggest sides in their debut season in Division One, finishing sixth before Bassett left to join Watford in June 1987, bringing to an end an incredibly successful second spell as Wimbledon boss.
6: Steve Coppell, Crystal Palace
For a time, Steve Coppell seemed to turn up at Crystal Palace every few years. The former Manchester United winger had four spells with the Eagles as manager and Director of Football. Aged 28 years and 10 months old, Coppell became Palace boss in June 1984 having retired from playing due to injury the year before. With some astute lower league signings and budget buys of unwanted First Division players, Coppell took Palace up through the Second Division play-offs in 1989. They stayed in the top flight for four years, finishing third in 1991, reaching the FA Cup final in 1990 and becoming founder members of the Premier League in 1992. However they were relegated in May 1993 and Coppell resigned.
In 1995 he went back to Selhurst Park as Director of Football and under the management of Dave Bassett, the club lost the 1996 Division One play-off final to Leicester City. In October that year Coppell left to join Manchester City as manager, famously quitting after just six games and 33 days in the job, citing pressure in the role as the reason for his departure.
He soon returned to Palace as Chief Scout but after Dave Bassett’s resignation in February 1997, Coppell became the club’s manager for a second time. Within months he got the club promoted back into the Premier League as David Hopkin’s last minute strike against Sheffield United secured a 1-0 victory in the play-off final. Despite signing big name players in Tomas Brolin and Attilo Lombardo, Palace struggled and he resigned in 1998, becoming the club’s Director of Football once more following a takeover by Eagles fan Mark Goldberg.
Incredibly Coppell returned as Palace manager for a third time in January 1999 following Terry Venables’ resignation and saved the club from relegation to Division Two, steering the side to 14th and 15th placed finishes before being replaced by Alan Smith in 2000.
5: Brian Laws, Scunthorpe United
Brian Laws has enjoyed arguably the most successful period of his managerial career to date with Scunthorpe United. The former Sheffield Wednesday and Burnley boss became manager at Glanford Park in 1997 and immediately turned the Division Three club into promotion contenders. In 1999 they secured promotion, beating Leyton Orient 1-0 at Wembley thanks to Alex Calvo-Garcia’s winner.
The club remained in Division Two for one season before being relegated in 2000. In 2004, with the team struggling and new owners in charge, Laws was placed on gardening leave but three weeks later previous chairman Steve Wharton returned to the role and by mid-April, Laws was back at the helm. His second coming began well as he steered the club away from the threat of relegation and during the summer, brought in some experienced faces to complement the youthful nature of the side.
The following season Scunthorpe got off to a flyer, sitting top of League Two going into the festive period and they remained in the promotion spots, eventually finishing second behind Yeovil Town to secure promotion into League One. Laws’ side fared much better in the third tier, finishing 12th in the 2005-06 season, but it would be the following year which would prove a memorable one for Iron fans.
The club got off to a great start and sat top of League Two when Laws was offered the manager’s job at Sheffield Wednesday in November 2006. He accepted and handed over the reins to Scunthorpe physio Nigel Adkins, who carried on the job started by Laws, taking the club up as League One Champions in 2007 to play second tier football for the first time in 43 years.
4: Jimmy Sirrel, Notts County
Jimmy Sirrel is regarded as the best manager in Notts County history, the Scot guiding the club through one of their most successful periods in decades. Having began his managerial career at Brentford, Sirrel joined fellow Fourth Division side County in November 1969 – a club which had been rooted near the bottom of the league’s basement division for the previous few years.
The team became increasingly difficult to beat and in his first season in charge, Sirrel’s side finished seventh, a good campaign after seasons of financial hardship and struggles on the pitch. The following season the Magpies raced to the Fourth Division championship, not tasting defeat until September and they ended the campaign unbeaten at Meadow Lane. The year after Notts went close to a second successive promotion, missing out by three points but in 1972-1973 the Magpies embarked on an impressive run of form in the second half of the season, losing just twice to secure promotion to the Second Division.
Having taken the club up from the Fourth Division to the Second in four years, Sirrel was already a Notts legend but left in 1975 to take over at First Division strugglers Sheffield United. He could not save them from relegation and with the club struggling in the second tier in 1977 he left Bramall Lane. In October he returned to Notts County and saved them from relegation to Division Three that season. The next two years saw the club finish 6th and 17th but in the 1980-81 season they finished runners-up to secure promotion into the top flight, the first time Notts had been there since 1926.
Sirrel had completed the job he began in 1969, taking Notts County from the Fourth Division to the First in twelve seasons. The club finished in mid-table two years running before Sirrel became General Manager in 1983. However the club were relegated under new manager Larry Lloyd and again in 1985 as Sirrel was back in the hotseat, remaining there for two years before retiring – bringing to an end a remarkable 17 year association with the club.
3: Tony Pulis, Stoke City
Tony Pulis’ career as Stoke City manager began in 2002, having had spells in charge with Gillingham, Bournemouth and Bristol City. The club were struggling in Division One and looked as if they could be relegated just a year after promotion, but Pulis saved them on the final day of the season and guided them to mid-table safety the following campaign. However tensions rose between Pulis and the club’s chairman Gunnar Gislason and eventual disagreements with the Icelandic owners saw him dismissed in June 2005.
He took over at Championship outfit Plymouth Argyle and took the struggling side to mid-table safety before being approached by new Stoke chairman Peter Coates to take charge of the club again following the sacking of Jan Boskamp. Plymouth turned down any initial approach but in June 2006 Pulis accepted the offer and was back at the Britannia Stadium. In his first season back, Pulis’ side were on the fringe of the play-offs but finished eighth.
Club captain Danny Higginbotham was sold ahead of the 2007-08 season but Pulis took advantage of the loan market, bringing in the likes of Manchester United youngster Ryan Shawcross. On the last day of the season, Stoke were second as the final round of fixtures kicked off and a 0-0 home draw against Leicester City was enough to secure a place in the Premier League, the first time the club would compete in the top flight in 23 years. Pulis has continued to build the side gradually, taking The Potters to mid-table finishes and the 2011 FA Cup Final – where defeat to Champions League qualifiers Manchester City meant Stoke would be playing Europa League football in 2011-12.
2: Darren Ferguson, Peterborough United
The son of Sir Alex Ferguson, Darren Ferguson began his managerial career in 2007 at the age of 35, taking over at Peterborough United as player-manager. In his first season at London Road the club finished 10th in League Two and in his first full season of management he took Posh to second in the league and promotion, being named Manager of the Month in March 2008.
In his second full season as manager, Ferguson’s side adapted well to the higher level and finished second in League Two to secure back-to-back automatic promotions into the Championship. This success led to Ferguson being touted as one of the best young managers in the country and he was linked with a host of managerial vacancies in the summer of 2009, however he stayed at London Road as the club embarked on their first spell in the second tier in 15 years.
However the club struggled and Ferguson left with them sat bottom of the Championship table in January 2010, joining fellow Championship side Preston North End. The club finished 17th in Ferguson’s first campaign as boss, but the following year struggled and he was sacked in December 2010 with North End bottom of the table.
In January 2011 Ferguson was back at Peterborough United, patching up his relationship with chairman Darragh MacAnthony to become manager at London Road for the second time. The club had been relegated after Ferguson left and were in the race for the League One play-offs when he rejoined. After some good form and high-scoring victories over Oldham and Sheffield Wednesday, Posh finished fourth before beating MK Dons in the play-off semi-finals. In the final at Old Trafford they defeated Huddersfield Town 3-0 to regain their spot in the Championship and for Ferguson, secure his third promotion with the club in five years.
Peterborough ended the season as the highest goalscorers, netting 106 times and that goalscoring form has seen Posh fare better in the Championship second time around, sitting 11th with a 7-1 thrashing of Ipswich Town and a thrilling 4-3 home victory over Cardiff City the highlights.
1: Graham Taylor, Watford
Graham Taylor is a Watford club legend, having led the Hornets to unprecedented levels of success as manager and spent time as Chairman at Vicarage Road. At the age of 28 he became one of the youngest managers in the league when he was appointed Lincoln City boss in 1972 and in 1977, a year after leading the Imps to the Fourth Division championship, Taylor joined Watford as manager, brought in by the club’s new owner Elton John.
In his first season at the club, Taylor led Watford to promotion as Fourth Division champions, losing just five games and winning the league by eleven points. In the Third Division, he guided the club to a second consecutive promotion in 1978-79, the club missing out on the title by one point. In Division Two the Hornets found life tougher, finishing 18th in 1980 but improving to a 9th placed finish the year later. In 1981-82 Taylor and the club did even better, finishing runners up to secure promotion into the top flight for the first time in their history.
Under Taylor Watford had gone from the Fourth Division to the First in just five years and finished a remarkable second in their debut First Division season, before reaching the FA Cup Final in 1984. Taylor left Vicarage Road in 1987 to take over at Aston Villa, before a largely unsuccessful stint as England manager and a year spent as boss of Wolverhampton Wanderers.
In that time Watford had fallen into the third tier of the league and in Feburary 1996 Elton John, having just brought the club for a second time, appointed Taylor as General Manager. Just over a year later he appointed himself as manager, succeeding Kenny Jackett who was demoted to a coaching role at the club. In 1998 he guided the Hornets to the Division Two title at the first attempt and the following season they finished 6th, earning a place in the play-offs. After beating Birmingham City on penalties in the semi-finals, Watford beat Bolton Wanderers 2-0 at Wembley to reach the Premier League for the first time since its inception.
By taking the club back into the top flight via back-to-back promotions, Taylor brought back memories of the club’s rapid rise through the leagues under him less than twenty years before. Watford were relegated from the Premier League, but Taylor stayed on as manager for another season, finishing ninth in Division One in 2001 and becoming only the third man at the time to take charge of 1,000 English league games before retiring. He came out of retirement a year later to become manager at Aston Villa again but left in 2003. In 2009 Taylor returned to Watford for a third time, being appointed to the board as a non-executive director, before stepping in as interim chairman later in the year.
Written by Steven Toplis, We Are Going Up podcast member and blogger
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