Salford City’s Michael Nottingham might currently be plying his trade in wet, misty December football against Blyth and Chorley, but the 28-year-old defender experienced a whole different kind of football over the summer.
Nottingham found himself representing the island nation of St Kitts & Nevis – the capital of which stands some 4,000 miles from his club’s home in Salford – in two games, away against European nations Armenia and Georgia in a week of international football in June.
Trading in rough, battered pitches and the bitter cold, Nottingham got to experienced football at a much higher level, in stadiums accustomed to hosting European and international matches.
An Unbelievable Experience
Results did not go in St Kitts’ favour, with a 5-0 defeat to Armenia in Yerevan followed by a 3-0 loss to Georgia in Tbilisi, but the results have not dampened the experience for Nottingham.
“Results aside it was unbelievable because I didn’t know what to expect,” Nottingham explains. “I was a bit nervous going out there but I was very excited as well, especially given the teams we were playing there had a couple big names, like [Henrikh] Mkhitaryan and the likes.”
It wasn’t just the opposition faced that made the experience so enjoyable for Nottingham, but also the quality of the international-standard stadiums and facilities that hosted the matches.
“The stadiums we played in were unbelievable, the pitches were unbelievable and obviously the quality of the sides we played against were top notch.”
‘I found a birth certificate in the house’
Birmingham-born Nottingham was eligible to represent the island nation through his grandfather, though the discovery of his eligibility was far from a traditional one.
“It was literally by chance” Nottingham said, talking about how he came to represent The Sugar Boyz, as St Kitts & Nevis’ national team is known.
“A couple of years ago they asked if I had any family from St Kitts and I said, ‘yeah my grandad’s from there but I didn’t think he was born there’. I thought he was born here because I didn’t really speak too much to him about it.”
Chance is an apt way to describe Nottingham’s discovery of his eligibility, a pure coincidence that would in time see him lining up on the same field as Manchester United’s Mkhitaryan.
“I found a birth certificate in the house and it was his,” he explains. “It had his details on it saying he was born there and I went back to St Kitts and told them I was able to represent them and they had me straight over.”
‘They’re like a big family’
Nottingham now lines up for Salford City alongside an international teammate in Lois Maynard, who while he hadn’t met at the time of his summer callup, he had spoken to him ahead of the games through social media.
“When I got there, I didn’t know Lois personally, I’d only spoken to him on Twitter. I knew about him for a few years playing in leagues like this, he’s been spoken about highly by a lot of clubs at this level,” he explains.
“Before I got there, he was just giving me advice and telling me what to expect and stuff so yeah it was still good knowing someone, or kind of knowing someone, before I got there as it helped me settle in.”
Even without the help of Maynard, Nottingham reckons he would have adjusted well to the experience of international football given the closeness of the St Kitts camp.
“They’re like a big family. It’s like a family, they’re all so tight and they all get on together.”
Georgia to Gainsborough
Following his international experiences with St Kitts, Nottingham has returned to club football once again this season in an impressive Salford City defence, facing the likes of Gainsborough Trinity away rather than the Georgia national football team.
“Well it was a bit strange,” Nottingham admits about the change from international football back to the National League North. “The standard of football is a different level isn’t it.”
“To be honest, St Kitts players are all local lads, or mainly local lads the ones over there, and there’s a few lads at this level from over here. The international players we were playing against are top quality players and then we come back here it felt like it was something totally different.”
Despite the difference and the change Nottingham couldn’t speak highly enough of the benefits the experience gave him.
“You learn a lot from it playing around these better players. You wish you’re going to do better [as a result] and you want to strive to do even more.”
Looking to the future
Nottingham has made an impressive start to the season with Salford City, who sit top of the National League North.
His club has a strong desire to become as big as they can, being backed by Singaporean business magnate Peter Lim and the Class of ’92 – a group of former Manchester United players; Ryan Giggs, Gary and Phil Neville, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt.
“Yeah, we’re doing well. We’re where we want to be in the league at the moment, at the top, and we’re expected to be there, so I think we’re doing well.
“The club’s ambitions are to try and get promoted this season and see where we are at and push again because the club wants to get to league football as soon as possible and I’d be happy to be a part of Salford doing that.
“The club, it’s doing massive things and going in the right direction. It’s a great club to be at, at the moment.”