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Hope, Money and Sven – Tales From a Pre-Season Game Where the Result Mattered

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The oldest league club in world languishing in the bottom division of the football league is taken over by a foreign consortium who hire one of the most recognisable names in the game to oversee operations promising to overhaul the team and the facilities of the club as a whole.

Sounds like a pretty farfetched movie pitch but in fact it was the pretence to an always feisty if not necessarily newsworthy friendly between Notts County and Nottingham Forest clubs straddling opposite banks of the River Trent separated by just 300 metres.

I was there to see the first game under the stewardship of former England manager Sven Goran Erikkson.

For the first time in along time the Notts County fans arrived at the stadium full of hope and expectation as times had not been good prior to the beginning of June at Meadow lane. Speaking to long suffering Notts County fans before the game the majority are still in disbelief at the events that have unfolded since the final game of the 2008/2009 season.

Notts County have been in the bottom tier of English Football for the last five seasons failing to make a single sustained promotion bid during this period finishing last season in 19th position.

The takeover by a somewhat mysterious Munto Finance consortium has left the fans buzzing with excitement for the first time in years, the clubs finances are finally secure and there is talk of investment throughout all aspects of the club. To top it off the usual showpiece friendly against fierce local rivals Nottingham Forest was a fantastic advert for football without the media scrum from Sven’s introduction to the crowd.

The first sign that times are changing was the attendance over 12,000 fans attended this League 2 pre-season friendly which is truly staggering the number of fans at the game was so high that the kick off had to be delayed 10 minutes to fit everyone in. Taking an end assigned to the opposition used to be a badge of honour in the days of hooliganism and terracing, however when the Forest fans were too large in number for their stand they simply shuffled across to the previously Notts County family section and the fans mingled together.

At one point as the fans swarmed into the stadium a middle aged man behind me turned to his young son and said ’see i told you son, one day we would fill the ground again’ excitement seems to have transferred to gate receipts at Meadow Lane.

In the home stands home and away fans could be seen in their families, boys in Nottingham Forest shirts being led into the ground by their granddads in the stand out black and white of Notts County. However this good natured atmosphere aside this game was anything but friendly with both sets of supporters in fine voice with the atmosphere full of passion and intensity.

Around 10 minutes before kick off Sven Goran Erikkson emerged from the tunnel to meet the media scrum and the resounding cheers and chants of the home fans, it is obvious that his arrival symbolises to the fans that the club is back and ready to compete.

Amid the circus surrounding Sven’s arrival it was easy to forget that there was a match to be played, one that has not been played competitively since 1994 yet previous attempts at a ‘friendly’ have been marred by fighting both on and off the pitch.

The game itself started quietly in typical pre-season fashion with nothing of note occuring prior to the half, with the home side happy to get to half time with parity maintained.

The second half began and when the comparative minnows opened the scoring this lead to pandemonium, already stunned Notts County fans went beserk. For the last 30 years Meadow lane has stood in the shadows of the County Ground, yet year long city bragging rights were in danger of being snatched by the League 2 side.

On the hour mark it became an even more possible dream as new signing Lee Hughes rose to head to ball past Lee Camp into the net and delirium. Despite a fumble and goal pulled back Notts County held on to a 2-1 lead to cap a truly remarkable week in the clubs history.

When the final whistle went I dont think anyone could be any doubt, this game was more than just a friendly it was a de facto cup game in a city full of footballing pedigree. Ask the fans on Monday morning I am sure that the banter may be friendly but it certainly wont see the game that way.

It certainly seems at the moment that Notts County are carrying the flag for all forlorn league clubs, impossible is nothing anything can happen.

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