We Notts County fans have an ironic song whenever our side is playing exceptionally well (so we don’t hear this song very often it has to be said). “Juve! It’s just like watching Juve!“, to the tune of Blue Moon. The irony is that we’ve never been anything like as successful as Italian giants Juventus, but the two clubs are linked nonetheless.
Being the world’s oldest professional league club, founded in 1862, Notts were one of the twelve clubs that founded the English Football League in 1888-9. The link with Juventus doesn’t go back quite so far, but 108 years ago, the Italian club was dissatisfied with its pink kit, and was looking around for something different. John Savage, one of their then players, contacted a friend in Nottingham who sent out a spare set of Notts’ black and white striped kit, and Juve have played in those colours ever since.
With Notts’ 150th anniversary celebrations being planned for next year Jim Rodwell, the club’s current CEO, contacted Juve to ask if they would play an exhibition game at Meadow Lane. That may well happen, but the immediate result was an elegant and generous invitation from the Juventus President, Andrea Agnelli, for Notts to play an exhibition match at the opening of the new £90M Juventus stadium on Thursday, 8th September. Unlike the Italian Serie A, the English league would be well under way by that date, but how could such an invitation be turned down? The Italians sent a chartered jet for County’s 22-man squad to travel to and from Turin, for an evening none of the club’s players could ever have imagined, or will ever forget. Hundreds of Notts fans made the trip too, and were scattered among 40,000+ friendly Italian fans for a glittering opening ceremony that delayed the start of the match by over-running by forty minutes.
Being injured myself, I couldn’t make the trip but I managed to find a live internet feed. I had to pinch myself to be sure I wasn’t dreaming as County’s skipper, Neal Bishop (who was playing Sunday league football five years ago) presented the legendary Alessandro Del Piero with a commemorative shirt. The dream continued with Notts managing to give Juve a very respectable game, keeping the scores level until the home side won a penalty in the second half.
If anything Notts played even better towards the end, and it looked as though they were going to go down only one-nil until with three minutes to go they became party-poopers when 35-year old veteran Lee Hughes smashed in an equaliser from close range. To think that Juve spent £81M on new players this summer (whereas Notts sold one of last year’s top scorers for a princely £70,000!).
Having supported Notts for half a century, and with the club being in the lower reaches of the English league for most of that time, I’ve had some frustrating times and fairly few things to celebrate. Last Thursday night was one of the most pleasurable though, as the club rose to the occasion and did everyone proud. Current chairman Ray Trew rescued the club a couple of years ago, by injecting over £7M of his own money to extricate it from the situation it had fallen into after the well-publicised Russell King con. I hope he and his family thoroughly enjoyed their visit to Turin, and that it’s just one of many such experiences to come. They deserve to have good times, for all they’ve done for the club and its supporters.
The team flew home on Friday, to prepare for the next day’s visit of the rather less illustrious team from Walsall. It would have taken the shine off a brilliant week if their Italian exertions had resulted in a defeat, but they achieved a very satisfying 2-1 win. There’s no respite, for their third game in six days is at Exeter on Tuesday evening, but the players will surely have gained enormously in self-confidence from their Juve adventure.
Onwards and upwards, You Pies!!!