30 July 2019

Notts County: A managerial catch-22

The Football League is full of clubs who’ve seen better days. Recent years have seen the likes of Ipswich Town, Coventry City, and Sunderland all slip down to the lower parts of the football league. A team’s history doesn’t automatically warrant a place in the top leagues. Even one of the oldest UK football clubs, Leyton Orient, slipped out of the Football League altogether a year ago after an ignominious slide. They may have been promoted back to League Two since, but their plight is not unusual.

Leyton Orient’s place in non-league football was taken by Notts County, a team managed by AFC Wimbledon’s former manager Neal Ardley. Ardley was the forth longest serving manager prior to his sacking in November 2018. He’d been manager for six years, having arrived with the club in a precarious position in League Two. Having survived relegation on the last day of the season, he took the club into League One and transformed the club behind the scenes. Unfortunately, a series of poor signings and an increasingly negative approach saw the tide turn, and the fans lose patience. There’s no denying Neal’s managerial ability, but he needed a break to recharge his batteries before his next challenge.

It was somewhat surprising that he only took 10 days rest before turning up at Notts County. On paper it seemed like a reasonably solid appointment. Just like AFC Wimbledon back in 2012, Notts County were in a bad position. Neal’s job was to save their league status. Simple as that. He’d done it before, just, so why not again?

What perhaps he hadn’t bargained for, was what was happening off the field in the boardroom. Unlike at AFC Wimbledon where he had the total support of the club’s board right up until the end, it sometimes appeared as if there was no background stability at all at Notts County. Amid talks of administration, takeovers, and financial uncertainty, the only constant was the club’s uncertain future. The players and staff went unpaid, and the club survived to fight another day, even if the price was their league status.

It is clear to all at the club that a clear out of the current playing staff is needed, but to do that you must be able to sign others. With all the financial uncertainty, Neal Ardley hasn’t been able to do so. Even now, with less than a week before the start of the season, he’s still unsure if he’ll have funds available or even if the current transfer embargo will be lifted. It’s a managerial catch 22.

As an AFC Wimbledon fan, you have to feel for Neal Ardley and the rest of his managerial team. He’s an honest hard working manager and a lovely guy. He’ll always be recognised in SW19 as someone who “got” our story. Older fans remember him slumped in the middle of the Southampton pitch after we were relegated from the Premier League. The club meant that much to him, and he was one of the first to support our new club after the move to Milton Keynes. For that alone, we wish him well in whatever the future throws at him.

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