Sunday, 12 June 2011

MTFC Season Review 2010-11

Breakdowns, beauty, bus trips, Briscoe & the big stage – another season of sensational stories from the heart of a stag.
Just a month & 2 days ago, the team I’ve followed for nearly 10 years were strutting their stuff on the hallowed turf of Wembley stadium, looking to end a league season of mid table obscurity & off field madness, on a high by lifting the FA trophy. The result as we all know is one we wish to forget, the events off the day are ones we’ll cherish forever.
The pictures below of Tom Naylor being consoled by manager at the time Duncan Russell (Left) & Physio Jason Truscott (Right) are the photos which tug at the heartstrings the most, they tell a story of a local lad, playing for his local team – distraught after a man named Chris Senior crushed his trophy dreams like a paper cup.

I fear that looking back in a few years time, it is only this story which will be remembered, which is why I’m here – it’s time to tell the full story & reveal the bigger picture as I take a look back at the entire 2010-11 season & attempt to sum it all up.
I’ve chosen to do this before the new manager Paul Cox opens the field mill floodgates & new signing after new signing arrives at our beloved club, once this is written, it’s there too look at if you so please & in a way, it will bring closure to another season of being a stags fan, before the next one can begin.
Fetch the tissues, they’re will be tears – get comfortable and enjoy, this is the story of the class of 2010-11.  

Working our way to the top
Pre-season seemed to come & then quickly go, pretty much like every player who put pen to paper on a contract under the watchful eye of the lesser twin! A mix bag of results during pre-season didn’t inject me with a massive air of confidence, victory over Sheffield United was a scrapped one & indeed the only one on our home turf, with rivals Nottingham Forest taking away the winning bragging rights & Tranmere Rovers departing Field Mill with a creditable draw.
It was the away fixtures which saw smiles & laughter, with the on field action providing off field classic moments, I’ll never forget Scott turning to me and saying “if he scores from here I’ll climb that floodlight” as Kevin Sandwith stood over a free kick around 35 yards our during our game with Hucknall, the look on his face when the ball smashed into the back of the net was priceless, as was the well delivered line from yours truly “get climbing”. 
Our pre-season was completed with a 3-1 win away at neighbours Alfreton which included the return of Alan Marriott after a spell injured, it was clear then however that it would be the reds that would enjoy the better season, proved by the fact they are now in the same league!
Friday 13th – Always one which makes people superstitious, however Friday 13th August 2010 was perhaps a more superstitious one than normal around Mansfield, with the football season getting underway the following afternoon, could Mansfield Town return to the promise land at the 3rd attempt? People collected there lucky horse shoes, rabbits foots, four leaved clovers – you name it they had it as they made their way to Field Mill the following afternoon, it worked too as the again new look stags ran out 3-1 winners against Forest Green Rovers.
The previous season had seen the stags top of the tree after the first fixture, not so lucky this time around though, with the victory over Forest Green only putting the stags in 3rd place. The stags did reach the top spot though, but had to wait until the final game of the month to be numero Uno.
August Results:
Stags 3-1 Forest Green Rovers
Fleetwood 3-0 Stags
Kidderminster 1-3 Stags
Stags 1-1 Kettering
Stags 1-0 Cambridge
Altrincham 0-4 Stags

Loosing Grip
Being top of the tree at the end of the first month of the season naturally brings a buzz, you get a good vibe, you believe you’re dreams of promotion & smashing every team week in week out will come true, but like every dream, there is always a bad guy & as September got underway, the bad guy proved to be football itself.
After put four past Altrincham on their own patch, the lesser twin’s stags returned home to take on Tamworth – confident of another victory to boost our grip on top spot. Sitting top means you’re more vulnerable than others, if you want to BE the best, you have to BEAT the best – that’s exactly what Tamworth did, running out 1-0 winners at Field Mill despite Mansfield dominating around 80% of the game.
The loss threw us back down to 3rd place, still early in the season we remained confident we could write the Tamworth defeat off as a blip & begin our climb back to the top. To be a successful side you need to be good on the road, something the stags have failed to do in years gone by, however we had the perfect opportunity to put this right with two away games on the bounce – and in typical Craig’s World fashion, it’s these two away trips which provided yet more classic memorable moments off pitch & in typical Mansfield fashion – mixed results on the pitch.
You’ll often read in my older blogs about the trips with the gang, the stories they bring are second to non – the trip to Southport was another classic. We ended up swapping the coach for the minibus, perfect for our little gang, the conversation was relaxed, hilarious & thoroughly enjoyable – we had everything from quoting TV shows to special tasting energy drink – trying to my first link on the radio after one too many sips was interesting – we even brought home the points: Happy Days, Thank you Lee Gregory’s Hand.
Sometimes you have to wait ages for another top quality day to come along, this time it was just 7 days, a trip to Wales to watch ‘Battle of the brothers’ on the minibus.
Every motorist travelling on the motorway that day will remember it, the standstill after a near fatal accident further down. Not funny for those involved in the crash of course, but the surrealness of the whole standstill made the wait bearable. People were out of their cars, walking up & down chatting to other motorists, there was a string of women who’d walked about 2miles just to find some bushes to use as a temporary ‘Welcome Break’ (the facilities where at the same standard, but the prices were cheaper). Members of the supporters club even ventured on a little walk themselves, equipped with 12th Stag & SSA goodies to sell – refusing to leave people in piece until their wallets had been opened! We pulled into Newport’s stadium at 2.55pm – a loud roar rang out to add effect to my on air antics & as I headed into the ground for the game, they headed to the pub, sinking at least 4 pints.... & still making it for kickoff! You can do anything if you out your mind to it, it’s just a shame we had to travel home pointless after the better twin’s Newport side had ran out comfortable 1-0 winners.
Returning to home soil for the next two games saw the stags lash out with a vengeance, smashing York City for 5 before slotting 4 past Eastbourne, making their 15 fans wish they’d stayed at home in the process.
The home victory over Eastbourne was special for a reason more than the result, after the resignation of the previous chairman & the announcement the club we’re up for sale once again – heads had started to drop, however shortly before kickoff, rumours of a takeover became fact as Stags fan & millionaire John Radford had purchased the club for £1, with it later being revealed £250,000 had been immediately injected in the club, with the same amount being injected over the course of the season. The mood began to lift, we we’re no longer poor, crumbling Mansfield Town, we we’re rich, ambitious good on the pitch Mansfield Town.   
With the off pitch matters looking happy & settled, the attention turned back to the on pitch matters, those home victories had taken us up to second place, well within reach of the top spot once again, but like every good story, when things are looking good, things begin to change once more – our final game of September was a trip to Luton.
Luton’s a horrible place to go if you’re a supporter, they walk through someone’s back garden to reach the stand doesn’t come as much of a surprise in the BSBP, but when you take it to account the hostile atmosphere & uncomfortable seats it’s sometimes enough to make you wonder why the beautiful game is called beautiful. I’d encounter the off pitch hostilities later on in the season (PENALTY!) but this September story belong to the on pitch hostilities.  
It was a horrid game; the referee lost all sense of control and was bullied into awarding 3 penalties, it was the first one which caused the most drama, which resulted in skipper Steve Foster being sent off, swiftly followed by the lesser twin – here’s an extract from my blog the following day:
“With the half drawing to close, things got rather interesting and heated as referee Steve Cook wrote himself off of every Mansfield player’s Christmas card list. The drama began when Stevie Istead was penalised for a foul on the half way line, the fiery midfield with a passion for cooking naked received a booking. The free kick was floated into the box with box at pace, Chris Smith & Steve Foster turned simultaneously to allow the ball to run back to Alan Marriott, however either Foster or Smith where penalised for handball and a spot kick awarded.

Mansfield fans where extremely loud and I do have proof, a half decent recording of the first penalty via my phone (which I’ll try and upload). Claude Gnakpa was the man who stepped up against Marriott and rather immense noise from the stags support, his penalty was saved well by Marriott, cue the celebrations. The referee pointed the spot a second time, enraging fans, players and the management, apparently awarding the spot kick for encroachment and booked a fuming Steve Foster. Danny Crow took on the duty for the second spot kick, the noise level mixed with fury behind the goal was immense, Alan Marriott again the hero saving well from Crows well hit kick. You think the drama’s over don’t you? Wrong! As Marriott pushed the ball away, the ball remained in play and it was a straight 2 man race between Luton’s Matthew Barnes-Homer and stags Skipper Steve Foster, it was the stags captain who got there first sliding in well right in front of my seat to put the ball out for a corner, Barnes-Homer reacted angrily to Fosters ball winning and totally legal challenge and squared up to the stags skipper, Kevin Sandwith, Gary Mills, Kyle Nix, Alan Marriott, Chris Smith & Paul Connor all had to prise Foster & Barnes-Homer apart and with that the Luton players joined in and it seemed all for one! As a few Mansfield surged to the front trying to help out there heroes, stewards and police reacted very quickly to calm what was a very heated situation. With stags fans back in their seats, the referee got them up again, frog marching Foster & Barnes-Homer to the half way line before issuing Foster a second yellow card, the stags captain rightfully disgraced and angered at being sent off for something which on reflection, stemmed from an incident which was the wrong call in the first place! Foster wasn’t the only one to see red, Manager David Holdsworth sent from the dugout after seeing his captain sent off and the culprit Barnes-Homer only get a yellow for what was a sending off, even I gave Holdsworth a reluctant clap as he passed the stags support, the referee was out of order.”
Luton’s arrogance on & off the pitch is something I hate about football, I’m just so glad that we got revenge later in the season, I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do next year having been beaten on penalties by AFC Wimbledon in the play off final – the money from the league has now run out, Luton town are no longer great, accept the reality – we did. (I’m sure I’ll come back to that later on!)
The robbery at Luton (sorry, defeat) had seen us drop to 4th place, although still in the play-offs you sensed it was the beginning of the end of another dream, with the stags both under the lesser twin & Duncan Russell, failing to return above 4th all season.
September results:
Stags 0-1 Tamworth
Southport 1-2 Stags
Newport 1-0 Stags
Stags 5-0 York
Stags 4-0 Eastbourne
Luton 2-0 Stags.

The door begins to swing open
With the injection of cash into the lesser twins kitty, it was only a matter of time for the signing addicted manager to utilise the loan market, the first signing made was shortly after the robbery at Luton’s Kenilworth road, midfielder Adam Murray returned for a 3rd spell at stags, this time on loan from Luton until January, when the move would become permanent. I was actually quite shocked to see just the one signing made, the lesser twin had brought so many players into the club under his tenure it was difficult to keep track, surely he couldn’t stop at one?
Murray went straight into the side for the opening game of October, a long trip to Gateshead. Skipper Steve Foster handed the armband over to Chris Smith so he could begin his suspension, with Holdsworth handing managerial duties over to Duncan Russell as he also began his ban. The stags tried out a new formation to accommodate new signing Murray, a 4-5-1 / 4-4-1-1 worked wonders as Mansfield bossed the game & eventually found the breakthrough to take the lead, however in typical stags fashion the away game red card factor arrived, this time Adam Smith was sent off for a tackle which in all fairness, only deserved a booking. From that point onwards, it was a matter of time before Gateshead levelled the game, with the stags looking stretched in every area of the park.
A draw was the final outcome and Mansfield continued the month but in disappointing fashion, a return to Field Mill was met with a thrashing, AFC Wimbledon left 5-2 winners, but the stags faithful were concerned at how long heroic keeper Alan Marriott would be out for after being replaced at Half Time by Neil Collett.
The loan market was used for the right reasons for once as Holdsworth brought in goalkeeper Mikel Aksalu from Sheffield United; he made his debut away at Rushden & Diamonds in front of the premier sports TV cameras, the later kick off meant more time in the pub & being on the minibus, we decided to head away from the diamonds bar & into rushden itself, a move which resulted in us having to push start the min-bus to get it out of the pub car park! 
It wasn’t the best of performances from Mansfield; in fact it spelled the end for two players – defender Chris Smith did a Luke Graham & joined York City on loan, whilst Gary Mills disappeared from the line up too, joining Forest Green Rovers on loan a week or so later. Tom Naylor was sent out on loan to Alfreton & at one stage, Mansfield had no defensive cover – Holdsworth moved quickly and brought back Rhys Day to the club for a second spell, with Simon grand also joining from Fleetwood – thing is, what was the point in getting two in on loan, when we could just recall the two already out on loan (Tom Naylor & Mark Preece). Eyebrows we’re starting to rise within the stags fans camp.
A draw with Darlington was the cue to bring in more players; Steve Cook arrived from Brighton & Peter Vincenti also joined from Stevenage. The stags got a break from league action as they travelled to FC Halifax for an FA Cup 4th round qualifier, Rhys Day took the captains armband as changes were made as the lesser twin searched for a victory, without a win in 6.
A lacklustre stags scrapped through thanks to Louis Briscoe but couldn’t turn their cup victory into league points the following games, Steve Evans’ Crawley side ran riot winning 4-1 to end the month and mark the arrival of Kevin Pilkington following an injury to Aksalu whilst training with his parent club, would Collett ever get the chance to shine?
The happiness from the previous months takeover and epic victories had long since gone, in fact heading into November, I was wondering – What next?!
October Results:
Gateshead 1-1 Stags
Stags 2-5 AFC Wimbledon
Rushden & Diamonds 1-0 Stags
Stags 1-1 Darlington
FC Halifax Town 0-1 Stags (FA Cup, 4th Round Qualifier)
Stags 1-4 Crawley

Yet more Hellos, & a welcome goodbye.
November kicked off by Torquay United dumping us out of the FA Cup, the net seemed to be closing in on the lesser twin who somehow kept his job following a string of unsatisfactory results. The player’s revolving door was still open as Holdsworth made his 62nd signing; Striker Danny Mitchley arrived initially on a non-contract basis. Lee Gregory’s future at stags looked bleak from then on, after being tipped as the next big thing when he arrived; he seemed to become yet another victim of Holdsworth-itous!
With Holdsworth presumably walking a tight rope, he desperately needed a victory, it came as a rainy, dull & windswept Kettering, it wasn’t convincing & stags were given a massive helping hand in the goals, Briscoe claimed one of them but it looked awfully like the first – an own goal, however goals are goals, points are points and a win is a win.
It would prove to be Holdsworth’s last as stags head honcho, a trip to Forest Green Rovers at the weekend would prove the straw which broke the camel’s back. Once again Mansfield’s performance was lack lustre, the side didn’t look settled and it was clear there was disruption within the camp. Steve Foster saw red with around an hour on the clock and David Holdsworth claimed Foster would never play for Mansfield again under his management. A 2-1 defeat saw new boy Danny Mitchley get on the score sheet, we headed home annoyed & ready for change, it’s just a good job the day out & the laughs we had on the minibus we’re enough to compensate for the defeat. I’ll never forget the driver that day, clearly frustrated at the slow minibus but so funny to keep us entertained!
Thursday 18th November 2010 – David Holdsworth & Mansfield Town finally parted company, much to the relief of the fans, signing after signing, broken promise after broken promise – enough was enough. Duncan Russell was placed in caretaker charge, initially for the game against Hayes & Yeading on the Saturday, however his stay as caretaker was extended as the stags board began the search for a new manager – oh & being locked out field mill didn’t help either (more on that later).
Duncan Russell won his first game in caretaker charge, despite conceding early on the stags fought back and eventually took all the points beating Hayes & Yeading 3-2. Duncan Russell remaining in caretaker charge despite a whole host of names being linked to the hot seat – with the UK covered in snow it must have been extremely difficult to arrange training etc, in fact it was a bloody miracle that the next game, an away trip to Wrexham, actually took place!
A 1-1 draw despite playing against ten men for 45+ minutes was the final outcome, with just a month to go before the January transfer window, the timing was perfect to appoint a new manager, what could possibly go wrong?
November results:
Stags 0-1 Torquay United (FA Cup 1st Round Proper)
Kettering Town 0-2 Stags
Forest Green Rovers 2-1 Stags
Stags 3-2 Hayes & Yeading United
Wrexham 1-1 Stags

Dark December
Anybody looking back at the fixture list for the last campaign will notice that December was the least active month on the pitch, with just two games being played due to extremely adverse weather. However supporters will remember last December as perhaps one of the darkest months for many a year, the ghost of Chairman past came back to make the Christmas festivities sour once more.
Back in November the club issued a statement revealing the board of directors had brought in a legal team to investigate certain finical dealings involving the clubs previous owners stags limited. Not knowing much about politics & money in football, it was all quite difficult to understand the situation, I still don’t! However, the bit I did understand & agree with, was the fact the new owners would not pay stags limited, owners of Field Mill, any rent until an agreements was reached over all the millions of off field things going off!
On Thursday 2nd December, stags fans woke up not only to snow, but to the news that stags limited (controlled by the man in the cowboy hat) had taken the steps to terminate the clubs lease on field mill, changing the locks on the gates & shutting the club out of its home.
Being locked out brings a whole load of permutations, with no access to office equipment, football kit etc, the clubs hands we’re virtually tied extremely tight. Luckily, the clubs communications department was quickly re-housed in Mr Radford’s board room at One Call Insurance HQ in Doncaster. The next issue: Saturday’s game against Barrow, scheduled to take place at Field Mill.
In all the madness & anger that was spreading over the Mansfield skies, the layers of snow seemed to be forgotten. With the pitch & surrounding areas covered, the game was postponed by local referee Russell Booth for safety reasons, not that we’d have been able to play it anyway! It’s a miracle that we avoided any point’s deductions or fines.
Not only we’re the club homeless, we we’re still manageress under the caretaker leadership of Duncan Russell, who despite being unsure of his own future, held together a squad with a clear dressing room split, reassured them everything would be ok & somehow arranged training despite the snow covered conditions.
Our first game of December took place on Tuesday 14th, an FA Trophy 1st round tie against Worksop which in itself brought complications. Worksop had their own ground issues and played there home games at Retford’s Cannon Park, which had a very small capacity.
Worksop were drawn as the home team and both set of supports seemed happy for the tie to be switched to Field Mill, the FA seemed to agree too and just as things seemed likely to be announced – along came the whole Field Mill lock out situation. With the stags looking for a new home to play league fixtures & with Worksop looking for a bigger ground to stage their cup final (the round 1 tie against us), the New Manor Ground, home of then wound up Ilkeston Town, seemed a natural choice & it was revealed the game would take place on the Saturday afternoon – mother nature then stepped in and the game was postponed & quickly re-arranged for the Tuesday night, the original date for the replay – of which a venue had not been revealed!
To recap, the snow had seen another game postponed but it was quickly re-arranged, the venue was neutral for both sides although Worksop were the home side for the purpose of records. On the pitch Mansfield had no manager & a dressing room split, off the pitch Mansfield’s fans we’re struggling to find something to smile about – the referees whistle to start the game on that freezing Tuesday night was pure bliss.
The beautiful game was a distraction from all the off pitch worries and despite a dressing room split which was publicised when the 2nd penalty was awarded, the stags ran out 5-0 winners and actually made history, reaching the second round of the competition for the first time ever.
Two weeks after being locked out of Field Mill, the stags board secured a new deal & the club returned home, attentions could again turn back to the managerial situation as Duncan Russell remained in caretaker charge, it was revealed Russell would take charge of the stags a final time against league leaders Crawley, however that game was also victim of the weather & was postponed due to a frozen pitch.
News of the new manager arrived shortly before Christmas Eve, Caretaker Duncan Russell was handed the job until the end of the season, a move which didn’t go down to well, although looking back I think what I said at the time has proved correct – it was a question of progress on the pitch or stepping back, regaining what was ours (the ground) & then making progress on the pitch. Appointing Duncan Russell was a wise move for all concerned.
Our return to Field Mill was scheduled for Boxing Day as Grimsby we’re set to be the visitors, however the freezing conditions & lock out had caused problems for the Field Mill pipes, the game was called off for safety reasons – meaning Duncan Russell’s first game as stags boss would be an away trip to Cambridge on December 28th, a game which also hung in the weather balance.
Good news was finally spread though as the game took place, Duncan Russell celebrated his appointment as permanent manager by rewarding the supports with a 5-1 victory to round off a horrific month off the pitch & an actually productive one on it! Two games, ten goals scored, one conceded and the slight sense of a smile creeping back onto the supporters faces.
Phew, dark December over – did I miss anything?! Actually yes I did! The trip to Cambridge was actually a quite eventful one off the pitch, we had to change buses not once but twice! Our trusty mini-bus’ window wipers packed up on the motorway, a wait at the service station for a replacement coach followed which did actually get us to Cambridge with around half an hour to spare – but on the way home the victory celebrations were cut short as the replacement coach broke down just outside Newark – with the driver not letting us off the coach to cross the roundabout where a nice warm pub lay in wait, it was then I wondered why nothing could ever be perfect – would the new year change our fortunes?
December results:
Worksop 0-5 Stags (FA Trophy Round 1 – Played at Ilkeston’s New Manor Ground)
Cambridge United 1-5 Stags

Not so Happy New Year
After the previous months goings on, January was viewed as a fresh start, a chance to get things back on track and refocus our aims, unfortunately things didn’t get off to the best of starts, a new years day trip to Grimsby for the first time since our drop into the BSBP was a day to forget, Mansfield Town we’re literally slapped with a wet fish.
Nothing could cheer me up after we we’re torn apart by rampant Grimsby a 7-2 defeat away from home, the worst I’ve ever seen. Even the pre-match encounter with the girl in the lads loo in the local McDonalds could not bring a smile to my face as we headed home in the freezing cold!
The ‘blip’ got worse as we suffered a defeat on our own patch to bottom side Altrincham just days later. With the results & performances mixed in with my lack of money I contemplated not going to Eastbourne, however as always the love of football and all things Mansfield Town rose to the surface & as I travelled back home, I was glad I made the long trip, bringing back 3 points & witnessing an improved performance which included a cameo appearance from fans favourite Ryan Williams who looked to force his way into Duncan Russell’s side on a more permanent basis after being cast out by the lesser twin.  
Fleetwood then arrived at Field Mill & departed with 3 points, Fleetwood were not the only ones to depart, Ryan Williams would sit on the bench for one final time before departing along with Matt Somner who failed to feature under Russell or Holdsworth.
Gary Mills also bid Field Mill goodbye after returning from a loan spell to make a handful of appearances from the bench, Rob Duffy would follow him out of Field Mill a few weeks later, a red card against Fleetwood being his last action in a Mansfield Town top.
Peter Vincenti and Steve Cook returned to their parent clubs & with Kevin Pilkington denied permission to play in the FA Trophy by Luton, Neil Collett once again took his place but managed to keep the starting spot with Pilkington departing a week or so later, Goalkeeper coach Chris Adamson was registered as a player to provide cover but for some reason which is a mystery to me, didn’t take a place on the substitutes bench against Newport as expected.             
Players names we’re being branded about all over the place including the notorious Leon Knight, who confirmed on twitter he was on his way to Mansfield but had a last minute ‘change of heart’ after his current club offered him a new deal. The stags also missed out on Lee Hendrie, but did bring players in during the January transfer window.
Dan Spence arrived from The Glenn Hoddle Academy, Striker Louis Moult joined on loan from Stoke and once Pilkington had returned to Luton, Notts County shot stopper David Grof arrived to provide cover as they Adamson Mystery continued.
Newport in the FA Trophy second round proved to be our first victory at Field Mill in 2011 & also provided me with an early birthday present. With the game at 3-1 in Mansfield’s favour, Newport grabbed a second & gained momentum in search for a leveller which would set up a replay in Wales, on my birthday, however Louis Briscoe noticed the Newport fans beginning to write a birthday banner for me & collected Paul Stonehouse’s throw and promptly slammed the ball home to round off the tie 4-2.
The month fizzled out with a win, draw & ultimately a loss against Wrexham as both clubs united by off field trouble, stood united in the fight against owners & the ugly side of football – money.
After the win against Newport in the cup, Wembley was lingering in the distance, a true taste of cup fever would sweep in the next month, after Alfreton saw of Cambridge in extra time to set up a mouth-watering tie against us at the start of the next month.
Despite the loss to Wrexham, there was a positive(ish) feel to field mill, we sat 9th in the table with work to do, but it was possible, we also had that cup tie to look forward too.
 January results:
Grimsby 7-2 Stags
Stags 0-1 Altrincham
Eastbourne 1-3 Stags
Stags 2-5 Fleetwood
Stags 4-2 Newport (FA Trophy Round 2)
Stags 1-0 Histon
Darlington 0-0 Stags
Stags 2-3 Wrexham

Happy Now
February’s fixture list began with that mouth-watering encounter with Alfreton, I headed to field mill knowing this game would be the last one I’d watch on from the lower tier itching to get back upstairs to the press box, after joining up with Takeover 106.9FM I was looking forwards to our big launch & began work on a football phone in show.
On the pitch, the game against Alfreton was a proper classic cup tie, it had rain, wind, red cards, goals, a terrible pitch & in the end – a second chance! A 1-1 draw at Field Mill after former winger Nathan Arnold had given the reds the lead shortly before half time was what we had to contend with.
Days later we made the short trip to Alfreton’s impact arena for the first time ever to watch a competitive game. The stags end was packed and had we been 10minutes later going into the ground, I doubt we’d have actually got in. The atmosphere was buzzing and despite the cold, the dully lit stadium provided the stage for another classic cup tie.
Illness & suspensions saw a reshuffle at the back, the 3 changes couldn’t prevent Alfreton from taking a 1st half lead, it was left to Paul Connor & Keigan Parker to help the stags turn the game on its head as Duncan Russell’s side put in a much improved performance in the second half, Parker’s goal sparked mass celebration & it was then I really realised that we could win the competition.
Thrilling draws with Newport & Barrow followed, Louis Moult became a fans favourite bagging 2 against Newport, also winning a penalty which the vastly improving force of Louis Briscoe converted powerfully in front of the TV Cameras, which impeded my view as I returned to the press box with a massive smile on my face! Adam Smith also rescued the stags with two outstanding goals away at Barrow to round off an unbeaten month.
Wembley was just 2 rounds away whilst the playoff chase looked bleak, the unbeaten run and fight back ability we were developing gave us some hope.
On the transfer front, we lost the services of Keigan Parker shortly after the 3-3 draw with Newport; he departed to Fleetwood on loan stating he wanted to be closer to his family it also immerged that Duffys departure to Grimsby to January had been to help settle the dressing room.
With two months of the season remaining, cup fever was starting to set in & there was still a bolt load of fixtures to slot in – it was then I became glad of my move back to radio, the finances of supports would have been stretched to the limit, all for the love of Mansfield Town FC – many would question ‘Why’ I had a feeling we may well get the answer in the coming months.
February results:
Stags 1-1 Alfreton (FA Trophy 3rd Round)
Alfreton 1-2 Stags (FA Trophy 3rd Round Replay)
Stags 3-3 Newport
Barrow 2-2 Stags

A waterlogged pitch saw our FA Trophy Quarter Final tie with Chasetown postponed at the end of February, games were quickly switched around and we headed to new territory in the form of Chasetown’s Scholars Ground on the 1st March to kick off a mega month of fixtures.
Equipped with a full on cold, the last thing I needed at Chasetown was the radio kit to fail, however someone clearly hated me that night & as it failed I did my first ever full match commentary on FM, via phone! The game was thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, a packed ground of 2,000 watched on as plucky Chasetown earned a replay right at the last knockings thanks to a David Grof error. Hero Alan Marriott returned to fill the gap left on the bench by injured Neil Collett, however Marriott was not fit enough for a start.
Fixtures were again switched around and after a 2-0 victory away at Tamworth, we returned to Field Mill to see off gracious Chasetown 3-1, setting up a tasty two-legged semi final with Luton with the first leg being at Field Mill.
I recall that day like it was this morning; it was switched to Sunday 13th on police advice with a lunchtime kick off. Fans thought that was the end of the Wembley dream remembering the previous encounter with vicious Luton all too well. The tension from that game is still inside me, just writing about it once more brings an air of excitement, a thrill. The only thing is, not many believed that Mansfield could pull it off, many feared that the underdog would be badly beaten – not me, not that morning. There was something about it, something about the premise of achieving dreams & not giving up which saw me post this on my facebook:
“Massive game today, but have no fear, begin to believe, take every given opportunity and the “underdog” will be victorious. Our dream is close & now we have to protect it, make sure our opponents don’t take it from us. Be proud, be loud, stay strong, keep singing our songs and follow the dream. Don’t Give Up.”                  
The atmosphere was nervous, yet electric. Mansfield, they did it the hard way but they were outstanding, David Grof wrote himself into Mansfield folk law with save after save. The tie was settled by one goal, one beautiful move followed by a burst of emotion from those inside Field Mill.
Ashley Cain picked up the ball, with the pitch covered in sand following the pasting it had taken recently, he ran and somehow took the ball too. His pass to find Silk wide was decent, Silk had options inside with Thompson but saw Mitchley make a run, Silk sensed the opportunity & pushed the ball on, Mitchley turned inside the box and buried the ball low into the bottom corner underneath the returning Kevin Pilkington. There was a split second of silence & a collective air of silence inside the Mansfield camp which seemed like an eternity – finally broken as the ball nestled in the back of the net by a roar of ‘YYYYYYYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSSSS’ The roar emotion from that day will never leave me.  
The final whistle blew and Field Mill erupted once more, 90minutes away from Wembley.
Back to League Action with a loss at York with Russell sensibly making 6 changes ahead of the second leg on Saturday afternoon.
The second leg was upon us before we knew it, my boss from Takeover joined me in the commentary box to help me provide full match commentary to those who missed out on a golden ticket for Mansfield’s biggest game in years.
The emotion and tenseness around the stags fans as a million times worse, but I knew deep down, as did they, that Mansfield had done it once, they could do it again. The atmosphere at Luton was again hostile from their support, seemingly angry they trailed to us – I found myself looking over my shoulder whilst commentating, Luton fans all around listening to every word I said & disagreeing with everything too – how I kept my patience is a whole different story. On the pitch Mansfield we’re brave and despite being drawn level on aggregate 30seconds into the second half, hung on. Luton finally hate fate spun back upon them, receiving not one but two red cards for awful challenges, the referee was fair & composed, he handled the game well. Despite Mansfield’s 2 man advantage, Luton predictably pushed and pushed, David Grof heroic once more, Tom Naylor – the Mansfield born lad doing us proud with an awesome display.
The game headed into extra time, I couldn’t sit still at all, my voice progressively higher as we attacked and angry as we defended! Microphone in one hand, team sheet shaking in the other as the ball struck Luke Grahams arm – ‘What’s he given here?’ my co-commentator asked as the tie was 3minutes from a footballing lottery, ‘PENALTY!’ we shouted together – extremely loud. I watched on through my fingers as Briscoe ran up and powerfully struck, my heart sank as Pilkington saved, my heartbeat loud and fast as the ball ran loose... the silence inside Kenilworth was broken:
The atmosphere being the goal at the other end which housed the Mansfield fans must have been electric, those three minutes between Briscoe’s goal & the final whistle felt like decades, the fans whistle blew, I watched on through tear filled eyes as the fans celebrated, I ignored the death threats and cheered, loudly – much to the amusement of Stuart from the non-league paper who was keen to remind me of my celebrations the following Saturday when we played host to Kidderminster Harriers!
A midweek come from behind victory at Histon came thanks to a Louis Briscoe hat-trick, but with Wembley fever upon us, league form began to suffer. Defeat at home to Kidderminster was followed by a creditable 2-0 loss away at champions elect Crawley, where Duncan Russell could only name 3 substitutes, with the starting line up forced to include Luke Medley who had returned from a loan spell at Aldershot after a dressing room bust up with Russell a few weeks previous.
An injury to Louis Moult after the victory at Tamworth saw him miss the Trophy dramas with Chasetown & Luton, he eventually returned to Stoke before our trip to Crawley. Youngster Niall O’Rafferty was thrown into the mix in his absence, but even he suffered injury & Duncan Russell was forced to register assistant manager Paul Hall as a player for the final month of the season – he was also counting the days until the return of youngster Conor Higginson from Glapwell.    
With Wembley in the bag, the next dream was the playoff, however it was a distant one with the stags sat in 14th place at the end of March, but with plenty of points still to play for, who knows what could happen as April arrived.
March Results:
Chasetown 2-2 Stags (FA Trophy 4th Round)
Tamworth 0-2 Stags
Stags 3-1 Chasetown (FA Trophy 4th Round replay)
Stags 1-0 Luton (FA Trophy Semi-Final 1st leg)
York 2-1 Stags
Luton 1-1 Stags (AET, FA Trophy Semi-Final 2nd Leg – Stags won 2-1 on aggregate)
Histon 2-3 Stags
Stags 1-2 Kidderminster
Crawley 2-0 Stags

 Lukewarm Bath
Due to mother natures intervention earlier in the season, plus our Wembley Trophy run, April was a busy one, it would include a 4 games in 7 days stint at Field Mill, which would include the much anticipated visit of Luton after the Trophy showdown.
April kicked off with a home game against Rushden, Alan Marriott also returned to the starting line up but had to be replaced 41minutes in after sustaining a finger injury, an injury which would not see him return until the final game of the season.
Marriott’s return was simply because Grof wouldn’t be at Mansfield for the final in May, with his loan expiring after the final whistle at Bath the week before, despite both Mansfield & Notts County’s pleas to let Grof extend his loan, the FA Refused to budge.
Louis Briscoe scored in the 89th minute to give Mansfield a winning start to the month after two successive losses, but the stags then threw away a two goal lead in the next fixture against relegation threatened Southport.
Mansfield took a tiny break from Field Mill to take on Hayes & Yeading and returned embarrassed, with Hayes running out 4-0 winners in the sunshine, Tyrone Thompson scored a beast of an own goal though! Wembley was clearly in the mindset despite Duncan Russell’s imposed Wembley Silence.
Mansfield’s 4 games in 7 days started off with a draw, leaving them in 14th place, however two days later a 2-0 win over Bath City saw the stags safe from relegation, but with the playoffs too much to ask. Luton came & went, goalless, bitter and again hating David Grof. This game also saw Mark Preece finally make his Mansfield debut, replacing the injured Tom Naylor – piling more worry on the stags fans & the management team.  
Could the stags end the 4 game home stint unbeaten? No, under new management Grimsby had yet to win under Robb Scott & Paul Hurst, that changed at Full time, leaving Field Mill with a 2-0 victory.
With just 3 games of the season to go & nothing to play for the attention did switch to Wembley, some players didn’t give as much scared of injuries, others did with mixed results. Paul Connor picked up an injury at AFC Wimbledon and was touch & go right up to kick off at Wembley, his replacement Conor Higginson also picked up and injury which ruled him out for the rest of the season, his agony doubled as he was also unavailable for Wembley after playing for Glapwell at an early stage in the competition.
The final home game of the season was a beauty, a come from behind victory saw 3 pitch invasions, Nuns Irish dancing & Paul Hall nearly scoring! If the season had ended there and then, the momentum going into Wembley would have been immense, as it was – there was still one game to go.
The trip to Bath City was a case of rubber stamping & sustaining no injuries, it worked but Duncan Russell was furious with the boys afterwards & I’ll you this – had he had more options for Wembley, at least 6 players who took part at Bath would not have featured at Wembley 7 days later.
The final whistle blew to end another league season, a final finish of 13th (now 12th due to Rushden’s unfortunate exit) doesn’t tell the full story – our pride and passion came in the cup, our unity off the pitch in the face of adversity shone throughout the season. We suffered player after playing coming and going like passing go in a game of monopoly, we suffered a worrying lockout, escaped without getting a points deduction, we’ve been awful, we’ve been great – we’ve been Mansfield Town FC, the focus now was on one more game – the big stage awaited in the merry month of May.
April Results:
Stags 2-1 Rushden & Diamonds
Stags 2-2 Southport
Hayes & Yeading + Tyrone Thompson 4-0 people who turned up wearing MTFC kit (stags!)
Stags 1-1 Barrow
Stags 2-0 Bath City
Stags 0-0 Luton
Stags 0-2 Grimsby
AFC Wimbledon 2-1 Stags
Stags 3-2 Gateshead
Bath City 2-0 Stags

The Bigger Picture
And so here we are at last revealing the bigger picture. The anticipation around our Wembley appearance was immense, after attending press day the week before I was eager to return and stand at the top of Wembley way watching you all walk towards the arch. The atmosphere inside was out of this world and despite only being able to name 4 subs, there was nothing there to drag us down.
For once, the legalities surrounding the court case had been left in the hands of the solicitors, the negativity surrounding performances had gone, at last we were one voice united by pride, united by a dream – all wanting us to win.
Chris Senior may have ruined it for us, Chris Senior and the black & white plainness of Darlington may have lifted the Trophy we so craved, but at the end of it all – it’s us that has the better story to tell.
Wembley was not about the result on the pitch, the result off it is much more important. We’ve over come so many hurdles on the way; we’ve shown those who doubted us what we can do when we want something – what we can do when you challenge our morals, beliefs & strengths.
Relegation from the football league – sod off.
Hostile crowds with arrogant attitudes – sod off.
Former owners who try and pull the rug from under our feet – sod off.
Unknown corners of the UK on a cold, rainy, windswept Tuesday night – sod off  
Breakdowns on the motorway, jeers from rival fans at our fall from grace, negativity, court cases, point deductions & broken promise – sod the lot of you.
The picture at the top of the piece of Tom Naylor in tears breaks hearts, but look now remembering who & what we fought off to enjoy OUR day at Wembley, to sing OUR songs with PRIDE pumping through us, & then you’ll see that that pain is not pain at all, it’s inspiration.

The ball has been dropped, but now months on – it’s ready to bounce back, tell the story of Wembley everywhere we go, every time we feel negativity coming our way and we will be strong once more.
We are Mansfield Town FC, we are not ashamed of our fall from grace, and we are not arrogant sods living in the past. We are the most genuine bunch of supporters around, we love & care for the club & along the way our sufferings no longer bring us down – why? Because we’ve achieved, on May 7th – We achieved.  
May Results:
Mansfield Town 0-1 Darlington (AET, FA Trophy Final – Wembley Stadium)
Mansfield Town FC Supporters 1-0 Doubters.  
Wembley was not the end – it’s only just beginning. This concludes the story of 2010-11, I’ll see you soon. Thanks very much for reading.  

Mansfield Town FC – It was all yellow. by cp14


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