Where Are They Now? Notts County’s Second Division promotion winners 1980/81
by Neil Fissler
DON MASSON insists that nobody gave Notts County a chance of winning promotion from the Second Division before the season kicked off.
Instead, after finishing 17th of 22 the season before, they were among the clubs who were seen as being one of the favourites for relegation.
The bookies were so unimpressed with their promotion credentials that they were offering them at odds of 66-1 to win a place in the First Division.
But the tactical awareness of Howard Wilkinson as coach and the management of the late great Jimmy Sirrell turned them into promotion contenders.
Not only that but they finished second behind West Ham United, securing promotion with a win against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in their penultimate game of the campaign.
Masson believes that most of the credit is due to Wilkinson, who developed a passing style in contrast to the reputation for a direct style of play that he developed in later years when winning the title with Leeds United.
“Nobody gave us a chance. We were 66-1, we were favourites to get relegated. Blackpool reminded me very much of what we did.
“I know that Blackpool came with a late run whereas we were always up there from the very beginning of the season.
“Primarily, it was down to Howard who took over the coaching. He had learnt a lot from Dave Sexton when he was coaching England under-21s.
“Jimmy had done everything before Howard came in, taking us through the divisions but as soon as Howard came in he moved into the background.
“They had a very good understanding of how each other worked and let’s not forgot that they also had Jack Wheeler working with them as well.
“Howard had us playing with Pedro Richards as sweeper when previously we had two big centre-halves, Brian Stubbs and David Needham. And we started playing from back.
“That made the difference rather than just lumping it up the middle, so we started throwing the ball out from the back. And using space for people to run into.
“It was all with a method it was never just hopeful balls, everybody knew that the balls were going to be played into the space.
“The team virtually picked itself every week, we only used a handful of players all season. It was a real team effort,” he said.
- Trevor Christie: A striker moved into the office stationery sales industry and has been sales director for a firm that makes labels
- Eddie Kelly: After winning the the double with Arsenal, the midfielder settled in Devon and worked for a double glazing company and has hosted Emirates Stadium tours.
- Mike Leonard: Now back at Meadow Lane running the academy, the goalkeeper coached in Hong Kong, New Zealand and Dubai before joining Nottingham Forest.
- Radojko Avramovic: The Serbian goalkeeper went into coaching and management and has spent 25 years working in Asia, where his last job was in charge of Myanmar.
- Pedro Richards: A defender who worked in the building trade, but died of a rare form of pneumonia at the age of 45 in December 2001.
- Rachid Harkouk: A Chelsea-born Algerian international striker has settled in Nottingham where he is the director of a pawn brokers.
- Jack Wheeler: Either side of World War Two, the goalkeeper spent 25 years with County in a variety of backroom roles, retiring in 1983. He died in Nottingham in 2009 aged 89.
- David Hunt : He runs the David Hunt Soccer Schools in his native Leicestershire while the midfielder also runs school clubs for Manor House School in Ashby de la Zouch.
- Gary Wood: A full-back who returned to his native Corby after being released in 1981. He has been working in a local boatyard.
- Brian Kilcline: Now spends most of his time living in semi-retirement in Portugal, the central defender has worked renovating properties.
- Brian Stubbs: Former defender lives in Keyworth, Nottinghamshire, where he worked in the building industry and before becoming a painter and decorator until his retirement.
- Ray O’Brien: A Republic of Ireland full back was reprographics manager with Nottinghamshire County Council before working for a printing company in Newark.
- Tristan Benjamin: After settling in Nottingham, where he became a bus driver for Nottingham City transport, the central defender then taught trainee bus drivers.
- Mick Walker: A former maths teacher who became a youth-team coach, he went on to manage County and worked in Leeds United’s academy before becoming chief scout.
- Don Masson: Scottish international midfielder ran a hotel near Trent Bridge for well over a decade and is now the owner of a five-star guesthouse, The Grange, Elton, in Belvoir valley near Newark in Nottinghamshire.
- Paul Hooks: A winger who was a coal miner is still based in Nottinghamshire, where he has worked as a lorry driver.
- Gordon Mair: After returning to Scotland, the winger qualified as an electrician and then worked for Morrisons in Airdrie until his retirement.
- Jimmy Sirrell: Twice managed County as well as Brentford and Sheffield United, later becoming chief scout of Derby County. He lived in Burton Joyce until his death in September 2008 aged 86.
- Howard Wilkinson: An experienced football man, has twice been caretaker manager of England, chairman of the League Managers’ Association and Sheffield Wednesday chairman.
- Paul Manns: A midfielder who returned to his native Staffordshire living in Stone and is working as a painter and decorator
- Ian McCulloch: Worked in insurance, then had a double-glazing business for 12 years, the winger later became a delivery driver for UPS.
- Jim Doherty: A forward who was an electrical engineer, he then became a deep-sea diver and was Offshore Manager for Technip Offshore UK until his death in September 2015
Not Pictured: Ian McParland: A Scottish striker who went into coaching and managed County and Ipswich Town before returning to Nottingham Forest as under-21 coach.
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