Sergeant Wilko – Magpie Circle Talks To Howard Wilkinson

As a current National League club, it’s hard to fully appreciate that 40 years ago Notts County were a top flight side beating Nottingham Forest (regularly), rubbing shoulders with Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal and holding their own in the old Division One with relative ease.

The Magpies’ first return to English football’s top flight in 57 years in 1981 was orchestrated by a largely-unknown young FA coach by the name of Howard Wilkinson.

Wilkinson went on to enjoy a stellar career in football, as the last English manager to win the English League title with Leeds and going on to become the technical director of the FA.

It was Jimmy Sirrel who spotted his talent first by appointing him as his head coach as Notts went on to enjoy their most successful spell in 100 years.

Wilkinson gave a very rare insight into the Notts success story in a three hour interview with the Magpie Circle podcast this week.

He recalls: “The success we enjoyed at Notts was, in a way, harder than what I was able to achieve with Sheffield Wednesday and Leeds.

“I got promotion into the top flight with all three and won the title at Leeds but they were largely bigger clubs with a bigger fan base.

“At Notts we had no real right to be promoted or compete in the top flight.

“But we had a very committed group of players who absolutely made the best of their abilities and ultimately were never given the credit for what they achieved.”

Although to many at the time it was Sirrel who was still manager, the reality was that it was Wilkinson who called the shots from day one.

He picked the team, sorted the tactics and did the coaching on the training round.

And Wilkinson remains hugely grateful to the faith shown in him by Sirrel.

“Jimmy was a wonderful character and I shall always be incredibly grateful to him,” he said.

“Jimmy always ‘had my back’. He allowed me to coach and to manage and never interfered. He was incredibly loyal and supportive. I always remember the Friday mornings in our singly little office under the stand at Meadow Lane.

“I would read the team out to him and he would insist on typing it out one-fingered on this battered old typewriter. He used to make a few mistakes and keep ripping out the paper and putting it in the wastepaper basket. It used to take half an hour before he finished it, and pinned it up on the wall for the players to read.”

Wilkinson arrived in 1980 and guided Notts to promotion out of Division Two into the top flight in his first full season. Notts went on to hold their own against the elite – with two successive 15th placed finishes in 1982 and 1983 before Wilkinson left for Sheffield Wednesday. The year after Wilkinson left, Notts were relegated.

In this two part interview with The Magpie Circle, Howard talks all things Notts, winning the league with Leeds, taking on the role of England Manager and much more, with all our interviews with Notts County heroes available here to watch 100% free you can enjoy much more from The Magpie Circle without even leaving the Nottingham Sport website.

Thursday 4th February

Friday 5th February 2021

*Main image @LUFC Howard Wilkinson won the league title with Leeds United in 1992.

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