Two of Scotland and England’s biggest stars will touch down in Germany as seasoned professionals, but their paths to the top once crossed spectacularly in a formative relegation battle at Notts County. 

English League One outfit Notts County will exert significant influence over the upcoming European Championships in Germany this summer, at least for two of the UK’s home nations. 

Perhaps best known to casual sporting fans as Wrexham owners Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney’s biggest rivals in their popular FX documentary series Welcome to Wrexham, the Nottingham side – now in EFL League Two – once provided a brief yet formative home to two of Scotland and England’s biggest names. 

Almost a decade later, both Celtic captain Callum McGregor and Manchester City maverick Jack Grealish play starring international roles, having amassed over 90 senior caps between them. McGregor has a staggering trophy haul for the club he joined as a boy, while Grealish left Aston Villa for £100m to join Pep Guardiola in the summer of 2021 and is now a Champions League winner. 

Notts County endured a nerve-shredding 2013/14 season, being spared relegation by just three points. However, their impact on two precocious talents is still being felt to this day. 

Former Celtic, Norwich City and Fulham midfielder Mark Fotheringham was there to see it, having joined the club following a successful trial after his spell at Ross County. Even back then, the Dundee native knew both McGregor and Grealish were bound for stardom.  

“They were by far the best two players at the club,” Fotheringham said. “They made such a big difference even at such a young age because they played without fear. They had so much quality. If Notts County had a really good box player in the No.9 position, then the club would have had a really good season. We had so much quality and dominated most of the games we played in terms of ball possession. Those two were fundamental to it. 


“Callum was prolific from midfield in front of goal, making late runs into the box and scoring. Jack was so creative, coming in off the left and right wing. They built up a really good relationship – I used to sit at the back of them, supporting and feeding them the ball so they could do their damage in the final third. It was a privilege to play with them.” 

Former St Mirren and Dundee striker Marcus Haber found himself in the same boat as the young pair, joining on loan from Stevenage. The imposing forward, currently plying his trade in Cambodia with Preah Khan Reach Svay Rieng FC, reflects with immense fondness on sharing a pitch with them. 

He said: “They were two players of similar technical ability, and you could see straight away that they were steps above most of the squad, in terms of their tight control and manipulating the ball. When Jack came to the club, he was super young, and it was his first senior footballing experience. Immediately, though, you could tell that he was a player who was fearless when receiving the ball, and in doing so could attract defenders very easily.  

“Callum, on the other hand, was playing more of a No.10 for us, getting the ball in pockets and causing problems for the opposition. I remember him scoring a couple of worldies. Two very different players, but both had loads of ability and you could see that they were going to play on at a higher level, which they did!” 

Both players played massive roles in The Magpies’ survival bid over nine years ago, playing a combined 80 games across the season. McGregor – who recently achieved his 50th Scotland cap – supplied 14 goals and a single assist from the middle of the park, ensuring he finished the campaign as top goalscorer. Grealish registered five goals and seven assists as an 18-year-old taking his first steps in the senior game. This may paint Notts County as a two-man team that year under manager Chris Kiwomya and his mid-season replacement Shaun Derry. Haber does not disagree.  


The striker said: “I’d say that was the case for the team. There was an expectation from the club for the form to improve, which is probably why they made some loan signings to change that. Because of this, there was a heavy reliance on Callum and Jack to create chances and goals. Both were focal points of us playing forward and creating chances.” 

Derry – succeeding Kiwomya as manager in November 2013 – repeated both Haber and Fotheringham’s high praise, underlining their vast importance in securing final day survival.  

He said in 2020: “It meant a lot to me to have such brilliant and determined young players I could rely on. Some guys go out on loan, and they’re not too bothered about what happens to their new club because they know they’ll be going back to their old one. Callum and Jack weren’t like that. They considered themselves Notts County players and they didn’t want a relegation on their CV. 

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone quite as engaged in avoiding that as Callum was, in particular. Both of them went straight into their first team after that season with County and I like to think their time there gave them the platform to go on and achieve what they have done in the game. We’d never have stayed up without them.” 

Fotheringham linked the players’ successes with his experience in breaking through at Celtic. He said: “I was fortunate enough to be at Celtic at such a young age, and in turn be around players such as Henrik Larsson. By doing this, you see what world-class players are like, what their attributes are. 

“It was evident from day one that these two were going to be massive players in Europe. I don’t think anyone doubted it either. They were different players but special in their own right. Callum was very efficient in everything he did and made the hard things look so easy. He had such a good first touch and saw pictures on the field really early, which allowed him to play exceptional passes to split open defences and dictate the game. 

“Jack was a completely different player. When we went on the counter-attack, he was able to take two or three players on. When you came up against Jack in training, the most impressive thing about him was his acceleration from a standing start position. Within two or three metres, he was away from you with that explosive dribbling power, and he had the trademark big calves even back then!” 

Haber echoes Foderingham’s sentiment.  

“I don’t think it is surprising at all, the level that they have achieved since then,” he says. “When you can see the ability first-hand, then you can see right away that someone is on a different level when they have a different set of tools that separates them from the group.  

“I think the only thing that can get in the way is how they harvest their ability. They’ve gone on to play internationally and at big clubs domestically, playing at the highest stage possible. That’s a credit to both of them, in terms of how they look after themselves.” 

Big influences on the pitch, of that there is no question, but what were they like off it? Did they keep to themselves, or were they a presence in the dressing room? 

Fotheringham said: “I want to highlight that the two boys were fantastic people. They were two really good lads. You could see that they had both come from fantastic families and they mixed in with the group seamlessly. It's a fact that the existing players were proud to have played with them. There were no doubts in the camp that these players would be international regulars in the future.” 

Haber added: “Jack was the Jack Grealish that we all know. He’s a Birmingham lad, and I remember picking him up from the train station sometimes when we were heading into training at the start of the week. He was just a kid, so he was the same type of person that any 18-year-old was at that point playing professional football. He was a lad’s lad that all the boys took a liking to straight away, as he was unapologetically himself. 

“Jack is the kind of character that you want in football because they’re dying out in the modern game, in a world full of social media where people are glued to their phones. Because of that, players may not have the social camaraderie and banter that I experienced with fellow professionals. Players are now somewhat regimented and lacking personality, though that could not be attributed to Jack whatsoever. He had that flair both on and off the pitch. 

“Callum, on the other hand, was more of a workmanlike professional, but equally as talented. He was the ultimate professional.” 

Both McGregor and Grealish will touch down on German soil this summer looking to play key roles for their respective national teams. McGregor’s major tournament initiation was the rearranged Euro 2020 where he was to come up against Grealish and the rest of Gareth Southgate’s England team when Scotland secured a 0-0 draw at Wembley. Grealish, meanwhile, is set for a third major finals with the Three Lions. 

Both teams will arrive on the continent harbouring differing ambitions. Many place England among the favourites to lift the trophy, while for Scotland getting out of a group containing Germany, Switzerland and Hungary would be considered a major success.  


From his current home in Southeast Asia, Haber is adamant he will not allow a four-hour time lag to stop him roaring his former team-mates on. 

He said: “I will absolutely be tuning in to see how they do. At the end of the day, if you’re a footballer and you don’t watch the major tournaments, then you're out of your damn mind!” 

Fotheringham, too, is eager to savour the occasion. He said: “I’m always proud when I see how well the boys are doing at international level. It was evident that both Jack and Callum were going to be stars on the world stage. I still think there’s more to come from both in their careers.” 

Regardless of what happens in Germany, the impact of Notts County on McGregor and Grealish’s respective careers cannot be understated. One season as Magpies has given both players an eye for silverware. This summer, all eyes will be on the European Championship.