All football fans want a hero to idolise. It’s why we follow the game. We support our club first and foremost, but it’s made all the more bearable by having a player who will stand out above the rest and make the difference.
Even in Notts’ most dismal years gone by, we have always seemed to have someone who offered a glimmer of hope. Someone who would stand tall, push their chest out and either make it worthwhile even venturing down to Meadow Lane, or go on and produce much-needed goods to push the Magpies on a level, or at least preserve where we are at that given time.
Think of Richard Butcher and his goals in 07/08 keeping us up, of Danny Allsopp’s goals in the original Great Escape under Billy Dearden in 01/02 or the nerves of steel possessed by Julien Baudet in 05/06. Then there was the leadership (and more nerves of steel from the penalty spot at the last) from Alan Sheehan and his manager Shaun Derry in our most recent Great Escape attempt in 13/14.
As it is now, we’re generally considered to be at our lowest ever ebb. A mess from top to bottom, on and off the club. A new owner in Alan Hardy gives us hope that, off the field at least, the club will start to move forward.
But what about on the pitch? Who is going to come through and deliver the goods? Is there a hero out there? A new idol to save the club from the very worst of seasons and preserve our Football League status?
Notts’ history is full of names of players who became legends. Footballers who are put on a pedestal by fans of all ages. From Lawton to Hateley, from Bradd to Masson, from Johnson to the original Gary Jones, and from Stallard to Hughes. Stallard aside, all thrived in some of our greatest moments.
Our new manager must now help us find the next Butcher, Allsopp, Baudet or Sheehan.
The January window is vital for Hardy, who could become a hero himself given he has rescued us from the dismal end to the Trew era. He and the new manager will hopefully unearth some gems to make the difference. But what if we have to rely on what we already have? Who could step up? Let’s take a look at the candidates from within our confidence-sapped ranks.
The obvious one is Jon Stead. Our top scorer stood alone even last season in coming out with any credit. And at the start of the year he moved up another level, his scintillating form earning a Player of the Month accolade. He’s been at the heart of just about every win we have amassed all season.
Stead’s goals-to-game record proves he will find the back of the net plenty more times yet this season, but he’s looked a shadow of the player who began the season so well since his return from injury. Could a new manager re-ignite him again? If he does, he could be the hero of the hour.
How about his strike partner (when played there) Jonathan Forte? Whenever he gets a sniff of goal he inevitably scores. Considering he hasn’t been played down the middle anywhere near as much as he should have, he’s still found the net enough times in a struggling outfit to suggest he remains as potent as was hoped when he returned for a third spell in the summer.
He’s also stayed remarkably fit considering his record on the treatment table in recent seasons. Given a run in his favoured position, playing off his best mate at the club and car school partner Stead, Forte has the ability to make the difference.
Considered by most observers as our most impressive summer capture, captain Michael O’Connor has been one of the biggest let downs. Injuries and suspensions have curtailed his impact, while a Twitter spat with fans has lessened his standing furthermore. But there is a player in him.
He’s scored goals and been indispensable to clubs much higher up the ladder. His displays in early-season games against Stevenage and Plymouth showed his ability. It’s now whether O’Connor wants to illustrate those leadership qualities John Sheridan was sure he had and kick on to become the player Magpies fans expected him to be. An O’Connor at 100% could see him become the next captain, after Sheehan, to make the crucial difference between grim failure and relative success – safety in League Two.
It doesn’t matter who it is, but someone needs to seize their moment. Notts are calling on someone to join Allsopp, Baudet, Butcher and Sheehan, and write their own piece of history. There’s no better time to start than a big local derby against Mansfield Town this weekend.
Photo: Matthew Hoyland