Quite a few of you will know that my hobbies will revolve around football & working in the media, only some will know that I have a passion for writing works of fiction. I read recently that most writers start their creation by writing the final scene first, therefore giving them an idea of how thing ends, but leaving the door open and getting a thrill from exploring how the characters reach that final scene.
As I looked at twitter and saw all the football league fans drooling over the opening day dreams yesterday morning, my ending scene suddenly changed from dancing on the Kidderminster terraces, Saturday 28th April 2012 to 5PM last night. The full time Whistle on a beautiful day at Chasetown’s Scholars ground, being the closing scene in what has been a rollercoaster pre-season campaign.
Some of you may question why I chose to switch promotion celebrations to worthless pre-season reflections, its simple really – the end, is only just the beginning, the thrill is not is going backwards trying to figure something out, it’s in knowing where you want to go but enjoying every second of the story along the way.
‘Awoken to the pain of broken dreams’
Saturday 7th May 2011, Wembley Stadium – Chris Senior has headed home the winner in the final minute of extra time breaking every single true Mansfield heart. I’ve told you before about my head hitting the press box desk and how tears trickled down my face, what I’ve not told you is about, is my exit from Wembley and the moment I realised you shouldn’t create the ending without planning the subplots.
I painted a very vivid picture of Adam Murray lifting the trophy to a roar of yellows and a flood created by tears of joy – I never for a second imagined our hearts would be broken and our dreams would fade away into the night. Chris Seniors late winner had seen Darlington lift the trophy, I packed up the equipment in utter silence trying and failing to hold back the tears – after exchanging a few half hearted conversations I headed back through the maze of corridors towards the exit, I took off my Wembley ID badge and hid it (well stole it, I couldn’t have the glory of winning I wanted my momentum!) and carried on the walk to the car – I past many Darlington fans dancing and celebrating, enjoying their moment and overheard them talk about how far their trophy winning side could go and I realised then, that any hope of the losing side staying together and coming back stronger was false. The definition of a true looser is to walk away at the right time before any more damage is done to the core, the core in this case being the name of Mansfield Town Football Club.
A week later the false hope became reality as Duncan Russell departed, quickly followed by around 95% of that Wembley squad. Things moved and varying speed, Paul Cox was appointed Russell’s successor and as more players departed, fresh ones arrived. The agony of no football washed away as I returned to my old village; to see a trailist side representing My Mansfield Town, take on Rainworth MW. From there we’ve hit the road, visiting the likes of Nuneaton, Hednesford, FC Halifax, Boston, Ilkeston and yesterday afternoon – Chasetown, we’ve even had a 2 game stop back home, at Field Mill. We’ve seen roughly 25 trailist’s (included the two fresh faces from yesterday) battle it out for a stags contract, we’ve seen the new lads fit in well and present us with flashes of positives, but in true Mansfield fashion the negatives have popped up to say hi along the way. We’ve been excited by signings, we’ve been disappointed by them too. Bragging rights have been lost and on Wednesday new rivalries have been created in upsetting fashion.
Standing pitch side at Chasetown last night, I reflected on how far we’ve come as a club in such a short space of time, 1 day short of three months (to the DATE, 3 months to the DAY) since the heartbreak, Mansfield Town have rebuilt and have turned frowns back into warm, appreciative smiles. The broken hearts not mended, but Doctors Cox & Moore seemed to have provided the right medicine. I didn’t head home stealing an ID badge; I didn’t head home via maze of corridors and I didn’t head home disappointed, wanting to blank everybody out. No, I headed home having stolen the confidence a win brings, I headed home through a side gate, chatting and laughing with the players – I headed home wanting more, having enjoyed the ride that pre-season has given – why go for the final scene of glory, when the true enjoyment lies deep within, following the story moment to moment, word to word – start to finish, that way the season does end you’re not reflecting on the big moment, your reflecting on the millions of little ones you’ve created along the way.
Back to the present day and onto the events of yesterday. Ever since the fixture was announced I’ve been looking forward to it, Chasetown is the team against who we really sparked our trophy dreams, a cold Tuesday night at the scholars ground saw doubt cast following a 2-2 draw, but 7 days later the doubt turned to belief as we ran out 3-1 winners on our own pitch. I remember very little of Chasetown for two reasons, the first – it was pitch black, the second – I was so ill that night I’m astonished I actually made it to the game, commentated (on my own for the second time) and made it home again!
The sunshine & near clear blue sky provided a nice setting for yet another extraordinary story, I arrived in the ground to find the press box had been moved to the corner flag. Last season, it was a little hut at the side of the tunnel from which a huge extension was ran to the nearby seating area on the half way line, this season the hut on the corner flag housed one power point and no nearby pitch side seating area. Knowing that there were at least 3 other members of the press attending the game, panic set in – there was no way we’d all fit in the press hut (capacity: 2 at a push) on a hot summers day, let alone have enough power. My thoughts then turned to the big 30M cable which has accompanied me to every pre-season away game, and has come in bloody handy! I ran the cable from the corner flag press hut, tidily along pitch side to roughly the side of the player’s tunnel giving myself and the other guys a pitch side view.
The Chasetown players warmed up in front of our newly forming ‘press area’ and laughed in bemusement, clearly thinking it’ll never work. However, a massive 30M cable, two extension leads, 3 tables & 4 chairs from the club house bar later.... our latest ‘office’ was ready for action.
Matt (Matthew) Flynn – 22 year old defender, former clubs Macclesfield Town, Ashford United & Rochdale.
Odilon Koudemba – 26 year old French/ Congolese Striker/ Midfielder, former clubs Toulon, Rouen & Huddersfield (trial)
Mansfield opted for a 4-4-2 again wearing the shirt numbers for the season ahead, bar for the 3 players on trial.
 Shane Redmond
 Luke O’Neill –  Matt Flynn (Trialist) –  Nick Wood (Trialist) –  Matt Bell
 Adam Smith –  Jon Worthington (C) –  Lee Stevenson –  Andy Todd
 Ross Dyer –  Anthony Howell
SUBS:  Alan Marriott –  Louis Briscoe –  Paul Connor –  Adam Murray –  Matt Green –  Joe Kendrick –  Tom Naylor –  Odilon Koudemba.
Chasetown got the game underway and put pressure on Mansfield’s second string defence early on, Mark Branch’s chip forward was easily headed away by Matt Flynn but the second ball was picked up and kept by a well drilled Chasetown, however the stags pressure and eventually regained the ball with the help of the offside flag.
Mansfield then wasted no time in going down the other end and opening the scoring with 5 minutes on the clock, a long ball over the top was cushioned down by Ross Dyer, Adam Smith picked it up and began his usual quick feet, looking to come inside then going out with a neat flick before spotting Chasetown’s Ryan Price off his line, Smith struck with a neat chip leaving Price helpless.
Chasetown 0-1 Stags
A minute later Ross Dyer and Smith linked up once more, Dyer the recipient on Smith’s pass into the right channel, former Forest Green man Dyer crossed low in search of strike partner Anthony Howell, the ex-Alfreton man didn’t reach the ball, but Lee Stevenson did, denied at the last second by Jimmy Tuner – The resulting corner was headed away but Mansfield kept on the pressure until an offside flag against Dyer saw the ball return to Chasetown.
Chasetown then kept the ball for a while and worked a few opportunities down both flanks, however the stag’s trailist centre backs both performed equally well and the hosts were reduced to long range efforts, Shane Redmond did well to hold onto Karl Edward’s striker with 19 on the clock.
Chasetown were made to pay for missing the target and giving Mansfield back possession of the ball a minute later as the stags built from the back and eventually doubled their lead. Luke O’Neill’s chip forward found Ross Dyer on the edge of the box, a neat turn saw Dyer move into the area and strike, his powerfully hit shot nestling into the bottom corner but stinging the palms of Price on the way through.
Chasetown 0-2 Stags
Whilst the majority of the Mansfield squad to face Chasetown last season had moved onto pastures new, the majority of the Chasetown squad had stuck together and it was a familiar face which helped Chasetown grab one back with 25 minutes gone. Ramone Stephens caused Mansfield problems on the right hand side and cut inside past Matt Bell to ping in the perfect cross, Gary Hay rose above O’Neill and gave Redmond no chance with a bullet header into the top corner.
Chasetown 1-2 Stags
Mansfield looked to regain that two goal advantage straight from the restart, Mansfield worked hard in all areas, Anthony Howell brought down a cross park ball, turning well and setting Dyer who was denied by the woodwork.
With over half an hour gone, more Mansfield movement between Smith & O’Neill earned the stags a corner, Matt Bells left footed in swinger caused Chasetown trouble, the ball ran loose on the 6 yard line and Ross Dyer made no mistake, smashing into the roof of the net.
Chasetown 1-3 Stags
Straight from the restart, Chasetown had another opportunity to again close the gap, a Mark Branch corner was looked dangerous but as Mansfield got clear, they began to counter, Adam Smith linked up with O’Neill who found Stevenson with a decent through ball, the ex-Eastwood man denied by the flag.
With 5 minutes left of the first half, Mansfield made it 4 in almost identical fashion to the third goal, Bells corner, this time an out swinger from the far side, was headed into space, Matt Flynn found himself unmarked and volleyed low into the bottom right hand corner, capping off another well worked set piece.
Chasetown 1-4 Stags
Mansfield looked to build again and looked sharp down both wings, Andy Todd & Matt Bell both moving well earning a number of throws, Dyer & Howell lurked patiently in the box awaiting the cross, however the referees whistle brought the first period to a close, just as some spots of rain looked to ruin my brilliant open air press box!
Half Time: Chasetown 1-4 Stags
No changes were made by Paul Cox at half time, the second half held very few chances compared with the 1st, however a minute in Ross Dyer had a golden chance to seal his hat-trick, Andy Todd’s ball inside to Stevenson saw the midfielder push the ball on into space, Dyer was first there and miles onside, taking the ball into the area, rounding the keeper and hitting goal wards – Chris Peels last minute intervention denied Dyer a deserved hat-trick.
Another familiar name caused Mansfield problems down the left wing, Dean Perrow giving O’Neill a hard time, the former Leicester man conceding a corner which was easily cleared by the impressive Flynn, Flynn’s clearance saw Mansfield move once more, Andy Todd fed Bell wide left, his cross headed away but only as far as the afternoons captain Jon Worthington, his volley was high & wide of the target with 51 gone.
Lee Stevenson headed an Adam Smith cross wide 5 minutes later, before a deep Matt Bell free kick came to nothing. It was soon substitution time, Trialist Koudemba replaced Worthington on the hour mark, Adam Smith taking over the captains armband whilst Anthony Howell dropped into midfield to accommodate Koudemba alongside Dyer. 15 minutes later, Tom Naylor was brought on at right back to replace Luke O’Neill.
Chasetown tried to create openings but were reduced to long range efforts, Jake Sedgemore’s 30 yard curler flying just over was the only one of note to cause Mansfield any real trouble, the game just fizzled out and both sets of supporters which made up the 321 crowd, seemed relieved when the final whistle blew on the game and pre-season itself – the serious stuff can now begin.
Full Time: Chasetown 1-4 Stags
All in all another good run out for the boys, this blog is already long enough before adding in a pre-season report and player stats, so I’ll save those for one of many special blogs during the week, wrapping up pre-season and looking ahead to our fourth year in the BSBP! Thanks, as ever, for reading I’m amazed by the views on my last blog (3,500 and rising!) I’d love the same again on this one so spread the word. Not long until the dream starts to become a reality! Bring on Bath City!
Podcast below, Match photos credit: James Williamson.