When we lost the next game 1-0 to a Wolves team that went on to win the division that year, things started to shift. We played really well, and that gave me a lot of strength and authority in the dressing room because the players could see that my decisions were starting to pay off.
And, outside of the dressing room, the fans were getting behind us. The club had been through a number of managers before I came in – a lot of them only lasting about six months – and I think they appreciated that one of their own was in charge. As performance levels improved, there was a feel-good factor that started to encapsulate the ground. Even though we lost more games before the end of the season, there was this galvanising effect that was created inside Meadow Lane.
Attendances started to climb. There was a good feeling around the streets of Nottingham. I was enjoying it – and so were the players.
With 10 games of the season to go, though, we were still seven points adrift of safety. And the morning after a defeat away at Tranmere, I got a phone call from the chairman, Mr Trew. He wanted to give me a budget for League Two.
I was really offended.
“It’s not over yet,” I told him.
I love being written off. I loved it as a player. I love it as a manager. I love the fact that people question me, because it gives me added strength.
“You’re always going to be passing through football clubs – whether you last 25 years, like Arsène Wenger, or 25 minutes”
Greg and I both felt there was still something to achieve. From then on, between losing at Tranmere and getting a vital draw away at Boundary Park on the final day of the season, we ended up winning six games. It was an incredible run that culminated in 3,000 fans travelling to Oldham for that last game, and helping us achieve our aim of staying in the division.
That night the lads went out partying, but I was exhausted. I also felt a sense of frustration because the achievement they were celebrating wasn’t one that I really enjoyed. Of course, it was a major thing to keep Notts County in League One, but to celebrate staying in the league just didn’t sit well with me.
The next day, myself and Greg went for a walk along the River Trent. We were already reconstructing the squad, getting ready for what we hoped was going to be a promotion season.
I felt we had the perfect platform now to push on.
But those hopes and plans didn’t last long. We soon had some damning news that the budget was being dramatically cut from the one we’d had the previous season. That hit me hard. I knew then that the next year was going to be very difficult.
As it happened, though, we started off really well. Up until Christmas, we had one of the longest unbeaten away records in all four divisions. At one point we were sat as high as fourth in the league. But what had got us there were four fantastic loans – four lads who were really contributing.
In January, the chairman pulled the finances again and we lost all four of them.
It was a tough pill to swallow.