Neal Wants Notts' Transformation To Be Totally Complete

Neal Ardley knows he could so easily not be the one in the dug-out at Wembley on Sunday for a variety of reasons.

First of all, he could have thrown in the towel last summer. When wages stop for months, so does the obligation to carry on. For most, at least.

Then there’s the elephant in the room. Describing Notts County as a trigger-happy club doesn’t really scratch the surface.

In the nine years before Ardley’s arrival, the club had gone through a mind-boggling 22 managers.

Forget the well-armed Sheriff of Nottingham, Meadow Lane is like a scene from the wild west. Pistols out at dawn on many a morning in the last decade in that corner of the East Midlands.

The manager not only survived what could have been early-season target practice, but he has taken a club at death’s door last summer to within 90 minutes on an instant return to the EFL.

He tells us he hopes the club do it against Harrogate for the fans who can’t be there - and for everyone who kept the faith with Notts so close to closure a year ago.

“To get to where we are today is a credit to all those who stood by the club and who saved it - I didn’t think it would happen,” said the ex-AFC Wimbledon manager, who took the Dons up via the League Two play-offs in 2016.

“I was never going to walk away last summer, there was not a chance of that happening. Even with the club so close to closing.

“I honestly thought it was gone, I didn’t see any way back. In my mind it was pretty much over.

“All the things I kept hearing were frightening, and when the court cases kept being adjourned the chances were getting slimmer.

“The reason I didn’t quit was because I had failed. I didn’t keep the club in the Football League like I wanted to and although there were reasons behind that as we all know, I had let people down.

“No excuses, it was a failure on my part. I came in to do a job and I didn’t do the job I said I was going to do.”

Ardley added: “I was more concerned about being relieved of my duties!

“In the nicest way possible, this is Notts County Football Club - it has had more managers than anyone in the past decade, so of course when you’re in the bottom half there’s a bit of concern there, there’s got to be.

“I knew if we didn’t start quickly many wouldn’t be happy, but we got results and rebuilt people’s trust - now there’s a bond between everyone at the club.”

Ardley says the togetherness with team and supporters is the strongest it’s been in years - but he also knows 25,000 could well have been travelling with them on Sunday.

“We are excited but the fact they can’t go gives me a real sense of sadness,” he adds.

“These are people who have gone everywhere to support their side without much success for quite some time.

“There would have been so many at Wembley, it’s heartbreaking really.

“It’s 100-odd miles away but we can take some emotion from that and we will because we know how much it would mean for them to see us return as a Football League club again.”

Full feature interview available in the National League Promotion Final matchday programme.

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