Mansfield Town FC; Into The Unknown PART 1

Mansfield Town Football Club: Into The Unknown The first taste of supporting a non-league club. Written By Craig Priest.

The idea.

I am Craig priest, a young Mansfield town supporter aged 18. I have always had a keen interest in writing and over the past 5/6 years in football. I have always said support your local club – you get more of a buzz out of watching your local team then spending ridiculous amounts of money following a so called “bigger club” and only getting to see 5 games a season. When my beloved club was relegated from the Football League, I chose to write a diary week by week about my experiences following a non-league team. I kept to that promise until mid-November time when unfortunately my hard work and effort was wiped out by a computer virus. Two moths later I began writing this blog/ diary for the, and this has given me the inspiration to complete my story and share it with you. After moving house I came across the file I thought I’d lost on disk and now with help from websites and others I will tell my story to you. I hope you enjoy reading as much as I have enjoyed writing it.

 77 Years, Too Many Tears.

Tuesday 29th April 2008, a date which will always be remembered for the wrong reasons – Mansfield Town Football Club relegated out of the football league after a proud 77 year stay, all without even kicking a football. The venue was the Deva stadium, home to Chester City who were staring relegation in the face. Their opponents that night and the team we needed to win was Stockport county, a team riding high in the play-off spots. If Stockport won, Mansfield would have to win on the last day of the season away at Dagenham & Redbridge and Chester would have to lose. If Chester grabbed a draw against Stockport then Mansfield would be down with no way of escape. Stockport threw everything at Chester that evening but were unable to score. The game ended 0-0 and we got relegated. Most Mansfield fans were tuned into the local radio station (Mansfield 103.2) who had a reporter at the ground, they went live for the last ten minutes and when the referee blew his whistle to end the game, I froze. I got up and paced around my bedroom, looked out of my window and watched the rain get faster and faster over Mansfield. I ventured outside and stood in the rain, perhaps to cover the tears and even though I had turned the radio off I could still hear the Chester celebrations. I could picture their fans invading the pitch, smiling and crying with relief, running around with the players as if they’d just won the cup. Back in the Mansfield rain, I sent a “round robin” text message to every Stags fan I know. “Are you crying?” Every single reply was “yes.” The end. Mansfield Town were down and out, and the fantastic supporters who were there every step of the way, through the last 3 or 4 years of misery, were speechless, breathless and fed-up. The end.

Or was it? Mansfield still had one League game to finish, the above mentioned Dagenham, a former non-league team with a non-league ground, a taste of things to come. The game itself had nothing to offer, a drab team losing 2-0 and putting our dreadful season to an end. No fight, no energy, no nothing. Making our way back to the coach for our long trip back, “Daggers” fans offered messages of support and wished us well – that was nice. I still had a little tear, it was all so final. From the highs of Middlesbrough in the FA Cup in front of TV millions to the dizzy heights of Barrow & Histon in front of barley hundreds, all within the space of 6 months. What had we become?

The Bit in-between;

At the end of the 2007-08 Season, Mansfield Town was owned by businessman Keith Haslam, who 14 years previously had bought the club for £1. Blaming a lack of ambition for the club, as well as major financial disputes, fans began to fall out with Haslam and the last 2 years were the worst, with protest marches, failed takeover bids, hate campaigns and boardroom break-ins just some of the goings on, and the atmosphere around the club was negative to say the least. Perhaps it rubbed off on the players, because they certainly performed like it. A few people had said that if the club was relegated haslam would sell-up, and he did during the summer. On 3rd July 2008 three local businessmen dubbed “The Three Musketeers” finally got “Haslam Out!” and a new era began. The Three Musketeers – Andrew Perry, Andrew Saunders and Steve Middleton quickly set about getting the club ready for the 2008-09 campaign, and their first job was to relieve legendary club servant Paul Holland of his duties. Holland was replaced by former Stags player and respected and experienced coach Billy McEwan (who shall be referred to from this point on as “BM”). BM had a big job on his hand, to get a set of players ready for the new season, seeing as there were only four senior players still at the club. Would BM succeed, or would the Stags slip further away from the promised land? Only time would tell.

The Pre-season Shop Window;

As previously stated BM was left with only four players from last year. We needed a new squad and fast, but BM was insistent he would not ‘panic buy’ players – he wanted them to be right for Mansfield Town. Needless to say this got a mixed reaction. It was shop window time for players to earn a contract at Mansfield Town. The successful were:

Goal Keepers: Paddy Gamble (Loan), Luke Herriott.

Defenders: Gary Silk, Aide Moses, Alan O’Hare, Alex Jeanninn.

Midfielders: Matthew Somner, Tom Shaw, Gavin Hurren, Michael Blackwood. Strikers:

Mark Stallard, Aaron O’Connor, Anthony Robinson, Jason Lee.

They joined Jon D’Laryea, Nathan Arnold, Jason White and Chris Wood, plus youth teamers.

Stags had mixed fortunes of results with hardly a settled squad playing together for more than 45mins a game. The fixtures had been released and Stags were due to kick off their campaign away from home at FA Trophy winners Ebbsfleet United. Personally I wanted to get started and watch the Stags win. How long would I have to wait.

 First Taste;

Although the Stags had little time to really plan their pre-season, they managed to secure a pretty decent away game, which only two seasons previously was a well contested football league fixture. Now Boston are playing their football in the UniBond Premier League after suffering automatic relegation from the Blue Square Premier & Blue Square North for financial reasons. At the time of visiting Boston we ourselves were having financial difficulties in the aftermath of the Haslam era, struggling to get a squad ready in time for the big kick-off. Could we be “the next Boston”? I hoped not. The state of the ground was rapidly worsening, with less supporters filing through the turnstyles, less money coming in. It just goes to show how a year or two away from the Football League can either make you or break you. Unfortunately for the followers of Boston United, the relegation has just about broken them – hopefully it wont do the same to us.

As for the game itself Boston deserved their victory, as we fielded a side who perhaps had no idea who the other players were. I felt sorry for the goalkeeper, Jamie Annerson, who was only playing for us as a favour, after our loaniee keeper from Nottingham Forest Paddy Gamble had taken ill and was unfit to play the game, and with no keeper we perhaps had no hope. Jamie actually played very well, saving a penalty in the second half, but was unable to keep out the rebound. I hoped we would see more of Annerson and got the feeling we might one day. Oh well a poor performance and a defeat, we were all to used to this by now! The game and the day really did make me think of how bad things could get in the Blue Square Premier if you didn’t handle them. Was I worried about Mansfield’s future? Just a little, but as they say, nothing ventured nothing gained.

Kick Off Time;

Saturday 9th August it all began, the Blue Square Premier Campaign was underway. As the supporters coach pulled up in Ebbsfleet. I was shocked to see the condition of Ebbsfleet’s stadium, it looked tired and run-down, not what you want to see on the opening day of the season! How I longed to be back in the Football League. Welcome to the Blue Square, I suppose! I was surprised to hear that only one member of staff was behind the bar in the local pub, apperently they weren’t expecting Mansfield to bring too many supporters. Are you kidding? We have just come from the football league! There was only one way to fix the problem, get some Stags fans behind the bar! It worked a treat and perhaps doubled the pub’s takings! Stags’ community spirit rising to the top again, quality. As for the game it was a 2-2 draw, bad defending and a lack of fire power proved our undoing in the first half, 2-0 down. The second half we fought back, grabbing a points thanks to Michael Blackwood and Mark Stallard (or was it Jason Lee, we will never know!) At least we had picked up a point in our first ever game out of the Football League. I remember thinking the following day whilst reading the non-league paper, would we sort out the mistakes? We would see.


 The end of part 1!So from that dreadful night, way back in April, to the start of the season in August, it seems a long time, especially with so much heartbreak in between – the worst feeling I have ever felt was not on the night of the relegation but on the day of the Dagenham game, the whole atmosphere I felt just summed it up! Especially when they scored the penalty – that did really knock the stuffing out of us! Ever time I think about it, I get that long, cold, dull shiver down my spine, instead of the warm feeling of celebration I long for with promotion.


Thank-you for reading Part 1 of into the unknown. I am glad Ive been given the chance to share it with you.

Craig. (Rainworthstag14)

“Mansfield Town FC; The Journey had only just begun”


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One Response to “Mansfield Town FC; Into The Unknown PART 1”

  1. chris priest Says:

    What memories – the tears and hurt still flows

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