The Summer So Far

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Towards the end of May I gave the blog a bit of a break whilst things went a bit quiet.

Whilst many were expecting (or hoping) for news about players like Lloyd Sam and Daniel Bogdanovic, and for hints about a friendly with Juventus – the silence was in fact deafening.

In that time, and obviously less importantly there’s been a huge overhaul of the site, making it a lot cleaner than it was previously. I’ve also added audio and video to the blog which can be found in the Categories section under Uploads. The site has branched out to other forms of social media on Facebook and Google+ too.

But what’s been happening in the meantime back at Meadow Lane? Here’s a catch-up to bring you up to speed as the pre-season preparations begin to take shape ahead of the first pre-season friendly tomorrow at Buxton. And yes, Alan Judge is still here!

The close-season began with good news (of sorts) off the field.

Just two weeks after a Crown Court date in August had been set for Lee Hughes in his trial for an alleged sexual assault, news broke that the charge had in fact been dropped as lawyers for the prosecution could not offer evidence. However a charge of common assault was accepted – his punishment was a fine of £500 and £120 court costs.

The club had been well aware of what actually happened that night in December of last year, and it was the same version of events that the court accepted – one of an act of horseplay gone awry. What the verdict did mean, and perhaps what took precedent for both player and club was that Hughesy was free to concentrate on football matters in pre-season without this latest cloud looming large any longer.

Hughesy hasn’t actually scored a goal for the club since Keith Curle took charge of the side, and with only five goals since news broke of the alleged assault, it’s hard to not speculate his mind has obviously been elsewhere.

With most Notts players enjoying the end of season break, one was to be called into action – Jeff Hughes re-entered the international fold for Northern Ireland following his great debut season at Meadow Lane. He and his compatriots travelled to Amsterdam for a friendly against The Netherlands a whole six years since his last international call up.

Despite coach Michael O’Neil in his ear days earlier suggesting he might look for a move to the Championship this Summer, Jeff played no part whatsoever in the game. But that might’ve been a good thing – Holland’s 6-0 win was the Irish’s second worst result of all time!

We all know it would’ve been different had our top scorer for 2011/12 got on the pitch.

A former Magpie getting good news on the international front was Kasper Schmeichel who saw himself called up to Denmark’s Euro 2012 squad following injury to Thomas Sorensen.

Sadly (but not unexpectedly) Kasper was an unused third goalkeeper for Denmark as they bowed out of the tournament in the very first round in it’s proverbial “Group Of Death” with Germany, The Netherlands and Portugal.

The first bits of Notts-related transfer activity came on the very first day of June. But with County still not active in the transfer market, it was left to Tranmere Rovers to set a shining example of why not to rush into any dealings – by signing our recently released unit Ben Burgess.

Words like “asset” and “revolution” were tossed around without even a hint of irony too. We laughed – but the laws of football and the universe dictate he’ll score against us next season. Maybe our own laughter would be premature in the end too.

It came just one day short of being two years to day which he and John Spicer signed for the club too – a timely reminder of the financial perils of jumping into the transfer market too soon!

Meanwhile, Chief Exec Jim Rodwell was calming the fires of enthusiasm (if there were any) in the local media. After two Summers of rampant hope and expectation (Craig Short’s apparent high calibre signings – then the Marlon Harewood ordeal) that would end in disappointment, this was a smart move perhaps – if people even were getting excited by the constant transfer speculation. But that wasn’t even happening anyway by that point.

Shortly after, with many expecting news of as three new signings – it was with some disappointment that the only news coming out of Meadow Lane was the departure of Mike Edwards who had signed a contract with Carlisle United.

A strange move for all concerned you’d think. Notts and their fans lose one of it’s most loyal players, Edwards now finds himself with a new reputation to build amongst supporters who could be less forgiving than those at County, and for Carlisle? Well it’s hardly a move that screams progression for them is it?

Just maybe this would open the door for the previously transfer-listed Krystian Pearce to force his way back into the fold. At least he and Haydn Hollis are in a position to benefit from the move. KP though remains transfer listed with speculation persisting regarding a move to Derby County in the Championship.

Two days later though and we had our first signing of the Summer. Most Notts fans had barely stopped laughing about Ben Burgess signing for Tranmere Rovers – perhaps they should’ve waited? Enoch Showunmi (the ‘n’ comes before the ‘m’ you know) signed and became County’s first signing of the Summer.

He immediately set himself a target of 20 goals for the coming season, that despite having a career best of 14 in a single campaign. Optimistic certainly – but when is he likely to have had the quality of service he’ll have offered to him by Jeff Hughes and Alan Judge? Every club needs it’s big forward waiting in the wings – and with the return of seven substitutes already confirmed in this Summer it’s a move which makes more sense when you scratch a little under the surface.

Showunmi, a player chased last Summer by Martin Allen with Notts willing to part with £125,000 for his services, joined for free.

The acquisition served as the catalyst for most of the Summer’s transfer activity. After the wealth of “talent” released by Keith Curle, a goalkeeper was obviously a priority with only two untried youngsters on the books. Having been scouted by goalkeeping coach Kevin Pilkington, the club signed Bartosz Bialkowski from Southampton.

He came highly rated by Saints supporters surprised to see him drop so far, so it’s probably best not to look on YouTube or anything. Regardless, Notts had their new goalkeeper for next season and were now free to concentrate on the club’s bare bones outfield.

Having been linked with a move to Notts a fair few weeks previously, Gary Liddle signed a contract having finally taken his medical after returning from his travels. The third signing of the Summer played just shy of 250 games for Hartlepool despite only being 26 – great experience added to the squad.

Next to sign up for 2012/13 was Leyton Orient’s defender Dean Leacock – another seasoned campaigner having played with both Fulham and Derby County in the Premier League.

Another boost was to follow with news that Curle had been able to retain a key part of last season’s success. Having not started a game due to contractual issues at the tail end of 2011/12, Gavin Mahon finally put pen to paper on a new contract at Meadow Lane. With so much focus made towards new players coming in – the re-signing of Mahon should in fact prove to be one of the most vital of the Summer.

The’ sixth signing came in the form of Jamal Campbell-Ryce – a winger who had spent most of his career in the Championship. What this meant for any potential move for Lloyd Sam remained unclear but it certainly wasn’t a vital as it previously had been.

Keith Curle next bolstered his squad’s defence with Walsall’s Manny Smith – another signing where his former club’s fans were surprised to see a player end up “only” at Notts County.

Two wild cards were then thrown in the mix also. Yoann Arquin came in from recently-relegated from the Football League Hereford United. Then a second signing from Tranmere Rovers came in the form of Joss Labadie. Two players of immense talent, yet questionable temperament by all accounts.

Which leaves us currently with 13 out and nine in from where we finished back in May.

The squad is back in action tomorrow, starting with a double-header similar to that which we saw last Summer. It’s expected that the majority of first team staff will be making the trip to Buxton whilst Ilkeston FC will see a development squad of trialists and youth team prospects.

Sadly it’s apparent that our players won’t be getting the opportunity to once again test themselves against Juventus. With an August 11th date pencilled in, the Italians will in fact be in Asia for the Italian Super Cup final – but the hope remains that something will be arranged in the near future between the two sides.

It’s not all bad news – the side will travel to Gibraltar to take on their international side in a few short weeks! And rather than Juventus, Notts will put that date to use by hosting massive Bradford City in the first round of the League Cup. Swings and roundabouts eh?

The centrepiece of the club’s 150th year celebrations was held in the Summer with a spectacular looking gala dinner on the pitch at Meadow Lane. Various dignitaries from world football were involved with pre-recorded speeches, including Juve president Andrea Agnelli, Football League chief Brian Mawhinney, and never one to turn down some positive PR, FIFA President (and all round crook) Sepp Blatter.

There’s little sense in running through fixtures that have been announced in any great detail really since everyone has seen them and picked out their highlights already. Lowlights however include another midweek trip to Birkenhead, as well as the giant crèche at Stadium MK where a handful of the local town folk will be hoping their wives choose a Tuesday night to do their big shop at Asda.

The last away trip of the season is a short one to Doncaster Rovers, with Bournemouth being last but one.

The season begins away at newly promoted Crewe Alexandra whilst Coventry City will come to Meadow Lane on the final day. MK Dons travel to Nottingham on New Year’s Day, whilst Boxing Day will be spent away at Shrewsbury – birthplace obviously of the Wheelbarrow Song, so Merry Christmas!

The Jimmy & Jack Statue Fund kept up the pace over the Summer as it edges slowly towards it’s goal of £75,000 – helped in some way by the donation of £3,000 by Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson. The fund has now reached a third of it’s total. Donations can of course still be made here of course.

So here we are…

And that brings us right up to date ahead of tomorrow. The Notts players all returned to training last week – not that this means we’ve seen the end of the signings of course.

The strengthening done this Summer looks on paper stronger than we saw last year – but what of the players who would take that up a level? Those we saw in Notts’ colours at the end of last season? Lloyd Sam still finds himself without a club – yet is currently on trial in Spain with financially crippled Portsmouth. You can’t begrudge him a free holiday ahead of choosing where his future lies really can you? Notts’ number seven shirt is his for the taking though should he want it.

Despite rumours of him house hunting in Nottingham, Daniel Bogdanovic is yet to find himself linked with a move anywhere and was last sighted training back home in Malta. Johnny Forte remains at Southampton, fighting for a place or sitting out of the rest of his contract remains to be seen. As for Kieron Freeman? Having seen so much of Nottingham Forest’s squad gutted this Summer and with new owners going slightly over the top in making their mark – does he have a future at the City Ground?

For now for Notts, all roads lead to Buxton and Ilkeston tomorrow for the first chance to see the new players in action, before a week later heading to Scarborough. Following a fixture at Alfreton, Notts will be flying out to Gibraltar before heading home to Meadow Lane for games with AEK Athens and Nottingham Forest. Things get competitive a week later with that visit of Bradford City.

And don’t forget there’s still time to subscribe to Black & White – the new Notts fanzine we’ve been working on over the Summer. Full details at the link here. Use order code SIRREL for free postage!

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