Sven And The Football Revolution That Never Was

Notts County had grand plans which included Campbell and Schmeichel
09:29, 19 Sep 2019

A decade ago, the oldest professional football club in English football was in the midst of a revolution. Notts County had just begun their assault on League Two under the new ownership of Munto Finance, a subsidiary company of Qadbak who loosely claimed to represent ‘Middle Eastern Families’. 

It was an exciting time for County fans. This new era arrived hot on the heels of Manchester City having been taken over by the Abu Dhabi Group, leading to the £32 million arrival of Robinho - a record signing that set the precedent for the incredible success we see at the club today.

Notts County’s new owners promised Premier League football at the club and, having brought in former England manager Sven Goran-Eriksson as Director of Football, they began to make daring moves in the transfer market.

Eriksson was sold the dream by Russell King and Nathan Willet, and told the Guardian in 2010 why he took the job: "I liked the idea of the project, the challenge to do it. It was like a dream to me. And if all their promises had been true, we would have done it."

That summer, things started well in terms of recruitment. Kasper Schmeichel left Manchester City to join up with his former manager Sven at the League Two club and the lines between reality and fantasy blurred for County fans as Premier League winner and Arsenal invincible Campell was unveiled. 

Campbell was by no means at his peak. He joined the club at the age of 34 but he came from Portsmouth having captained the south-coast side to an FA Cup win only eight months previously and also helped them avoid relegation despite their financial difficulties.

His pedigree was unquestionable and a player of his ability shouldn’t have been competing in League Two. But, like Sven, he bought into the adventure - for a short time anyway.

A decade ago today he made his first - and, as it would turn out, last - appearance for the club, at Morecambe’s 6,000-capacity Christie Park. It was hardly the glamourous surroundings Campbell was accustomed to.

Three days later, he was gone. The 73-cap former England international left midway through training the following Tuesday and never returned, citing false promises from the owner. He told the News of the World at the time: "I knew I would be the club's first big signing but was told I would be the first of many. Names like Roberto Carlos and Benjani were mentioned. But nothing materialised.

"I bought into a dream and I wanted to make that dream a reality. But it took me less than a month to realise that it was all heading to a different conclusion."

He was right,  it took just six months for the lies to unfurl. Sven left in February and Munto, who had left the club with huge unpaid bills, sold the club for £1 in the same month. Local businessman Ray Trew took charge and somehow, despite all the off-the-field shenanigans, the side was still good enough to win the league with a massive 93-point haul, finishing 10 clear of Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth.

That summer, Schmeichel quit for Leeds but nobly agreed to forego all his future wages given the financial situation the club were in. Manager Steve Cotterill left after just four months at the helm and several other top names departed as County cut costs. The dream had died for the Magpies.

Despite the difficulties off the field, County managed to retain their League One status for seven seasons before dropping back down to League Two. When another local fan, Alan Hardy, took over the club and saved them from relegation, things looked to be on the up. They made it into the play-offs in the following campaign and, although they lost that tie to Coventry over two legs, the club were heading in the right direction again - or so they thought.

The next season, with Notts favourites to be promoted, manager Kevin Nolan was sacked after six games, with the club at the bottom of the league. The former Bolton, Newcastle and West Ham midfielder was replaced by Harry Kewell but the Australian did not fare any better, lasting just three months.

Things got even more farcical in January when, with the club still bottom of the Football League, Hardy accidentally tweeted a picture of his penis before promptly putting the club up for sale. This hardly helped matters on the field and, in May, the club was relegated from the Football League for the first time.

New owners Alexander and Christoffer Reedtz are now in control of the club and they have made a middling start to their first season in the fifth tier, currently sitting 13th in the league.

Ten years on from one of the most memorable days in Notts County’s recent history, they have become an important lesson for the rest of football: Be careful what you wish for.

We all want investment into our football team but the club’s long-term stability must come first. Bury weren’t the first club to promise so much and fail to deliver. Just ask Sol Campbell...

Sporting Calendar