WONDERS OF THE PYRAMID: Notts County are flying again

WONDERS OF THE PYRAMID: One of sport’s great frauds nearly ruined them. But Notts County are flying again… and this time it’s for real

  • Russell King bought the club for £1 in 2009 but his riches did not exist
  • Middle East riches were promised and club linked with Beckham and Figo 
  • Notts County are only just recovering from being left with debts topping £7m

There are plenty of junctures in a timeline of Notts County’s recent history where we could start this story. Maybe it’s the record 534 days in administration, or being voted the most stressful club to support in 2007, or relegation from the Football League after 131 years in 2019.

We could start with the heartbreaking death of much-loved CEO Jason Turner in March, or the tears of joy that followed after a giant banner showing the 50-year-old smiling was placed on the top tier of Wembley to watch over their play-off final victory two months later.

But the best place to begin in a recap of their last two decades, an era in which there have been far more bleak than bright days, is a turn of events which puts the current wave of positivity into perspective — August 2009 and a fraudulent takeover.

As the BBC’s Ben Robinson puts it in his brilliant podcast The Trillion Dollar Conman: ‘When I took my seat at a packed Meadow Lane for Notts’ first game of the 2009-10 season, that first-game buzz was like nothing I had experienced, something incredible had just happened.’

There are enough colourful — some horrifying, others funny with hindsight — anecdotes to tell about that summer in Nottinghamshire to fill a book. But to summarise, County were bought out by a mysterious consortium called Munto Finance.

Notts County celebrate promotion at Wembley with a picture of Jason Turner

Sven Goran Eriksson was hired as sporting director following takeover in 2009

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‘Tomorrow will be the best day of your life,’ was written on a Notts forum. Middle Eastern riches were promised. In the next week, they hired Sven Goran Eriksson as sporting director and started discussing the ‘road to the Premier League’.

He signed promising young goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel from Manchester City and Sol Campbell, who might have been at the end of his career but still was far too good for League Two. Newspapers linked them with David Beckham and Luis Figo. No, seriously.

On that opening day that Robinson noted, County thrashed promotion favourites Bradford to go top of League Two. ‘Being in the crowd alongside my family that day was one of my best memories as a Notts supporter,’ he added. ‘But none of it was real.’

The money, new signings and ambitions of the Premier League were all false. Notts County, and the authorities, had been scammed by one of the biggest acts of fraud sport has ever seen. Russell King, now convicted, bought the club for £1 but his riches did not exist.

King lied about his firm being backed by a consortium in Bahrain, feigning connections with royalty, before leaving the club with debts topping £7million. It set in motion a chain of events that the club did not financially recover from. Until now.

I thought about that gripping podcast series, and the Panorama documentary by the same name, this week when Notts beat a decent Accrington side to go top of League Two. I thought of Robinson’s remark of ‘but none of it was real’. This time, Notts’ confidence is real. OK, maybe they are not signing Premier League winners and hiring ex-England managers, but this is a team back in the Football League and realistically aiming for League One and higher, with a boss who will surely have Championship clubs calling soon.

Luke Williams’ team are five games unbeaten and are welcoming gates north of 10,000 for games at Meadow Lane.

On the Derek Pavis Stand at the Lane, they had to change a sign that read ‘oldest Football League club in the world’ to ‘oldest professional club in the world’ after their relegation in 2019. They can safely change that back and not worry about having to alter it any time soon.

Wrexham fans will not thank me for saying this but, despite the Welsh side finishing top of the National League last season, I always felt Notts were the better team. Not that it matters now after that sunny day out at Wembley, when they beat Chesterfield on penalties.

Macaulay Langstaff, who scored 43 goals and was dubbed the ‘non-League Haaland’ last season as they amassed 107 points, has settled in the Football League and netted a brace at the weekend. Fellow star man Ruben Rodrigues moved to Oxford but has been replaced smartly.

Notts County striker Macaulay Langstaff was dubbed the ‘non-League Haaland’ last season

Dan Crowley came in from Morecambe and is starting to flourish, while David McGoldrick is one of the signings of the summer. The Irishman, now 35, was a star for Derby in League One last term. He can score goals, create them and run at defenders.

Before the last campaign, the previous five seasons at Notts had seen one relegation and four play-off losses. Going back even further, they flirted dangerously with administration and oblivion and the very future of the club was threatened by King’s fraud.

As Williams put it at Wembley on that halcyon day in May, sporting a t-shirt with a picture of late CEO Turner: ‘It feels like a club that is building momentum and trying to improve year on year. Now we can see if we can climb the Football League.’

This time, the confidence is for real.

Future’s bright for Black Cats’ youngsters 

Considering Southampton fans laughed as they poached striker Ross Stewart, ‘the Loch Ness Drogba’, from Sunderland on Deadline Day, it was amusing to see Saints slapped 5-0 by the Black Cats last weekend.

It is nothing new to single out Tony Mowbray’s young team for praise, but the ages of their XI on Saturday read: 23; 21, 28, 23, 21; 21, 21; 20, 29, 22; 17. The 29 is Bradley Dack, rediscovering his best form in years after torrid luck with injuries.

At the back, 28 is captain Luke O’Nien, who had a whirlwind week which included signing a new deal, dressing up as the Hulk at his daughter’s birthday party and then running into the sea to help a fully clothed lady rescue a Labrador!

O’Nien has been getting a lot of banter from the rest of the lads, who make dog noises in the dressing room, but his form on and off the pitch sums up the feel-good atmosphere at the Stadium of Light.

During that win, 19-year-old Costa Rican Jewison Bennette pulled off not one, not two but three Maradona turns before crossing to tee-up Chris Rigg for the fifth goal. Rigg, 16, had interest from Premier League clubs this summer, but stayed and his future looks bright.

Styles joins international ranks

Barnsley’s Callum Styles was forced to cancel a city break in Budapest with his girlfriend in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic, but later that year found out he had a reason to go back there.

Barnsley’s Callum Styles (left) in action for Hugary against Serbia on Thursday night

The Bury-born midfielder, who has made 129 appearances for the Tykes, discovered he was eligible to play for Hungary via his grandmother. He was also able to play for Ukraine, but red-tape meant it was easier to obtain a pass to feature for Hungary. 

It follows a similar story which saw former Blackburn striker Ben Brereton change his name to Ben Brereton Diaz and declare for Chile. 

Styles has 10 Hungary caps and is part of a squad that also stars Liverpool new boy Dominik Szoboszlai.

Years gone by would see a full fixture list in League One and League Two, but this weekend is heavily depleted, with many clubs now having stocks of international talent, even in the lower reaches of the Football League.


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