Four days is a long time in football, and since I first complained about Forest Green’s conduct, the story has developed and finally concluded. Neither side have come out of this smelling of roses, but at least Forest Green have kept their man.
I’m going to take my anti-FGR hat off for a moment and pretend one of the clubs I love to hate were not involved in this ridiculous tug-of-war for Liam Noble. It isn’t unusual for two clubs to fall out over a player, or release contradictory statements. Just today Cambridge and Hibernian have said different things about the latters pursuit of Luke Berry. It’s normal, but the Liam Noble situation is far from normal.
Up until today I wasn’t clear on the circumstances that took Noble to FGR, if I had been I would almost certainly have brought it into my previous article. Noble was released by County at the end of the 2015/16 season in a list allegedly compiled by none other than Mark Cooper. The list came out on May 20th, and Cooper left Meadow Lane on May 7th. Just a couple of weeks later he was in charge at Forest Green, and he brought Noble along for the ride.
I guess it is the suggestion that is more sinister than the actual event. It could be that Cooper didn’t feel Noble was good enough for League Two, but he did believe he could be effective at FGR. It could be he played no part in who was or wasn’t retained. That could be it, of course it could be far darker.
Moving swiftly away from that, Notts County have relentlessly pursued the 26-year old believing that along with Terry Hawkridge and Lewis Alessandra, he is the answer to their lack of creativity. They’ve confirmed three bids increasing in value, the final one on Friday said to be £100k. It was said to be that amount by Notts County, FGR deny anything of the sort. The fact the pursuit descended into a statement-releasing battle should have been the end of the matter.
After the calm of the weekend County decided to have another go, and by this point I’m not sure what is more pitiful. I respected County for pursing their man, but once it turned into a farce they should have walked away with their heads held high. Cooper may or may not have been behind Noble’s release, but the fact is they let the player go. It is akin to us now entering into a war of words with Gainsborough Trinity as we try to re-sign Greg Tempest. The Magpies could have kept their dignity, instead they went back with a cash-plus-player bid. Surely there are other players out there who could fill the role? Once bitten, twice shy or in this case three bids turned down, get the message?
I wonder how Hayden Hollis feels, the player allegedly offered to FGR along with cash this morning? I doubt the eco-friendly fax machine at the New Lawn barely finished spitting out the paper before it was called into action again, this time firing a message off to the FA confirming their player had signed a new two-year deal. At this point I would imagine the story ends, I’m sure FGR believe it will be the conclusion, and only the most deluded of Magpie fans could feel anything other.
I’m not sure what motivated County to go again for the player. Maybe they thought as he hadn’t spoken to press affirming his love for FGR that their pursuit would eventually turn his head. Maybe they genuinely felt FGR could be bought, eventually. Maybe they didn’t think at all, they just kept chasing a player they felt could boost their squad. One thing is for sure though, the whole debacle has weakened their hierarchy a tiny bit. They must have been sure they could get the player, but instead they’re back to square one, a month after the first bid was refused. A lot of quality players have moved on in a month, and with 25 days left until the big kick off, the gamble hasn’t paid off.
Forest Green will feel they have been victorious in the whole pitiable affair, but I’m not sure that is the case either. They’ve done nothing wrong in tying the player to a new deal, just as we have with Alex Woodyard. If he as that valuable to them, surely that deal would have been offered at the beginning of June when the first bid came in? As soon as vultures started circling for Woodyard we banged a new deal on the table, thus negating the embarrassing scenes we’ve witnessed from two of our closest rivals.
I still believe the ‘family club’ façade of FGR has slipped a little this week, there are very few football observers who would stand by the village team fairy tale now. Whether it’s Ecotricity’s excessive price rises, or the chairman’s statements and public spat with Notts County, they’re showing their true colours long before a ball has been kicked. In this league it won’t be as easy to buy success, certainly not as easy as their chairman believes it will be. Almost everyone has a few quid to spend at this level, and unless you have a charismatic manager who can sell your club, pounds and pence will not make you stand out from the crowd.
One thing they do have that Notts County don’t though is Liam Noble, and whilst Kevin Nolan must now turn his attentions elsewhere, FGR have won the battle to hold on to their captain. Given the damage done to both clubs reputation it is a hollow victory, but a victory nonetheless.