2023 A Year ‘Nott’ To Forget!

The year of 2023, what a year it has been for Notts County Football Club. Comfortably the most successful I have had in my time loving this club, even thinking about the events from start to finish has you sat there thinking did that really happen? It has been a rollercoaster from start to end, and as I have previously referred to it as, an irreplaceable rollercoaster yet even that branding does not do it justice.

The purpose of me being back here again for the final time of the calendar year is to speak through the highlights of this year, and believe me, it fills me with good pleasure to do so…

Let’s begin by talking about that 25-game unbeaten run that started on the 24th of September of the following year of 2022 and concluded on the 21st of February 2023. I mean, was a Notts County team ever expected to do that well? For previous years now we were custom to the bottom half finish in League Two, where we would ship and sign a whole new squad a season and be content with placing sixteenth/seventeenth. But, this team has been completely different and only wants to know a league table conversation that has the word promotion within it as they have proven but we will get onto that. This run was a club record for a reason and was a clear sign that we were in for success. Going back to the Kevin Nolan reign, that was the first and only previous time I personally could attend games at Meadow Lane with the majority of confidence that Notts were going to win, and I say previous time with emphasis as that time was incomparable to what we have had the privilege in experiencing this year. The club, since the appointment of Luke Williams, has prided itself off of the winning mentality, the habit of winning, and to showcase that belief, that ability to win games in the manner we did during this run was ruthless. It’s quite funny really because I reflect on the defeat to Dagenham and Redbridge as important, important in the manner that the squad needed that to avoid complacency creeping in. However, I do remember when Inih Effiong scored the winner on that day and you could have honestly heard a pin drop inside that stadium. It was the shock of the fact that Notts were on the verge of being defeated for the first time in literal months, and with the constant intensity in the battle with Wrexham which again we will get to, the blow of the winner felt that extra bit worse. But, as for the unbeaten run, well and truly unforgettable and if you could define anything as season defining, that run certainly would have been it.

That run concluded prior to the beginning of March and in the month of March, two individuals were rewarded for their brilliance, and I think with that comes the fitting time to talk about one in particular and that is Macaulay Langstaff. I mean, Macca, how else do you describe the man now? I have the task to try and have to do it weekly and now it’s becoming a struggle. The first piece of history Macca broke in this season was becoming the first player in Vanarama National League history to win back-to-back Player of the Month awards and notched his third in the month of March 2023. I have never seen a man have a season like he did in a Notts shirt before and I do highly doubt I will again, he was and still is special. Goalscoring is an art apparently, Macca must have been the creator of it then. Forty-two league goals scored in that season, nothing major and I say that as with his ability, it not only could have been more but also, I would not be surprised if that is not the last season he has recording those numbers. Notts County fans and players Player of the Season, the Vanarama National League top goalscorer and record top goalscorer, and the National League’s player of the season. The sky is the limit with this guy, and the club signing him to an extended five-year deal was a masterstroke as he makes the term irreplaceable an understatement.

Moving on from a great note, to a bitter yet memorable one if you like… April 10th, 2023, Wrexham v Notts County. The world was watching this one, and rightfully so as the two clubs earned the absolute full right to have it that way. Why? Because how many title races have you seen where two clubs have surpassed 100 points and took each other to the very end of the domestic season…  I remember traveling to that game trying to not think about the magnitude of the game in which I was about to attend and watch. It was the talk of social media, no matter where you looked you could not avoid it, and as a fan of one of the two clubs you could only enjoy that feeling but whilst knowing the volume of hype around the fixture was more than justified. The literal greatest title race the Vanarama National League has seen and will ever see and has cemented itself in the history books of the English game. Nowadays, you cannot speak about one without thinking about the other, that is the level of a positive stain it has left following its conclusion.  To reflecting on this game though, if any game could have finished at half-time, I would have chosen this one. I know it did not count for anything in the end, but the moment of John Bostock’s free kick hitting the back of the net will absolutely never be forgotten. However, despite being defeated, one thing you cannot deny was that the fixture lived up to its dramatic expectation. Although at the time was a tough watch, Cedwyn Scott missing the penalty at the death was a blessing in disguise, and again we will talk about why later on although I know you all already know why…

However, for this, the two clubs in Wrexham and Notts County achieved greatness and wrote history between them this year, and that again is absolutely undoubted.

It was always felt that whoever won that game would go onto win the league, and they did. But, that then led to the most unforgettable part of our 2023… The play-offs!

Even now just thinking about this week of football brings a smile to my face and reading this I imagine has made you grin too. I mean, could those play-offs be described as anything but the Notts County way?

When we fell 0-2 down to Boreham Wood, I think everyone in the stadium sat through half-time still believing in the squad, because even trailing in the biggest game of the season this playing squad had earned the right to be supported to the very end, regardless of the score line. However, little did we all ever think it was going to be Aden Baldwin who netted brace of all people to take the game to extra time in the 96th minute. But that is what makes the story even better, the fact we had a man who had scored 42 goals, a man who had double digits for goals and assists and many more top contributors in that team that day, yet it was a defender netting his first and second goal for the club that took us into injury time. By the way, who ever knew Aden could strike a ball like he did for the first? Absolutely incredible.  When you thought that couldn’t be topped, up came extra time, and up stepped Jodi Jones, who again on that day netted his first goal for the club to send us to Wembley. Three different ACL injuries, 900 days of football missed and with that being the case, it was a beautiful conclusion to the late show from Notts County in the words of Adam Summerton, who was the voice of our play-off triumph and rightfully so.

May 13th, 2023, Notts County v Chesterfield – Wembley Stadium.

Best day of my life so far and maybe just maybe the best of yours reading this too. The day just felt right, even before the game you just had that feeling it was going to be our day. Though we were 1-0 down in five minutes, and did not particularly play our greatest football in the first half, you even then just felt that it was still our game to lose. It took us until the 88th minute to get back level in the game, but it was that man John Bostock with another high quality free-kick (thank you Tom Weal for your act of genius in the works of this free-kick) that took us to extra time again for the second time in this whirlwind of a play-off campaign. But, typically really with the luck we have had in the past at this club, when we found ourselves trailing after three minutes of extra time that was when I especially felt that it was starting to look more and more like it was not going to be our day. Notts County, the team that finished second and were not promoted automatically after finishing on 107 points looked like they were going to miss out on promotion, well at least they did until Ruben Rodrigues had other ideas. That goal was his final in a Notts shirt yet his most important, and to leave on the note he did was the perfect conclusion to his fine three years as a Notts player.

That goal made it 2-2, and that meant the game entered a penalty shoot-out. Two words… Archie Mair.

When you are a goalkeeper who is subbed on for a penalty shootout in an ordinary game, that is a lot of pressure never mind a play-off final at Wembley Stadium but my word did that man make it look like he felt zero pressure whatsoever. Darren Oldaker’s penalty? Saved. Jeff King’s penalty? Mair saved again… Which lead to one man with the responsibility of converting to send Notts County back to the Football League… Cedwyn Scott.

The man who had his penalty saved by Ben Foster at the Racecourse in April, the penalty that ultimately wrapped the title up in Wrexham’s hands. This was the redemption shot, the one he deserved after being a reliable source of goals all season long. You know the rest, up stepped Cedwyn and up went Notts County back to the EFL. Honestly, you could not and would not be able to write a better script to our play-offs if you tried. Irreplaceable.

The reason why I did not mention Luke Williams when touching on Macca previously is because I wanted to do it right here. What can you say about the gaffer? Came in and took the club up at the first time of asking, broke endless records and had a team that won virtually every week, giving this fanbase a Notts County team that they can get behind and remain proud of. Again, his new deal signed this year was one that the club needed to make sure got signed and it did as this man is the future of the club, everything the club had been looking for. The model the Reedtz brothers work within, that model was created for a man like Luke Williams. The future of this club is bright and that is courtesy of the potential that comes with having this guy as the Head Coach.

There are two more things I want to conclude this with, and the first of them being a certain homecoming. I say that and instantly you understand who I am referring to but just for whatever reason you do not understand, after 19 years away from Meadow Lane, academy graduate David McGoldrick returned home. The life-long Notts County fan, this is his club just as much as it is now and that comes with great honour and privilege to be able to say. When he departed in 2004, I wonder if he ever thought he would go on to play top level Championship/ Premier League football whilst representing Ireland internationally. Who knows but what we do know is that after a summer of speculation over this miracle move, with free transfer from Derby County was completed in June 2023. My personal favourite thing about this move will always be the ‘McGoldrick went back to Notts to slow down,’ as it could not be any further from the truth if it was possible. The man currently has nine goals and four assists and is a key player in our bid for back-to-back promotions. The man is also still the same guy he was when he finished as Derby County’s top goalscorer in League One last season, a team that narrowly missed out on the play-offs themselves.

He is back home to finish his fantastic career where he started it, at his boyhood club in Notts County and that is why we sing ‘he is one of our own,’ because it has an extended deeper ring to it when you consider the fact he turned down big money moves elsewhere to come back to the place his heart desired most, Meadow Lane Stadium.

Off the back of that comes the final part, which is our restart to life back in the EFL. It started really poorly with that 5-1 away defeat to Sutton United but since has grown better and better and into something more and more enjoyable. It was always going to be difficult, as the gaffer said he has asked his group of players to make the step up into a new division and instantly become promotion contenders again, and with the club currently sitting fifth in the league, they are not doing a bad job of it so far. I understand that people have their different views, this is an opinionated sport, and it would be concerning if people agreed on everything as it is virtually impossible to these days in this world of football. However, this is a good group and we know that as we have seen that already this season and I have no doubt that if we all stick with them like we have through the highs and lows already this season, that our 2024 will be just as successful as our 2023.

This year we lost the great Jason Turner, I was reluctant to include this knowing how big a loss he was on the club and I again extend my love to his family. Jason worked wonders for this club, loved it like it was his own and treated everyone within it equally. Long may our football club continue to strive in his honour, as the best for this football club was the only thing he ever wanted.

2023 over and out from Notts County Football Club, a year to remember.

*Article provided by K-Ci Rennicks (Notts County Correspondent).

*Main image @Official_NCFC A year which included winning at Wembley to secure Football League status again.

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