April 2024 – My hometown football team Mansfield were promoted last week. A few years ago I wrote a little piece about being a Stags fan.

Will The Pleasure Never End?

Steve Hovington

Histon 3 Mansfield Town 0

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Im sitting alone at pitch level, just to the left of the half way line, arms folded, head tilted sideways and upwards, following the trajectory of the ball as its hoofed unceremoniously for the umpteenth time up into the Cambridgeshire night sky. The 90 minutes are almost up. Were three nil down.

We’re going up, you’re not,their fans gloat. Its not the most imaginative of chants but gets to the point. The point being that Mansfield Town, the team I was there to support, erstwhile of the football league and now languishing in the bottom half of the Blue Square Premier League, were being roundly thumped by a village team with a population of just over four thousand.

I cringe as the ball fizzes past our right hand goal post. Their fans gasp. They crave more. They predict a rout. Then theres a sudden hush as a voice crackles over the tannoy.              

Tonight’s attendance is 914,he announces, before adding after a moment’s pause as if the punchline to a joke, of which 156 are from Mansfield.

Sing if you’re happy,their fans continue warming to their theme. Its obvious from the stony looks on our faces that were not in the mood to break into Wham’s back catalogue.

Moments later theres another announcement.

There will be four minutes of added time.

Will the pleasure never end?comes a cry from a few seats away from me.

They say laughter is the best medicine and suddenly were all in stitches, including the referee’s assistant.

Minutes later and thankfully its all over. We shuffle off, heads bowed and hands in pockets towards the car park, serenaded on our way by a refrain of You dirty northern bastards.Its a cruel game football, especially if youre a Stags supporter.

I find my car and slam the door shut. The joke has worn off and other emotions kick in. How did it come to this? Why do I do it? The one saving grace amid the gloom is that I hadnt brought my seven year old son along. I want him to support a decent football team and not a bunch of no hopers.

But it wasnt always like this. When I was his age things were different. There was a time when there was hope. A time when there were heroes and giant slayers.

On this miserable night on the edge of the fens, it feels like an awful long, long time ago.

Hope 0 Reality 5

The Pleasure Principle is the title of synth pop pioneer Gary Numans third studio album and first as a solo artist. It also happens to be a psychoanalytic concept coined by Sigmund Freud which states, amongst other things, that the primary motivation of human beings is to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

The Reality Principle, on the other hand takes into account the obstacles that reality places in our drive to obtain this state of nirvana.

In footballing terms it manifests itself in that growing hunch mid-way through a crucial game, that our players are not immortals who can walk on water but instead are flash, overpaid, and just plain not good enough. It is that insurmountable obstacle faced by any England team during a penalty shoot out or the masturbating son of childless parents clad in black or yellow, who secretly conspires against us by ruling a perfectly good goal off side in the last minute. This sick as a parrotfeeling is experienced by the majority of football supporters in the lower leagues, where reality usually gets the better of hope.              

Pessimism, from the Latin pessimus (worst), is the dominant emotion in the music of blues singer Robert Johnson. It is also a school of thought postulated by Austrian philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer. It is that glass half empty state of mind. The state of mind with which I and many others enter most Saturdays.

Saint Jude is the patron saint of Flamengo, the most popular football club in Brazil with 35 million supporters worldwide. Ironically, he is also the patron saint of lost causes and therefore the patron saint of all those sad and misguided individuals like myself who for some reason decided not to follow the pleasure principle and take the easy route by supporting a big club but rather chose a side that would never, ever win anything more meaningful than the Freight Rover Trophy. He’s there to console us in our darkest hour, which in my case is normally between four and five pm on a Saturday afternoon, as I hope against hope that the Stags have somehow managed to salvage a point against Ebbsfleet United in injury time. It is he whom we seek when all seems lost and only a miracle can save us. His New Testament letter stresses that the faithful should persevere in the environment of harsh, difficult circumstances.

Blue Square Premier League anyone?

Mansfield Town 0 Rotherham United 1

Saturday, April 28, 2008

I hadnt been able to get it out of my head all afternoon. I’d tried to relax and enjoy the sunshine and the Mediterranean sea but my mind had been elsewhere, speculating on a drama unfolding in a parallel universe a thousand miles away. The source of this torment was the fate of Mansfield Town football club, the team I had supported throughout my life. All afternoon, without access to any kind of medium to put me out of my misery, Id had to helplessly endure purgatory until the internet cafe opened at six thirty. My mind churned over the scenarios. The Stags were currently the equivalent of Schroedinger’s cat the poor moggy put in a box with a phial of cyanide in a scientific experiment to prove that something could be simultaneously alive and dead at the same time. We were either still alive and entering our 78th season as a Football league club or dead and relegated to the non-league which was probably a fate worse than death.

Somehow and inexplicably, I felt as if my own fate was bound up with the team I supported. The agony of not knowing was unbearable.

My watch read six thirty pm. It was time to find out the truth.

Just popping to the internet cafe,I said to my other half Louise. She shot me back a puzzled look. I was too embarrassed to reveal why I needed one so badly on a beautiful sunny early evening on a French beach.

Wont be long,I said shuffling away.

As I walked towards the promenade a stomach churning thought came to mind. The next time I saw her face, I would either be over the moon or sick as a parrot. Which one would it be? Despite my natural ingrained pessimism, I dared to dream that we could do it. If we won that day at home to Rotherham United we’d only need to draw our last match of the season to stay up. A draw this afternoon even might have been enough. I was also fairly confident that Dagenham & Redbridge, our closest rivals for the drop, wouldnt get three points away at promotion chasing Darlington.

I arrived at my destination and peered through the glass door into the darkness of the cafe. There was no sign of life despite the sign on the door saying it opened at six thirty pm. Where were they? I was given a funny look by a passer by walking his dog. Maybe it was because I was now pacing around outside the café like a deranged lunatic? Finally a shape emerged from the darkness inside and arrived at the door.

Bonsoir,he said jollily as he opened it. I was allocated a computer and moments later, after managing to decipher the French keyboard, I was onto the BBC Sport web-site. My heart pounded as I located the League two section. I took a deep breath and clicked. It took a few seconds to sink in but there it was in black and white. Wed lost. It was a game we couldnt afford to lose and lose we had. There was worse to come. Dagenham & Redbridge had pulled off the shock of the season by beating Darlington three-two and to add insult to injury theyd been two nil down at halftime. You couldnt make it up it was so bad.

The realisation dawned that barring miracles we were down. I sat there in stunned silence, trying to come to terms with what this meant. Some masochistic urge kicked in and I found myself reading the match report. We had been sunk by a freak goal. A lofted lob from near the half way line that was meant to be a cross, somehow dropped in underneath the crossbar, as our horrified keeper looked on. Dagenham had taken the lead at almost the same point in their match. It felt like divine intervention.

Louise and Ben arrived.

What’s up? You look white,she said.

It’s the Stags,I said, turning to face her with that sick as a parrot expression, we’re down.

What do you expect supporting a team like that?she replied

Good question.

Mansfield Town 3 West Ham United 0

Saturday, February 8, 1969

I was oblivious to Mansfield Towns finest hour, as my allegiances lay elsewhere. I was a seven year old Tottenham Hotspur fan playing out fantasy London derbies in our back yard against my best friend Ian Newtons West Ham. I chose Tottenham because they had beaten Chelsea in the 1967 FA Cup Final. It had been the first live football game I had ever watched. Dad, a local headmaster fond of books and newspapers, had finally succumbed to the lure of the cathode ray and bought a black and white TV. It was sadly too late for the once in a lifetime events of 1966 which had completely passed me by but the sense of occasion was still electric. The curtains were drawn and the sound turned up, which wasnt what normally happened when I watched Bill and Ben or The Woodentops. Something really exciting was taking place. As I watched the game, I decided I wanted the team in white to win, which they did two-one. Afterwards, I felt part of the victory. Dad, on the other hand, switched off the TV practically after the final whistle and normal service was resumed. If Tottenham were my fantasy team, Mansfield Town were my proper team. I had to support them because they were the nearest real football club to the village on the edge of Sherwood Forest where I lived. Their nickname was the Stags, a reference to the local wildlife and they were never going to win the FA Cup. They were a third division club which was their natural habitat according to my dad.

But on a cold and wet Saturday afternoon in February 1969, in front of a record crowd of 21,117 people, something miraculous did happen. The Stags slew the mighty West Ham United by three goals to nil in the fifth round of the FA Cup, sending a team packed with World Cup winners back to London with their tails between their legs. The Stagss goal scoring hero, Dudley Roberts became a local legend like the man in green from up the road, sticking it to the glamour boys of East London and giving the North Nottinghamshire town of Mansfield a reason to feel proud. Its been more or less downhill ever since.

Mansfield Town 2 Ebbsfleet United 0

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

After the Histon result, I came to the timely conclusion that only a serial masochist could possibly support the Stags, so I decided to do myself a favour and distance myself from the pain for a while. Quitting the Stags was like quitting the fags you had to remove all the trigger points that might lure you back into bad habits. So I took the BBC Sport website off my bookmarks bar, hid my autographed photo of the Stags immortals1974-75 promotion winning side and made a point of not checking the results page of the Sunday papers.

It was all going fine for a while. Id finally removed that hair shirt from my back and could rejoice that this obsession with mediocrity and failure was finally over. But then it began to return, at first as morbid curiosity. Werent the Stags still in with a shout of relegation to the Blue Square North? Then fear. What if we got relegated? Then panic as I contemplated how far the club might slide down the football league pyramid. Blue Square North? Northern Premier League? Unibond North Division One? The Midland Football Alliance? The East Midlands Counties football league? The Mansfield & District Sunday Football League? Who knows where we might end up?

So late one Tuesday evening I found myself fidgeting over the computer again.

Go on, it wont harm you,a little voice inside my head nagged at me. Just have a quick peek and see how they got on.My resistance crumbled and soon I was logging on. I was ecstatic to discover that the Stags had won and with it went the threat of entertaining the likes of Farsley Celtic. In fact with the victory Mansfield were now top of the bottom half of the table and the glass was suddenly half full. The feel good factor returned, for the time being anyway.

Mansfield Town 3 Torquay United 0

Saturday, January 18,1975

Football, of sorts has been played at Field Mill since 1861 making it one of the oldest football grounds in the world. It wasnt until 1922 however, a year after Mansfield Town F.C officially came into existence, that the first Grandstand was erected and the newly nick-named Stags (minus The) were able to welcome players and supporters of other clubs to what DH Lawrence, in Lady Chatterleys Lover rather disingenuously described as, that once romantic now utterly disheartening colliery town.

It was certainly disheartening for the handful of Torquay United supporters that had made the epic journey from the English riviera one rainy Saturday in the mid 1970s. Cockney Rebel’s Come Up and See Me Make Me Smilewas high in the charts but there was not much mirth and merriment on show amongst the poor Torquay lot huddled together like a herd of lost sheep in the uncovered Quarry Lane End. Having endured an arduous five hour drive, they then spent a soul destroying hour and a half getting drenched, verbally abused and witnessing their team get hammered before the long journey back. On the plus side at least they had solid ground beneath their feet. In the early days of Field Mill, the away end consisted of a mound of pit ash.

At the other covered North Stand end, the home supporters snugly and smugly congregated. These were optimistic times. The Stags were sweeping all before them that season and would eventually be crowned champions of Division Four, with an impressive 90 goals to their name. The jewel in Field Mill’s crown was the enormous west stand which loomed over the rest of the ground. It had been purchased from Hurst Park racecourse in Surrey in the 1960s and held five and half thousand people, many of whom were local miners who were no doubt delighted to have been awarded a 35% pay rise that month by Harold Wilson’s government. Mansfield was a thriving working class town back then with its own brewery and a brand new shopping centre due to be opened soon. It did remain however the largest town in the UK without a railway station though nobody seemed to mind that much.

I, on the other hand, was a bit of a novelty; a middle class, Pink Floyd loving Stags fan. I felt a bit of an outsider but supporting the Stags gave me a sense of belonging to the community. I would read The Stags Magazine from cover to cover on the seven mile bus ride back home from Field Mill knowing all the players names by heart, especially that of the legendary right back Sandy Pate, who went on to make 479 first team appearances for the club. My thoughts that evening excitingly turned to the next game and a fifth round FA Cup tie against First Division Carlisle United. Could the Stags win that one? Anything seemed possible.

Mansfield Town 2 Stevenage Borough 1

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Last game of Mansfield Towns first season in the non-league and it was eternal optimism time at Field Mill. They had finished the season strongly with eleven home wins in a row and had secured a final league table position of twelfth, which should have been eleventh but for a four point deduction for fielding an illegible player. The cup over-flowed and the fans were delirious. 

Hes got no hair but he don’t care,they chanted as the follically challenged Gary Silk, with his seventies glam rocker kind of name, was made the Stags player of the season. Mansfield had their very own rock and roll icon. Alvin Stardust realised very early on in his career that he wasnt going to get very far in show business by going by his real name of Bernard William Jewry. In 1973 the leather gloved one had a massive hit with the mildly pervy My Coo-Ca-Choowhich I fondly remember jigging to at the village hall discos. I had my own dreams of pop stardom but was hampered by the fact that I couldnt sing or play an instrument. Remarkably a few years later these drawbacks would actually become virtues.

Mansfield Towns manager was David Holdsworth or DH as I shall refer to him from now on. He was a Londoner and had the gift of the gab. He talked the talk but could he walk the walk? At least he sounded like a winner and winning was after all what we craved for. The first season had been tough but wed finished it strongly and if we carried on in the same vein next season the misery and torment of the Blue Square Premier would soon be a distant memory.

The Stags will rise again,enthused one fan on the BBC Sport web-site.

This was going to be our year.

Mansfield Town 0 Carlisle United 1

Saturday, February 15, 1975

I was one of 18,293 fans packed into Field Mill when Mansfield entertained first division Carlisle United in the fifth round of the FA Cup in February 1975. There had been lots of trouble in the town before the game and I was glad to be safely inside the ground and out of harms way at the front of the tiny Bishops Street stand. It was the heyday of hooliganism and we forget these days just what a problem it was back then. Blokes with shag haircuts, mutton chop sideburns and Fu Manchu moustaches head butting and kicking each other Kung Fu style. And that was just the players. It was certainly not the Roy of the Rovers version of football described in my Tiger comic.

There was an electric atmosphere inside the ground with five thousand Cumbrians making the journey south fully expecting their First Division class to win through on the day. The Stags though had gone 23 games unbeaten at home and were confident that despite the difference in League positions it would be they that would be in the hat for the sixth round later that evening. The game was officiated by none other than World Cup referee Jack Taylor and the Match of the Day cameras heightened the sense of occasion. The game was a classic cup tie and lived up to the expectations of the fans. The Stags fell behind early on but then rallied and really should have equalised. But despite goal line clearances and heroic saves from their goalie, Carlisle held on. Despite the defeat, the Stags players were cheered off the field. They had shown that they could compete with better opposition. The Stags were on the rise. After winning Division Four that season, they went on to finish in a respectable mid table position in Division Three at the end of the 1975-1976 season and then came one of the greatest seasons in their history. That was a year I would never forget.

Mansfield Town 4 Crawley Town 0

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Frances second largest urban conurbation seemed an odd choice for a holiday destination but the invitation of free accommodation courtesy of friends whod swapped their house in Cambridge for a downtown apartment in the old port area of Marseilles seemed too good to turn down. It might not have been that get-a-way-from-it-all kind of holiday that we really craved, but there was still that Mediterranean sun and sea, the glorious food and some of the best post modern architecture in Europe to make up for it. Unfortunately on arrival we learnt that the local beach had been closed down due to a contamination scare ruling out one of the main attractions but we did manage to find a decent non toxic replacement, albeit situated on an island over an hours boat trip away.

It felt good to be back again. My last holiday there had been marred by the trauma of the Stagss relegation from the football league. There were reasons to be cheerful however as our second season in the BSP dawned. The Stags had been taken over by a middle east consortium that summer. Sorry, let me rephrase that. The Stags had been taken over by a consortium of East Midland based businessmen. It had ended months of fevered speculation as to the future of the club. At one point we were going to be bought by a local dentist but luckily he pulled out if you pardon the pun? Then there was the farcical episode when a man called Jon Bachelor had offered to buy the club under the condition that Mansfield Town were renamed Harchester United after a fictional team in a TV sit com. You honestly couldnt make it up! But everything seemed to be going in the right direction. Convincing pre-season friendly results and eleven new signings had shown signs of intent. There had been a team building exercise in the Lake District which had included raft building, gorge felling, tree chopping, canoeing and even a pub quiz thrown in. The local paper predicted a top five finish. That would do nicely I thought. Imagine my glee then to discover from my temporary Mediterranean home that the Stags had started the season in emphatic style with a walloping four-nil home win? 

This is just the beginning, theres more to come,proclaimed the delighted manager.

I dared to believe that the toxic waters of the BSP might soon be a thing of the past.

Wrexham 0 v Mansfield Town 1

Saturday, May 14, 1977

1977 was the year the king died, the Queen celebrated her jubilee and Mansfield Town had their most successful season in their history so far. I turned 16 that year and was no longer a junior at the Field Mill turnstiles. There was a buzz around the town, not only because a new bus station had opened but also that the Stags were flying high in Division Three prompting wild talk of promotion to the second tier of English football for the first time in their history. The Stags were unstoppable and by the time they reached the last game of the season away at Wrexham, they had already guaranteed promotion. Win in Wales and they would be Champions.

The last one out of Mansfield, switch off the lights,read the headline of the local paper in the week before the game. This was a not to be missed, once in a lifetime opportunity and I had to be there. The new bus station was a sea of blue and yellow as we boarded a fleet of coaches bound for North Wales. I found a window seat towards the back of the coach and settled down for the long journey. Fans carried on provisions for the trip, which in the main consisted of beer and cigarettes. We set off on our journey in high spirits like a troupe of plundering Vikings on an away day weekend to Lindisfarne. During the journey, whilst several of our number entertained themselves by mooning at passers by, I reflected on both the joy and the potential pain a Stags victory would bring to my life. Joy, because one of the teams I supported were on the verge of going up as Champions. Pain, because the other team I supported, Tottenham Hotspur were on the verge of relegation from Division one and therefore the nightmare scenario loomed that they would be playing each other next season. Glen Hoddle at Field Mill, whod have thought it?  And more pertinently, who would I support? I decided Id have to cross that bridge when I came to it. It seemed like most of North Wales police force was waiting for us as we pulled into the car park in sight of the ground. Wrexham was a war zone. We drove past an empty Mansfield coach with its windows smashed and another with a team of ambulance men prising a poor Wrexham fan from beneath the wheels. We were escorted to the Racecourse Ground by mounted police and joined the three thousand Stags fans crammed together like sardines in the away end.

I cant remember much about the actual game as I couldnt see much of the action, spending most of the ninety minutes being thrown backwards and forwards. The game was close and goalless until the last minute when Ernie Moss scored for the Stags sending the away end into raptures. When I emerged from the pandemonium, I noticed that some of the 17000 Wrexham fans had invaded the pitch and were shaking their fists and uttering dark profanities at us before being rugby tackled in the best Welsh tradition by the local constabulary. The game ended shortly after. Mansfield were champions but Wrexham unfortunately missed out on promotion.

On the way back I checked the Tottenham score. They had won but it was not enough to avoid relegation.

Chester City 0 Mansfield Town 1

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Whilst I was out snorkelling in a non toxic cove just south of Marseilles, back in England, Luton Towns strikers were filling their boots and quickly putting an end to the Stagss promising start. I took the result with a Gallic shrug. The Hatters were after all destined to spend but a brief sojourn as a non league club before returning to their rightful place next season. It was best therefore to get this game out of the way early doors.

A victory against Salisbury followed the Luton debacle, then a convincing home win against Ebbsfleet United, followed by a flukey away win at Chester. The Stags were on a roll, almost literally. The Managers negative tactics which consisted of Mansfield pushing, shoving and stifling the opposition drew criticism from rival fans and officials. In all honesty Id given up on flair and skill in order to get out of this division. If it meant winning ugly then so be it.

Mansfield Town 3 Tottenham Hotspur 3

Saturday, March 25,1978

Wuthering Heightsechoed over the tannoy as I prised myself into my usual position behind the goal. I was glad to be out of the rain at last and surrounded by Stags fans, I figured it was now the appropriate time to remove my scarf from beneath my jacket. Unfortunately it didnt go unnoticed and I was given a disapproving look by the hard looking bloke next to me.

What he didnt realise was that as well as being a highly sensible act of self preservation given the hordes of blue and white scarfed Cockneys roaming the streets, the main reason I was hiding my scarf was that I honestly hadnt decided which team to support until the very last minute. Id considered trying to sneak into the Tottenham end but found myself being herded towards the North Stand by the local constabulary. Id been dreading this day all season, when Tottenham Hotspur, the team I supported played Mansfield Town the other team I supported. The fixture coincided with my seventeenth birthday. I had considered not going but how could I? This was a present from the footballing Gods.

As a Spurs fan, Id endured the pain and torture of the 1976-77 season, in particular the eight-two thrashing by Derby County which I had listened to on the radio in the company of a jubilant Rams fan one dismal Saturday afternoon. Relegation inevitably followed. On the other hand as a Stags fan Id enjoyed the joy and ecstasy of their promotion as Champions. For the 1977-78 season the two teams were in the same league for the first time ever.

They had met earlier that season at White Hart Lane when thanks to an impeccable display of goal keeping by Stags legend Rod Arnold, the Stags had come away with a point. My school mates, knowing I supported Tottenham, gave me a fair amount of stick especially as the Stags were languishing at the foot of the table at the time. It was a cruel twist of fate that meant I was unable to appreciate one of the Stagss greatest ever results because I also supported the opposition.

Id gone along to Meadow Lane in January to witness Spurs scrape a lucky three-three draw at Notts County thanks to a last minute equaliser by John Pratt. Despite Mansfields lowly position in the league and the fact that they hadnt won or scored a goal in five games, I was fully expecting a difficult afternoon, as I stood there on that wet and windy Saturday afternoon in March. I suppose the best result under the circumstances had to be a draw.

I half heartedly boo-ed along with the Stags fans as the Tottenham team were announced over the tannoy and politely jeered as they took to the field. Secretly I was thrilled and craned my neck to see if I could spot my hero Glen Hoddle. In the far distance I could make out his tall, tousled haired form doing keepie-uppies as if the ball was magically attached to his feet. I was in the presence of my idol. It was up there with seeing Rush at the Manchester Apollo a few weeks earlier. Then the fanfare of Mansfields theme tune sounded and we all went wild. Well, some went wilder than others.

Rod Arnold, the saviour of the Stags at White Hart Lane and arguably one of the best goalkeepers in England ran towards us and raised his arms above his head. I was actually hoping that he might have an off day today.

In front of 12000 excited fans and on a pitch that resembled a quagmire, the game kicked off with Tottenham attacking our goal. All the action seemed to be at the other end though as the Stags peppered Barry Dainess goal with long range shots. They made the better start and were definitely making the most of the dreadful conditions. It didnt take long before Tottenhams leaky defence was breached and the Stags went one nil up. Half the North stand went bonkers. The other half which had been allocated to Spurs fans fell silent. My dominant emotion was fear. Fear of what might happen if Spurs got thrashed like the Derby result. Id be a laughing stock at school. Then my emotions turned to relief as Spurs striker Chris Jones, after evading the writhing Arnold slithering across the 18 yard box like a mud wrestler, poked the ball over the line to equalise within a minute. Oh, no,I feebly gasped as our half of the stand fell silent and the other half celebrated.

Tottenham started to settle and began showing their class but Rod Arnold was on fire and saving everything they could throw at him. Then against the run of play the Stags were awarded a penalty after Steve Perryman was adjudged, unfairly in my book, to have brought down Gordon Hodgson. Dennis Martin strode up to take it. I was so sure he would score that I almost celebrated before he struck it. He missed. What a relief? Shame rather! The Stags were now all over us, I mean them. Tottenham looked vulnerable. Barry Daines was having a shocker. It was only a matter of time before the Stags would score again and they duly did. Syrett fired home from close range for his second of the game and it was two-one to the Stags. The half time whistle brought proceedings to a merciful end.

Should be all over be now,the hard looking gent said turning to me. I wasnt sure whether he was making a statement or asking me a question so I just nodded in agreement. I did consider making the point that with the ground drying out, true class would win the day. But of course I didnt.

The second half began and the game was more even. The gifted Hoddle weaved his magic in midfield as Spurs pressed for an equaliser. The pressure built and built. They must equalise?I thought. They have to,I prayed. But the goalkeeper stood firm.

Arnold for England,the Stags fans chanted.

With ten minutes left, and the worse case scenario looming, Tottenham were awarded a penalty, quite fairly in my book, which Hoddle, despite the mud, cooly converted.

As he slid on his knees in celebration towards the corner flag, I wanted to express my joy but stood there grim faced like everyone else.

Oh how I would have settled for a draw then. Honours even. Heads held high. It would have been the right result. I was suddenly supporting the Stags and willing Tottenham to miss as another shot went inches wide of Arnolds goal post. Ten minutes turned to five. Surely both sides would settle for a draw? Surely? Unfortunately that was not going to be the case.

The normally reliable Steve Perryman delivered a pass straight to a Mansfield attacker who then sent a speculative ball towards the Tottenham goal. Daines ran out to boot it clear but somehow managed to glance it directly into the path of the onrushing Dave Syrett who side footed the ball into the back of the net from the edge of the area for his hat trick. It was three-two to the Stags with a minute to go. Of course I jumped up and down but it was like trying to dance to a song that you didnt like. Inside I was crestfallen. Sick even. I considered leaving but the police wouldnt let me, mindful of the trouble that might follow. So I stood there helplessly as the final whistle loomed and all the ensuing mockery and misery that would come with it.

Tottenham, urged on by their huge following, surged forward but Billy Binghams side nobly stood firm. Hoddle was everywhere. Was there still time for some of his magic? But time was running out. The ninety minutes were up.

Then as the sun came out at last and with seconds to go Tottenham are awarded a free kick on the edge of the Stagss box. This was it, the last kick of the game.

Rod Arnold frantically organised the Mansfield wall. Keep this out and a famous victory was theirs, sorry ours. The drama was intense. A strange, eerie silence descended over Field Mill. There was only one player who could possibly take the kick. Only one player with the sublime skill to be able to bend the ball around the wall and into the top corner. Only one player who could save my day, who could make me believe that there was a God. Only one player who could make football more than a game but a transcendental experience. There was only one player and his name was Glen Hoddle.

I can’t remember what I did the moment the ball hit the back of the net. All around me people just stood there stunned and unable to speak. There were Tottenham fans on the pitch. I just stood there transfixed. Happy, happier than I had ever been in my life. Seconds later it was all over. I took one last look at the pitch. Hoddle was the last player off the field receiving a standing ovation.

As the Stags fans trudged away, I was the only one of them with a spring in my step.

Rushden & Diamonds 1 Mansfield Town 0

Saturday, September 19, 2009

One step forward, two steps back. The Stags reverted back to type in September going on a winless run of four games. At least their new signing Kyle The Goal MachinePerry was finding the back of the net albeit not always of his opponents.

I lived in Cambridge and would have loved to have gone more often to Field Mill but if Im honest, a four and a half hour round trip and associated petrol costs plus the £17 entry fee to watch two non league sides kick hell out of each other and hoof the ball into the sky for ninety minutes needed a level of loyalty and dedication to the cause that I just didnt possess. Plus I worked most Saturdays which absolved me from the guilt of being a long distance supporter. OK, there was nothing like the thrill of actually being there cheering your team on from the stands but there was at least the next best thing of being able to follow the game on the internet and when the inevitable happened and we either drew nil-nil or more likely lost, the journey to the fridge for a consoling beer was far shorter and less painful than the arduous two hour drive back down the A1. In that respect I wasnt a true fan like those admirable souls who turned out no matter what. The early season optimism amongst the die hards had turned to criticism. The Manager was getting a lot of flack and his defensive post match interviews seemed to pull every cliché from the Football Manager’s Essential Guide to Platitudes and Metaphors.’            

We had enough chances to win three games,he lamented after a dismal draw against Grays Athletic in front of 732 fans. No day off for the players this week,he fumed after a home defeat against Stevenage. We need architects,he mused after a dispiriting goalless home draw against Kettering Town. The fans were in no doubt what the club needed, quality footballers and not architects.

A last minute own goal sent the Stags to their third consecutive defeat at Rushden and Diamonds. This time, it was all down to bad luck according to the Manager. I concluded that good sense was needed and it was time once more to downsize expectations as twelve points now separated the Stags from league leaders Oxford United who were Mansfields next opponents. By the end of that one whod bet against it being 15?

Mansfield Town 4 Hartlepool United 0

Tuesday, April 22,1986

I lost touch with the Stags and Tottenham in the early 1980s, mainly due to a general loss of touch with reality caused by my dream of becoming a pop star very nearly materialising. We were a penalty shoot out kick away from appearing on Top of the Pops. Radio 1 DJ David KidJenson was even moved to ponder whether Mansfield could be the new centre of the musical universe? Alas it wasnt and after our song failed to make the top forty Mansfield reverted back to being what it was, namely the centre of the Nottinghamshire coal mining industry with a fairly average football team just off Junction 28 of the M1 Motorway. It is still a bit of mystery why we didnt make it and conspiracy theories abound, mainly in my head. Perhaps we just werent fashionable enough in the age of Adam Ant and Boy George? Too old school at the time when throwaway synth pop was all the rage? Perhaps coming from Mansfield didn’t help? Who knows? It was good fun while it lasted.

Whilst I was heading upwards in the world of music, the Stags were heading the other way. Despite the highs of drawing against the mighty Tottenham twice, their stay in Division Two lasted just one season before they slumped back into Division Three, where they spent two seasons before ending up back where they had started in Division Four. The thought that they would one day drop out of the football league never crossed my mind though. Oh no, that would never come to pass. This was Mansfield Town, a proud long standing member of the football league. Being relegated was unthinkable. We were too good for that surely? But the mediocrity served up season after season was having an effect on attendances and morale. There were hardly ever any notable Cup runs and on the whole the club seemed to have stagnated after the heady days of the 70s. The highs were few and far between. The Stags did manage to get promoted back to Division Three in the 1985-86 season. Despite having a player in their side named Neville Chamberlain, Mansfield did not surrender to nerves and clinched promotion by beating Hartlepool United four-nil in front of over 5000 ecstatic fans. The successful manager of the team Ian Greaves remains a Stags legend and now has a stand named in his honour at Field Mill. The following season they finally made it to a Cup Final at Wembley.

That was a day I would never forget.

Ebbsfleet United 2 Mansfield Town 1

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Stagss topsy turvy second season in the Blue Square Premier League continued as they clinched an improbable victory against runaway leaders Oxford United. All logic had now left the building. Mansfield were a Jekyll and Hyde team. One minute capable of living up to their status as one of the bigger clubs in the League then the next turning into something a kin to a fifth rate pub team. So after winless September they went on a winning run which saw DH crowned Manager of the Month for October. All was suddenly rosy in the Stagss garden. They were in a play off position and still in the FA cup with a second round replay at home against Forest Green Rovers surely a formality. This season might even have a happy ending after all I dared to think.

Of course, being the Stags it didnt go to plan and Forest Green, whose badge is based on that of FC Barcelona were made to look like the Catalan wizards by hapless Mansfield. It was the light at the end of the tunnel,announced a relieved Forest Green boss Dave Hockaday after the game. After the defeat, the lights had suddenly gone out for Mansfield.

In our next game against Tommy Coppers hometown team Eastbourne Borough, we conjured up another slapstick routine masquerading as a performance salvaging an unlikelypoint against a team of part-timers without a win in nine games. Our manager pointed to the match changing moment in the seventh minute when goal machinePerry had had his legs scythed from under him by one of The Sportss unsporting defenders and limped off. Excuses aside, it was if October had never happened and it was September all over again. It was the same old story and the same old Stags.

Things went from bad to worse. Mansfields next opponents Ebbsfleet United had gone fifteen games without a win, 723 minutes without a goal and had suffered seven successive defeats prior to Mansfields visit. It took them just three minutes to end the goal drought and ended up sinking the Stags three-one which seemed an apt metaphor given their nickname was The Fleet. The Stags were now playing like a bottom four club and another season in purgatory seemed likely unless they could somehow turn things around. The December fixtures were crucial starting with a 300 mile round trip to struggling Gateshead. Haway the lads!

carlisle game

Bristol City 1 Mansfield Town 1 (After extra time)

The Freight Rover Trophy Final, Wembley Stadium

Sunday, May 24,1987

I clutched the blue and yellow flag tightly around my shoulders as the first penalty taker strode to the spot. I had a superb vantage point directly behind the goal at the end where the penalties were being taken. At the other end of the stadium the banks of red and white held their breath.

I was actually quietly confident. Our goalkeeper Kevin Hitchcock, who was something of a penalty saving specialist, bounced up and down on his line ready for Bristols first attempt. Seconds later the ball was in the bottom right hand corner of the net. The previously live wire Hitchcock was now lying on his side a few inches from the left hand post sent completely and utterly the wrong way.

A cacophony of whistles and boos from the far end greeted the first Mansfield kicker. Seconds later the boos gave way to cheers. It was a carbon copy of the first penalty with their goalie as non-plussed as ours a minute earlier.

Their tall centre forward then blasted the ball Lineker-like past Hitchcock, who this time dived to his right before finishing it with a theatrical roll. Ten out of ten for artistic impression, unfortunately none for technical ability.

Next up was our number nine Keith Cassells who ambled rather wearily and worryingly to the spot. Their goalkeeper suddenly seemed to fill the entire goal with his arms out stretched almost touching each post. To say he moved was an understatement. He’d practically completed his dive to the left before Cassells meekly struck it straight at him. As Keith ambled back to the half way line, I glanced around me. People were shaking their heads. Some had their head in their hands. City led two-one.

Hitchcock dived to his left again. The ball was drilled with precision into the top right hand corner of the goal. A bereft Hitchcock hauled himself to his feet like a man with arthritis. I could feel it draining away. The City fans were jubilant. The Cup was in their sights. 3-1.

Id almost given up when a text book penalty from Stringfellow renewed hope. We’re were still in it. Three-two.

So far in the shoot out Kevin Hitchcock had had a nightmare, as befitted a man with his surname. He’d come nowhere near to saving any of their penalties. For the fourth time he dived to his left. This time he guessed right and got a hand to it but the ball still found the back of the net. He was on his knees with his head touching the earth as if praying to Mecca. The Stags needed a miracle now all right. City led four-two.

Pollard kept us in it, just. You got the feeling that City were backing themselves. Their goalie almost couldn’t be bothered knowing they needed just to score with the next penalty to win the cup.

It was now all on the next penalty. If they scored it was over. Hitchcock stood impassively zen-like in the centre of the goal. Their player took a huge run up and hit the ball firmly. Hitchcock dived theatrically to his right as the ball began its trajectory towards its intended and most likely destination of the back of the net. Somehow the ball connected with his trailing left boot and flew over the bar. The relieved goalie did a somersault, then stood up with his arms aloft. There was delirium all around me. Did you see that?someone said, Saved it wis bloody boot, the lucky sod!

The referee picked up the ball and walked over to the spot handing it to Kevin Kent, our Keegan-esque looking right winger. The two exchanged a few words. Perhaps the ref complemented him on his perm, who knows? He placed the ball on the spot with military precision. Citys goalkeeper did what looked like an aerobic workout on the goal line. Kent stepped up and for the third time in a row their goalie is stranded at the left hand post. Kent did a little dance and acknowledged the swaying flags. It was now four all and sudden death which sounded like the title of a Hitchcock film. Cometh the hour, cometh the man? The ball was struck sweetly but once again it collides with our goalies left boot rather than the back of the net. The euphoric Kev jogged around the eighteen yard box with his arms in the air, then stopped on the penalty spot and pulled up his boot and hopped, showing off his lucky left foot.

This was it. The greatest moment in Mansfield Town’s history was riding on Tony Kenworthy. I stared down at the hallowed turf of Wembley, to the exact place where Geoff Hurst had scored the fourth against the Germans that sunny, unforgettable July afternoon in 1966. The same late afternoon shadows stretched across the pitch. I was there in the same place. There was a hush all around. This was meant to be. I had waited all my life for this moment.

Kenworthy strode up.

He had to score.

He must score.

He will score.

HE SCOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

As the ball hit the back of the net, I was thrown in all directions. It was mayhem. All I could hear was the sound of screaming fans singing, We love you Mansfield, we do. We love you Mansfield we do.

A few minutes later, once the delirium had calmed, our captain George Foster strode up the steps and received the Cup from Tom Finney. Then for the first and perhaps only time in my life I watched as a Mansfield Town captain lifted a competitive knock out football trophy in the air. All the years of abject failure and disappointment were forgotten in that moment which was captured on camera by a music scout buddy called Anton whod gone along with me for the day.

A few months later he discovered a bunch of unknowns from Seattle called Nirvana and became their manager.

I was in nirvana that day all right.

Gateshead 1 Mansfield Town 3

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

As the first decade of the new millennium drew to a close, I was honoured to be featured in the Pop Goes Mansfield!exhibition at the towns Museum. It coincided with one of our periodic homecoming shows and having donated some memorabilia, I popped into the museum on the day of the gig to have a peek. The exhibition was dominated of course by Ziggy’s namesake who had lent the museum some of his outlandish outfits and gold discs. Our donations were less spectacular, consisting of a few gig posters and record sleeves but we did have our own spot on the wall between Woodstock legends Ten Years After, whose bass player was from the town and Paper Lace of Billy Dont be a Herofame. There was also an exhibit dedicated to Mansfields legendary record store, Syd Booths, in which I had spent many Saturday afternoons in the late 70s and early 80s rifling through the latest post punk single releases. When B-Movie started out we dreamt of making records one day. We ended up having our own section there. The shop is now long gone but seeing the exhibit brought back memories of those exciting times.

Back on the pitch, The Stags got December off to a winning start with a three-one win against Ian Bogies Gateshead in front of 647 fans. Our manager, now nicknamed Reg after the Coronation Street character, hailed the performance of his debutant goalscorer Andy Burgess. One of his Bettabuys perhaps? After dispensing with The Bogie Man it was time to face The Terminator and the G-Men. Hard man Julian DicksGrays Athletic side approached the game in the spirit of their combative manager, picking up half a dozen yellow cards and repelling everything that the Stags could throw at them. The Manager, reaching for his manual after the disappointing draw, insisted that nothing was won or lost in December, but I couldnt help thinking that the points wed lost against the bottom four teams would count against us come the end of the season.

The atmosphere at Field Mill turned toxic the following week after the Stags crashed out of the FA Trophy with a two-nil home defeat by out-of-formTamworth. A theme seemed to be emerging whereby the so called out of formteams somehow miraculously came into form when they faced the Stags.

Reg was resolute in his post match interview. He was not a man to make excuses he said but reading between the lines one can offer an alternative narrative.

For Im not going to make any excusesread, the defeat wasnt my fault, it was all down to illness, injury, appalling refereeing and bad luck.

For I can understand the fans frustrations, they are good people,read, their mindless booing and chants of what a load of rubbishare mentally damaging my young players. Theyve had some tough times down the years but lets face it what can you expect when you live in a small town in the middle of nowhere?

To make matters worse, The Lambs opening goal was scored by ex Mansfield legend Iyseden Christie who made over 160 appearances for the Stags. What we would have given to have had him back?

A predictable Boxing day defeat to promotion contenders York City, was followed by an unpredictable victory against my new home town team Cambridge United. The Stags were miraculously still in with a sniff of promotion as the decade ended. Could they really defy all the pessimism and prove this cynic wrong?

It took less than 120 seconds of playing time in the new decade to suggest otherwise, as the Stags capitulated meekly to AFC Wimbledon. Fortuitously for Mansfield, their next opponents Chester City were in dire straits, with a total of minus three points to their name after 27 games due to a penalty for financial irregularities. The Stags capitalised and put four past the demoralised Blues. They then managed to score the same number of goals in the next match against Forest Green Rovers and with it brought up their half century of points for the season. Old foes Wrexham then gave the Stags a reality check and dampened wild thoughts of promotion with a two-one win. It was back to the drawing board.

Leyton Orient 5 Mansfield Town 1

Saturday, November 28,1992

The Queen described 1992 as her annus horribilis.Things werent so great for me or the Stags either. The tide had gone out on my rock and roll dream and the Stagss season was on the rocks as they slid towards relegation. These two negative forces came together one chilly November afternoon in 1992 to create a perfect storm of utter woe.

I was living in East London at the time. It was my latest port of call as I drifted around the city trying to find somewhere permanent to settle down. Home was still up in Nottinghamshire where my parents lived and I would head back there regularly. The village where they lived hadn’t changed a bit since my boyhood days. The locals were as friendly as always although things had changed in the area with many of the pits being closed down. Mansfield and the surrounding area, like myself faced an uncertain future. Occasionally I would catch a Stags game and soak up the atmosphere in the West Stand with its fantastic view of the pitch and the surrounding area. Sitting amongst the Stags fans and listening to the banter transported me to a different world. It gave me a sense of belonging that I lacked and needed.

Back in London and living nearby, I couldnt pass up the opportunity then to take the short bus ride to see the Stags take on Leyton Orient at Brisbane Road, hoping a good result might brighten up the recession hit time. There were hopeful signs in the first twenty minutes. We had a couple of decent chances and were definitely in the game. Then everything changed and we suddenly found ourselves three-nil down and heading for a thrashing. At least the small band of Stags fans huddled around the refreshment stand at half time seemed cheerful enough, although the good natured humour must have hidden a multitude of more negative emotions of which disappointment must have been the strongest. Players are often criticised for seemingly not caring. I think they do care but on the whole not as much as the fans do. The players can move on but for the fans it’s for life. It’s who they are and how good you feel on a Saturday night or for the rest of the week for that matter can all depend on whether your side wins or loses.

I feared I would be drowning my sorrows that evening as the sides came out for the second half. This could be a humiliation. At least the Stags, decked out in Robin Hood green and white, would be kicking towards us in the second half. Maybe that might inspire them? Within five minutes of the restart it was four-nil. Orient were awarded a free kick mid way inside our half. The resulting kick brushed the head of one of their attackers and headed goal wards. Our goalkeeper, followed its trajectory and presuming it was going wide made no effort to run after it. But instead of going out, the ball bounced off the right hand post and then back across the six yard box, right at the feet of their tall striker, who not being able to believe his luck, tapped it unopposed into the back of the net. It was so comically bad all we could do was laugh. The Stags did get one back against the run of play but a late Orient penalty rubbed salt in the wounds.

At the end of the game, the Stags fans made their way towards the car park and the long journey back up the motorway to the East Midlands. I went the other way towards the bus stop. It would be a while before we would see each other again.

Mansfield Town 0 Gateshead 2

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The headline of the local paper read Pay what you want to see Mansfield play Gateshead on Saturday.With an offer like that, who could resist?

It was one of those murky, grim February afternoons when the greyness seemed to stick to everything. I arrived at Field Mill in good time, hoping to find a seat in the West stand with a good view for around a fiver, but I hadnt bargained on the fact that half the population of Mansfield had the same idea. Turned away from my preferred destination, I found myself queuing for the Quarry Lane end. It was painfully slow progress as the clock ticked towards kick off time. Then we stopped moving all together.

Theyve closed sodding turnstiles,one puzzled fan remarked to another.

Inside the stadium the crowd noise boomed as I tried to come to terms with the fact that I wouldnt be joining them. Then when I was just about to head back to my car, there was a sudden flurry of activity and I found myself following a group of fans in the direction of the far end of the stand. There I noticed that one of the gates was wide open. It wasnt clear whether it had been opened by the Stags officials or the fans. That old adage of Dont look a gift horse in the mouthkicked in and a few seconds later I was taking my seat and soaking up the atmosphere.

I hadnt seen the ground as packed for ages. It was like the good old days of 1970s complete with an atmospheric layer of mist floating over the pitch for added effect. The two teams took to the field as if it were a Cup final rather than a meaningless non-league fixture between two average teams. The Stags fans were in good voice and confident they would despatch Gateshead in similar convincing style as they had done earlier in the season. The noise reached a crescendo as the ref blew his whistle, then went up another notch as three crunching Gateshead tackles left two of our players on the deck.

Yer dirty bogger,screamed a fan next to me. The Geordies hadnt come here to roll over it seemed. They were up for it. Game on.

With nine goals from their last three games the Stags were red hot favourites to increase their goal difference today but something strange seemed to be happening out there on the pitch. The relative hugeness of the crowd seemed to be having the opposite effect of what was intended and was inspiring the visitors, egged on by their small but vociferous band of followers. The Stags on the other hand, resembled rabbits caught in the headlights, unable to deal with the heightened levels of expectation afforded by the occasion. In Gatesheads first meaningful attack the Stags defence parted like the Red Sea allowing their striker all the time in the world to tee up a speculative shot from outside the box. It set off in the direction of our scarlet clad goalkeeper only to take a wicked deflection off a Mansfield defender sending our hapless shot saver completely the wrong way and the ball into the other side of the goal from where he was standing. This was not supposed to be happening. The alarm bells started to ring.

I tried to put the shaky start down to nerves. They would surely gain some composure and get back into the game? But for the next half hour we didnt look remotely like scoring. Our opponents on the other hand should have been at least three-nil up before the half time whistle thankfully brought the sorry proceedings to an end.

I want me money back,quipped one fan as the players trudged off, and I only paid a quid.

We were entertainedduring the half time interval by a bloke dressed in a Stags costume dancing to that D:Ream tune. At least someone in a Stags outfit was providing some entertainment I thought. Things could only get better in the second half. Surely?

Reg made some changes at half time bringing on Perry, our big goal scoring machinebut it was the Gateshead striker Brian Wake that was now clicking into action and controlling the game with consummate ease as if given the freedom of Mansfield for the afternoon. A careless mistake in the Stags midfield led to his second goal of the game and the nail in our coffin. A funereal hush, befitting the name of the scorer descended over the ground.

The Stags huffed and they puffed but in my heart I knew we were never going to score. We had been completely outplayed and outclassed. Not even if Gateshead had had six players sent off and the remaining five were blindfolded with their legs tied together we still wouldnt have scored. Fifteen minutes before the end, the fans started to file out of the ground, many of them never to return again. I stayed almost to the bitter end but didnt wait for the four minutes of added time.

When I got back to Cambridge, searching for answers for the Stags dreadful display, I checked the BBC Sport web-site for some reaction. This sober analysis from a fan summed up the mood.

Im sick of being in this stupid tinpot league being outplayed, outfought and ultimately beaten by part time pub teams and village teams I aint never heard of. If they think Im spending my hard earned wages on that rubbish week in week out they can think again! Im off to dream that I was conceived in Manchester and todays performance was a big nightmare!

Will the pleasure never end?

Queen’s Park Rangers 2 Mansfield Town 2

Saturday, February 22, 2003

One of Mansfields greatest ever victories was the eight-one thrashing of QPR during the 1964-65 season. One of their worst ever defeats was the seven-one thrashing by QPR in the following 1965-66 season. I turned up at Loftus Road one sunny February afternoon in the early years of the new millennium fully expecting the latter not the former to occur. The West Londoners had already thumped the Stags four-nil at Field Mill and we were sliding inexorably towards the bottom of the table and inevitably back into Division Three where we belonged.

Despite this, there was a surprisingly large and boisterous band of Stags fans in the upper tiers behind the goal enjoying a day out in London for the return game. I’d gone along to the game with some QPR supporting mates but decided I was better off in the away end in view of the inevitable ribbing caused by the humiliation that would surely follow. My best mate also happened to be a Hoops fan and that Saturday was one of those very rare occasions in the twenty years or so we’d known each other that the two clubs were actually in the same division. Thankfully, he couldnt make the game that day. Perhaps so certain was he of victory that it didnt seem worth going? I, on the other hand must have been a glutton for punishment. In my mind it was just a question of how many we would concede. I just hoped we might keep it below five.

I based my pessimism on the Stagsform running into the game. We were leaking goals left, right and centre and it didnt take long before Paul Furlong opened the scoring for QPR with a goal of such consummate ease that I feared my worst predictions must surely come true. But football is, if nothing else a funny game and miraculously on practically the Stagss first attack, a flukey header by Junior Mendes somehow looped over their goalies head, bounced off the top of the crossbar and landed serendipitously at the feet of Iyseden Christie who gratefully nodded the ball home from six yards out. QPR should have been six nil up but somehow we were all level.

As it invariably always seemed to be with the Stags, disaster and ineptitude werent far around the corner as debutant Andy Jones, who had only been on the pitch a grand total of nine minutes as a substitute picked up his second yellow card for a kamikaze lunge on their winger. The groans from the Mansfield faithful must have been audible down in Shepherds Bush market. Now down to ten men with most of the game remaining and with QPR scenting blood, damage limitation was the only thing on my mind. I lost count of how many times the ball hit the post or cross bar but somehow countering every known law of physics it stayed out and somehow we managed to cling on and go in at half time all square.

The second half kicked off with the Stags attacking our end or more accurately defending the other end. It was obvious what the strategy was. We set up with a seven-one-one formation with Craig Disley, the go-between linking our massed defence to lone striker Christie. Attack followed attack but the massed ranks held firm. After yet another was repelled, the ball made a rare move in our direction and found its way to Disley who thread through an exquisite ball to Christie, who beat the offside trap. We craned our heads forward in disbelief. He suddenly had only the goalkeeper to beat. Could he? No, he couldnt surely? And he cooly did, sending us into unexpected raptures. I wondered what my mates would be thinking? Here was the mighty QPR of Rodney Marsh, Stan Bowles and Gerry Francis being beaten at home by ten men from Mansfield. Whod have thought it?

The euphoria didnt last long however as our captain Keith Curle pulled Furlong to the ground in the box with all the subtlety of a rugby league player. Kevin Gallon strode up to take it and sent Keith Welch completely the right way. We couldnt believe our luck. Unbelievably we were still leading. But could we hold on? The latter part of the game resembled the siege at the Alamo. Wave after wave of blue and white were repulsed on an amber and blue thin line. The possession stats must have read QPR 100%, Mansfield 0%. It was only a matter of time before they scored but time was running out.

Then with literally seconds to go, Gallon, who’d been their most dangerous player connected with a scorcher from twenty yards. This time it pierced the defence and found the back of the net, bringing a huge sigh of relief from QPR fans and shattering our hearts. Gallon picked the ball out of the back of the net and ran gazelle-like back to the centre spot. Our exhausted lads were in no rush to kick off on the other hand. There was yet still more drama. We somehow managed to keep the ball out after a frantic goal mouth scramble before the blissful sound of the final whistle brought the game to an end. Against all expectations wed come away with a point. My QPR mates were impressed. I felt proud. We werent a joke and on their day the Stags could be a match for anyone. It was such a shame that those days were so few and far between.

Hayes & Yeading 1 Mansfield Town 1

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Three days after the Gateshead debacle and it was Stevenages turn to pile on the pressure on our beleaguered manager. Despite the Stags remembering how to score, a knack that had completely deserted them a few days before, they subsequently succumbed to a trio of second half goals and with it seemingly that last flicker of hope of promotion. When all hope seemed to have gone, they then pulled off an unlikely away win against Tamworth but then rounded off the month with a draw against Hayes and Yeading in front of 427 fans thanks to a last minute equaliser by Gary hes got no hair but he dont careSilk. Trouble was, the fans were starting to care and were in far less forgiving mood. The season took a bizarre new twist when I received an invitation from Mansfield Towns chairman to play a concert at Field Mill. He informed me over the phone that he was a big fan of my band and had been at our recent shows in the town. The Beautiful South were lined up to play he said and he wanted us to appear on the same bill. It seemed like an offer I couldnt refuse although my expectations took a dive when he revealed that it wasnt actually the Beautiful South but a Beautiful South, minus the lead singer. The not so Beautiful SouthI thought. We exchanged emails and agreed to talk again, although we never did because he was replaced as Chairman and the gigs didnt go ahead. What amused me more than anything was that he did say that if I was ever up in Mansfield and wanted to go to a game to give him a call. I couldnt help thinking how ironic it was that a few days earlier I was sneaking in through the back door at Field Mill to a few days later being offered a seat in the directors box.

Newcastle United 1 Mansfield Town 0

Saturday, January 7, 2006

Having knocked out the once mighty Leeds United in the FA Cup second round, the Stags were rewarded with an away tie against Newcastle United at St.Jamess Park. Amongst the forty-thousand fans, five and a half made the long trek from Mansfield, no doubt hoping for something to cheer about in a dismal season that had seen the team sink to 88th out of 90 clubs in the football league.

The Magpies fielded an almost full strength team that January day with the prolific Shearer hoping to equal Jackie Milburns goalscoring record. Incredibly it took eighty minutes for the Geordies to have a shot on target. The Stags played them off the park that day and should have had the game in the bag by the time the inevitable happened. With ten minutes to go Kevin Pressman our veteran goalkeeper found himself picking the ball out of the back of the net, as Shearer wheeled away towards the Milburn stand, right arm aloft, index finger in the air for the two-hundredth time in a black and white shirt.

“Thanks to the goal,he said afterwards, this will be an afternoon I will cherish for the rest of my life.He then generously praised Mansfields gritty performance, as did the Manager Graeme Souness who concluded that there was not a lot in it.

The Newcastle game was a fleeting moment of pride in an otherwise unrelenting drift downwards for the Stags. Carlton Palmer had quit as Manager that season citing abuse from the fans as a reason and Peter Shirtliff took over. He didnt last long either and was sacked after a string of bad results. The club was on the slide with an ever deteriorating League position each season. Dropping out of the football league, previously unthinkable, now loomed as a distinct and alarming possibility.

Mansfield Town 0 York City 1

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

It was March and the business end of the season. The BSP table resembled a game of snakes and ladders. A win and you were climbing the ladder towards the play offs and Wembley, a defeat and you were sliding back into the mire of mid table and another unbearable season in purgatory. Then there was the Chester City conundrum. Chester, the team that got the Stags into this mess in the first place by drawing at Stockport County on the last game of the 2007/08 season to officially send us down into the BSP, had finally folded after 125 years as a football club and with their demise also cruelly went any of the points gained against them that season. In the Stags case it was six points which meant we went from having 58 to 52 points overnight and subsequently slid back to eighth.

The Stags finally entertained Luton at home after two postponed games and shared a goalless draw, which was a decent result given the drubbing we were given earlier in the season. A convincing four-two home win against Salisbury followed and up we jumped a few places to within touching distance of a play off place. With two home games coming up against Tamworth and York, the Stags had the chance of cementing their position in the play off places. It had been a rollercoaster season but win these six pointers and we could be on the road back to the football league.

What we ended up with was one point and no goals scored.

Mansfield Town 0 Middlesborough 2

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Mansfield began the 2007-08 season like a team destined for relegation. One win in the first thirteen games led to home attendances plummeting as fast as the Stagss league position. Some of this was down to ground alterations but behind the scenes the club was in a sorry state with the unpopular chairman a particular target for the fans ire. The Stagss very existence seemed to be in jeopardy and in the febrile atmosphere created by the uncertainty an utter loss of home form followed. The only bright spot was one of those rarities when youre a Mansfield Town supporter, a decent FA Cup run. The Stags had the luck of the draw to begin with. In the opening two rounds they faced non league opposition, despatching Lewes with relative ease in round one before inching past Harrogate Railway in round two. The latter, in front of the Match of the Day cameras was their first away win for nearly a year. The Stags then pulled off one of the shocks of the third round with a two-one away win against League One opposition Brighton & Hove Albion. The reward was a home tie against Gareth Southgates Middlesborough in round four. The tie, pitting League two Stags against premier league opposition had all the ingredients of a potential cup upset and the Match of the Day cameras were duly present in anticipation.

The fixture had a resonance for me as my late father had been born near Middlesborough and would have followed Boro in their pre-war heyday. It must have been a thrill for him to witness the great Wilf Mannion tear defences apart at Ayresome Park before the war brought proceedings to a halt. They would both join the same Green Howards regiment, though their paths didnt cross. My father served in Italy and Mannion in France where he would be amongst the thousands rescued from Dunkirk. The Stags were metaphorically in the same boat as the storm clouds of insolvency and threat to their league status loomed. Perhaps they might show some of that famous Dunkirk spirit in the cup tie? And they duly did, having a real go and giving the premier league fancy dans a fright or two before going down to two soft goals. The pundits agreed that a draw would have been a fair result although former Stags manager turned pundit for the day Carlton Palmer, did stoke the flames of controversy by defending the beleaguered chairman against the fans campaign to oust him. But it had been a good, competitive cup tie which I reckon dad and Wilf would have enjoyed.

After the Cup exit it was back to the league. The contrast between home and away form was stark with seven successive home league defeats and five successive away wins The unthinkable was now a distinct possibility and I viewed each coming game with a sense of dread. I was also adjusting to new surroundings having made the move at last from London to Cambridge with Louise and our six year old son Ben. It was an unsettling period and not helped by the Stagsprecarious position. I worked in the wine trade and wine offered an escape from some of the harsher realities of life like Mansfield’s plight. But no matter how hard I tried to concentrate on filling the shelves with exotic wines from around the world, come four thirty pm on Saturday afternoon, I would find myself tuning in to the BBC Sport web-site. Week after week it was the same story. Wed go behind or surrender a lead and all hope would drain away. As the daffodils came out in Cambridge and the cows returned to Jesus Green, a couple of hours away up the A1, Mansfield Town football club was in crisis. With a few games to go in an act of desperation they parted company with their manager. Another takeover bid failed and with it the Dunkirk style rescue. Another WW11 metaphor was being bandied about to describe the Stagspredicament, namely The Great Escape. With three games to go could Mansfield avoid the drop? On paper the club seemed to have an easier run in than their rivals but it was on the pitch where it mattered. There was just one point separating the bottom three when the Stags faced Rotherham United at home in late April.  A win that day and they would surely be safe? I decided that it was time for a holiday.

Histon 0 Mansfield Town 5

Saturday, March 20, 2010

With all hope seemingly gone, I went back on my word and took my eight year old son to see the Stags play Histon where we had lost so ignominiously the season before. I even sat in the same seat as before but at least I had my lucky mascot with me this time.

Youll enjoy game better like that, duck,came a Mansfield accent from behind me directed at Ben whod pulled his hoodie over his head to shield his eyes from the spring sun. As always there was a mixture of good humour and low expectations amongst the fans. A blustery wind blew across the ground whisking up a couple of empty styrofoam cups that had been dropped near our feet. A bored seagull hovered above the half way line. As the two teams made a huddle on either side of the half way line, I had a strange feeling that I couldnt put my finger on. What was it? Then it struck me. There was absolutely no atmosphere at all. Histons season like ours was effectively over. There was nothing to play for it seemed. But in my mind there was. Oh yes there was, and it was called revenge, that sweetest of emotions.

Your dream will come true today, Daddy,Ben said as the game kicked off. I didnt like to tell him what my dream actually was. But I nodded. My heart said we would win. My head said one-all.

The Stags attacked from left to right, although after a quick clearance from our goalie led to a promising move down the wing only to find its way back into midfield then into defence then back to where it started from, one of the fans offered some advice, Yer shootin that way!

It got worse. Shift yer sen Perry,came a cry after our goal machine failed to crank into action.

Yer aint got a clue,came a frustrated shout when a Stags player mistimed his clearance into the path of a Histon attacker who almost scored.

Ben sat cross-legged with his head on his elbow. What was going through his mind I thought? On the opposite side of the pitch Reg stood arms akimbo. What was going through his mind I thought?

“It’s all hoof it and chase,” a Stags fan next to me had the possible answer.

But despite the lack of atmosphere and entertainment on the pitch, the fans seemed to be enjoying the spring day out. Slowly we began to get the better of the game. Histon were a shadow of the side that had beaten us and Leeds United the previous year. Their management team had gone and with them their best players. Our lads looked bigger, more skilful on the ball, hungrier even. Still, it was a shock when Scott Garner hammered the ball into their net after half an hour. It should have been two a few minutes later but Perry malfunctioned again and shot tamely at the goalie when clean through. Half time came with the Stags soaking up a bit of pressure.

What followed in the second half could have been from an episode of the Twilight Zone. So surreal it was that I could only put it down to having my lucky mascot with me. Its like watching Brazil,the fans chanted after our fifth goal went in. The Histon supporters watched in glum silence from the other side of the ground just like we had done a year or so before. This was the revenge we craved.

We want six. We want six,we chanted. I wanted seven, eight, ten, fifteen, thirty. It was a strange and very unusual feeling. The Stags were actually doing something they had failed to do all season namely they had turned up and played football.

We had to make do with just the five at the end. But it felt like enough.

A Stags fan on the BBC web-site summed up the feeling.

I was stunned when we scored five on Saturday. Our lass had to revive me with smelling salts.

Reality 1 Hope 1

A few days after the emphatic Histon win, their best ever away win in 81 years, the Stags came back to earth with a thud needing a spectacular 95th minute bicycle kick by Jake Speight to share the points with Altrincham. Another draw against Kettering followed prompting one Stags fan to ponder,

Anyone still living in hope?

Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that hope was the most evil of evils because it prolongs man’s torment. With the Stags ten points off the playoffs with a possible eighteen left on offer it seemed like the opportune time to take well earned break from hope. For that season anyway. At least we weren’t in administration. Lets face it, it was never going to be easy. I had us down for at least a five season stint in the BSP but after our good start it was that trickster hope that fooled me into believing Reg might have been able to work his miracles at Field Mill. In reality he hadnt moved mountains but maybe nudged us a few inches closer to the promised land. Theres always next season.

Have a little patience,goes the Take That song and I suppose thats the only way to look at things? But patience and passion dont go together and as Nietzsche also wrote, passion cant wait.Catch 22 then? All we can do is be philosophical and carry on regardless.

Throughout writing this short paean to Mansfield Town a question has kept on recurring in my mind namely why do I do it? Why do I support the Stags and put myself through all this? I have mates from Mansfield with stronger connections to the town than myself that wont go anywhere near the Stags. I chose to give up supporting Tottenham in exchange for a lifetime of fending off that universal question, which team do you support?with a very unconvincing and long winded answer that seemed to suggest supporting a team like Mansfield is about higher things than mere winning. Perhaps I carry on supporting the Stags because I see myself in them? The noble underdog or the rank outsider perhaps? Theres no doubt that I like to be different but it can be a lonely place sometimes, especially when Im asked the which team do you support?question when Im abroad with my band. But even the most diehard Real Madrid or Bayern Munich fan knows deep down where Im coming from. There is something to be said for supporting your home town team no matter how small and unglamorous they might be. The glow you might get from supporting a big club just for the sake of it might make you feel good for a while but ask any Leicester City fan how they felt when they won the Premier League and theyll say it was a kin to a life changing religious experience that would last forever. 

As the author Terry Pratchett said, The thing about football the important thing about football is that it is not just about football.It might seem to be all about money and fast cars these days but the true appeal of the beautiful game is that it gives us a sense of belonging and identity and reminds us of what it is to be human, although the odd trophy every now and then doesnt come amiss.

French philosopher and part-time goal keeper Albert Camus once said, All that I know most surely about morality and obligations I owe to football.

He also stated that human beings should embrace the absurd condition of human existence.

Mansfield Town anyone?

Three Years later

Mansfield Town 1 Wrexham 0

Saturday, April 20, 2013

I can hardly bear to listen. Were one-nil up with minutes to play. So near to the promised land but yet so far. Thanks to our star striker and saviour Matts Greens late, late winner against Hereford four days previously, Paul Coxs super Stags now only need to beat Wrexham at home today to earn automatic promotion back to the football league. Meanwhile, second placed Kidderminster Harriers are thrashing Stockport at home and can pip us on goal difference if we concede a goal now. Theres no margin for error. Were almost there and the tension is unbearable.

The clock ticks into injury time. People have arrived at the wine shop where I am for the wine tasting that I am supposed to be hosting soon but theyll have to wait, my mind is elsewhere. Im crouching behind the counter hiding. Instead of my usual customer friendly Spotify playlist, Im listening to Radio Nottingham. While I crouch on all fours, my colleague shows the guests to their seats and serves them a chilled glass of Picpoul de Pinet. I am in agony. Listening to the commentary is like having your toenails pulled out. I pray for the torture to stop. Im praying for the ref to blow his whistle and bring the long years of pain and suffering to an end. But injury time stretches on and on and on, four minutes, then five and now six. Every second seems like an hour.

Wrexham surge forward. What if they score now?  

No,I gasp. The murmur of conversation in the shop stops suddenly then starts up again. The attack thankfully comes to nothing and our goalkeeper clears the ball high into the clear, blue Nottinghamshire sky. I can hear the Stags fans whistling. My head is spinning. Any second now. Any second.

Then silence. I look up at the screen. Theres one of those spinning wheels. Weve lost the internet connection. I fidget around with leads and wires and try to reconnect but its not working.

Are you ready to start Steve?comes my colleagues voice from above.

Just a minute mate, wont be long,I say rebooting the computer.

Then I feel a vibration in my pocket. I pull out my blackberry and look at the screen. It’s a text message from my Notts County supporting brother in law Simon.

Tell me mam, tell me mam, The Super Stags are up !!!

Im overwhelmed by wave of relief and joy.

I hope this pleasure never ends.

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