From Park Hollow to Meadow Lane

The following text is largely based upon the Notts section of "The football grounds of England & Wales" (1983 edition) by Simon Inglis, with additional material - particularly that covering the re-development of Meadow Lane and beyond - cobbled together by 'upthemaggies'.

Older than the FA itself, Notts County are the doyens of the Football League. They formed in 1862 and like all sporting clubs of the time were strictly for 'gentlemen only'. The name 'County' signified their genteel leanings.

Park Hollow / Meadows Cricket Ground
Notts first played at Park Hollow which was part of the private park next to Nottingham Castle. For two years the members played games only among themselves, until December 1864 when County finally turned out against another club in a 20-a-side game on The Meadows Cricket Ground. This open space (now The Queens Walk Recreation Ground) became their regular pitch until 1877, although for important matches County hired the Trent Bridge Cricket Ground, then privately owned.

Beeston / Castle Cricket Ground
Notts moved in October 1877, in keeping with their image, to the home of the Gentlemen of Notts Cricket Club in Beeston. If necessary they still used Trent Bridge, such as when they played Derbyshire on 30th November 1878 in one of the earliest floodlit games. November 1880 saw them at the Castle Cricket Ground in the Meadows (roughly where Osier Road now is) and they remained here until 1883. Until that time Nottingham Forest had been renting Trent Bridge from its new owners, Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club, but they left in 1883 for a new ground in Lenton.

Trent Bridge
Notts County historian Keith Warsop suggested that County's arrival in 1883 at Trent Bridge in place of Nottingham Forest might have been engineered by the cricket club's secretary, Edwin Browne, who immediately assumed a similar post with Notts County. County's first game as permanent tenants of Trent Bridge was against Walsall Swifts in September 1883. At this ground Notts put aside their former inclinations and turned professional in 1885, becoming founder members of the Football League in 1888. They were relegated to the newly created 2nd tier five years later, but in 1894 County won the FA Cup and were promoted back to the top flight in 1897. A scoreboard was eventually installed at Trent Bridge and first came into use on 3rd December 1898 for a match v. Everton.

Notts County playing at Trent Bridge circa 1900
Notts in action at Trent Bridge
The stand in the background (to the left) was dismantled and rebuilt at
Meadow Lane (behind one of the goals) where it stood until 1978.

Alternate Venues
Cricket still took priority at Trent Bridge and each September and April Notts had to find alternative venues for home fixtures. They made use of the Meadows and the Castle grounds again and also used whatever ground Forest had at the time*. For this reason alone Trent Bridge was hardly a suitable venue for a League team, although unlike Sheffield's Bramall Lane and Northampton's County Ground, the ground's owners did at least permit County to rest a portable wooden stand on the open touchline. The club had to move this stand occasionally to prevent wear and tear on the turf.

*The final Notts fixture at the Castle Ground was played on 15th September 1894, this being the clubs' first Football League game to be played after they had won the FA Cup, an estimated 10,000 were in attendance. Notts then played some home matches at Forest's Town Ground (also in the Meadows area) between April 1894 and April 1897 and later at The City Ground April 1899 - April 1909.

As early as 1905 the Football League had made it clear that Notts should find a home they could use all through the season. Apparently certain clubs threatened by relegation had complained that while some teams had had to play Notts at 'home' on Forest's ground (when Trent Bridge was being used by the cricketers) they had had to play their fixture's v. Notts at Trent Bridge. The League agreed this was hardly fair and Notts began a half-hearted search for new premises.

It was not until 1910 that County moved, the final impetus coming from the cricket club who were anxious to see the footballers leave, even though the football pitch barely encroached on the cricket field - it was on the Fox Road Side of the ground, used mainly as a practice area by the cricketers. Perhaps feeling some pressure, Notts decided to sell their ground rights in the 1st Round of the FA Cup when they were drawn to play Bradford City at Trent Bridge. At last stirred into action, Notts found their future home across the River Trent, not far from where Forest's old Town Ground had been. Their final match at Trent Bridge was on 16th April 1910 v. Aston Villa, with an estimated 11,000 in attendance. Notts' record gate at this ground was 25,000 for the visits of Tottenham Hotspur in the FA Cup on 23rd February 1907 and Everton on Boxing Day 1909.

Notts County v Aston Villa at Trent Bridge, 16th April 1910
A scene from the last match played at Trent Bridge on 16th April 1910

The Move to Meadow Lane in 1910

Before Notts moved to their new home, as council tenants, Meadow Lane was open ground next to a cattle market*. With admirable speed the contractors managed to erect the steelwork and roof of the Main Stand in just nine days for £3,000. Once fitted out the total cost came to £10,000. The stand was identical to one at the City Ground, built by the same company a few years before. At the South East end of the ground nearest the Trent was placed a small wooden stand, seating 1,400, which the club had literally floated across the river from Trent Bridge. It was probably the oldest stand in the League before being torn down in 1978, older even than the Gordon Road Stand at Priestfield Stadium. The opposite end was open terracing whilst the Sneinton "popular" side stand had an open stream behind it, Tinkers Brook, running down to the Trent. A man with a long pole, cane basket on the end, would be stationed by the brook to fish out the ball during games.

*Another football club, Notts Rangers, had previously played on a pitch somewhere on Meadow Lane from season 1886/87 until the club's demise in May 1890, reports refer to a 'Trent goal' as well as a 'Meadow Lane end' which, if not describing the same end, would indicate that the pitch was on the eastern side of the road. Other local clubs continued to play at this ground until the season before Notts' arrival. On Friday 29th July 1910, the Nottingham Evening Post  made reference to the construction of County's  new home as "work at the London Road Ground" and back in January the plot was described as "near Meadow Lane", suggesting the name "Meadow Lane" had yet to be settled upon and that it was not being built upon the same patch of land known since the 1880's as the "Meadow Lane Ground".

Meadow Lane was opened with a top flight match against Nottingham Forest on the 3rd September 1910. Amongst the estimated 25,000 who attended (equalling the record attendance set at Trent Bridge) was the Lord Mayor's party who were photographed in the centre of the pitch with the Meadow Lane end behind them. The match was drawn 1-1 with Billy Matthews, formerly of Aston Villa, scoring the first ever goal at Meadow Lane to give Notts a half-time lead.

From a contemporary report at the time......
"There were some rousing scenes on Saturday in connection with the County Ground in Meadow Lane, the admirably equipped and splendidly compact new home of the Notts. F.C. Spectators rolled up in numbers which had no parallel in the club's long history, and on all hands was to be found evidence of the interest and enthusiasm which the launching of the new undertaking had aroused. Moreover the good wishes of the powers that be in the football world, of the city fathers, who stand in position of landlords to the club, and of friends and rivals alike, found hearty expression at a function which the directors could not have had more convincing testimony of the wisdom of their decision to acquire headquarters of their own. In honour of the day, flags and bunting were freely employed around the ground. The old club flag floated proudly from a lofty mast at the Meadow Lane end, and in the opposite comer, a brand new emblem, mounted on a flagstaff of Ruddington oak, presented by Major Ashworth, offered its mute welcome to the thousands of spectators who came to witness the first match."

The Army took over Meadow Lane for much of the First World War, and this gap, together with some unlucky draws in the FA Cup, meant that County did not play a Cup tie at their new ground until ten years after moving there, although on Wednesday 3rd April 1912 the ground had staged an FA Cup Semi-final replay between Barnsley and Swindon Town.
In 1920 there were plans being made to remove Notts from the ground to make way for an abattoir, but a late intervention by a City Councillor persuaded the Health Committee to reconsider the proposal and place the abattoir on nearby land to allow the club to continue playing at Meadow Lane.

The County Road Stand
In the summer of 1925 the club replaced the 'Popular Side' with a new larger stand, which was actually on top of the banking over Tinkers Brook. It later became known after a new road that ran behind it, County Road (up to this point it had been an area of allotments). The terracing under the roof was wooden and the stand sported a simple triangular gable, a loveable feature of Meadow Lane ever since. This was the chevron shirts period when Notts included the England full back Bill Ashurst who, alongside fellow full back Horace Cope, became renowned for use of the "offside trap". Sadly the offside rules were changed for 1925/26 and in legendary goalkeeper Albert Iremonger's final season Notts were relegated (and they would not regain elite status for another 55 years). 1925/26 was also the first season in which accurate attendance figures were required by the Football league, Notts registered an average of just under 15,000 with gates of over 30,000 for the visits of Leicester City, Fulham and Arsenal. The ground had again been selected as the venue for an FA Cup Semi-final on Saturday 28th March 1925, Cardiff City beating Blackburn Rovers.

Main Stand Bombed
On the night of 8th May 1941, despite or because of a machine gun emplacement on the open Kop, Adolf Hitler's bombs destroyed the northern wing of the Main Stand and cratered the pitch so badly that County had to withdraw from the 1941/42 wartime League competition. Then in March 1947, after prisoners of war had been used to clear the pitch of snow, the River Trent submerged Meadow Lane only marginally less than the City Ground. Being further from the river banks and slightly higher, County's ground drained more quickly and suffered less than Forest's ground and for a time the clubs shared their facilities.

Meadow Lane 1962
Tommy Lawton strikes a free-kick against Leicester City in 1951,
The Kop is in the background with County Road to the right.
There were huge crowds at every home game during this period.

Tommy Lawton / Record Attendances
Although Meadow Lane had staged top flight football in its' early days (and would later go on to do so again) the ground's golden age was unquestionably a five year period shortly after the end of the 2nd world war. The signing of England centre forward Tommy Lawton for a record British transfer fee brought crowds flocking to see the 3rd Division South club and by 1949/50 average gates were approaching 35,000, this being the season that Notts sealed promotion with a home win against Nottingham Forest on 22nd April 1950 in front of 46,000, the Kop having been extended to help accommodate the bigger crowds. The following season would be the last (to date) in which Notts would be in a higher division than the Reds. The occasion of Meadow Lane's highest attendance of all was not a happy one as 47,310 watched York City of the 3rd tier beat 2nd tier Notts in the Quarter finals of the FA Cup on 12th March 1955. Lawton had left by then, though he returned as manager in 1957 for one season, that same year saw the small wooden white painted fences around the perimeter of the ground replaced by metal railings on a low brick wall. The campaign ended with relegation back down to the 3rd tier. 1959 saw the ground stage its' first televised match, albeit brief BBC highlights of an FA Cup 1st round defeat to non-league Bath City. It would be another 13 years before television cameras would return to record Notts in action at Meadow Lane again.

Meadow Lane 1962
A view of Meadow Lane from The Kop, 1961/62, with the original set of
floodlights which were replaced in late 1962. The County Road stand is on the
left, the Meadow Lane Stand at the top and the Main Stand on the right.

Floodlights / Financial Crisis / Rock Festival
Floodlights had been installed at Meadow Lane in 1953, long before Forest's, and first switched on for a friendly v. Derby County on the 23rd March, but after one of the pylons came crashing down in a gale on 11th/12th February 1962 Notts were forced to install a new set of lights mounted on taller and presumably sturdier pylons and these were first put to use on 11th October 1962 for a match v. Port Vale.

For the opening home fixture of 1963/64 Meadow Lane had a new scoreboard erected on top of the kop, donated to the club by the local brewery Shipstones, it replaced the old scoreboard which had sat in the corner of the County Road/Meadow Lane end*. Attendance's slumped to under 4,000 towards the end of that season as Notts were relegated to the 4th Division. In April 1965 manager Eddie Lowe was sacked and the players were then called to a meeting and told by a director; "In two or three seasons this club has almost collapsed. Another season like the present one would finish us completely."  By the end of the year it was decided that the financial situation had become so bad that the club could not continue. Thankfully local businessman Bill Hopcroft stepped in and saved Notts with an injection of cash, but County's performances on the pitch failed to improve and the club narrowly avoided the indignity of having to apply for re-election with a series of woeful campaigns in the late 1960's.

In Autumn 1968 the ground staged a handful of Nottingham Forest's home league fixtures after their Main Stand had been gutted by fire. On May 10th 1969, scarves and bobble hats gave way to beads and kaftans as Meadow Lane hosted Nottingham's 11-hour 1969 Pop & Blues festival presented by Radio One DJ's John Peel and Ed Stewart, amongst the acts on the bill were Pink Floyd, Fleetwood Mac, The Move & Status Quo. Sadly the weather wasn't kind and only 2,000 people turned up**.

*The kop scoreboard would display a selection of half-time and full-time scores which would be placed up against two rows of small windows (bold white figures on black boards), the games would be identified by a corresponding letter (A-W) printed in the matchday programme. The window in the top left corner of the scoreboard always displayed the current score at Meadow Lane, whilst the bottom left corner would show the shirt numbers of whoever had scored the latest goal for both Notts and their opponents. There was also a set of loud-speakers and a very small clock which simply told the standard time, not a 45 minute countdown as seen at many other grounds. A Shipstones ad board sat on top of the scoreboard for almost two decades before a series of cigarette ads replaced it, 'Vanguard' (during the top flight stint in the early-mid-1980s), 'John Player Special' and finally, for the scoreboard's last  three seasons, 'Superkings'.
See a picture of the scoreboard taken in 1991 shortly before it was removed here.

**Another outdoor rock festival took place in Notttingham just two months later on 12th July 1969 at the Nottingham Racecourse, the acts there included The Nice, Yes, King Crimson, The Edgar Broughton Band and Caravan, all compered by John Peel. The following year, on 25th July 1970, the venue was switched to the Victoria Embankment for what was described as "Woodstock comes to Nottingham", acts that day included Family and Taste.

Revival in the 1970's
Whilst Notts were still struggling to avoid the re-election process in Division Four, local Labour MP Jack Dunnett had joined the board of directors in February 1967 just three days after resigning as chairman of Brentford. In early 1968 Bill Hopcroft suffered a stroke and Dunnett took hold of the reins as acting chairman. After this position became permanent he appointed his former trainer at Brentford as the manager of Notts County in November 1969, Jimmy Sirrel, and this marked a great turning point in the club's fortunes, Sirrel's midfield "jewel" Don Masson, with Brian Stubbs & David Needham in defence and Les Bradd up front, steered Notts back into the 2nd tier with two promotions in three seasons. Seats were added to the rear-centre area of County Road in the mid-1970's and gates rose to a respectable average of around 11,500 (with over 30,000 turning up for some matches) as County jostled with Forest to be the first club to bring top flight football back to Nottingham. Notts appeared to be well on course to do just that with a table topping start to the 1975/76 season, yet - frustrated with the lack of resources - Jimmy Sirrel was lured away to Sheffield United and Notts finished the season 5 points short of a promotion place.


The County Ground in the 1970's as viewed from the Meadow Lane end
looking North towards the County Road stand with the Kop to the West.

Fences & Segregation / Meadow Lane End Demolished
After four seasons together in the 2nd tier it was Forest who snatched promotion on the very last day of season 1976/77. Jimmy Sirrel returned as Notts manager in October 1977, but with County next to bottom of the division and facing a battle against relegation, the attendance's once again began to decline as Forest rose to the very top of English football and went on to conquer Europe.
Due to an alarming increase in crowd disorder at football grounds across country during the course of the 1970's, segregation and metal fencing was introduced to help prevent opposing fans from fighting and invading the pitch. Visiting supporters at Meadow Lane were now being directed to a section of the Kop, to the right of the goal as viewed from other stands, and fences were installed along the front of the Kop and the County Road stand. The Kop also had additional fences to separate the away fans from the home fans (including two overspill areas and a no man's land in the centre) which had the effect of making supporters feel as though they were caged in, as well as obscuring the view of those at the front*. The Main Stand was left fence free.
Meanwhile, the old wooden stand on the Meadow Lane end had become unsafe and was demolished in July 1978, although many supporters felt it might have gone in a more dignified way - it was after all probably the oldest stand in the League. Initially, a small makeshift wooden terrace known as 'The Family Stand' covered whatever had been exposed underneath, whilst the concrete terracing at the front continued to be in use until the whole area was razed to the ground during the 1980/81 season. In its place arose a huge, blank, brick wall, the back of a sports complex.

*The Kop was the first stand to be caged in whilst metal fences only appeared at the front of County Road in time for the start of the 1981/82 season. Notts took the decision to remove the fences from County Road following the Hillsborough tragedy in 1989, but the fences at the Kop end remained until it was rebuilt in 1992. New sturdier black painted crush barriers had replaced the old versions around 1980.

The Meadow Club
The sports complex, named The Meadow Club, was built at a cost of £800,000 as County finally won promotion to the top flight in 1981, but in the shadow of Brian Clough's outrageous success with Forest the average gates failed to rise above 12,000. With the much needed percentage of away gate money rule suddenly scrapped, the income generated by the sports complex became essential. With such low gates Notts decided that extra accommodation behind the Meadow Lane End goal would not be necessary and so left a void between the goal and the wall. The sports centre also had changing rooms installed, taking them out of the antiquated Main Stand. An uglier solution could not have been found, for now the ground was effectively three-sided, although there could be no doubt about the standard of sporting facilities housed beyond that blank wall.
Meadow Lane's capacity was still an acceptable 23,680 at this stage, including 4,000 seats and, with television now taking a regular interest in Notts, a permanent camera gantry.
 
 

Meadow Lane
as described in 1982
by Simon Inglis

Despite its name, Meadow Lane is about as rural as the Boleyn Ground is Tudor. The ground is surrounded on all sides by light industry, Tinkers Brook has been concreted over, and the Trent is hidden from view by factory buildings.
Main Stand
The main entrance is in Meadow Lane, by the new sports centre and offices, behind which runs the Main Stand at a right angle. With the possible exception of Swansea's Main Stand, a less imposing stand, belonging to a top club would be hard to find, yet County's is not entirely without character. It has a barrel roof, angled slightly towards the centre. The metal work is black and white, like the rest of the ground, but the seats are for some reason blue, some of them being bench seats. In the centre of the roof a television camera gantry has been built. Notice at the Kop End of the stand, the roof panelling reveals where bomb damage was inflicted during the War. In front is an uncovered paddock. Outdated it most certainly is, but other clubs have proved how refurbishing can make even the most dilapidated look new.
Spion Kop (Also known as the Cattle Market end)
From here, to the left is the uncovered Spion Kop, topped by a lovely half-time scoreboard with a clock, glass panelled front, and loudspeaker hailers on each side. New black barriers against the light concrete give this bank a neat appearance. From the summit, Forest's ground is clearly visible straight ahead, but otherwise the view is dominated by industry. Behind are two five-a-side pitches, and beyond them is Iremonger Road, named after County's long serving goalkeeper, Albert Iremonger, who made a record total of 602 appearances between 1905-26.
County Road
Opposite the Main Stand is the County Road Stand, with the familiar pointed gable proudly announcing the club's name, 'established 1862'. Many visitors assume the stand must be as old, but it dates back only to the 1920s. It lies at the back of an uncovered terrace, built up on stilts above what used to be the open brook. All the terracing under the sloping roof is wooden, with an impromptu metal framework in the centre supporting a few hundred seats. Underneath this charming stand is a small prefab hut used by the supporters' club. From County Road itself, the stand looks remarkably like a chicken house, with wooden shutters along its rear wall. In the Meadow Lane corner, where the scoreboard used to stand, is a tall flagpole.
See a picture of County Road as it was in 1982 here.
Meadow Lane end
And so we come to the 'wall'; a brown and grey sheer cliff a few yards behind the Meadow Lane goal. Blue-clad dressing room extensions with slanting roofs abut against the wall; a sign of future intentions to cover them with a terrace? Unlike the supermarket developments at Selhurst and Boothferry Parks, there are not even a few token steps of terracing behind the goal. The only consolation is that when the Kop sings, the sound apparently bounces off the wall.
Notts were used to playing on three-sided grounds in their early days, and now they have made Meadow Lane the same. Along the top of the wall is a line of executive boxes. It would be unfair not to add that the Meadow Club has four squash courts, a multi-purpose sports hall and social facilities, and compared with many clubs is not expensive to use. Finally, notice how odd are Meadow Lane's goals. The stanchions are L-shaped, so that the posts and net form a large rectangular box. Overall, Notts' Ground has little beauty and is mostly under-developed, and in places even un-kempt. The perimeter track, for example, is particularly untidy. Furthermore, it is hard to envisage the ground changing in future years, unless sufficient funds are found to smarten up both stands and construct some form of terracing in front of the sports centre.
 
 
 

Junior Magpies Enclosure / Vocal Support
Poor home attendance figures in the 1980's would not prevent Notts from enjoying three seasons in the top flight as the likes of Arsenal, Aston Villa, Manchester United, Nottingham Forest and Tottenham Hotspur were all beaten at Meadow Lane. The ground also hosted an FA Cup Quarter-final v. Everton in 1984 by which time a small token concrete terrace had been erected at the Meadow Lane end. Initially for the exclusive use of the Junior Magpies (and their guardians) the 'stand' was only about 5 steps tall, looked distinctly non-league and did not even span the whole width of the pitch, mostly being constructed towards the Main stand side, although spectators could wander further along and stand against the perimeter wall towards County Road where a very small covered area for disabled supporters was eventually erected near the corner flag. Executive boxes at the top of the Meadow Club building were added one by one over a period of years (from right to left as you look at them from the outside). In 1985 the pitch had to be shortened by six feet to enable those in the boxes a clear view of the goalmouth below.

Relegation from the top flight was largely accepted as inevitable, but a successive drop to the 3rd tier saw the majority of Notts' home gates of 1985/86 dip below 4,000 which resulted in another financial crisis. County introduced a "Lifeline" scheme that helped keep the club afloat until Jack Dunnett sold Notts to former Forest director Derek Pavis in the summer of 1987. Pavis stirred the beginnings of a revival with a clutch of semi-celebrity signings and it was around this time that the County fans finally got their act together in terms of vocal support. The west wing of County Road had been intermittently closed to home supporters in recent years and new seats were eventually added at the back of that section to be used as a visitors seating area, forcing home fans who had stood at that end to move further along - in most cases towards the back of the already popular east wing. It wasn't an ideal area for supporters to get behind the team, but it was now the only standing area under cover still available and seemed the most natural place for the more partisan support to congregate*. Backed by a more populated and noisier Meadow Lane, Notts spent much of 1987/88 in the automatic promotion zone playing superb attractive football, but the distraction of a cup competition and a poor run-in saw them miss out in the play-offs. A new manager, an injection of talented youth players and a more direct style of play was required before the Magpies could once again take off for the dizzy heights of the top flight.

*The standing paddock at the front of the Main Stand was usually responsible for starting up the long favoured chant "COUN-TY cha cha cha, COUN-TY cha cha cha" (It can be heard on a 1974 TV broadcast from Meadow Lane and probably dates back many years before then). Small pockets of supporters around the ground had attempted to bring other songs into the mix over the years, but it was rare to hear anything more than the most basic chants sung in earnest (such as "1-0, 1-0, 1-0...", "We want a ref!", "Easy, Easy" etc.) before the Pavis era.
 

Transformation in the 1990's
Following the Hillsborough tragedy of April 1989, Lord Justice Taylor's government commissioned report recommended all-seater stadiums as the most practical answer to the hooligan problem as well as crowd safety. The clubs in the top two divisions were then given a deadline in which to satisfy those requirements, Notts' successful return to elite status at this juncture demanded, yet also made possible such changes.
There had been an idea in the 1970's to build a new sports stadium on Colwick Park Racecourse for use by both Notts and Forest. A similar proposal in 1990 to construct a shared facility at the former site of Wilford Power Station (just off Queens Drive where Electric Avenue and a retail park now is) was met with no shortage of enthusiasm from chairman Derek Pavis, but the Forest supremo Brian Clough effectively vetoed the venture. In November 1990, following the club's annual meeting, it was announced that Notts would re-build Meadow Lane.
Despite the cushion of a reasonable time-frame in which to adapt to the new football landscape, Pavis was eager to press ahead with his new vision for Notts, putting into gear plans to construct three new stands in one single summer. On the back of achieving an incredible double promotion via successive Wembley play off finals, the level of expectation on the terraces was such that few, if any, questioned Pavis' wisdom, but it soon became evident that the transformation of Meadow Lane would come at the expense of the team. In January 1992, with Notts above the relegation zone and on course to become founder members of the breakaway Premier League, the Magpies sold striker Paul Rideout to Glasgow Rangers - much to the chagrin of Manager Neil Warnock who was not even consulted - and then, two months later, fellow striker and home grown terrace hero Tommy Johnson was sold to Derby County.

Three New Stands
In April 1992, with a demoralized Notts now all but relegated, work began on a new set of steps at the Meadow Lane End, this time they would meet the back of the Sports hall (below the existing executive boxes) and a roof and seats would be added to restore the ground to four proper sides. The shallow steps at the opposite end meant that the Kop would have to be completely re-built, as was the case with the mainly wooden County Road. These decaying landmarks of a golden age witnessed their final match v. Luton Town on 2nd May 1992, a match that Notts won to ensure that the Hatters joined County in missing out on the inaugural Premiership.

The Cattle Market/Kop End and County Road stands were demolished during the close season to make way for the much taller and imposing all-seater Kop (unimaginatively left unnamed) and what would eventually become known as The Jimmy Sirrel Stand - onto which, at the suggestion of supporters, a reproduction of the familiar triangular gable was fixed. A new set of floodlights, said at the time to be the brightest in Europe, were mounted on hydraulic masts and Notts first electronic scoreboard (positioned at the front of the Meadow Lane End roof***) was switched on for the official opening of the new stands on November 14th 1992 by Tommy Lawton, although the new stands had in fact opened for business in time for Notts first home fixture of the 1992/93 season v. Leicester City on August 22nd. Most of the seats in the new stands were black, but yellow and white seats were used to spell out "Magpies" in the Sirrel Stand, "NCFC" in the Meadow Lane end and "Notts County FC" in the Kop.

Just weeks into the 1992/93 season another star player, Craig Short, followed Tommy Johnson to Derby County, Notts went on to narrowly avoid a successive relegation but sadly not before a poor run of results saw Neil Warnock sacked. Half of the newly built Kop was initially used as a home supporters zone for most matches (the half closest to the Main stand) with a central column of stewards and no-go seats keeeping the opposing fans apart, yet by the end of the season the whole of the Kop had become "Visiting supporters only" and the away fans continued to exclusively enjoy the benefits of that stand's superior acoustic qualities for the next 15 years*. During this period, block 'Z' of the Sirrel Stand** was the most popular section of the ground and most of the home vocal support would be generated from the back of that area.

*With the new Kop still being split between home and away fans (and nobody allowed to sit in the central columns), the stand was not used by more than a relatively small number of home supporters who had populated the old Kop. Many of the spectators who preferred a vantage point behind a goal had apparently switched ends to take a seat in the Family Stand or chosen to carry on standing for a few more seasons at the front of the main stand. This defection encouraged the club to take the decision to make the Kop exclusive to away fans. The Meadow Lane end, even during the period when there had been no stand there, was still considered as the natural home end and the team captain would continue to choose to attack it in the 2nd half when County won the toss.

**The Sirrel Stand was divided into three blocks; 'X block' being the west wing (often all but empty in its' early years), 'Y block' being the central reserved seating area, and 'Z block' being the unreserved 'sit anywhere' east wing. As the east wing of County Road had been the most popular area of the ground before re-building, 'Z block' naturally replaced it as "the singing corner".

***As well as displaying the team names, current score and time, County's first electronic scoreboard also gave out the team line-ups prior to kick-off, identified substitutions, listed individual half-time and full-time scores, flashed up goal scorers, the attendance figure and displayed a marquee of text advertising/messages. There were also a handful of very basic animation sequences to accompany a goal, a corner, or to encourage supporters to "Make some noise boys!". The display was made up of small yellow/orange bulbs on a black background, but individual bulbs would often fail and it was quite rare to see it working at 100% efficiency over the course of its 12 years or so of service. View an image of it from 1998 here. It was replaced in 2006 by a slightly smaller and more basic model, though many supporters assumed it to be the same old board partially fixed.

Meadow Lane 1992/93
A view of Meadow Lane shortly after the first phase
of redevelopment had been completed, 1992.

The Derek Pavis Stand
Now on borrowed time, the old Main stand hosted one final moment of delirious glory when Notts beat Nottingham Forest with a late winner in February 1994, but as the 1993/94 season drew to a close, Notts strong push for the play-offs was virtually extinguished by an own goal at Derby's old Baseball Ground. Forest went on to win promotion whilst the old Main stand was seen off, along with any remaining hope of Premiership football, with a defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers on 16th April 1994. For that season's final home fixture v. Charlton Athletic, most home spectators were packed into The Jimmy Sirrel Stand looking across to find half of the 82 year old Main stand had already been dismantled. From this point on, there was to be no more standing room at Notts County.

The artist's impression of the Derek Pavis Stand, as unveiled in the Nottingham Evening Post in March 1994, can be found here.

The new 'Derek Pavis Stand' was ready in time for the first home game of the 1994/95 season, ironically against the same team who had contested the final match played out in front of its' predecessor. The Wolves fixture was broadcast live by the Midlands ITV station Central TV on Sunday 21st August 1994 and the vast banks of empty seats immediately made it apparent that Notts were going to have great difficulty filling the new construction, the problem exacerbated by a disastrous period that saw Notts relegated with one of their poorest campaign's ever, only to be followed two years later by one even worse which sunk County into the 4th tier.

Going Under
Image shows Meadow Lane submerged in the great flood of November 2000, Notts were unable to play a home match for 7 weeks.
With Notts continuing to struggle in the lower divisions, Derek Pavis became increasingly frustrated. During his final five years as chairman, the 20,000 all seater stadium (built to stage Premiership football) only entertained five-figure crowds on just two occasions. A protracted and damaging 18 month process saw the club sold to an American, Albert Scardino - a director at Notts since September 2000 who had previously failed in an attempt to buy Nottingham Forest and also happened to have an interest in the City Council's "Riverside Development" plans for the area surrounding Meadow Lane, for which the artist's impression didn't include a Notts County football ground! Scardino had actually been handed control of Notts from the moment he arrived and Pavis was publicly exonerated from County's now dire financial situation.

Administration
In June 2002, Scardino called in the administrators on the very same day that an announcement was made that the ground would be re-named in honour of a controversial sponsorship deal, yet the sponsor in question (an Estate Agent!) went out of business before the new season began. Mid-way through 2002/03, two stands (The Meadow Lane End and The Jimmy Sirrel Stand) were sponsored instead.
As the team continued to hover above the relegation trapdoor for another season, County's off the field problems went from bad to worse - to the point where the Football League began to threaten their oldest member with expulsion. A meeting of the club's creditors could have seen Notts put into liquidation, instead it was agreed that County should be re-sold. A generous new lease on the Meadow Lane site agreed by the Council attracted three serious offers. However, the preferred bidders, selected in June 2003, ultimately failed to secure the necessary funds in time to satisfy the Administrators. With the situation now absolutely desperate, a consortium led by former local directors was hastily put together and with help from one anonymous supporter in particular - who all but single handedly funded the deal - the club was saved just 6 days short of the Football League's 'FINAL' deadline of December 9th 2003. County's mystery saviour was eventually revealed to be Haydn Green who sadly died less than four years later, the Family Stand (Meadow Lane End) was then re-named in his honour.

County had avoided expulsion but their League status was now about to be brought into question by matters ON the pitch. Following a relegation from the 3rd tier that was directly attributable to the administration period, Notts were then involved in successive battles to avoid a drop to 'non-league', a period symbolically embodied by the breakdown of the electronic scoreboard which remained out of action for some 18 months until a replacement was finally switched on for a never to be forgotten final day of the season fixture v. Bury on May 6th 2006, this being a match that Notts had to win to guarantee their safety. The Magpies only managed a draw, but results elsewhere proved favourable enough to allow Notts to survive their lowest ever league finish, 89th in the 92.

*The replacement scoreboard (2006-2010) was similar in appearance to its' predecessor, again being made up of small yellow/orange bulbs on a black background, but the new model was slightly smaller and only capable of displaying the two team names alongside the current score and minutes played.

Rugby Union / The Kop for Home Fans
From season 2006/07 Rugby Union was regularly played at Meadow Lane for almost a decade after Nottingham RFC's new premises in West Bridgford were deemed unsuitable for first team games. The new Notts Chairman Jeff Moore and three other board members stepped down shortly after the start of the following season, making suggestions to the local media that the Supporters Trust (now the majority shareholders) had scuppered a potentially benign takeover. Trust head John Armstrong-Holmes took over as Chairman and one of his first tasks was to appoint County's 8th new manager in as many seasons, but as attendance's continued to slump the lack of atmosphere in the ground (a notable problem since re-building had been completed in 1994) became an ever more convincing reason as to why the Magpies' home form had been so generally poor for so long. With Notts again becoming dangerously entwined in another battle to avoid demotion to non-league, it was finally agreed to hand over the Kop to home supporters for the match v. Accrington Stanley on 12th April 2008. The change inspired the team to a rare home victory and the experiment was repeated for the penultimate game of the season which was also won to guarantee County's Football League status, but the 21st placed finish equalled the club's lowest final position suffered two years earlier. The Kop then became a permanent home fans area whilst away supporters were now allocated a section of the Jimmy Sirrel Stand, or the whole stand if required*.

*Away supporters were initially allocated block 'X' of the Jimmy Sirrel Stand. At the start of 2010/11, visiting fans were moved to block 'Z', but as before the whole stand would be handed over to away supporters when necessary.

Munto & Meadow Lane's Centenary
At the end of County's most miserable decade to date, and with the Supporters Trust now divided over who amongst them should be running the club, a mysterious consortium named 'Munto Finance' stepped in with a multi-million pound investment proposal. The Trust agreed to a takeover which was completed on 14th July 2009, then - eight days later, to the total astonishment of the long suffering fans, the former England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson (who had guided the national team to the World Cup Quarter-finals just three years earlier) was named 'Director of Football' amid a global media frenzy. With Notts now suddenly believed to be among the richest clubs in the country, if not Europe, transfer gossip linked County with numerous international star names as the club splashed out on high earning players and backroom staff and installed an expensive pitch lighting system (on trial) which would make the grass grow in winter to offset the damage done to the turf by the now less than welcome Rugby club, who refused to leave. But as the new season progressed, the Football League began to ask questions regarding the identity of the people behind Munto and the funding they supposedly had whilst the national press undermined the credibility of those known to be involved as 'go-betweens'. On 12th December 2009, Munto suddenly pulled out. With massive debts soon spiralling out of control and Notts facing their 2nd winding up order of the season, Chairman & former Munto employee Peter Trembling had no other option but to sell the club for £1 with the now unaffordable Sven-Göran Eriksson resigning his position the same day. The brief and bizarre Munto affair did however result in the club achieving its' highest average attendance's for 16 years and set Notts up for a promotion that would see Meadow Lane mark its' centenary on the back of some success in what was otherwise an ever lengthening and depressing record number of seasons out of the top two tiers.

Colour Scoreboard
Ray Trew took control of Notts County on 11th February 2010, initially intending to place the club back into administration which would have also incurred a points deduction and possibly de-railed the promotion push, but after being persuaded to manage the Munto debts the team then embarked on an unbeaten run to the end of the campaign which saw them claim the 4th tier title. A full colour scoreboard was in place the following season for the visit of Southampton on 30th October 2010, though a problem with the control box meant that it could not be switched on until the following week's FA Cup tie with Gateshead. The 150th anniversary of the club itself in 2012 was celebrated with a banquet on the pitch plus a firework display outside the ground on 7th June, and later in the year on 18th November a legends match was kicked-off by 85 year old Jackie Sewell (who had played in the same Notts side as Tommy Lawton as well as being capped 6 times for England) followed by the showing of 'Notts County: The Movie' on a giant screen.

*Trew also bought the Nottingham rugby club, who were still playing at Meadow Lane at the time, but he soon lost interest and they eventually left for the Lady Bay Sports Ground in January 2015, by which time Trew had purchased Lincoln Ladies FC and moved them to Meadow Lane to play as 'Notts County Ladies' from the spring of 2014 until they folded just three years later in April 2017.

Icing on the Munto cake aside, the poor and divisive decision making previously suffered under The Trust continued under the new owners with no less than 11 different managers appointed in six years. Whilst significant amounts of money was spent on cosmetic improvements underneath the stands, unseen by the average supporter, the 4th tier title winning side was swiftly dismantled and the support, now paying among the highest prices in the division to watch negative brands of losing football, soon began shrinking back to pre-Munto levels as Notts were involved in three final day battles against the drop in the space of five seasons, the third of which - 2014/15 - finally condemned County to a relegation they had been threatened with since Trew's first full season at the helm and one which saw the club set a new all-time record number of home league defeats, the owner also installing his wife - a former nurse - as Chief Executive and placing both himself and his wife on a newly formed "transfer panel" to select the playing staff. With Notts then entrenched in the bottom half of the basement division, the final straw for many was yet another new face in the dugout with no previous experience in management whatsoever. On 25th February 2016 Ray Trew announced that he was putting the club up for sale, blaming the abuse he and his family had received outside the ground and on social media following protests during a home defeat to Leyton Orient.

Statue
In May 2016, following several years of fund-raising, a statue of former manager Jimmy Sirrel and long serving trainer Jack Wheeler depicted sitting together in the dug out some 45 years earlier was placed outside the ground on the Meadow Lane pavement (south of Ashling Court)*. Notts won only three home league games that calendar year and on 11th January 2017, with the club having just broken its' all-time record number of consecutive league defeats and facing another battle to stay in the Football League, Nottingham based businessman Alan Hardy purchased the club.

*A year after the statue was installed and in the same week that the long serving 83 year old BBC radio commentator Colin Slater announced he was retiring at the end of the season, one of the two Chestnut trees at the corner of the main stand/Meadow Lane end had to be cut down on 27th April 2017,  it was believed to have originally grown in a back garden before the ground was built in 1910. Four weeks and a day later, former chairman Derek Pavis - responsible for re-building Meadow Lane in the 1990's - died at the age of 87.
 
 

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13.06.2018