English film director Sir Alfred Hitchcock was notorious for his explanation of the difference between surprise and suspense:
A bomb explosion will surprise the audience, but a bomb planted under a table will keep them in suspense.
Notts County very much fall into the latter bracket at present. The audience (fans) know there’s a real threat that the bomb will go off (relegation) but the actors (chairman Alan Hardy and manager Kevin Nolan) are seemingly unaware of the danger. Hence, nervous suspense regarding our Football League status.
Nolan’s pre-match comments concerned me. He told BBC Radio Nottingham: “Are we in a relegation scrap already? I don’t think so.” Seriously, are we taking this complacent attitude into another season?
Two years ago, when we were relegated from League One, it never really registered with anyone other than fans that we might slip away – until the final day. Too late; the bomb’s gone off. We dropped into the Football League’s basement division with a whimper and we’re now continuing our sleepwalk into non-league.
Nolan joins Mr Hardy in the public stance of not being overly concerned by our perilous position. The chairman has repeatedly played down the danger, instead preferring to shout about a future of our own training base and aspirations of the Championship. The sentiment is music to our ears after a spell of doom and gloom, but let’s save that talk for when we’ve actually secured our place as the world’s oldest professional club.
As a side rock bottom of the form table, just one point above the drop zone, for Nolan to say it’s too soon to worry about relegation is laughable. We’ve got 18 games to stay up. In the last 18 encounters, we’ve taken nine points. NINE.
Another transfer window has seen us fail to address the central defensive frailties that have plagued the last three campaigns (at least), yet we’re expecting the outcome to be different? As it stands, we’re relying on a rejuvenated Thierry Audel to remain consistent, and uninjured, or a Hull City development full-back to excel in his secondary role.
Positivity surrounding the takeover papered over the cracks but the problems on the pitch, like those we witnessed against Accrington Stanley, will always see them resurface. As fans, we know we’re in a fight for Football League survival and to tell us otherwise is either delusion or insulting fans’ intelligence.
Admitting we’re in a dogfight as a club isn’t a sign of weakness. If anything, it puts supporters at ease, knowing that our decision-makers are well aware of the trouble we’re in. It’s not a negative, it’s a cause to rally behind the team and play our part – just like we did with the Great Escapes in 2001/02 and 2013/14; just like we did when we returned to the Kop in 2007/08 and Richard Butcher rounded off our revival; just like we did on the final day of 2005/06 when we kept our head above water with an emotional comeback draw against Bury.
Notts may be classed as a big club for League Two, but that doesn’t mean we won’t go down. I’m sure Tranmere Rovers, Bristol Rovers et al thought the same and look what happened to them. Everyone from top to bottom, inside and out needs to know about the danger we’re in and be mentally prepared for 18 cup finals that lie ahead. This alone is enough of a hook for crowds to turn out in force at Meadow Lane.
I’m sure – or at least hoping – the blasé attitude towards the ‘R’ word is just a front and behind the scenes the sense of urgency is recognised. In 18 games’ time, it’d be great to look back with relief but, as it stands, we need to realise that we’re in a scrap, a dogfight, a battle, a Great Escape – whatever you want to call it. My fear is that we’ll get to Newport on the final day hoping that the bomb under the table is a dud.
The remainder of this season needs to be seen as Project Survival. Once we’re there, let’s focus on Project Revival. 54 points are up for grabs and three against one of our relegation rivals, Cheltenham Town, this Saturday is vital if our leaders are going to continue with their ‘keep calm and carry on’ facade.
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