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Qué Sera Sera

Notts County 2-3 Coalville Town (FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round)

I spent most of Friday at the Robin Hood Beer Festival at Trent Bridge which included a guided tour of the cricket ground, taking us in the away changing rooms where we were told a story by our guide Alan, of when former Notts skipper Chris Cairns chucked Kevin Pieterson's kit bag out of the window. I guess he's not a favourite of the club hierarchy. Certainly not a favourite of Alan's, after that incident in 2004, KP never played for the side again.

Later in the day I bumped into Basford United manager Mark Clifford who also works for Notts Cricket in the community. I wished him luck ahead of facing Solihull Moors in the FA Cup the next day and discussed a few players of his, the side doing well this season under his stewardship. I also spotted a former Mansfield Town full back dressed as a Bavarian girl on his stag do which, for his sake, I'll leave at that, he shall remain gratefully nameless, I’m sure he’s had enough attention (and wolf whistles) already. I ended up, eventually, in the newly formed William Gunn bar on Radcliffe Road, walking home down the Melton Road an hour before midnight with a kebab in hand.

On Saturday morning I felt surprisingly ok. The long walk last night, perhaps clearing any potential hangover, cleaning the house and making breakfast for some much-needed brownie points. Before heading off to Notts County v Coalville in the FA Cup fourth qualifying round.

Top of the National League, visiting Notts was perhaps the pick of the draw for any non-league club still in the competition. Coalville from down the road in Leicestershire, going well two leagues below the Magpies, the Ravens sitting third in the Southern League Central Division.

The Venue

I leave the house at 1:30pm and decide to park at the Train Station and walk across towards the back of the Meadow Lane Stadium, past Hooters, down the London Road and up the County Road, crossing over at the gates to the Cattle Market where I see blue flashing lights and a load of Coalville fans outside the Jimmy Sirrel stand turnstiles, looking very boisterous.

The weather is good, chill in the air but blue skies, I head for my turnstile entrance in the Derek Pavis Stand, give my phone a quick zap on the way in and head straight for the coffee bar.

Under the stand, I’m straight to the counter, opting for a tea and a twirl as I’m still full from my breakfast, scrambled eggs, beans, sausages, bacon which set me up for the day, whilst my brew is being mashed, the guy at the till asks me ‘what do I think today’ I reply, “It depends on the team he puts out” knowing that Notts may have one eye on the bigger prize of promotion, whilst Coalville I know, are going well in their own league.

“It won’t be straight-forward, but Notts should have enough” I say with an air of scepticism inside me, it’s the FA Cup after all, a competition which history tells, and there’s a lot of history in it, that anything really can happen.

I take my seat high up in the stand where I get a good view of the pitch, level with the 18 yard box, the Coalville lads are first to warm up, getting out nice and early, relishing every moment inside the fantastic arena, these boys of course are used to playing in front of 2-300 a week, today they’ll be 5,000 plus inside Meadow Lane and a good 1,500 have made the trip up two junctions of the M1.

The Game

The news is that Notts have made eight changes, which suggests that Head Coach Luke Williams has bigger eyes on the prize of promotion this season, perhaps the cup is an unwanted distraction? Perhaps he still believes his side has enough in it to win it? The likes of Ruben Rodrigues, Matty Palmer, Adam Chicksen, Kyle Cameron, Cedwyn Scott, Sam Slocombe, and the free scoring Macaulay Langstaff, all rested, I wonder if it’s a sensible gamble. It soon becomes apparent, it’s probably not.

County start the game slow paced but in control, almost like it’s a training match, no tempo, just passing without reason from side to side, for two minutes Coalville haven’t touched the ball, but suddenly space is found for right winger McGlinchey who is running through on goal, he slots home, and the away crowd go absolutely wild. Only 88 minutes left to hang on.

For the next seven or eight minutes I’m amazed by the noise of the travelling army, I’ve not heard noise like it from a following at Meadow Lane in the past, Que Sera Sera is sung, followed by Leicestershire La La La, and Coalville are massive, everywhere we go…

The away side look decent on the break, but retreat deep to allow Notts in, a right wing cross by Adebayo-Rowling who impresses me for the second time this season, is headed in by Sam Austin, parity restored with less than ten played, Notts back on track. Perhaps?

But Coalville, managed by former Grantham Town boss Adam Stevens, are gutsy and no mugs, they work hard off the ball and when they have it themselves, they look after it well, Notts still aren’t at it, you feel they’re not as up for it as the away side, and it tells everytime they get the ball. Castro frustrates, the midfield lacks ideas, their best bet is getting it to the right wing for Adebayo-Rowling to take on his man, but they don’t work the opportunity enough, Coalville are hugely competent, there’s not much between the two sides, but for two glaringly obvious players.

County’s left back Mahovo is a youngster making his debut, but he’s struggling, defensively he leaves gaps, and the more the game goes on the more he starts to become sloppy in possession, Coalville’s right winger McGlinchey looks a player, confident on the ball, he can carry it forward and has some pace, is very direct.

He’s in again is McGlinchey, a long ball played from right back and he’s goal side, bearing down on the goalkeeper before sliding in Chambers to finish from close range, the Southern League Central team are back in the lead, it’s no less than what they’ve deserved. The fans in full voice singing 'were going to Wembley' all over again.

Boos echo around the arena as the half time whistle blows, a Notts fan comes up to me raging, “the left back needs subbing, Brindley’s passing it sideways, he needs to be getting it forward, nothing up front” I tell him “you’ve got another 45 of this”.

I wonder if Williams will ‘bring on his stars’ to turn things around, they’re warming up intensively at the break, sent outside whilst no doubt his starting eleven gets a full rollocking in the changing rooms, following a first half performance, which at best, is abject.

The Score

The two sides appear for the second half, warm applause from Notts supporters who've been quiet all day, the Coalville fans still singing loudly, they’ve been brilliant, a breath of fresh air, I’ve honestly not heard anything like it, even across the water at the City Ground when some of the big boys are in town, these are amongst the loudest I’ve ever heard, a credit to their little old club.

It’s same again on the field of play, the break hasn’t really changed things much, Coalville defend well, but aren’t forced to do anything too desperate, Notts lack ideas on the ball, a couple of minutes in and midfielder Ed Francis simply kicks it out of play, this signals for change from the dugout.

Matty Palmer and Ruben Rodrigues are called upon, and in fairness their addition makes improvement, Palmer is competent on the ball, he starts to dictate, whilst Coalville slowly get deeper in defensive responsibility.

Finally, as the weather changes from sunshine to rain and back, and after pushing with a few near misses, Notts are level again, this time a left wing cross to the back post and Austin is there as he was earlier in the day, heading home, with Macaulay Langstaff now on the field, surely with twenty-five and more to play, they’ll only be one winner from here?

But Coalville simply won’t go away, they have to endure some of Notts’ best attacking spells but for a couple of chances that are narrowly off target, goalkeeper White is largely untroubled, then suddenly, McGlinchley, spins two Notts players inside his own half and the crowd gasp, the away side still look decent on the counterattack, before the sucker punch comes…

Four minutes remain and Notts County have a corner which is cleared well and up the other end the defenders are backing off and backing off, Coalville’s George Wilson has been allowed to run into the area pretty much untouched from the halfway line, he finds Luke Shaw at the back post and he smashes it home low to send the crazy ass away following into complete frenzy.

It’s wild, celebrations of joy as a clatter of seats see some Notts fans leave for the exits, had enough, their side beaten by the better team. There’s no way back from here.

The later stages are defence v attack but even then, Coalville win a late corner to ease off any pressure. White does make a stoppage time save down to his left from a tame but on target Rodrigues header, but as the whistle goes the look of dejection on the home side players and fans is already apparent, celebration starts, the little old team from Leicestershire knocking out a previous winner (all be it back in 1894), and probably the biggest draw in the hat, fully merited on their superb performance.

Only once before have Coalville come this far, whilst some Notts fans in fairness stayed to clap off the minnows, once they had done with celebrating with their own of course, the away fans having the time of their life, the team a credit to the town, a credit to the seventh tier of English football, a deserved winner on the day. No arguments from anyone supporting black and white, the colours also shared by Coalville when playing at home.

The Stars

Whilst Luke Shaw grabbed a late winner to take the headlines, it was his opposite winger Tom McGlinchey who really caught the eye, Coalville with two wide men who work hard, who can carry the ball, who have pace, set up well for counter-attacking football, it was however a real team effort, player for player they put in the work rate that minimised the home teams danger to sporadic occasions. An ethic across the board in their squad that proved they were well drilled and ready for the occasion.

Whilst Sam Austin won the home teams player of the match, I was most impressed, as I always am, with Matty Palmer, who came on as a second half sub, and who’s impact saw Notts improve tenfold in possession, I wonder if he had started, along with their leading scorer Langstaff, would the game have been a different score?

The Verdict

On walking to a stadium to watch a football game, very rarely do you expect to witness something special or historical, in thinking this would be a routine win for the best team in the National League against a part-time side two divisions below them, people had questioned why I was even at this game, and not instead watching Basford United at Solihull Moors, but in the end, my pick was perfect, in watching a win for Coalville that will be ever remembered by all at the Owen Street Sports Ground, the names of Luke Shaw, Ashley Chambers and Tom McGlinchey, going down in Ravens History, as the ones who scored against Notts.

FA Cup football is something very special indeed, even sat in the home end, I’m urging the away team on, inspired by their play, by their story, by their fans, smiling as the ball hits the back of the net for a third time largely in disbelief, because there’s something about supporting the underdog, and when it goes their way, everyone wants to simply enjoy the fairy-tale. Well… Everyone bar the loser of course.

The Teams

Notts County: Brad Young, Lucien Mahovo (Matt Palmer 53), Richard Brindley, Connell Rawlinson, Joel Taylor, Geraldo Bajrami, Ed Francis, Quevin De Castro (Ruben Rodrigues 53), Sam Austin, Tobi Adebayo-Rowling, Kairo Mitchell (Macaulay Langstaff 66).

Coalville Town: Paul White, Alex Dean, Elliot Putman, Jake Eggleton (Connor Smith 85), Chris Robertson, Andi Thanoj, Luke Shaw, George Wilson, Tim Berridge (Tendai Chitiza 75), Ashley Chambers (Billy Kee 80), Tom McGlinchey.

3:00pm Kick Off. Saturday 15th October 2022, Meadow Lane, Nottingham (att 5,060).

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