TT GROUNDHOPPING – Notts County (a) by Matty Hayward


NOTTS COUNTY (A) by Matty Hayward

Matty discusses his trip to Nottingham (written mostly before Aldershot game!)

I’m quite bored of this, now. The whole Bottom Of The League business really isn’t buttering any parsnips anymore. In my new job, I get asked quite often, by staff and students, which football team I support. Slightly less often but still regularly enough for it to be embarrassing, I get asked “how Torquay are getting on.” It was ok, once, when I told one colleague that we’d slipped to the bottom of the Conference. He’s a Port Vale fan, a club who have had their fair share of lows but beat Derby and Lincoln in October. He understood the fluctuations of a bang average football club. 

My head of department was surprised to hear that Torquay were, still, propping up the fifth tier: “Ah,” he said yesterday, smugly “keeping my boys [Scunthorpe, with whom he’s lost touch and love] off the bottom then!”

Being the butt of the joke has begun to wear off.

Today, a chipper lad whom I don’t teach but have spoken to a fair bit while on duty bounded up to me. He told me he was off to Birkenhead to watch his beloved Stockport County at play Tranmere tonight. 

“Are Torquay still bottom?” he continued.

“Isn’t it time you got to your lesson?”

In truth, the last weekend of my half term was reasonably pleasant. I had spent the preceding days in the Peaks, where my family had come to stay. Two pub dinners, a steady flow of Stella Artois, a smorgasbord of cheese, a game of Trivial Pursuit and a roundly successful parent-girlfriend introduction set us up nicely for a footballing Saturday across the Derbs/Notts border.

One of Grace’s most redeeming features is her ability to drive her compact, untidy, nifty little Ford Focus (or possibly Fiesta – I’m not Clarkson I don’t know or care). The pair of us left Chinley nice and early so we could take in a brunch at her parents’ house, and I could reacquaint myself with her excitable but actually, insofar as one can be, loveable dog.

The latest person to compensate for my inability to drive was Grace’s mum, who dropped us at the uneventful, unexciting Nottingham Railway Station, where we were rejoined by my family. 

From there, a fifteen minute walk along the canal brought us to the Trent Navigation Inn. This was quite the venue, boasting a bustling, well-staffed bar; a sizeable, partially soaked partially sun-drenched outdoor area; a fan-zone-style big screen showing Leicester City 0 Manchester City 1; an outdoor bar that didn’t serve Stella like they did indoors (so was, thus, utterly redundant); and a burger/hot dog stand, which proved far from redundant. It was there (or, to be precise, in the reflection of the glass door, due to my seating position) that I saw Kevin De Bruyne’s stunning goal of the month contender.

It was there, too, that Grace commented on the embarrassing nature of Notts County’s away shirts having “JAKE BUGG” plastered all over them. I’ve ummed and arred on this, but have concluded that while it’s really nice to support and be supported by a local, C-List, probably-rung-three-or-four-on-Reading-And-Leeds-Festival-Posters musician, it also looks incredibly cringe and a bit like a tour t-shirt, particularly on a purple top. I suppose we’re lucky that Teignmouth’s Muse are too lame to be interested in the bright lights of Plainmoor.

Had I been better organised, and had my travelling party been in any way interested (mum, brother, Grace) or had less accumulated experience (dad), I’d have proposed a wander around the river to take in a circuit of the City Ground and a nose around Trent Bridge. As it was, we plumped for an extra pint.

Quick thoughts on the game:

– We managed to drag (almost literally a perfect word-choice) my younger (and much much larger) brother along to his first game in about half a decade. His most notable engagement was to dedicate five minutes to repeating “come on the zebras!”. I don’t think he’ll be rushing back, and he may not be welcome!

– The first half an hour or so was great. The 300+ Torquay fans, every one of whom deserves far more than what their £21 got them, were in full voice. It’s the first time this season that I’ve enjoyed a prolonged, loud, sing-song at football, and for that I am grateful.

– The Notts fans, in comparison, were pathetic. 

– Then again, I can see why. At times in our NLS season it would take something spectacular to get fans onside. A rudimentary home win against a team we expected never to play against again didn’t feel exciting or worthy of song. I can sympathise with the home end’s apathy.

– Seriously, it was so depressing. We set up with a back 5, four central midfielders and one striker. The aim, from the beginning, was just to be tough to beat. Except, of course, we weren’t tough to beat. They’re clearly a better side than us, and I only begrudge them that a little bit, but after the first (very soft) goal went in we might as well have been training mannequins. It was a pathetic display from a fundamentally bad team.

– Four subs named, three used. Tomlinson (no-mark, young centre back), Omar (popular but, realistically, bad, young centre back), Thompson (no-mark, young, new forward). Forgive us for not blowing our tops with excitement when they came on.

– On paper, the signatures of Mark Ellis, Lucas Ness and Cameron Thompson look decent ones. They certainly made my pre-match beer go down quicker, and particularly Ellis looked like he was trying to herd the cats in front of him. But, blimey, we must be shit if our hopes are being pinned on signing a 34-year-old defender, who’s played 13 minutes since April, on a one month loan, Kingsbridge-born or otherwise. Feels like he’d have been a great signing four years ago. Now feels like utter desperation. And yet, it still definitely feels like a step in the right direction. 

Enough of the football. The five of us followed the crowd-trudge back to the station. Goodbyes were said to the Chinley Three, while Grace and I set off on our Nottingham adventure. 

A couple of hours, a pub with a canal (and canal boats) in, and couple of paracetamol later, the night out was postponed and we were heading home. Luna, the dog, met us at the door. I sensed she could smell the stench of defeat on our clothes and she – like us – became more interested in a good night’s sleep. 

Away days when you’re shit can be alright. This wasn’t really one of them. I will savour the day I can tell my colleagues and students that we’re off the bottom of the Conference. I hope it’s before I retire. 

An addendum:

It’s funny how one night can change your whole outlook. I originally wrote this article at tea time on Tuesday. It’s now Wednesday afternoon, and I’ve spent the day fielding congratulations for our result last night. Two students and three teachers have either bumped into me or actively sought me out to say well done, as if I, myself, was Aaron Jarvis, leading the charge of United’s turnaround. We’re still bottom of the league, so forgive the corks for not flying, but I hope that everyone who attended last night enjoyed it as much as they deserve to. I’m thrilled to see that there is life in this bedraggled, wrinkly, solemn old dog yet. 

And rest assured, the yellow revolution may start in Torquay, but it’s beginning to take hold in the north west of England. The world is next. 








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