Notts County’s varied fortunes over the years cannot deprive them of pride in one distinction. They are the doyens of the Football League. Notts County are recognised as the oldest club in the Football League and although the date of their foundation has been questioned recently, it did not stop Notts celebrating their centenary in 1962. A football team did undoubtedly exist in 1862 but only played practice matches outside the locality with pioneering clubs in the thriving Sheffield area. It was not until 1864 that Notts FC were officially established at the George IV Hotel. They played at Park Hollow, nothing more than a reasonably flat, irregular shaped depression in the generally sloping surrounds of the Castle, before moving to The Meadows, with the Trent Bridge Cricket Ground alternatively used for important games.
In 1877 Notts, ever mindful of their genteel background, (viewed as snobbery by the other club in town), moved on to the ‘Gentlemen of Nottinghamshire Cricket Club’ at Beeston. Genteel or snobbish, County called themselves the ‘Lambs’ in those days, a provocative name despite its seeming meekness, as it was allegedly derived from an infamous gang of Nottingham thugs. In the same year County cemented their reputation for snobbery by dropping Forest from their fixture list, apparently because the latter’s humble, artisans’ background was viewed in a poor light by the club’s other regular opponents.
When necessary, Notts still used the Trent Bridge Cricket Ground, such as when they played Derbyshire in November 1878 in one of the earliest floodlit games. Overall the move to Beeston did not prove to be a success, so in 1880 yet another move was made, this time to the Castle Cricket Ground, with the actual pitch located on the site of the aforementioned The Meadows. Three years later County settled into the Trent Bridge Cricket Ground until 1910.
When the trustees of the Cricket Ground refused to renew the lease to Notts, a final move was made in 1910 to a site that was to become the Meadow Lane Ground. When the Magpies arrived, it was nothing more than an open ground next to a cattle market.
The gay blades of Notts favoured bright raiment, starting with amber and black striped shirts and black shorts in 1862, then switching to the cricket-inspired chocolate and Cambridge blues halves and white shorts in 1880. The now familiar strip of black and white stripes, which led to the nickname Magpies, followed in 1890. This famous striped shirt inspired Italian giants Juventus to start wearing a similar strip at the turn of the twentieth century.
The stripes were discarded for white shirts, trimmed with black collars, and an amber top to the stockings as a reminder of the very early days. But old love lingers. Notts County have now reverted to the more traditional outfit and today’s fans are divided as to whether it should incorporate an amber trim, a throwback to the club’s earliest days, or remain unadorned.
Notts County’s first emblem was based on the City of Nottingham coat of arms. It was used from the 1950’s until the early 1970’s. The arms were officially recognised by the College of Arms in 1614 but it is not known how long they had been in use. The shield contains a representation of the legendary Robin Hood. The crest takes the form of a walled castle with three towers, all in their natural colours, standing upon a wreath of red and gold. One tower bears a silver crescent and the other one a golden star – the star and crescent being symbols of the Crusading history of Richard I, in whose name Robin Hood performed his merry deeds. The supporters of the shield are two royal stags, often spotted in the nearby Sherwood Forest, looking outwards and standing on rough broken branches. Each stag bears an open golden crown around its neck.
The image of a magpie in full flight was used by the club during the late 1970’s and the early 1980’s. The current logo, with two courting magpies perched on a football was originally designed in black and white, though now usually seen on an amber shield. Two magpies of course signify “joy”, as opposed to the solitary portent of “sorrow”.
An emblem sometimes seen of our friendly, albeit alone, magpie dressed in a tuxedo, a bowler hat and walking-stick, indicative of the prestigious image of the club, was used mostly by newspapers as a cartoon icon to represent Notts County but never appeared on the shirts or in any official capacity.
A final thought to ponder as we leave behind the oldest club in the League: a few years earlier and Juve could now be wearing chocolate and pale-blue halves!