Notts County at home to Lincoln City on Saturday in a classic top versus bottom clash and while the result of the game is massively important for both teams, the game also throws up an interesting comparison of the boardroom cultures at the two clubs.
Both Notts County owner and chairman Alan Hardy and Imps chairman Clive Nates regularly take to Twitter to engage with fans, but that is where the similarities end.
Self Styled ‘Big Alan Hardy’ has recently been caught up in controversy after inadvertently posting an inappropriate picture on the social media platform forcing him to hastily post an apology. He then put the club up for sale with a reported wage bill of £3 million and thirty-eight players on the books and deleted his Twitter account. The Pies currently sit bottom of League Two eight points from safety.
Compare this to the lastest tweet of Clive Nates which was a measured response to debates amongst Imps fans around the increase in Lincoln City’s attendances and whether the term ‘plastic’ was an appropriate description of the new supporters the club’s recent success has attracted. In one post, Nates managed to praise the older fans who stuck with the club in the dark times and welcome all new fans into the fold, stressing their importance to the clubs continuing success. It illustrates Nates not only follows fan’s opinions but also gets what the club means to people.
Great article Valerie.
Without the fans that stayed with the club through the bad times it would not have survived. However without all the additional fans that now attend games at Sincil Bank we would not be able to continue this exciting journey with Danny and Nicky. https://t.co/BwzSPtLCw9
— Clive Nates (@cliven7) January 28, 2019
This theme of positive fan engagement is illustrated further by Nates preference for watching games amongst the Lincoln faithful in the stands during his regular visits from his home in South Africa rather than in the comfort of the boardroom. Nates doesn’t make a song and dance over this, he’s not looking for a photo opportunity to prove he is ‘a man of the people’, he does it because he actually enjoys being part of the atmosphere the fans generate. Unlike Hardy who is a Nottingham man, Nates has no geographical ties with Lincoln but has been accepted by the people of the city for his understated yet engaging personality and careful stewardship of the club which has seen massive improvements in infrastructure as well as rapid development in the playing squad.
If one story sums Nates up it is one which was largely ignored by the mainstream media, A couple of hours before Lincoln’s recent FA cup tie at Goodison Park, Nates took highly rated manager Danny Cowley into Liverpool to meet up with the thousands of supporters enjoying some refreshment in the city centre before the game. He did this without ringing the newspapers to tip them off and get a good story for the club; he did it to sample the atmosphere and be part of a big day for Imps supporters. The spectacle of manager and chairman mingling with supporters energised both the manager and the fans before a massive game. The number of selfies and the goodwill this generated was immense. It is no surprise that Lincoln regularly sell out for home games and will take close on 4500 fans to Meadow Lane for Saturday’s clash.
For the Notts County owner, you get the feeling that it is all about him. His recent inappropriate post on Twitter came in response to an unfavourable article in a national newspaper which criticised his ownership for amongst other things the negative publicity his failure to accept that the country’s speeding laws applied to him. Hardy unsuccessfully attempted to defend his right to do 77mph in a 40mph limit in the courts before receiving a three-month ban.
They also pointed to his many misadventures on social media, including the goading of a local newspaper editor and online spats with assorted fans of his club and more successful Midlands rivals.
Already on his third manager this season you get the impression Hardy was the sort of man the famous player from a bygone age, Len Shackleton had in mind when he left the page blank in the chapter in his autobiography entitled ‘The average director’s knowledge of football.’
This is perhaps a little unfair on Hardy. He came in and saved the club from administration and has continually backed his managers in the transfer market. However, the biggest lesson to be learnt is you cannot just throw money at a club in the lower leagues and guarantee success. His PR has generally been a disaster, and there is no hiding from the fact this season has been turbulent and chaotic. County fans will be hoping for another great escape, and if new owners do come in, they steady the ship and bring some much-needed stability.
Back at Sincil Bank, there are no such worries. Imps supporters will be hoping Nates continues to shun the media limelight and put the club first. They are making rapid, but sustainable progress. The biggest challenge facing Nates could be his ability to convince the talented Cowley brothers that the club can match their undoubted ambition.
Whatever the result on Saturday, it is a game where two cultures collide. There is no blueprint for the successful running of a football club in the lower leagues but if the current league position of the two teams tells us anything its that a massive ego in the boardroom is not necessarily conducive to the long term success of the club. It is also apparent from Lincoln’s attendances, owners and directors can successfully engage with fans on social media without it becoming confrontational and negative.