Saturday 12 September ~
I wrote this in WSC 41 (published in August 1990): "What do you have to believe in when the club whose demise you most want to see celebrate your promotion with you?" I was referring to the unrequited dislike held deep in the hearts of Notts County fans like me. "No one hates us, we don’t care," could have been our song. When we were quite good, under Neil Warnock, Forest fans accompanied us (uninvited) to Wembley for two consecutive play-off finals, like a patronising relative turning up in his Cambridge gown at your graduation from Hull Polytechnic.
Over 19 years later I am exiled in Birmingham with two kids and, frankly, Notts being absolutely rubbish for longer than I can remember has been quite convenient. My relationship with County is loyal but with the logic of giving each other space. I go once a month or so to watch us lose to some marginally better League Two outfit, returning on every occasion with the same dull headache and feeling of self-loathing, having used up all my “me time” on such a depressing spectacle. Part of it is about my Dad, who died a few years ago, as if somehow going to the match keeps that part of it alive. And part of it is political – you support your local team and you stick with them. I can’t overstate my distaste at the "money can buy you love" zeitgeist. All those Man City fans on 6.06 every week amplifying their "real Manchester football" credentials, then brandishing £20 notes and Arab headgear at the cameras.
And then this happens. Without exaggeration I change my mind about it five or six times a day. Sven-Göran Eriksson is our director of football. Sol Campbell has signed, Kasper Schmeichel is in nets and in the media every day we are linked with Luis Figo or Roberto Carlos or David Beckham. Sven was at England’s demolition of Croatia. Why? To watch the game or to scout? I can’t tell you how absolutely bonkers it is to support Notts County right now. Nike have taken over the club shop. My mind goes from "well, that’s it, Notts County are no more" to "why not us, if anyone deserves it, it’s the oldest League club". For the first time in a decade, I have a season ticket. Why? I can’t get anywhere near breaking even on the cost with my domestic situation. Simply because I have put it in so many years at an empty ground that I’m buggered if I am waiting in line to get in now this has happened.
Many fans of not very good teams will know what I mean when I talk of football karma. It goes like this – just at the point where you have almost decided to call it a day, your team will win two on the bounce. Then you go and they lose 3-0 at home. And so it goes on. But this is real proof. Towards the end of last season I joined another resentful, self-loathing supporter at a home game against Luton Town, placed 92nd in the Football League. This was three days after his 40th birthday, the plan being to have a few drinks in town after the game. Luton were two up at half time and wouldn’t let us have the ball. So we left. For the first time in 30 years we left really early. It felt exciting, liberating but here was a significant mid-life event. We wondered where this would lead us. Once you introduce a qualitative measure – leaving because it’s crap rather than just staying because you have to – then why ever go again? Could this be the moment? Could the dull headaches be over?
And then this happens. So here I am with my season ticket, excited about the visit of Northampton Town. It is highly inconvenient, my wife is away this weekend, my son has a birthday party and I have spent all week making complex arrangements to allow me to get to the match, probably late. Our director of football is the most mercenary man in the sport. We are funded by oil money. Sol Campbell can’t even be arsed to get fit. And our star striker has done time for a hit and run. But here’s the reason I don’t care. Here is why I love it, just love it. Our owners have made it clear that they intend for us to eclipse the Tricky Trees. And that makes me happy. Maybe you have to become the kind of club you always hated for the club you hate to hate you back.
And if it all goes to plan, and we end up in the Premier League and in ten years time they are in the play-offs or the Anglo-Iranian cup, maybe I will turn up in my Nike County shirt with Ronaldo’s name on the back and see how they like it. Julian McDougall