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  • Chris Tuck

Wrexham and Notts are Promoted… Cue the credits!

You know when a movie draws to a close, the happy ending unfolds, and the credits are about to roll? There’s that realisation of a critical loose end that’s not yet been tied up, will it be revealed? or will you always be left wondering?

As the story of Wrexham AFC’s 22/23 promotion season concluded, Hollywood owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney voiced their hopes that Notts County, their season-long nemesis, would follow them up into the Football League. 21 days later, at the Play Off Final, we would finally find out the ending.

Notts County nicknamed the Magpies or just ‘pies’, had found themselves in a difficult position. 107 points, winning 32 games, and losing only three, but no automatic promotion. This isn’t any old promotion either. The scramble to leave the highest tier of English football’s ‘non-league’ scene, into the professional ‘EFL’ is one of the toughest in football.

The National League Promotion Play Off Final was introduced in 2003 and drama is guaranteed. Wembley was the host stadium this weekend and has now hosted 14 finals. 2022 saw a Grimsby win at the London Stadium and Hartlepool were the 2021 victors at Ashton Gate.

Approaching Wembley Stadium, Photo by Chris Tuck, Stadium Journey

Meadow Lane in Nottingham, which holds 19,841, was the venue for Notts’ play off semi-final where they beat Boreham Wood with a late equaliser and an even later winner. Chesterfield also had a thrilling semi-final win, eventually overcoming Bromley to reach the final, deservedly so after finishing the league season in third position.

Chesterfield now plays at the Technique Stadium which opened in 2010 and holds around 10,500 fans. Their previous much-loved home was Saltergate, which was one of the oldest football grounds in England, notching up 139 years of use.

Just 26 miles separates the town of Chesterfield and the city of Nottingham, the rivalry between the clubs isn’t just geographical, the miners’ strike in the mid-1980s caused tensions that simmer to this day. However, the atmosphere on Wembley Way was relaxed as 38,138 headed to their seats.

And so, on Saturday 13 May 2023 at 3.30 pm, the final instalment of the story was played out. Notts County beat Chesterfield 4-3 on penalties after a 2-2 draw, reclaiming their status as the oldest professional association football league club in the world, older than the English Football Association itself, and competing in League Two next season.

Wembley Stadium Interior, Photo by Chris Tuck, Stadium Journey

Chesterfield had finished 23 points behind Notts Co in the regular season, but the 90 minutes that unfolded made a mockery of that. Notts goalkeeper Sam Slocombe had a first 5 minutes to forget. First giving away an indirect free kick in his box which he smothered himself, minutes later he rushed to the edge of his box, fouling Dallas and giving away a penalty. Dallas brushed himself down and dispatched the penalty.

Notts, now 1-0 down, were simply not getting out of third gear, with the match drifting away from them on a day where goalkeepers grabbed the headlines. Now it was the Chesterfield goalkeeper Fitzsimons turn for infamy as he awkwardly fumbled John Bostock’s 87th minute free kick, the ball trickled into the net to send disbelieving county fans wild…

1-1 at full-time. So, we were heading to extra time, as the story of the Vanarama National League 22/23 season refused to end. In the 3rd minute of extra time, the Notts defence backed off, allowing Armando Dobra to cut inside and curl an absolute beauty into the corner of the County net.

Chesterfield fans celebrated their 2-1 lead, their excellent vocal support, which had been non-stop in the first 87 minutes, was back. No fairy-tale ending for County? All bets were off in the 108th minute as County was level again! Ruben Rodrigues shot into the ground, and the ball ballooned up in slow motion and over the stranded Chesterfield goalkeeper into the net, we were heading to penalties! Not before Notts made a late substitution, goalkeeper Slocombe was replaced by Archie Mair a penalty-saving specialist.

Two saves by Mair gave Bostock the chance to seal County’s win, but to their fans' dismay, his attempted Panenka came back off the crossbar. Despite Chesterfield’s successful next penalty, Notts could still win it. Scott stayed calm, smashed in his penalty and the Magpies players and fans were in dreamland.

Notts County joins Wrexham in the EFL, cue the credits.

The Winning Pen, Photo by Chris Tuck, Stadium Journey

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