In the wake of the record breaking moves like Ronaldo and Kaka to Real and Carlo Ancelotti’s equally big move to Chelsea that cements perceptions that football is a conglomerate dictated to by a few giant clubs, it is heart warming to see a big name coach like Sven Goran Ericksson, still active in his sport turn his focus to helping a small albeit historical club like Notts County.
He joins as sporting director on a five year contract and his lofty goal with coach Ian McParland will be to pull out County from League Two all the way to the Premiership. More to the point is, is this ambitious project more to do with Eriksson than leading a club out of obscurity? Salvation of a manager often derided for his motivation putting to rest all the second guessing? Ericksson also goes back full circle to his small club roots when he managed Swedish side Degerfors more than 30 years ago.
There is a bright patch in Notts County football history he might want to read up on which might help him in the club’s ambitious quest to pull out of the obscurity of League football. Jimmy Sirrel passed away last year but not before becoming a legend at County. He lifted the club from the basement to the top flight of English football in two installments as manager, guiding coach Harold Wilkinson to his pinnacle in 1981. A shining moment that lasted three seasons, in a period of relative stability for a club that has slipped up and down the rungs of League football a record 27 times. Sirrel did it the hard way, on a shoestring budget and through painstaking scouting. As this interview shows, it was a never ending task finding players:
“I knew where they were and I had people finding them. You’ve got to be looking all the time. Somebody once said to Kathy: ‘Your Jimmy is never in,’ and she said: ‘Well you cannot cage a tiger!”
Sirrel did it with good grace and a sense of destiny. It started the day he joined County in 1969 when in a moment of seeming braggadocio he said, “Ask any kid what he knows about Notts County and he’ll tell you they’re the oldest football team in the world. By the time I’ve finished, he’ll know a lot more.” When he passed away, he was given the ultimate encomium by Sir Alex Ferguson, a close friend and fellow Glaswegian.
“I’d be confident in Jimmy Sirrel managing any team I supported, and that would be the general opinion from all the managers in the game.”
Eriksson will not have a paltry budget to rebuild County which Sirrel was forced to work with. The Middle Eastern consortium that bought out the club has promised funds but it will be left to him to prove astute enough to find a constellation of players that Sirrel relied on to bring glory. Don Masson and Tony Hateley, two players proved instrumental in pushing the club to the top division after 60 years. Masson’s creative playmaking and Hateley’s goal scoring contribution catapulted the club from the fourth division to the second division in two years. Masson was back in time for Sirrel’s second tenure with the Magpies for their 1981 triumph.
By that time Sirrel had found his most important player Raddy Avramovic, the Serbian goalkeeper now managing Singapore’s national squad on one of his travels to Europe. He came to Notts for £200,000, an exorbitant sum of money for an impoverished club. Sirrel named Avramovic as the most influential player in his team along with John Cheidozie, a lightning quick winger and Iain McCulloch, a powerful but technically adroit centerforward. Brian Glanville writes, the difference in the all too easy comparison between Watford and Notts success was that Sirrel did it playing pure football whereas Watford ground out victory in dull and soulless fashion. He was privy to this brand when he saw Sirrel’s players at their skillful best in a match against a strong Liverpool side which finally won but not before being forced to match the Magpies attacking flair.
The Magpies seem to be on track to reproduce some of Sirrel’s attractive and attacking style with their spate of summer signings which includes West Brom striker Lee Hughes and Shrewsbury Town’s, Luke Rodgers. They join Delroy Facey, the young British Grenadian talent. Ian McParland also signed up playmaker Ricky Ravenhill, a longtime Doncaster Rovers standout to the squad. The days of crippling debt, a revolving door of managers, and living in the shadow of their celebrated nemesis, Nottingham Forest might be over. Like Man City, they dare to dream.