The Lowryesque Meadow Lane was never full enough for toilets to overflow

FAN'S EYE VIEW No 144 Notts County
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The Independent Online
It was the late spring of 1964 and Notts County had just been relegated, after a disastrous season, to the Fourth Division, as it then was. I remember it well because there was a club-owned house two doors down from us, in genteel suburbia, and its occupant, centre-half Alex Gibson, used to come in for a chat, gave me his match programmes and used our telephone. Lower- division footballers could not then afford the luxuries of voice communication.

"Nobody will go to watch them now they've been relegated," I proudly told my family. "Shush," said my mother, "Alec's on the phone, he'll hear you." So it was with Notts County in the mid-1960s, the silence of despair.

Unless, of course, you were my history teacher, who used to bellow from a quiet Spion Kop: "Come on County, you're supposed to be highly paid professional entertainers." Wrong on all counts, but it kept the crowd amused, at least for a while.

County then were primarily a home-grown side, lads from the city, from Carlton and from Eastwood providing the core of the team. Occasionally, there was an import, like Jim Raynor (goodness, he had played for Peterborough), George Hannah (well past his sell-by date), Mike Barber (always injured, part of his QPR background, I suppose), and Terry Bly (from Coventry). None settled properly, pigs out of muck.

But we did have Alex: a tower of strength in the middle of the defence, a one-club man from Auchinleck; a transient from one coal-mining area to another. I still have the postcards he sent as he went back home to his roots. We also had, in our Third Division glory days, Tony Hateley (from Derby) and Jeff Astle (Eastwood), but bright Birmingham lights distracted them and took them away, both gone by the 1965-66 season.

Meadow Lane in the earlier 1960s was almost Lowryesque in its features. Never full enough for the toilets to overflow, always quiet enough for my history teacher to be heard. Yet that famed gable end over the stand, "Notts County Football Club. Founded 1862", gave a satisfying glimpse of past glories. We were rotten, but at least we were old.

County was the town's club. No glory then, no expensive signings, just good park football players. My dad used to bet, by postal order, with a hotel owner in Paignton on the results of the County-Torquay United matches. He normally paid because we normally lost.

Once, when such things were permissible, if not enjoyed, I ran on to the pitch at the end of a meaningless game and patted Jim Raynor on the back. "Well played, Mr Raynor." He ignored me, but "Mr Raynor"? Deference to heroes, however substandard; a different world.

Now the ground and its stands form a pattern of yellows, blacks and whites. The years of progress in the later 1970s and early 1980s, the years of Chiedozie, Masson and McCulloch, briefly took County into the wide world of the First Division, and then back down again. No long-serving players then, little trawling of the local leagues.

Notts County truly belong in the 1960s. That is where the heart is; a small club with a dedicated following. A timewarp club that should have been content to shuttle between the lower divisions. After all, in Nottingham, there are not too many people who openly admit to supporting County.

I'm no different. I transferred my allegiance to Forest when Alex Gibson retired. Mind you, he was good. Unlike me, though, he was County through and through.

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