Walking away from Northampton 174 days ago having beaten the promotion chasers 2-1 as our poor season enjoyed a rare positive spike, not even Mystic Meg could have predicted that THAT would be our last taste of competitive action for the best part of six months, never mind all the madness the world would then see.
Alas after months of isolation, mask wearing, social distancing, going one-way around Tesco, getting paid 80% salary to watch Netflix and endless Zoom quizzes – we finally have light at the end of the tunnel, with the return of competitive football for Mansfield Town.
I should be like a kid on Christmas Eve today, but instead I find myself staring out of the window with my mood matching the weather – bleak and depressing.
Why? Because the realisation that I, along with the rest of the travelling Stags faithful, can’t go tomorrow – watching through a laptop simply feels wrong.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m extremely thankful that the option to watch is there and I think it’s been fantastic previously for fans who can’t get due to work, holiday, family or whatever – but previously, I imagine watching games through a stream isn’t too different to being there to experience the drama – because the supporters around the stadia MAKE the drama, without them there, it’s going to make a bafta winning gritty drama feel like a primary school play rehearsal.
Take for example two years ago this very day, when Mansfield Town made the trip to Championship outfit West Brom in the Second Round of the Carabao Cup – that game had pretty much every thrill a supporter of the “underdogs” hopes for!
The Stags had already knocked out League One outfit Accrington in emphatic style and had started the season very well, unbeaten – perhaps with too many draws, but the promise of something good was there with some mouth-watering football on show.
At the Hawthorns nearly two-thousand Stags fans made the away end feel electric, sensing another upset could be on the cards.
The vocal passion pouring from the away end was evident all night and spurred the Stags onto a ferocious fight back, Neal Bishop’s absolute rocket on 69 minutes set the away end alight even more to pull the game level.
Despite the hosts then regaining the lead six minutes later, the passion and belief in the away end was far from dead as the players were lifted, Danny Rose and Jordan Graham both had chances to level before the Stags won a corner with seconds left in front of the travelling fans.
Up comes keeper Bobby Oljenik and when Alex MacDonald’s driven shot cannons off a West Brom leg, the ball falls straight into his path. Our hearts are in our mouths as Bobby strikes, we’re already seeing flashes of the celebrations in our heads as his boot connects sending the ball towards goal.
BANG the bubble bursts as his shot is blocked – our heads are falling into our hands as the loose ball falls to the skipper Pearce, a mere six yards from goal…
Time stands still as the chief set’s himself with his left foot – all he has to do now is stroke the ball into the back of the net…
The keeper is rooted to his spot, the defenders are nowhere – the ball leaves the captain’s boot… we’re all praying it trickles into the net – god, or whichever high power you believe in, wasn’t listening – the ball landed wide, the final whistle blew. Game over.
There’s a sting of heartbreak in the crowd, a sigh of relief cannons around from the home fans which then reignites our passion and pride, clapping off the lads who gave it everything.
Fast forward to tomorrow – try to imagine yourself feeling the same buzz, energy, passion and pride from your living room sofa. There’s no roar to lift the boys when they need it, there’s no atmosphere, the only tension is when the cat walks in front of the telly or the dog brings you a toy to play with. How deflating is that?
Now imagine being a player, regardless of the debate about being match fit and the game being three weeks too early – they must feel the same buzz of excitement we do when we know there’s something to play for.
I imagine they too look forward to hearing the noise of the fans when they walk out of the tunnel, the supportive chants, the sporadic singing of a fan favourites name and everything else in between. What will they have tomorrow? Tumbleweed. How deflating is that?
The two entities, fan support and player “power-play” go hand in hand. The louder we sing, the more they lift the tempo – the more they lift the tempo, the louder we sing. You get the picture.
Tomorrow, no matter how loud we scream at the telly, they won’t hear us. For them, the game will descend into going through the motions – and for us, is an event which doesn’t quite feel real. I have no idea how these top flight fans can feel the same emotion and pride from watching through Sky Sports every week – another rant for another day!
Football for me has always been about the socialisation, meeting different fans, chatting, debating, laughing, crying – all with the same purpose, to support Mansfield Town Football Club.
The drive to and from a game with your friendship group etc is just as much a part of the experience as the game itself. When will we get to experience that again? Yes they’re trialing different things looking at reduced capacities etc – but I sincerely doubt we’ll be able to experience that away day buzz or full match experience for a long time to come. You try having a conversation with your mates sat two seats and two rows apart with a bloody mask on. That long droning chorus of Yellows is going to be very different.
I could sit here and write all day about how it’s unfair and give my views on this slightly more serious than usual bout of flu – but that’s not what this is about really is it?!
Having Football back is a brilliant feeling, we’ve got something to talk about, something to focus on, something to debate and unite over – we just have to do it in a very different way, that’s all.
I can’t wait for 3pm tomorrow to see the boys walk-out of the tunnel and get stuck into action. Will I wear my Stags shirt in my living room, will I still have a little sing, clap & shout, will I have a pre-match hot-chocolate etc – Dam straight!
The imagination is a powerful thing, that’s for sure. Between the full time whistle at Northampton and kick-off tomorrow, it’s 175 days – a lot has changed but we’ve waited long-enough.
COME ON YOU STAGS.
Mansfield Matters will be trying to replicate that post-match buzz and energy with the ‘Cool Down’ show – as Craig, Cam and Nathan share their immediate thoughts on the match, 15 minutes or so after the full time whistle LIVE on our Facebook Page – facebook.com/mtfcmatters – feel free to grab a beer, cuppa or whatever and join us.
If you enjoy the Mansfield Matters Podcast, our Blog page is very similar - just in article form as team members share their views on matches and events!
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