Sven 'too good to be true' but Notts County are having the last laugh
When Eriksson left Nottingham the players and fans were sad, despite the club having £7m of liabilities and an unpaid bill for the Swede's driver. But the world's oldest football team are nothing if not optimists
Sunday 10 October 2010
If Sven Goran Eriksson's pledge to lead Leicester City into the Premier League prompted sardonic smiles among East Midlands neighbours, it is hardly surprising. This time last year, the Swede was making similar statements as director of football at Notts County, only for the Middle Eastern cash promised by Munto Finance to be exposed as a mirage.
When he quit in February, the new Notts owners uncovered liabilities put at £7 million, including a five-year contract said to be worth £15,000 a week to the goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and a sizeable unpaid bill for the former England manager's personal chauffeur. The new chairman, Ray Trew, a business recruitment entrepreneur from Lincoln, had to dip into his own pocketto stave off winding-up petitions.
Despite this turmoil, the team Eriksson left behind still won League Two under Steve Cotterill's guidance, only to suffer another blow when Cotterill decided not to stay.
Notts started life in League One with mixed results. Yet the club have a surprisingly optimistic outlook.
The manager: Craig Short – played at Meadow Lane from 1989-93; appointed in June after 22 months as coach, then manager at Ferencvaros
I wasn't here a year ago but I was aware what was happening. I read once they were going to sign Roberto Carlos – here, where I used to play in front of 3,000 people! It was crazy, it made a mockery of the place. There is a sense of reality now. The chairman is a very down-to-earth guy, very calm.
I was over the moon to get this job. It's nice to have a chairman prepared to stick his neck out and give a rookie a chance. I thought we might lose more players last summer but the board backed me and we have brought some good players in.
Working in Hungary was scary at times. I had a death threat at the start but when we went 16 matches unbeaten, I was the king. People said it would be five years' experience rolled into two and they were right.
After last season, I think some players thought that when Hudders-field turned up on the first day we would turn them over too. Losing 3-0 was a shock to the system. They have realised it is a step up and we are playing with more confidence.
I have had to rein back expectations but Neil Warnock took this club through successive divisions when I was a player so it is do-able.
The chief executive: Jim Rodwell – former player, then director of football and chairman of Boston United
We inherited liabilities of around £7m but while the figure now is considerably less, it would be wrong to say we are out of the woods. There are still issues to be addressed and we are still coming across the odd ticking time bomb.
Running the club is a challenge because there is no access to lending. We made a commitment not to take the club into administration and you hope the return for that is a bit of breathing space. People want to be paid and, in the present climate, many would rather give you the benefit of time than accept less.
We have reduced the wage bill and are investing in the ground to increase revenue. We are a lot betterthan we were in terms of day-to-day running costs but any shortfall still has to be picked up by the chairman and directors. Ray Trew is quite a shy guy and does not seek the spotlight but he and the board have pulled up trees in the last eight months and in time people will recognise this club owe them a huge debt of gratitude.
We have a hungry and ambitious young manager in Craig Short and from the way we have played recently I'm quietly confident we can have a successful season. There are no pie-in-the-sky promises now but Blackpool have shown what is possible.
The player: Luke Rodgers – signed on a free transfer from Yeovil in July 2009
At the time, you couldn't believe it was happening. The ex-England manager coming to watch us train, Sol Campbell sitting next to you in the changing room. Porsches and Mercs in the car park; and Sven arriving at the training ground with a bodyguard and his own driver. You were asking yourself, 'What's going on? This is unreal.' The things that happened were just crazy. Like when we played Bournemouth away and instead of going on the bus, we flew there.
It did seem too good to be true but we were gutted when Sven left. When he told us he was leaving because there had been false promises made, it was really sad. There was genuine warmth towards him and Tord Grip. They were really nice people. I texted Sven when he got the Leicester job to wish him well. A lot of the lads did.
But then Steve Cotterill came in and we loved him. He was a top man and we just wanted to do well. When he left everyone wondered what would happen next and I thought more players would leave but Craig Short's come in and everyone is buzzing again. I've never known a club like it. it's just brilliant.
The fan: Iris Smith – chair of Notts County Supporters' Club
Some of the people who were supposedly behind Munto Finance I wouldn'twant to see again – except behind bars – but in a strange way the episode did us a lot of good. The supporters' trust that owned the club could not provide the investment needed. Though Munto left us in a mess we might have gone bust anyway.
Getting Sven put us back in the limelight, brought fans through the gates, and though it did all go wrong in the end it opened the way for Ray Trew to take over. Now people realise what kind of chairman Ray Trew is, they are very happy.
He has kept most of last year's team together, cleared up a lot of debts and done an awful lot for the fans, introducing new things to encourage them to come. He is sprucing up the stadium, which had started to look a bit shabby, and so far the crowds have stayed. We were lucky to get 3,000 before; we now average around 8,000.
I was sad when Sven went. I met him a few times and he just seemed a really nice bloke. He could have killed us if he demanded the money he was owed but he didn't. I think he fell in love with the club a little bit, but everyone who comes here does.
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