Sport by Dr Denise Amos


Photograph of football courtesy of Newark and Sherwood Museums Service.

There are three major football teams in the county; Nottingham Forest, Notts County and Mansfield Town. All of which have had mixed fortunes in their histories.

Notts County

Notts County, founded in 1862, had humble beginnings as this quote suggests: "The opening of the Nottingham Football Club commenced on Tuesday last at Cremorne Gardens. A side was chosen by W. Arkwright and Chas. Deakin. A very spirited game resulted in the latter scoring two goals against one and one." Cremorne Gardens was an open area in the Meadows, bordering on to the south end of Queen's Walk. Notts County began playing games before the Football League was formed and was one of the 12 founder members of the Football League in 1888. Their first Football League game, on 15 September 1888, was away to Everton, who won 2-1. A highlight of their early days was winning the FA Cup with a 4-1 win over Bolton Wanderers in the final of 1894.

Notts County played their games at a number of different grounds before settling at Meadow Lane, which has been their home since 1910. The original stadium was completely rebuilt between 1992 and 1994, with new stands on all four sides of the ground.

George Hall being introduced to the Duke of Kent at the England vs The Rest of Europe at Highbury, 1938.
George Hall being introduced to the Duke of Kent at the England vs The Rest of Europe at Highbury, 1938.

Over 150 years a number of prominent players have been associated with Notts County:  goalkeeper Albert Iremonger, who made a record 601 appearances; England centre forward Tommy Lawton, who joined the club from Chelsea in 1947-48, notwithstanding that Notts were in the Third Division (South) - two seasons later his 31 League goals led to promotion to the Second Division; Scotland international Don Masson, who captained the side to three promotions - 1970-71 into the Third Division, 1972-73 into the Second Division, and 1980-81 into the First Division; Les Bradd, whose 125 League goals in 395 appearances between 1967 and 1978 make him the all-time record scorer; Phil Turner, who captained Notts to successive promotions via Wembley play-offs in 1990 and 1991, from the Third Division to the First; and locally-born defender Brian Stubbs whose 486 appearances between 1968 and 1980 put him second only to Iremonger. Another player who originally began with Notts County was George William Hall. Born in 1912 in Newark, he went on to play for Tottenham Hostpur and was capped ten times for England. He made history by scoring three consecutive goals in three and half minutes. In 1944 he was found to have thrombosis in his right leg and his footballing career was over. He later had both his legs amputated and he died at the age of 55 years.

The then British record transfer fee was broken when Notts sold Lawton's strike partner, Jackie Sewell, to Sheffield Wednesday for £34,500 in 1951.

Much greater sums have been received when selling other players in more recent times, the record being £2.5m from Derby County for Craig Short in 1992.

This has not prevented Notts experiencing threatening financial situations, one of these leading to the club being in administration for 18 months between 17 June 2002 and 3 December 2003 before a rescue package which included a multi-million pound injection of cash on the part of a local supporter and businessman, Haydn Green, supported by the newly-formed Supporters' Trust which later took over the running of the club.

The club has welcomed a period of greater financial stability since Ray Trew bought it for £1 and inherited several million pounds worth of debts in February 2010. He immediately appointed Steve Cotterill as manager and was rewarded as Notts County won the championship at the League's fourth tier in May of the same year.

Cotterill thus joined the managers who have guided Notts to promotions, none in all its history more successfully than Jimmy Sirrel (manager from November 1969 to October 1975 and from October 1977 to August 1982 when he became general manager and from April 1985 to June 1987) who was in charge in all three of the promotions when Masson was his on-field leader. Neil Warnock (manager from January 1989 to January 1993) was barely less successful in terms of promotions, piloting the club to the two achieved with Turner as captain. Most commendably, both Sirrel and Warnock took Notts County into the top flight of the English game where, in Sirrel's case, they remained for three years.

Notts County reached a unique landmark in their long and chequered history when, in 2012, they became the first Football League club in the world to celebrate 150 years' existence. A year-long programme of events began in January with a civic reception at Nottingham Council House and concluded in November with a birthday party in the same week as the club was founded, at which legendary former manager Jimmy Sirrel was inducted posthumously into the club's new Hall of Fame. Between these dates other highlights included a race day at Southwell; a black tie gala banquet in a marquee erected on the Meadow Lane pitch; a community day for hundreds of schoolchildren and young people; a two-week production at Nottingham Playhouse of "The Diary of a Football Nobody", written by William Ivory and featuring the escapades of Magpies' players from the Seventies, which played to packed houses; a match between two teams of Notts Legends, managed by two former managers; and publication of a personal memoir "Tied up with Notts" by journalist Colin Slater from his 50-plus years' reporting on the Magpies in local media.

Nottingham Forest

Nottingham Forest was founded in 1865, three years after Notts County was formed. Forest claimed their first major honour when they won the 1898 FA cup, beating Derby County 3-1 at Crystal Palace. However, for much of the first half of the 20th century the club spent life in the Second Division and had to seek re-election in 1914 after finishing bottom. In 1949 the club were relegated to the Third Division but were promoted back two years later as champions. In 1957 they regained First Division status and won the FA Cup for a second time in 1959.  By this time Forest had replaced Notts County as the biggest club in Nottingham and went on to become runners-up in the First Division and FA Cup semi-finalists in 1967 However, after a highly successful period for the club, Forest were relegated from the First Division in 1972.

Forest was considered a small club by English league standards until the mid 1970s, when Brian Clough took the helm at the club. Clough was the most successful manager in the history of Nottingham Forest football club. He had won the league title with Forest's deadly rivals Derby County in 1972 and came to Nottingham Forest on January 6 1975 after a 0-2 home defeat by local rivals Notts County, on Boxing day, prompted the committee (Forest had no board of directors then) to sack the previous manager Allan Brown. Clough's first game in charge was the third round F.A. Cup replay against Tottenham Hotspur a 1-0 victory thanks to a goal by  Centre Forward Neil Martin.

Forest won promotion to the top division at the end of the 1976-77 season after finishing third in the Second Division but no-one could have predicted how successful Clough's team would be over the next three seasons.

Nottingham Forest became one of the few teams (and the last team to date) to win the English First Division Championship 1977-78 season, a year after winning promotion from the English Second Division. In 1978-79 Forest went on to win the European Cup by beating Malmö FF [1-0] in Munich's Olympic Stadium and retained the trophy in 1979-80 beating Hamburg SV [1-0] in Madrid thanks to an outstanding performance by goalkeeper Peter Shilton. They also won the European Super Cup and two League Cups. Beside Shilton, key players of that era included right-back Viv Anderson (the first black player to wear the England jersey at full international level), midfielder Martin O'Neill and  striker Trevor Francis. The club reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup in 1983-84 but were knocked out by Anderlecht.

Nottingham Forest's next significant trophy came in 1989 when they beat Luton Town in the League Cup final. For most of the season they had been hopeful of completing a unique domestic treble, but were beaten into third place in the League by champions Arsenal and runners-up Liverpool and lost to Liverpool in the replay of the FA Cup semi-final, originally held at Hillsborough where 96 Liverpool fans lost their lives, the match being abandoned after 6 minutes. Clough's side retained the League Cup in 1990 when they beat Oldham Athletic. There was chance for more success in 1991 when Forest reached their only FA Cup final under Brian Clough and went ahead after scoring an early goal (Stuart Pearce free kick) against Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley, but ended up losing 2-1 in extra time after an own goal by Des Walker.

Forest reached their third League Cup final in four seasons in 1992, but lost to Manchester United, and in this successful period also won the Full Members Cup twice (1989 and 1992).

Brian Clough's 18-year reign as manager ended in May 1993 when Forest were relegated from the Premier League after 16 years of top flight football which had seen one league title, two European Cups and four League Cups. Since Brian Clough's departure, Nottingham Forest have had eight managers and spent just four further seasons in the Premier League, and none since 1999.

Over the last twelve years the club have had to make do with life in the lower divisions with three  seasons spent in League 1, the third tier of English Football and have had mixed fortunes in more recent times with failed pay-off attempts and relegation near-misses. They are presently in the Championship and are among one of the favorites to be at the top end of the table. In 1996 the stadium was rebuilt and a Euro cup match was played at the new ground.

Mansfield Town

The other team which has achieved some status is Mansfield Town Football Club, known as the Stags. Mansfield Town was founded in 1897 under the name of Mansfield Wesleyans, their name deriving from a local church, on Preston Road. The club played its first game on 4 September 1897, drawing 2–2 against Sherwood Foresters. Mansfield first joined a league in the 1902–03 season, competing in the Mansfield and District Amateur League.

For the 1906–07 season, the league dropped the 'Amateur' tag from its name. The Church refused to have anything to do with this new-found professionalism, abandoning the club. The club replied by changing its name to Mansfield Wesley, and operated from then on as a professional club. It was decided in the summer of 1910 that the club would change the suffix of its name to either Town or United and  the FA allowed the name change from Mansfield Wesley to Mansfield Town. During the early years of the twentieth century the club had mainly mediocre seasons in the League but in 1950–51, Mansfield became the first British team to remain unbeaten in a 23-game schedule.  However the following season saw the Stags £14,000 in debt, and close to liquidation. A series of friendlies, including a full-strength Nottingham Forest helped to raise money but on the pitch, Mansfield were still very inconsistent and remained so throughout the 1960s and 1970s.

In the 1965 season there was controversy once again for the club, as captain Brian Phillips was implicated by The People newspaper in a match-fixing scandal and in January 1965, Phillips was imprisoned for 15 months, alongside fellow Stag Sammy Chapman (6 months) and several players from other clubs for their part in the match-fixing scandal. Another mid-table season followed in 1968–69, but it was another cup run that made headlines for the Stags.

A match with West Ham United saw Mansfield win 3–0. West Ham were standing sixth in the First Division and their side featured England's World Cup winners Bobby Moore, Martin Peters and Geoff Hurst along with youngsters Billy Bonds and Trevor Brooking. The game was postponed five times before it finally went ahead on Wednesday 26 February 1969 in front of 21,117 at Field Mill. Mansfield became only the fourth team in club history to knock out clubs from five different leagues in the same competition. They progressed to the quarter final stage where they were unlucky to lose to Leicester City, being stopped from scoring by young keeper Peter Shilton.

Mansfield were at the top end of Division Three for the 2001–02 season. They looked resigned to a play-off place until they beat promotion rivals Cheltenham 2–1 in April. A poor 3–1 defeat away at York City followed, meaning Mansfield had to win and hope Cheltenham dropped points at champions Plymouth for the Stags to get promoted. 2–0 victories for Mansfield and Plymouth were enough to give Mansfield a first promotion in 10 years. However, they finished 23rd the following season, meaning they were straight back down in Division Three.

Since then the club has not had too much success with both players and managers leaving on a regular basis. They now play in the Blue Square Bet (Conference National) league.