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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Notts County’s Stuart Maynard – from man in a van to taking charge of a promotion push

Stuart Maynard was sat in his van in the middle of his working day as a telecoms engineer for BT Openreach when the call came.

Notts County were on the phone offering the then Wealdstone manager one of the EFL’s most interesting jobs, replacing Swansea City-bound Luke Williams at Meadow Lane.

The 43-year-old is not a high-profile appointment, non-League managers are rarely given the chance higher, but he is in line with the type of recruitment that County’s owners Alexander and Christoffer Reedtz have made since taking over the club in 2019, driven by their data-informed approach linked to their company Football Radar. 

Williams is a difficult man to follow after ending Notts’ four-year stay in the National League with play-off success at Wembley, secured through an attractive attacking style in England’s fifth tier.

But stepping up to full-time football management has been a long time coming for Maynard, with assistant Matt Saunders, after 19 years working as an engineer and a steady rise through non-League coaching at Hemel Hempstead Town (seventh tier), Billericay Town (sixth tier), Kingstonian (seventh tier) and Wealdstone (fifth tier) over a 12-year period after a playing career also spent at the lower levels in regional football. Despite being one of the National League’s few remaining part-time sides, Maynard oversaw survival amid the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020-21 and then the club’s highest finishes for over 35 years in successive seasons (16th, then 13th), all while playing entertaining, possession-based football.

Williams, with the prolific striker Macaulay Langstaff, moved to Swansea in the Championship (John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)

“The way we played at Wealdstone fits straight away into Notts. I look at the level of player that we’ll be working with and they’ll be a higher quality, which excites us,” Maynard said at his unveiling as Notts manager. “I was part-time (at Wealdstone) while I worked for Openreach as an engineer for 19 years. It’s very tough, it’s one of those things with football where you have to give it your whole commitment and it was a lot of nights out watching games to understand the players and try to improve.

“It’s 24/7, but I’m excited to solely focus everything I have here now. At Wealdstone, we were basically training three hours a week to now we have everything at our disposal. There’s no excuses now, everything that you need from the playing staff — the players have no excuse. That’s all the way to the food we’ve just had for lunch, it’s first class. So there’s no excuses in this environment.”

With Wealdstone’s week typically involving a Zoom session on a Monday to review the weekend’s game, training on Tuesday and Thursday nights, then games on a Saturday, Maynard is used to making the most of limited time with his players and communicates clearly. There is no need for urgent change at Notts, who are seventh in the table, with their ability to create and score goals a strength. Macaulay Langstaff leads the League Two scoring charts with 20 goals and five assists, but shoring up the defence, which has conceded 53 goals this season — the fifth-highest in the division — will be crucial if County are to secure back-to-back promotions either via the automatic places or the play-offs.

“It’s no less than he deserves,” says former Wealdstone goalkeeper Sam Howes, who played under Maynard for two seasons before joining League One Leyton Orient in the summer. “He’s proven that he can do it at Wealdstone with less resources, so it’ll be interesting to see how he gets on. He’ll do well there if he’s given time. We were part-time so he had to maximise his time with us, but what helped him with that was that he was very clear on everyone’s roles. He and his assistant, Matty, made it very clear to us no matter what game we were going into.

“Matty did a lot of stuff around the analysis and the opposition, but they complemented each other really well. They were detailed and they were successful last season. We started the season well and then we hit a rough patch after we played Notts County (Wealdstone lost 6-1 at home) and people were calling for him to be gone, but he’s a very positive person. There was never a blame culture, we were in it together and he drove that, so it made it easier when we were going through that dip in form.”

Maynard’s first match could have come against easier opponents — after last weekend’s match against league leaders Stockport County was postponed due to a frozen pitch, Notts hosted fellow promotion chasers Barrow.

Notts retained their possession-heavy style and trend of taking short corners and goal kicks but were caught in possession too often to exert any real dominance in the first half. Barrow went ahead through a Kian Spence header on 22 minutes before a late resurgence in the first half saw Aaron Nemane equalise via a back-post finish from a Jodi Jones cross, which was his 17th assist of the campaign. Despite a much improved second half, County were unable to make their 80 per cent possession over the course of the game count as they were caught by a good transitional team in Barrow.

Expectation is high at Meadow Lane after a successful few seasons and even with some doubts over Maynard’s lack of experience at this level, his track record and fit with the broader project at the club points to an exciting future. He was greeted with a rapturous welcome as he applauded fans on the pitch before kick off and the 1-1 draw represented a steady start given Barrow’s position six points and three places above Notts in the table.

“It’s a good appointment and it will have taken him a lot to come away from Wealdstone,” says Howes. “Notts are a club we saw from afar and as a group, I’d be lying if I said we didn’t aspire to be like them. I’ve seen a few things on social media about him not being experienced, but he will keep the club as close together as he can.

“He was keen to always get us to try and play. There was never a point where he told anyone they weren’t good enough or he was going to take them out or get someone else in. I made the step up from a part-time National League team to a team in League One and a lot of that is down to Stuart and Matty. At a time in my career where I could have just settled, it gave me the drive when you’re working for someone who wants success but under certain restraints. We might not have been training at high-class facilities, but he got us to buy into what he was doing.”

“It’s a proud moment to walk out (in front of the fans) and it’s an honour to manage this football club,” Maynard said following the draw with Barrow. “The fans here are incredible. It would always have to be a special club (to give up Wealdstone and being an engineer), but when Notts came calling, it’s a club that you just can’t turn down. When you meet the owners and they talk to you about the project, it’s incredible. We’ve just got to keep doing what we are doing on the pitch because this is a club with huge ambition. We’re excited by this challenge.”

(Top photo: Courtesy of Notts County FC)

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