The word legend is thrown around far too easily in football these days. It’s used more and more in a commercial sense from within the game now; FIFA ultimate team, football playing cards, even vintage shirt sales. Greats of the game have all had major influences, as a whole almost defining era’s. But in the case of an individual club legend, especially for County I feel there are two factors we use. Either an individual piece of brilliance or the consistent “give it everything” performances.
Not long-ago County had a Legend XI announced. Every one of those players picked met both of those factors. All the selections brought many of good times to the club, the individual moments of brilliance they gave us will never be forgotten, and will be forever reminisced within our fan base. Some immediate stand out moments spring to mind. Kevin Cooper tormenting Rufus Brevett against Fulham. Armstrong’s Everton equaliser. Pilks Wembley header. Marsden and Bennett bossing international opposition at EP. Flynny on the line denying Le Tissier. Sean Connelly’s Middlesbrough goal. Truly special moments, each and everyone of them deserving of their places and we will never forget what they did for our club. Not surprisingly all but one of the XI are from the greatest era our club has had.
There are the many players who didn’t make that final XI. For me, having started watching County from the early 90’s; Andy Preece, Neil Edwards, Chris Beaumont, Tony Dinning, Luis Cavaco, Luke Beckett, Stephen Gleeson all immediately stick out. Some special footballers. Gleeson was never actually our player but what a contribution he made, not to mention the goal that ‘meant nothing’. Cavaco without that injury would no doubt have been a regular starter with a Premier League club and no doubt would have commanded a higher transfer fee than what Alun Armstrong was sold for.
Going further back in time I was always told of Alan Ogley, Les Brad, Bill Atkins, Johnny Price and Andy Thorpe as County legends by my grandfather.
So getting closer to the point I’m trying to make. We do have players we call legends, some have featured for over 200 league games and some have provided special memories. But with County being so unique with our fall from grace. We have had over a century as a football league club and now unfortunately over a decade as a non-league club. This has all happened with the club keeping its original form. When we dropped to NLN I had a feeling which may well come across as being odd. I just couldn’t accept we were a regional part-time football club and when it was over, I felt it would have just been forgettable and it would end up a taboo subject which as a fan base we wouldn’t talk about. As it turned out we ended up finding players who truly made their mark on this club and their efforts won’t ever be forgotten.
So, my question is how does a part time National League North Champion fit into the County legend category?
If this objective of Championship in seven years does come to fruition, then there will be more legends elect no doubt to come. But without that 2019 success it may not have been possible, so there could be an argument that, their success is the most important in our club’s history.
So, looking back on that squad and potential legendary status. All in my humble opinion of course.
Ben Hinchliffe: 200+ appearances, a golden glove award at national league level, a fair few impressive assists. Not to mention the point blank saves he had no right to make. For me our best permanent goalkeeper since Owain Fon Williams. Then consider the fact he was driving for a living while playing for us. Still with us and I wouldn’t be concerned if he started our first match back in the football league.
Sam Minihan: Mr reliable, 110% effort in every appearance, a fantastic servant to County in the community off the pitch. Epitomises everything any County fan just wants to see in a player pulling on that blue shirt. In all honesty I can’t think of a better right back since Sean Connelly. Again, would Sam look out of place in the football league? Not for me.
Ashley Palmer: If you threw a brick at him, he would actually head the fucker back. What a centre back we have here. To come up a league nod home goals on a regular basis. Winning many of County fans anytime / first goalscorer bets. Countless clean sheets. Not only done the job for JG at both levels also proved to SR (and Challinor next!) that he is basically the first name on the team sheet in defence, drop him at your peril. All our poor runs of form at National league level have coincided with Ash not being in the side. No coincidence and proves how important he is to our team.
Paul Turnbull: Not a difficult one for me, coming through the centre of excellence and winning two promotions as a player. That performance at Wembley was also something special. Always did the nasty side of the game to perfection. The man has legendary status for me. Glad he is now working within the club and hopefully ready to nurture the next “Bully” into our first team.
Jordan Keane: Along with Ashley Palmer he was the final piece of the jigsaw for the title winning team. Truly assured the spine of that team. Strength and stamina playing in two different positions and comfortable in either. Another I would have complete confidence in starting in the football league for us.
Matty Warburton: This man gave us some unforgettable moments, our flair player we hadn’t had for many of year. When he had the ball at his feet and facing the opposition goal you just knew he was going to create something. Some fantastic strikes. The joy on his face when he scored at Nuneaton that was the moment for me we were officially Champions the rest of that afternoon was just a party. Also when you consider that Yeovil FA Cup free kick, they were two leagues above us, just like QPR being two leagues above in 94. Similar context in achievement
All the above for me are deserved of County legend status regardless of the level they played at. The older generation got our County back and the new generation saw success for the first time. When you consider the highest media publicity we had as a club before this group, was a wrestling piledriver and a deflected own goal from the halfway line. In true TSBW words they were some Dark Days. As I write this Matty has gone on to play at League One level (three leagues above where we were), Paul is still playing but is coming to the end of his career, Ben, Ash, Sam and Jordan are still within our first team squad and have further chapters to write.
The likes of Paul Jones, Marsden, Armstrong and Toddy took us to unthinkable levels, one win away from a major cup final and a true possibility of continental football, they all then went onto play topflight football. This is exactly why I find it hard to put into context, that part time non-league footballers can be spoken about in the same way. But in their own way and the situation our club was in they certainly delivered for us. In years to come I’m sure they will be heading sportsman’s dinners at County and we will all be clambering to get tickets, we will forever admire a player that gives everything they have for that shirt on the back. Nobody can deny the six players I’ve listed here haven’t done exactly this.
Again, getting back to how unique our club is. In this article I have gone from a narrow league cup semi final defeat, wins away at clubs like Man City, Blackburn Rovers and Southampton to hat-tricks against Truro City, clean sheets at Dover and a pocket rocket bombing up and down the wing at Curzon Ashton. Both sets of players listed here are legends for me.
Now would I put any into the all-time county legends XI? Without being disrespectful the answer is no. What the official XI achieved for our club was just something else. Do these six players deserve a special place in County folklore? Absolutely.
I also feel a little harsh on Sam Walker, Adam Thomas, Frank Mulhern & Scott Duxbury who could easily be given the same status. They along with the backroom staff from that group easily make it into the County Hall of Fame.
Honestly if you had told me walking out of Aggborough that horrible afternoon, that in years to come I’d hold six players from NLN in such high regard, I’d have laughed in your face. So credit to these lads and credit to the fans for sticking with it. Going through the shit really did make the good times that much sweeter, Nuneaton was players and fans as one.
Here’s to the future!