Skybet Championship 21/22 (incorporating League & non-league teams)

Couldn’t see a general thread for the Football League so here we are.

A great article on The Athletic on Notts County this weekend.

Inside Notts County’s rebuild under Reedtz brothers and Burchnall: ‘This is a historic club, with a modern vision

Amid the picturesque, tree-lined surroundings of Holme Road, a ramshackle section of wall from a long-gone building still stands next to the main training pitch. Against a backdrop of fading green paint, the crisp white outline of a goal is still clear upon it.

It is easy to picture Brian Clough casually leaning against the brickwork, his faithful dog Del Boy at his feet, while his owner barks out instructions to the likes of John Robertson, Garry Birtles and John McGovern.

Over the years, hundreds of Nottingham Forest players have taken the walk down the path by the river Trent, from the changing rooms at the City Ground to the training ground that is still owned by the Championship club. It is where the hard toil was put in, as Clough and Peter Taylor formulated the plans that helped them become the kings of Europe.

There is still a weight of history in the air here, but now it is one carried by the club from the opposite bank of the water Clough only half-jokingly claimed to have walked upon.

Now it is Notts County’s players who make the short drive across Trent Bridge for training, as what was once the oldest Football League club in the world look to reclaim their own place in history. Notts are now in their third season in National League exile, 158 years since they were formed, before becoming one of the founder members of the Football League in 1888.

But, as they go about the task of escaping the fifth tier, following back-to-back play-off disappointments, there is a fierce determination to not only do so, but to do so their way, by instilling an identity in the team that will not only bring success but, hopefully, attract a new generation of supporters.

Head coach Ian Burchnall and the owners, brothers Alexander and Christoffer Reedtz, are united in their desire to build something.

Earlier this month, Notts broke the National League attendance record as they hosted Solihull Moors in front of 12,843 fans at Meadow Lane and the club allowed The Athletic a behind-the-scenes look at their preparations for that match.

On the training ground, Burchnall is constantly offering instructions, advice and encouragement, as he puts players through a series of sharp, high-tempo drills.

All are designed with one thing in mind — to help Notts to play through a press; to give them the confidence and sharpness to not only pass the ball, but to have the bravery to look to make things happen. Burchnall believes there is room for Notts to have more threat in central areas and the work they do is all focused on encouraging this; on getting midfield players to join in from deep.

You need only a few minutes in his company to understand he is a forward-thinking coach. But Burchnall, 38, also understands the significance of the past in these parts.

Even the Clough legacy has been maintained in a fashion, with his son Nigel having recently been a visitor when Notts played a behind-closed-doors local-derby friendly against his League Two Mansfield Town side.

“He even brought his dog with him,” says Burchnall (below, taking training), who is focused on starting a tradition of his own in the East Midlands.

“It is about creating an identity that people believe in. If everyone believes in your approach, whatever that might be, that is when it works. When I first joined, everyone told me, ‘You cannot play this brand of football in the National League — you cannot pass your way out of this division’.

“We are showing, perhaps not every week — because we are still improving — that you can win this way. We are trying to break the mould. We have players who are capable. All that matters is that they believe. If you have that, anything is possible.

“If we are successful and we do get out of this division by playing this way, we will immediately be ready for the next level, in League Two. We like the challenge that comes with people not believing that we can. If we fail, we will get better every time.

“We were top of the division for passes, for completed passes and for final-third entries, for touches in the box — because we pass the ball a lot, there is a feeling among some that we could just ‘Gerrit forward’ a bit more. We do have purpose, but everything we do is for a reason.

“Players enjoy it. If you enjoy your work every day; if you feel you are part of something, it is a darn sight easier to get the best out of people. I hope that, in time, we can create an identity that fans can be proud of; that they can look at and say, ‘That is us; that is how we do things’.

Defender Richard Brindley has played in every division of the EFL, with clubs including Rotherham United, Chesterfield and Colchester United. He joined in the summer of 2019, at the start of the Reedtz brothers revolution.

“The coach here is very much about attacking football,” says Brindley. “Our build-up play epitomises what we want to do. It is not something that is seen at this level very often. We played (League Two) Rochdale in the FA Cup, a team in a higher division, and we played our own football. We held our own.

“Opposition sides can be more physical in their approach in the National League. Teams focus on trying to stop you, rather than on playing their own game. You need to have the tenacity; it is also important that we have the ability to let people know that we are a good team but that we can also be physical ourselves when we need to be.

“We work on every little detail. But above all else, we want to do things our way.”

Over the years, some big characters have occupied the manager’s office at Meadow Lane.

Neil Warnock would trim the toenails of the formidable former Notts chairman Derek Pavis, having previously studied as a chiropodist. While Warnock might have been good with the clippers, he didn’t prove to be shabby at management either, leading the club to successive play-off promotions, from the third tier into the top flight, between 1988 and 1991. Notts were relegated in the summer before the old First Division became the Premier League, with all the inherent riches that involved and Warnock was sacked in 1993, perhaps prematurely.

Sam Allardyce, perhaps wary of how Pavis would react, slipped his resignation letter under the door of the chairman’s office, shortly after leading Notts to the third division title, today’s League One, before skulking off to rejoin former club Bolton Wanderers in 1999.

Outside the stadium, there is a statue of Jimmy and Jack, the legendary (in these parts) duo of Sirrel and Wheeler. Wheeler filled every role from manager to scout over the course of 25 years, while Sirrel, amid three spells in the dugout, guided Notts into the top division in 1981.

Now it is Burchnall’s turn to try.

After working in the academies at Leeds United and Bradford City, Burchnall wanted the chance to work in a first-team environment. When Brian Deane was appointed manager of Norwegian club Sarpsborg 08 in 2012, Burnchall became his assistant. He then stayed out there for a spell as assistant at Viking Stavanger, before being appointed their head coach in 2016.

“That was a real challenge from a tactical perspective, working with senior pros and guys who were older than myself. I was in Norway for five years and ended up managing one of the biggest clubs (Viking), before then taking over from Graham (Potter) at Ostersund in Sweden,” he says. “That was a massive challenge. But I learned a lot about myself and the way I wanted football to be played. In Scandinavia, there is a progressive approach to the way clubs are run. They give coaches time.

“So I had the opportunity to implement a culture.”

Potter, now managing in the Premier League with Brighton, was heralded for leading Ostersund into the Europa League’s knockout phase. In the following season, after Burchnall took over, they finished only one place and one point lower than in Potter’s final year, despite having sold key players. When off-field issues became a problem, Burchnall decided the time was right to return to the UK.

“When I came back, I understood how a lot of clubs could be so short-term in their thinking,” he says. “I needed a club that would embrace my ideas; share a vision and ultimately give time to build something. If that meant coming into the National League to do so, I was happy. This is a historic club, with a modern vision.

“I did not know a great deal about National League football. But I did not know anything about football in Norway. I quickly learned.

“Then I watched what Graham did at Ostersund… the brand of football he played added value to the players there. As a model for long-term sustainability, it worked. Teams could look at the players and see that they would be ready to play at a higher level. That is part of my job here, now. It is not just about winning, it is about developing players and adding value to them.

“I got down to the last two for the Iceland (national team) job. I had a lot of interest from big Scandinavian clubs as well and from higher division clubs in England, But it was the whole package here; what the club stood for that set it apart. It felt like a great fit.”

Burchnall comes across as an intelligent, slightly intense character — but he is also friendly and open.

He clearly has the respect of his players who — as Burchnall spends 20 minutes analysing video footage of what Notts do well and where they can improve — do not let their attention waver. As Burchnall shines a laser pointer at the screen at the front of the room, there is plenty of interaction, as he regularly canvasses opinion.

“He is a top guy. I have worked with a lot of managers and there are a lot I have worked with in the Championship and League One who have not been as knowledgeable as he is,” says Brindley. “The small details that he pays attention to can make a massive difference. As a man-manager and a person, he is exceptional.

“It is fantastic to work under him. We do have a very different approach. There are clubs at that level (Championship) who do not have the facilities we have, the stadium we have or the quality of manager — I believe — we have.

“We have such a strong belief system. It is similar to Manchester City — and I say that knowing that they are in a whole different world. It is not easy to play in this type of team. But when it works, it is fantastic.”

At the age of 40, former Republic of Ireland international Michael Doyle is officially still registered as a player at Notts — but says he is only likely to add to the 800-plus appearances he has made with Coventry City, Leeds, Sheffield United and Portsmouth in an emergency. He stepped up to become assistant manager in May.

“To end my playing career and walk into a role like this was very fortunate,” Doyle says. “I don’t think I could have found anyone better to learn from than Ian. With what the club are trying to do, they really fit like a glove. He never deviates from attacking football. When we are winning 1-0, we do not look to see games out, we try to win 2-0 or 3-0. That is what people want to see now, isn’t it? It is an entertainment business.”

After coming through the ranks at Scunthorpe United, striker Kyle Wootton had loan spells at six different clubs. It was not until he arrived at Notts in 2019 that he flourished, with 35 of his 51 career league goals having come in the last two seasons.

“It is about feeling wanted. At previous clubs, I was in and out of the team. How we play, the system we use, just works for me,” Wootton tells The Athletic. “I was ready to become a main figure in a team. But I am desperate to get this club back into the Football League.

“The philosophy is brilliant, I have never seen anything like it. It is crazy some of the stuff we play, when you consider we are in the National League.

“It is a brilliant approach, when you consider where we came from a few years ago. The owners and the head coach have brought a new lease of life to the place.”

Where Notts “came from” is a telling phrase. In July 2019, staff members and players were called into a showdown meeting with then-owner Alan Hardy, who had to explain why wages had not been paid. Hardy ultimately stormed out of that meeting, which came 24 hours after debt-riddled Notts had avoided being wound up in the High Court, over an unpaid tax bill.

Since they took ownership of the club shortly after, the Reedtz brothers have transformed the outlook and the mood.

The bar may have been set fairly low for them, with Hardy having not only led the club through one of the most torrid chapters in their history but having also achieved the unique claim to fame of being the only football club owner to have accidentally posted a picture of his own penis on social media in January 2019.

The Reedtz brothers like to keep themselves out of the spotlight, but remain a big influence at the club, where their background — as owners of analytics experts Football Radar — has a huge influence.

“A couple of years ago, we did not know if we would still be going,” says Doyle. “I always felt somebody would come in and take it on, because it is an amazing club. There were collections for the staff to be paid, in the worst moments. When a club is at their lowest point — that is when you see what they are made of. We saw the spirit of this place.

“But we were fortunate that we did get the right people. Everything has moved forward since they came in. You can see that they know what they are doing. They are reserved and respectful people. They let folk get on with their jobs.

“There have been disappointments in the last two seasons, when you lose play-off finals and semi-finals (against Harrogate Town at Wembley in 2020 and then against Torquay United last season) that does hit you hard, because we know how desperately fans want to be back up there and, believe me, the players do feel that as much as anyone.

“Ian does see this as an opportunity to build a new fanbase. You want to attract young people to the club and we hope we can drag a few over here, with the way we are trying to play. Years ago, fans would go and watch whichever Nottingham team was at home on Saturday, whether it was Notts or Forest. Why can’t that happen again?”

Notts’ focus on analytics has helped them unearth hidden gems.

Ruben Rodrigues was plucked from Den Bosch of the Dutch second division in the summer of 2020 and, after scoring 13 goals in his debut season, has eight already in this one. Several Championship clubs are understood to be monitoring the Portuguese striker’s situation but Notts are protected by a healthy release clause.

Newcastle United academy product Callum Roberts has also flourished after signing from sixth-tier Blyth Spartans in January 2020, with his rapid progress only being hampered by injury issues the club believe were COVID-19 related.

“They have a really deep knowledge of the game,” says Burchnall. “I was in London with them recently and we were talking about how analytics and football can marry up. We are growing together. Long term, it is a good route to go down; it is a strategic approach. It is more detail than I have worked with previously. But I find it all fascinating.

“They are at every game and you feel as though they trust what you are doing. It is actually interesting for me in one particular sense, because they can see, statistically, when we have deserved to win games. I can feel monumental disappointment in defeat but they might see things differently. There was a game at Eastleigh when we lost 2-0. But I got a message from the owners saying how fantastic the game was. That felt like a turning point.

“We have conversations about where we are going all the time. Do we look at transfer windows with any degree of concern? We understand where we are. There will always be interest in your best players. Almost every club is a selling club to some degree. But at the same time, the players’ success is our success.

“If we can develop a young player and sell them on to the Championship or higher, we can look back and say to ourselves that we have done a lot of things right. Then we just have to follow the same process again afterwards.”

After the talking, comes the action.

Burchnall’s side face Solihull Moors, who are managed by his Notts predecessor, Neal Ardley. Unsurprisingly there is a bit of needle to the game.

But after Rodrigues hits the post with a cross, it is telling that Frank Vincent, the former Bournemouth midfielder, is getting joy down the middle. Those training drills are paying off, as Vincent comes from deep twice, firstly to see a shot saved and then again, when he hits the post, in unlucky fashion.

Solihull have come to frustrate. But Wootton confidently converts a cross and sub Kairo Mitchell drives home a second to secure a 2-0 win in front of that record-breaking crowd.

“That was the perfect example of what we want to see. We spent all that time talking about it, then we went out there and did it,” says Burchnall. “We put a lot of demands on the players but they want to do this and, when it works… it is just not what you expect to see in a tier-five game. It is something we should be proud of.”

A few years ago, Notts had to remove the sign that proudly proclaimed their long-held status as the oldest Football League club in the world after dropping down into non-League.

They will hope that, in the not too distant future, they can dust it off.

Terrific goal by Andre Grey gives QPR a come-from-behind win against Derby

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Poor Derby. 4 wins and ten draws and they have only 1 point on the board.

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Only 5 teams out of the 24 in the championship have never played in the EPL…

A worldie tbf

I have zero sympathy for Derby. We all called for a points deduction 18 months ago when it was clear what underhand antics Morris was at. Forest were handed a transfer embargo in December 2015 for breaking FFP rules. We took it on the chin. Derby must do the same.

Millwall, Luton, Preston, Bristol City and Peterborough?

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Correct.

Luton were relegated from the top tier in 1992 just before it morphed into the PL

Millwall, Preston and Bristol City all played in the top division at some stage.

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Preston have league titles I think

They have indeed.

@The_Selfish_Giant

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First team to win the double.

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Think last time they played in top division cascarino and sherringham were up front with Terry hurlock in midfield …

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Correct. Wasn’t Terry Hurlock capped by England?

Once I think

He was a propert hard man

Brizzle haven’t been in top tier since very late 70s/early 80s. Amazing really given the size of the city.

I don’t know but he was filthy

He wasn’t filthy - hard as fuck ok

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Peter Cormack and Larry Lloyd played with them