The game of choice was certainly not one to remember as I visited Meadow Lane, but the atmosphere and experience absolutely was.
After ditching the car at the matchday parking right next to the ground, I headed around the corner to my stand and immediately caught the essence of Nottinghamshire through the meandering fans near the turnstiles; a footballing city that has been through so much on both sides of the River Trent, and yet overtly positive no matter what the circumstances may be. In this context, County are at the start of their third year as a non-league side, after their relegation out of the football league in May 2019 followed along from the horrific Alan Hardy era. After heartbreak in the play-off final at Wembley against Harrogate Town at the end of their first year in the Vanarama, and subsequently suffering more in the semi-finals against Torquay the year after, you would forgive County fans if they were to sulk and solemnly get through match-days with nothing other than their fingers crossed with their support lacking, but there is absolutely none of that, seamlessly mirroring the typical bravado of a Nottingham establishment.
In terms of proceedings on the pitch, County were coming off the back of their first defeat in seven games this season, after a 1-0 defeat at Altrincham the week before, brought the curtain down on an otherwise perfect run for the Magpies. A bounce-back, then, was the order of the day on this occasion, but sadly it wasn’t exactly what County fans received. More on that later, however, we’re here to talk about the ground.
The first thing you can feel as soon as you get pitch-side at Meadow Lane is the feeling of estrangement. Like there’s something somewhere that doesn’t quite belong. In this case, it’s the ground you’re in, and the league it represents. Meadow Lane is a gorgeous stadium, as single tier grounds very well can be, with the Kop end rolling high into the air ahead of an immaculately well-kept pitch. And with a ground like this in a league like this, you would expect it to be severely under-filled. And to be perfectly fair, it was nowhere near full, but you’d think it was teeming with bodies once the County fans get into voice, they back the team through thick and thin and it’s almost as if it’s the sheer passion of those off the pitch that will take them back to the EFL rather than the people on it, such is the vocality and quality of the match-goers.
On top of that, the staff at the club are some of the friendliest people about, further revering that over-encumbering sense of positivity at a club that has had little to be positive about over the last few years. I bought myself some food (I must say the burger in the photo at the ground was much better looking than the one I bought, but I’ll let it slide just this once) and chatted with a couple of senior fans, one of which remarked that the overt enthusiasm around the club was less everyone staying happy through the hardships and more “Having a bit a f****** grit about ye” which made me laugh so hard I nearly dropped £2.80 worth of tea on him. Also, tea being £2.80 should be marked as a crime against humanity, but again, I’ll let it go.
Onto the game itself. Woking fans were pretty vocal, and they’d turned out decently as well to say it’s such a big trip, but they couldn’t hold a candle to the County support, especially in the Kop. Plenty of tin being rattled and songs being sung is always a recipe for a good game to watch as a neutral. And as a neutral, the football was a true spectacle, just not in the way County would’ve liked it. With his family in the stands, Ruben Rodrigues finished coolly in the 28th minute to give Notts a well-deserved lead, and it should’ve been two from him but he couldn’t sort his feet out on 39. Aaron Nemane was dropping Woking bodies all over every inch of the playing carpet, and the Kop were hanging onto the end of every bit of it. The referee caught his fair share of the passion as well, by giving numerous bizarre decisions and not giving some blatant ones, much to the uproar of the stands surrounding him. We even had the ultimate goal-mouth scramble, as former County man Inih Effiong’s header on goal was barely saved, before so many bodies converged on the ball in the mouth of the goal that you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d blacked out and woke up at a rugby game mid-scrum. A goal was never given though, rightfully, and much to the loud appreciation of the County faithful.
The last 20 minutes, however, were some to forget. Effiong managed to bite his old club back after new youngster Brennan couldn’t get the ball out, before towering centre back Diarra rose above Lacey to head home for 2-1. It became a bit of a rout just 3 minutes later, as a troublesome free-kick squirreled away to the feet of another former Notts man in Tahvon Campbell, who calmly finished. He even had time to find one more for Woking and himself, as he got onto the end of a nothing ball to round the keeper at the death and instil some misery on the ever-so-happy Pies.
The mood, admittedly, did sour somewhat after that, and very understandably so. A few boo’s rang out as the full-time whistle went, but what I noticed more were the most faithful of the faithful staying long after the game had ended to applaud their boys off the pitch nonetheless.
Easy to get to, cheap ticket prices and some fantastic personnel make Meadow Lane a fantastic ground to visit. As I walked away from the stadium, I overheard a boy no older than 6 say to his dad that he wanted a Notts County badge in the back of his car when he gets older, just like the one that had driven past moments before. And I couldn’t help but smile at that, because despite seeing his beloved team get battered and bruised 4-1, the love could never be broken. And that’s what makes Notts County such a special club; dogged determination, over-bearing grit and positivity and, when they want to, some fantastic quality on the field, I have no doubt that the club that was once officially the oldest professional team in the world will be back exactly where it belongs. It’s owed to the fantastic fans and amazing ground. Meadow Lane is a must-go for any groundhopper.
*Article provided by Louis Wheeldon (Football Correspondent).
*Main image @TomWrNCFCx Meadow Lane looking wet ahead of Woking.