Wow. What a question.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved this club. I mean, loved. I think my Dad took me to my first ever game when I was about six months old; there’s a picture of me somewhere in the family picture crate.
My earliest (I think!) memory of me being Notts obsessed didn’t actually take place at Meadow Lane, but at another place so dear to my heart; Nuthall Methodist Church. As a member of the 32nd Nottingham Boys Brigade we were blessed with so many opportunities and one such opportunity was playing football on Saturday mornings. This particular morning, I must have been around six or seven; the company we were playing didn’t have enough players. As they warmed up, I noticed they wore that quite beautiful Notts tartan away kit. My Dad and my brother both had them, so I knew it well. When we were asked if any of our lot would like to volunteer to play for the opposition, before anyone could question it, I had abandoned my friends and our yellow shirt – quite awesomely adorned with the BMW badge as sponsor – and ran over to the other team to collect a piece of tartan finery. That memory sticks with me.
In my early seasons at Meadow Lane, I vividly remember the season we won Division Three under Sam Allardyce. I imagine eight-year-old me thinking that it was bloody wonderful being a Notts fan if that’s what it was always like! I remember Gary ‘Corporal’ Jones banging goals in left, right and centre. He scored from the by-line at home to Scunthorpe and it was the only goal of the entire season not put onto the end of season highlights package. The rest too. Ward, Redmile, Pearce, Finnan, Robson, Farrell, Dudley et al. I loved that team. They were heroes to us all.
From that point on, if it hadn’t already, obsession took over. My whole world revolved around Notts. I remember doing my Year 5 ‘Talkabout’ at Junior School on Notts. My big brother Matt helped me write it, there was even a quiz at the end. I took shirts, videos and programmes in to show everyone. Some of my best friends to this day sat and listened to me talk about Notts. They still listen now, I think.
About this time, if not a year or two earlier, I started to watch Notts home and away, barely missing a game for seasons. Apparently, Dad took Matt and me on the Supporters Bus but that didn’t last long, for whatever reason. So, my young, bright, innocent eyes were opened to the quite fantastic world that was Acko’s Bus. Wow. I travelled up and down the country with some of the most amazing people I’ve ever met. Amazing for different reasons certainly, but amazing, nonetheless. I was the youngest on the bus for a good few years and I loved it. The memories are endless; Benny falling into a ditch on the way home from one away day, Seadog’s tweed trainers at Coventry away in the Cup and a few too many viewings of the iconic Rita, Sue and Bob too. Bloody hell.
One defining day on the bus is now legend in the Nixey Family; The Lost Weekend – October 27th – 28th 2001. Bournemouth away (made even worse by it being played at Dorchester FC’s ground). We’d set off at some ungodly hour of the morning and had a driver who couldn’t be described in family friendly terms. After declaring we would only be stopping for 45 minute, we eventually made it to the ground. Notts were absolutely shit but not as shit as the man in the middle; Joe Ross. You think referees are bad now. Wow. Three minutes in, all was rosey in the garden as Tony Hackworth, yes, Tony Hackworth (he played four minutes in the Camp Nou for Leeds don’t you know?) put us ahead. Then, 2-0. Danny Allsopp; what a player by the way! From that point, the whole world caved in and we lost 4-2, had about six men booked and Simon Grayson sent off.
Things only got worse after the game. At 6.15pm, we hadn’t left the carpark of the ground. About 10.30 we had to stop so our bus driver could swap over with someone else. We stopped somewhere a million miles away from home. I remember being sat amongst the lads, watching ITV’s version of MOTD. Robbie Keane whacked in a stunning free kick for Leeds at Old Trafford only for him to have to take it again. Odd the things you remember about football. A few minutes later, after my Dad had brought me a packet of Salt and Vinegar Squares, I just broke down in tears. I was 11, knackered and emotional. Benny came up to me, put his arm around me and said I was only doing what everyone else wanted to do themselves. Nick O’Dowd then came and sat with me as we watched a few more highlights. Eventually, our new driver was ready to take us home. The original driver, weirdly, waited on the road to wave us off. Everyone piled to that side of the bus to give him quite the send-off. “We are going home, sing we are going home!” echoed around the bus for at least 20 minutes. We got home about 2.30am, but wow, what memories.
By this point, it was definitely obsession. Even at school, if we were asked to do creative writing, I would shoehorn Notts into it. I knew everything about the club and I loved it, even though we were shit. Great Escapes became commonplace. Players and managers came and went. For a short while, in body only, so did I.
At about 14, my mate Mallo asked if I wanted to go and train with Priory Celtic. I went along but never signed on. Saturday afternoon? No thanks. I’ll be at Notts. Then, Notts went away to Rushden and Diamonds. October 30th, 2004. 1-0 down inside a minute. 4-0 inside 53. 5-1 at full time. I remember Matt Gill being subbed off, stripping his shirt off, throwing it to the floor and giving the Notts end the middle finger. I turned to Dad and said I was going to sign for Priory that Thursday and play Saturday. I did. I enjoyed playing for Priory, even though we were, you guessed it, shit. I still went to Notts when I could and I still loved them. You never lose that. About a year after signing, I knew I had to pack in Saturdays. I missed Notts so much. I would race to the car after games, flick Radio Nottingham on and listen to Uncle Colin. I saw out that season but left. The two Priory teams at our age group were merging and although I probably would have been around it, I wouldn’t have played much.
Pure obsession, twinned with that love, took back over. Especially when I hit 16 and I could finally play for the only other football team, apart from Notts, I wanted to play for. Trowsers FC. I was buzzing. By this point I was getting better but wasn’t quite ready for men’s football. I turned out every Sunday, worked hard when I got a chance and chipped in with a few goals over two seasons. Bulwell Rangers at home to make it 2-2. Boom. Favourite goal ever. The title was on! I got to play in a Notts kit with those who I’d grown up with on the bus. It was amazing. That year we won the league was unreal. In my mind, I played for Notts County. I loved those lads. I learnt so much about football but also about growing up. How to look after people. What being a team meant. My eyes have seen and my feet have danced. Thank you Skipper x
When I went to Uni, I didn’t travel religiously home or away to watch Notts; I couldn’t afford too. The obsession and love never left though. I used to watch Sheffield Wednesday at £6 a game. Great value, but I’d be bored after 60 minutes. I would rather watch Notts get panned 5-0. Honestly. At Uni, I played Saturday morning football with another great set of lads at AFC Dynamo. We won the League and Cup at Bramall Lane in my final full season with them. Most of them were Wednesday fans. A couple of United lads. One Barnsley. One Stoke. Me keeping the Magpie flying high. I’d like to think that the friends I made in Sheffield know a little bit more about a club they’d never previously bothered with.
After Uni, I moved back home and got a job as a teacher. I always wanted to be a teacher. I thought I would try to keep my football club close to my chest at both places I’ve worked so far but I could never really do it. Kids are curious and give me a chance to talk football and I will take it. I also have quite a habit of poking fun at anyone who lets me know they’re a Forest fan. Even if that Forest fan is 12.
When I set out on the #ThisIsOurLane initiative, I wondered how I would find writing my own. What I’ve realised is as well as my amazing family, Notts has been the other constant in my life. I do not remember a time without them and I cannot imagine life without them. I’ve spent hours, days and weeks of my life travelling up and down the country with Dad and Matt (whilst being packed up with sandwiches, cakes and crisps by Mum) seeing everything from the weird, wonderful and Brian O’Callaghan away at Carlisle in between.
As a kid, I was one of the only Notts fans in the playground. At Uni, the same. As an adult, one of the only Notts fans in the staff room. I love that. Being a Notts fan isn’t about the glory. It’s about us; the fans. There aren’t that many, but it means so much to us all. Those faces you see everywhere you go. Those people you have nothing in common with apart from Notts. Those people who just want the same as you; us to score more than them.
That’s what we need for the final 17 games. The fans will back the players until the last. The players need to respond. I dearly hope they can. Dropping out of the Football League is unthinkable.
What does Notts County mean to me? It’s simple. Absolutely everything. They have punctuated my life at every turn and they will continue to do so. They were my first love. I adore this football club. One song you don’t hear all that often any more sums it up. Not only for me, but for all of us;
“I know I am. I’m sure I am. I’m County ‘til I die.”
If you’re still with me at this point, thank you. Thank you to everyone who has trusted me with his or her memories of the greatest football club in the world. Bar none. COYP!