Neal Ardley will become the first Notts County manager to win a promotion in a decade, if the Magpies can beat Harrogate at Wembley this weekend.
Not since 2010 have the Magpies moved up a division and, including caretakers, that was 18 managerial appointments ago. EIGHTEEN!
Steve Cotterill was the last man in charge of the Magpies who got to sip on the champagne, after a season which – even by Notts County’s standards – was extraordinary.
Of course, it was the days of Sven-Goran Eriksson – a campaign that started with a 5-0 thrashing of Bradford City on the opening day.
One of the more surreal moments of my career came that day when, presenting from Meadow Lane, I uttered the words “… and joining me live on Matchday is Sven-Goran Eriksson.” Not something you forget in a hurry.
But after the groundwork for promotion was laid by Ian “Charlie” McParland – a man who was caught up in the storm going on around his ears – Hans Backe, and the likeable Dave Kevan, Notts plumped for Cotterill, who led them over the finishing line.
Remember, this was a season when it wasn’t certain Notts would finish the race, let alone win it.
There was talk of administration when Ray Trew took over.
“I remember getting a call from (Chief Executive) Jim Rodwell,” Cotterill told me.
“He asked me to come in and do a job until the end of the season.”
It’s worth remembering at this point that the former Burnley and Cheltenham boss had been out of work for over two years.
So, success was not a given.
“I met with Jim in the evening at a hotel in Nottingham for a good long chat, and the chairman came to the hotel the following morning.
“I was keen to know what he was going to do with the club – was he going to put it into administration?
“I told him that if he puts it into admin, I’d get the team into the play-offs. But if he held off, I told him we’d win automatic promotion.”
Cotterill was as good as his word, as Trew put the administration gun back in its holster.
He took a team that was seventh in the table, and 14 points off the top, to the title in eighteen matches.
They finished the season clear at the top – ten points ahead of Eddie Howe’s second-placed Bournemouth.
Cotterill’s record was P-18 W-14 D-3 L-1.
“We didn’t deserve to lose that at Port Vale either! The lads were absolutely gutted in the dressing-room after the game.
“We had a great dressing-room, with some really strong characters in it.
“Ade Akinbiyi, Lee Hughes, John Thompson, Luke Rodgers, Neal Bishop, Ricky Ravenhill, Delroy Facey, Ben Davies, Graeme Lee, Kasper Schmeichel… so many good characters.”
Notts clinched the title at Darlington at the end of April.
“I thought up there it would be really tough, but we got the job done and won 5-0. The lads were magnificent that night, and we had a great time afterwards too.”
It’s extraordinary to me that it was a decade ago, and that the club have largely been on a downward trajectory ever since – except for a few highs along the way.
Successes have come from avoiding relegation, rather than winning promotion, with the notable exception of the play-off campaign under Kevin Nolan.
But after two relegations since, Cotterill is hoping for the best this weekend and for Neal Ardley to become the latest promotion winner as Magpies manager.
“I still look for their results every week,” admits Cotterill.
“I have great memories from my time in Nottingham in general. They were two great clubs to manage (Cotterill was Forest manager in 2011/12) and the city was a brilliant place to work in football.
“There were some really, really good people at both clubs and I’m really hoping Notts can get back into the Football League where they belong.”
Photos – Dan Westwell