Craig Priest writes…
Whilst East Midlands Airport are preparing themselves for a coach load of footballers to board a plane to Malta, all us Stags fans are left asking one question – Will Matt Green be on the plane?
The 26 year old front man’s signature still hasn’t met the paper of the Stags office and as time ticks on, us fans are desperately hoping the popular striker gets hold of a pen sharpish! News on Green moving elsewhere has become quiet over the past week or so with Birmingham City seemingly uninterested following our stars trial period with them, other clubs from the Championship and League One may be linked with the former Oxford man but as far as I can see, it’s all about as true as us playing in the conference next season!
I’ve remained silent on the topic until today having just hoped for it to sort its self in time, but with pre-season matches fast approaching and the contracted players back in training, well running, the matters becoming a little more important. I’d never say rush a decision but I honestly feel that the longer the Green contract debate goes on, the more damage it will do – Matt isn’t a one man team by his goals are of massive importance to us, the question is are we serious about signing him and picking up from where we left off or are we in search of a replacement as, from what I can tell, we’ve made no movement towards putting something in writing either.
Earlier today I watched Matt’s show-reel of goals as posted on YouTube – we cannot afford to let a player of his quality slip through the net and sign elsewhere. Some have questioned If Matt can cut it in the football league given his lack of long term experience outside the conference, my answer to that is watch is goal show reel and you will see yes he can, especially under Paul Cox.
At Oxford Green was rarely settled and played out of position on the right wing, when he arrived at Mansfield several said he wouldn’t inspire yet now he holds legendary status, this is down to Cox’s man management and in turn, the work Green has put in to become a top quality, highly rated front man – 57 goals in all competitions over two seasons tells its own story really.
Many describe him as a poacher and yes, whilst he’s only netted one of those 57 from outside the box (his first goal for the club against Luton), the way he runs off the ball, reads the game and beats his markers suggests and shows that Green is the complete centre forward and I believe him to be one of the best strikers Stags have had in at least a decade.
Browsing through his show reel I’m reminded why Green is watched week in week out by scouts from higher ranked clubs, it’s not just the factors I mentioned above which make Matt stand out, it’s the way he anticipates what’s going to happen in a split second – he’s a clever player and I think that Paul Cox and his scouting team would be hard pressed to find a replacement that’s half as good. Yes you can argue that Speight and Hutchinson can bag goals but I don’t think they’re technically on the same level, can they play off Dyer, Rhead and Stevenson? Can they read the game as well and process the outcome in such a quick time – possibly, but to the same effect? No – that’s the Matt Green glint.
He’s by no means perfect and like every front man, quite often has off day’s – last season for example there were numerous times were he lost his confidence in front of goal and squandered chances but Cox showed faith and when it mattered, Green found his glint again and began firing – without his final burst of nine goals in the last seven games, we would not have been crowned Champions – fact.
Hopefully the club can conjure up a deal that both parties are happy with and Green can continue to grow as a club legend and goal predator – we have a lot to thank him for but were not ready to say goodbye just yet.
Before I sign off again there’s another man I’d like to see with pen in hand, you all know it’s Andy Todd – worryingly I saw no shots of him on the gallery from the first day’s training. Fingers crossed that both his and Matt’s Mansfield Town futures are sorted soon – keeping that nucleus is what will keep is stable in league two next term.
I’m not going to Malta but to anyone that is, enjoy yourselves! For me the clock is ticking towards that first friendly on UK soil as Cox’s Champions head for Worksop Town on Wednesday 10th July – Coverage details coming soon!
The views expressed in this blog are those of the writer and not those of Mansfield Matters or its related organisations – to submit a blog, email email@example.com
Craig Priest writes….
I swear down that during close season, every second which ticks by seems like an hour – that hunger for football grumbles in my stomach ever so painfully, I know it’s the same for you too.
Some are ok, they enjoy the break and that one glorious day when the weather is nice, they have other sports to enjoy and find another passion to kill the hunger for football, not me I can’t wait for pre-season to start again.
Writing with my supporter’s hat on today, there’s one thing that really kills me during close reason – Rumours. It’s a part of football I’d love to ban from the game as they really get my goat, there’s nothing worse than logging onto forums etc and reading about your clubs players signing for such and such.
This close season it’s Matt Green who takes the most of the rumour headlines, currently on holiday with his partner (fact) the 26 year old hit man has been linked with every club going with his Stags future hanging in the balance. It’s a fact that he has been on trial with Birmingham City but no deal has seemingly been put on the table for the conference top scorer, so why do people keep saying he’s gone!
I was on the bus coming home from town the other day and had the displeasure of overhearing two blokes talking about our treasured marksman, apparently one of them had heard from his next door neighbours brothers sister-in-law’s workmate, that he’d signed for Forest – the other guy then chirped in that he’d gone to Leeds, something he’d heard through his aunty who was best friends with a Leeds stewards husband – IT’S RIDICULOUS HOW DO THESE RUMOURS EVEN START AAAAHHHHH!!!
On a serious, less rant-like note, the future of Green may hang in the balance but going on things said by the player and the club, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him back in the number 10 shirt at Stags next term, the conference player of the season has clearly fallen in love with the club and formed a strong bond with manager Paul Cox.
Football can sometimes be a greedy game, players searching for money and that extra £1 for their agent rather than loyalty – I don’t think Green’s that type of player, if he was then he’d have gone when his initial loan from Oxford was up right, after all he was in form, scoring goals for fun and linked with every club around then too!
Green signed following his loan, in my opinion at least, because of the belief and affect Paul Cox had on him, transferring him from a right winger and striker that couldn’t hit a barn door with a machine gun into a through the middle goal machine. Looking at Green’s career stats before his arrival, numerous moves into and out of Oxford do not suggest a settled career and in those moves out of Oxford he wasn’t much of a threat, unlike now where he’s scoring for fun and with a clear mind – 57 goals in two seasons has perhaps put him right up there with the greatest strikers in the clubs history.
Knowing my luck, whilst writing this Green will have made the move (don’t worry he hasn’t I’ve just checked at 11.52am on Tuesday 21st May) – One man who has made a move however is Luke Jones, the popular defender has joined league one Stevenage, a move with is extremely saddening.
When Jones first arrived at Field Mill back in 2009 under the management of David Holdsworth, little was known of the former Blackburn youth teamer however by the time he was outrageously released by Holdsworth at the end of the campaign, everyone knew the name and cursed the then Stags boss for letting such a gem depart.
The former Kidderminster man had played 23 times for Holdsworth’s Stags who finished mid-table, chipping in with four goals Jones was a popular regular face who was always the pick of the back four with his courageous displays both in the air and on the floor.
Stags fans watched through gritted teeth as Holdsworth’s misjudgement saw Jones sign for Forest Green Rovers, his displays impressed those at the New Lawn and saw him captain the side during his 45 appearances for the Nailsworth based side. A move in the summer back to Kidderminster ended a season’s stay with Forest Green and as expected, Jones performed constantly as one of the best defenders in the conference during his second stint of 39 games for Steve Burr’s men.
Every close season Jones’ name was one Stags fans wanted to see along with the words “has signed” on the clubs website and in the close season, Paul Cox managed to secure the services of Jones on a one year deal – a move that delighted the faithful. His displays this term have been excellent and despite a spell in the ill-fated Quarry Club, he returned to the side at Stockport for the injured Exodus Geohaghon and never looked back – his solid displays alongside John Dempster were as, if not more important, than Matt Green’s final burst of goals in winning us the title.
Not for a second do I fault Jones for moving on, this time round it’s his choice rather than the managers – Paul Cox will have done all in his power to tempt Jones into another year, however the lure of League One football for the first time in his career at the peak age of 26 is too good to turn down, Stevenage are a good stable club with a good coaching staff, give it a couple of seasons and Jones, if he continues to progress in the way he has, will be playing in a top 10 Championship side.
Whilst I, along with every Stags fan out there, wish Jones all the best his departure does leave a gap to fill. George Pilkington is in contract but his absence last term suggests to me that he’ll be used as back up rather than a regular, as I mentioned at the top of the piece speculation and rumours get my goat so I won’t even begin talking about Luke Jones replacement. There seems to be some confusion about John Dempster, the former Crawley man was key to our success and like Jones, it was a joy to see him return last summer – the last I read was that Dempster had been offered a new contract along with numerous other key faces, I’m yet to read that any of them have signed. Hopefully the option of a new contract to said players will have been taken and speculation can stop – come on Coxy, some confirmation would be great.
One released from the club is Exodus Geohaghon, am I surprised? Not really. If I’m honest I wasn’t too thrilled when he returned from Kidderminster after failed negotiations last summer, yes he’s a crowd pleaser with that long throw but I believe if you look at videos and read old reports, he’ll come across as a player that has good days and bad days. The tip of the iceberg for me was watching him in the reserves when Jones had pushed him out of the side, he looked disinterested and showed little effort to fight for his shirt – the long throw and his ability to frighten opponents was great to watch but if you look at his strengths, I’m in the opinion that there are other players better than him that are more adaptable. As ever I’ll wish him well for the future and say thanks for the memories.
It’s been quiet in the arrivals front so far with only the one addition, midfielder Jamie McGuire from Fleetwood will provide all the qualities on Messer’s Hand, Tolley and Roberts taking the one wage rather than three, a good piece of business that could, given time, be a replacement for Murray – but as the Stags legend pointed out on his Facebook the other day, he’s 31 not 40 – there’s life in those legs yet!
Another thing that’s getting too me at the moment is the Malta friendly, seeing people booking their flights is hurting as I can’t go! Simply other things have to take priority, such as sorting out next season so to those who are going, enjoy the experience and get in touch; I’d love to get a Malta Diary posted on here!
In terms of next season’s coverage, I have no fresh news as yet – it’s been a fabulous journey with Mansfield Matters but the promotion to League Two for Stags means there are certain factors which could prove difficult to overcome – fear not I’ll try my hardest to bring coverage to Mansfield Matters and Takeover next term but any donations, would be most welcome! I’ll bring more news when I have it.
That’s it for now; I hope you’ve enjoyed my ramblings, not that they’ve really quenched my thirst for footballing action! I also hope you like the new site design, myself and Em are working hard to take this website up another level as we’re exceeding expectations on hits etc – when I say we are working hard, I mean she’s doing most of it whilst I make the tea!
See you soon!
The views expressed in this blog are those of the writer and not those of Mansfield Matters or its related organisations – to submit a blog, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Craig Priest speaks of how the Reserve Team could help solve the first team issues...
After an indifferent start for the first team Paul Cox will undoubtedly be mulling over changes ahead of Saturday’s match with Woking, but the thing is those who haven’t played and could be in the managers mind lack fitness and sharpness – step forward the reserve team, game one for the reserves could well be the most important game for the club as a whole so far this season.
Personally I don’t think it’s important for Cox in terms of watching and forming idea’s, I think the importance factor lies in the dressing room as those on show can go out and say to Cox and his backroom staff ‘Here I am, this is what I can do – play me!’
A lot of the talk recently has been about the size of the squad, is the fact its high a negative – I’ve been saying since day one ‘No’ as with the reserve team we’ve a platform to keep player’s happy, get them minutes and most importantly, prepare those waiting in the wings for first team football with regular competitive action which is to a similar standard to what the first team play – The reserve league is just that.
After the full time whistle yesterday questions were being asked over the selection, why have John Thompson, Lee Stevenson and Jamie Hand etc not been picked? Not for a second is it because there ‘Reserve Team’ players, but by playing in that side tomorrow night – they put themselves in the shop window and have competitive football under their belts – this time around with the second string side we won’t be filling it with trial players like the McEwan/ Holdsworth days of 2008-09 when we finished bottom of the Central League Central Division, we have an abundance of quality to pick from and in truth, the side we could potentially field tomorrow against Port Vale could be a tough play-off challenging side in the BSBP.
Before you all take out your Craig Priest voodoo dolls again, let me stress I am a huge fan of Alan Marriott, however after five games conceding 15 goals should the keeper take some of the questions like the four in front of him and would a change between the sticks be a help or hindrance to first team affairs. Shane Redmond is probably one of the forgotten names at the minute and whilst a lot don’t seem to rate him, I am of the opinion he is a very good shot stopper and should be given the chance to prove what he can do. Last season he played just the one game against Kidderminster and kept a clean sheet, despite the now infamous and rather legendary spider-crawl, all was solid and the promise of what could be was there. I’ve been privileged enough to watch the Irish Glovesman in various friendly’s and can say his shot stopping is to a fine standard, with his command of the box at a good standard too.
I don’t know if it’s the amount of competitive football he’s played over the past few seasons which devalues him in the minds of some supporters or if it’s the high regard we have for Marriott – whatever it is doesn’t hide the fact he’s a good keeper and, with minutes under his belt in the Reserves, there is no reason why he shouldn’t be battling for a start. Nobody’s place in the first eleven is safe, this should include Marriott and if Redmond has a strong game for Andy Todd’s reserves tomorrow I see no reason why he shouldn’t be considered to face Woking.
Moving onto the back four John Thompson and George Pilkington, our two marquee signings from the past two summers are likely to get a run out – however it’s the other too I express interest in, tomorrow could see a first look at new addition Ryan Tafazolli and another look at youngster Jake Green. The former comes with a good report, tall and strong – likes a tackle and is, if reports are true, a commanding player whilst the latter, brother of Matt, has bags of pace and can play in either full back role – attributes which we may have lacked in recent games.
With Gary Roberts suspended for Saturday’s home match with Woking they’ll be an extra midfield slot up for grabs, for me it’s a three horse race between Godfrey Poku and the two Jamie’s, Hand and Tolley, all three offer different options for Cox and will most probably be the midfield tomorrow night. What about Lee Stevenson I hear you bellow at your screen, I consider him more of an attacking option and agree with the comments that he should have been involved by now, what is the point of going all pre-season with him as the lynch pin of our attack in that dominant 4-2-3-1 formation only to switch it for the season? A good performance from him tomorrow night could remind Cox of the player who was so prolific in Eastwood’s good fortune two seasons ago and be the remedy he is looking for.
In attack there’s bound to be another run out for Ben Hutchinson, another forgotten, over looked and underrated member of our squad. I hear a lot of folk saying he should have been released in the summer, however in pre-season I think he looked sharp and was beginning to get that glint in his eye of a comfortable, confident, in form player – all he needs is games. Nick Wright too could get some minutes under his belt, a platform for him to show why Kidderminster were so desperate to keep hold of him in the summer.
No matter how you look at it, the Stags have so many strong options who haven’t featured regularly this term for the first team – I look forward to seeing what in pact tomorrow’s game will have going into Saturday’s home encounter with Woking and then Tuesday night’s match with Tamworth.
The Reserve league is a funny one this term to say the least with two leagues in one, with 17 scheduled fixtures in total – Nine will be played under the divisional tag, kicking off tomorrow night against Port Vale. We have now been confirmed as a Division 2 side, a selection of the sides from Division 1 are in our Regional Group, where there are eight fixtures starting with a trip to Rotherham United on October 31st. There will be two league tables, everyone plays each other the once with the venue determined on a luck of the draw basis. The winners from Division 1 and 2 play each other at the end of the season to determine the overall winner, the same happens in the ‘West’ section with the two winners (east and west) playing a final to determine an overall winner.
To further explain the divisional splitting in the East and West section, teams are put together by the respective clubs first team league placing the previous season – therefore ‘Division One’ comprises of Championship and League One teams, with ‘Division Two’ containing clubs from the League Two and the conference. The regional aspect of the entire thing is, as previously mentioned, aimed at reducing clubs travelling time and expense.
The set up is brand new and has scrapped the three division format of Central, East and West in an attempt to create a higher standard of football, reduce travelling time and costs as well as placing teams in the same league as those in their first teams division – in retrospect a good idea.
Our opponents tomorrow night are the second string of League Two Port Vale, who last term we’re a ‘Central Division’ side finishing in 4th place with four victories, three draws and five defeats – a tough test for Andy Todd’s boys. Kick off tomorrow night is 7pm, prices are £3 Adults and £1 for Concessions – those not going can join myself and hopefully Scott, for full and exclusive match commentary on StagsPlayer.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the writer and not those of Mansfield Matters or its related organisations – To submit a blog for publication email email@example.com
It’s funny how little things can remind you of big events, take for instance this morning and an unusually wake up call. As the majority of you know around my room I have plenty of photos from down there years along with memorabilia – currently my bed is in front of my Wembley wall and this morning a gust of wind blew my Wembley press pass from its peg. Hitting me sock in the face and waking me up, it was then I release that a year ago today – I achieved a dream commentating at Wembley Stadium as my beloved team searched for glory.
The exact anniversary date wise is Monday when we play host to York City in the play-off semi-final second leg at Field Mill, ironically battling it out for a place at the national stadium and a shot at promotion glory. Still the point stands, the first Saturday of the month of May was the one we all headed for Wembley for the FA Trophy final, I had to laugh at how quickly time had flown and how much things had changed.
I’m going to be honest now, there was a reason it took a couple of days to upload the match report from Wednesday, the whole occasion had drained me – I’d spent the night with four good friends, battled against the odds to bring coverage and bellowed over the crowd to do the job I love, bringing the action back home to those who couldn’t make it for whatever reason – all of us wanting one thing, our beloved side to stay strong.
They did and they too had curveballs to deal with, the injury to Martin Riley early on, the non dismissal of two York players for wreck-less fouls and the dismissal of our own Matt Green for suspected handball to name a few. Exodus Geohaghon had a wobble, doing so well to penetrate and punish York with long throws, but being the unfortunate one to turn the ball into his own net and level things out before the break – in the second half he recovered and helped the Stags through. Adam Murray, our passionate skipper who’s battled with injury of late showed no pain and put in a proper skippers performance – outstanding as ever in the middle of the park. Everybody pulled together as one, it wasn’t great at times and the hosts we’re certainly guilty of wasting golden chances – but as Scott said in the build up (which you can here along with full audio below), these games aren’t about the side that plays the better football, it’s about the team that plays the occasion better, the team that wants it, the team with passion – that was Mansfield Town and that IS Mansfield Town, and that folks is the mark at how far we’ve come in just one year.
Last season we began with David Holdsworth again chopping and changing, the word ‘consistency’ isn’t included in his vocabulary. Yes we made chances at the start of this season but that’s a NEW managers purgative, we HAD to change this summer because of how broken we we’re, in my opinion Holdsworth had no real reason to make as many changes as he did, to go and ring the changes 15 games later once again is ridiculous. I know I wrote about how a Wembley win could reinvent us last year that was written half heartedly, we all knew deep down it would only paint over the ever widening cracks. Defeat on the big stage hurt, I’ll never forget as the goal went in my head hitting the desk and tears pouring down my face, god knows how I finished commentating! After the game my frustration was taken out on my microphone and every Saturday afternoon when I unpack the kit for another commentary, I’m reminded of the day as the microphone lives on!
This season has been a remarkable transformation, we’ve had our problems on and off the pitch, the mid season run of draws nearly proved our downfall when we slipped away, however hard word, key additions, commitment and passion have driven us on. I can’t pick a moment of the season which I can say was the key, there a far too many – nor can I pinpoint the reason why all of a sudden its gone from supporters and players being separate groups to one core, driving our dream forward. I’m not surprised that Monday’s crunch game is a sell out, I know there will be faces that haven’t been for a while for whatever reason and that doesn’t bother me, because subconsciously they have a ticket to support Mansfield Town FC and be part of our dream, so long as the positivity is high, so long as the noise blows the roof off with Mansfield Town songs.
I’ve never been so proud to support Mansfield Town FC; I’ve watched them promoted once, lose on a big stage twice and be relegated twice and so much more in-between. What I’ve not seen before is this energy, this love, passion and belief coming not only from the terraces but from the dressing room too. I’m privileged to travel up and down the country to follow my personal dream whilst watched the team that have helped me change from a troublesome, angry teen to the person you all know – without my team I wouldn’t be who I am, have met the friends I spoke of or have found my dream job. I’m even more privileged to have watched the club that was broken and depressing low this time last year after Chris Senior’s winner for Darlington, blossom into the beautiful summer flower that we know today. Every other Saturday since the turn of the year, coming to Field Mill has been wonderful, not once have I left angry or annoyed because for the first time in a long while, the support from start to finish has been phenomenal even when we’ve been at our worst on the pitch – results at home have made us a force, someone to fear – as I’ll write more tomorrow in my match preview, this will prove one hell of an advantage.
Away from home the support has to be outstanding, only once since the turn of the year has our travelling support dipped below a hundred – we make noise we’re ever we go and probably abuse the phrase ‘make yourself at home’ – in a good way! I’d have liked a win on Wednesday without doubt, just to steady the nerves but on reflection the night gave us so much more. We we’re strong, mentally and physically on the pitch, mentally and vocally on the terraces. We believed in ourselves when we needed to the most rather than crumble back into that negative swap we’ve been stuck in for years. Things went against us but did we let them drag us down and give in, no we did not.
Now we need to do this one more time – on our own pitch, 90 more minutes (minimum) to go and follow out dream, to go and follow our destiny, to keep our hopes of a shot of promotion intact. 90 minutes on the road have passed; we have waded through York’s fortress and come out as we started – LEVEL. Now ladies and gentleman, it’s time to BELIEVE.
Thanks for reading, check out the match preview tomorrow plus details of coverage! LET’S DO THIS!
The views expressed in this blog are those of the writer and not those of Mansfield Matters or it’s related organisations – to submit a piece of your own, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Craig Priest takes a look at previous campaigns and how this one differs...
Never at this time of the season have we really had something to play for, at least not in the ten years or so that I’ve been following the Stags. Racking my brains and looking back through my old diary’s, blogs I’ve never shared etc, there are two seasons other than this one, where we’ve had something to play for at this stage of the season – 2003/04 when we reached the play-off final in Cardiff, and 2007/08 when we we’re relegated from the football league.
Stuart Watkiss celebrating sealing promotion in 2002 Pic: (C) Dan Westwell
I don’t count the 2001/02 promotion season under Billy D and then Stuart Watkiss as that season I didn’t really understand football, I didn’t love the club and honestly had no idea what was going off at the full time whistle when the party started! I know, I know – I should be shot or at least severely punished for my noviceness, but perhaps not feeling the emotion from out last promotion will help me savour and embrace every second of this season, as the dream becomes ever closer.
Some would perhaps say the following 2002/03 season was one in which we had something to play for, fighting to avoid the drop. Although from what I can remember about that season, my first growing to love the club and the game, we we’re down long before the final month of the season.
And so that leaves us with two other season where we endured a ‘something to play for’ final month – ‘the Cardiff canter’ in 2003/04 and of course, the heartbreaking ‘great escape’ in 2007/08.
You’ll have to forgive me if the realness and honesty I usually try to write with doesn’t come across as strongly whilst I talk about our play-off campaign. It was the first real season I WANTED to watch the Stags, but still at school I was a troubled soul and often my behaviour in a certain math teacher’s classroom, would result in me being banned from going to watch my heroes at the weekend. I always maintain that if you miss one game, you miss more than 90 minutes – that’s not a dig at people who don’t go, everyone has circumstances which have to take priority and if truth be told that’s exactly the reason why I am a radio commentator, I know the pain of missing a game so I aim to paint a good enough picture over the airwaves so listeners feel they are actually in my seat, watching the game live. My comment was actually a dig at myself for my stupid behaviour – I look at the person I was then and the person I am now and wow – two totally different people. Anyway, as I was saying because I missed a fair share of games, I can’t truly remember the atmosphere surround the club at the time; I can’t quite remember the performances both individually and as a team. For example I missed the trip to Hull City when my hero Neil Mackenzie scored the only goal in a 1-0 victory – I can’t sit here and say that it was a deserved goal, a deserved win, decent performance etc, all I can do is sit here and talk stats – pointless really. I remember the final month of the season, well final two months as the league fixture calendar is different to the conference. I remember plummeting to 7th following a home draw with Cambridge, thinking we might not make it. The game that sticks in my mind is the trip to Huddersfield, the team who would eventually come back to bite us on the backside, if memory serves me right we needed to win to cement our play-off spot with a week left to go.
The day was beautiful, there was a nervousness on the coach to the game, something I’ve only felt once since, the spirits where high once kick off time arrived though, pre-match nerves affect people in a different way I guess, but as ever football solves all. As the players came out onto the pitch I felt this momentous roar from the fans crammed into the away end around me, I felt the stand vibrate as fellow fans trying to replicate the sound of a drum by banging on the advertising hoardings at the back. The sunshine was glorious and just added to the beauty of the whole day – I remember the vibrations continuing and a few fans breaking the seat in front of them as they joined in the drumming – the passion was wild, and until I witness a similar scene, I won’t quite understand why – back then as far as I was concerned I was watching a football match as per, nobody had explained the glory surrounding promotion – nor had anyone explain the pain of relegation.
Back to the game, Mansfield fell behind 14 minutes in and the mood changed, the silence was chilling – ‘we’ve blown it, we’ve blown it – again’ I heard one Stags fan say, I chuckle now to what his mate said to him six minutes later when Rhys Day levelled the game ‘maybe not son, maybe not’ – from the minute the welsh centre halves goal hit the net, there was renewed hope and from then on in, the atmosphere electric again. 18,000+ fans watched that day, it was the 1,754 travellers that undoubtedley made the most noise. None more so than when Junior Mendes put us ahead before half time, I thought it could never get better – Liam Lawrence proved me wrong with his 76th minute strike – pandinmonium.
On the coach home, I don’t think anyone sat down, even the driver at one point joined in the conga.... obviously that’s a joke! Singing all the way home was joyous, it’s just a shame the same can’t be said about the following week’s home defeat to Northampton – with whom we’d become quite aquiainted with as we faced them over two legs in the play-offs.
The playoffs were something special, I had no idea what to expect and can only imagine what the atmosphere was like at Sixfields, unfortunately neither me nor my family could get a ticket and so had to watch from Field Mill on the big screen. There were many inside Field Mill but nothing could replicate being at the game itself. I was delighted with the end result but again wasn’t prepared for what would follow. The second leg was so dramatic even if I were the best writer in the world I wouldn’t be able to do it justice. Field Mill was rammed; I watched from the middle of the west lower, in line with the edge of the north stand penalty area and as such had a clear view of the final shootout. Again I remember nothing of the game itself bar the score line and a couple of things that happened late on. 2-0 should have been a lead good enough to take us the distance, however in those type games there’s a fight which comes from within – if you’re not prepared for that then you’re not a real champion. Fortunately a Tom Curtis toe poke got us back level on aggregate and after extra time came and went – our whole season boiled down to nerve, to luck, to keeping your head when all around are loosing there’s. Wayne Corden, Liam Lawrence, Neil ‘Macca’ Mackenzie, Laurent D’jaffo and SUPER Colin Larkin – gentleman I thank you, along with Kevin Pilkington for saving Eric Sabins spot kick!
Super Col: Heroic PIC: (C) Dan Westwell
I couldn’t possibly move on without telling about the two things I do remember, the first is perhaps quite ironic as it involves something that I now do week in week out – commentate! I was watching the game with a friend from school, my brother and my cousin, just as the penalties were about to start he had a phone call from his brother who couldn’t make it to the game because of his children, to cut a long story short, he wanted to know what was happening and couldn’t get to the computer for commentary, a radio being out of the question considering where he lived. The first four spot kicks passed with my cousin Mike at the game telling Darrell (my other cousin on the phone) what was happening – however neither he nor my brother were brave enough to watch Colin Larkin’s penalty and turned away handing the phone to me. I said nothing at first, making small talk as Larkin stepped up (obliviously for any potential employers reading, nowadays my commentary would include stats rather than asking how the wife and kids were keeping!) As Larkin was putting the ball on the spot I said ‘this is it, make or break’ I was silent as Larkin struck before screaming ‘SEE YOU IN CARDIFF CUZ’ before handing the phone back to Mike who turned round to see the ball hit the net before dancing with me, my brother and friend. Funny how these little things come back with a certain irony. The second memory happened on the pitch. Before the game me and my friend (whose name I can’t for the life of me remember) had said to a classmate of ours that if we win, we’d meet in the centre circle and celebrate. As fans streamed onto the pitch we too headed onto the hallowed turf and made for the centre circle to meet Josh who was indeed there waiting to celebrate as we’d planned. We danced with the players and fellow fans before Mike and Gib (my brother) caught up with us and continued to party into the night. It was a brilliant experience, a memory I’ll never let die.
We won’t mention the final nor the seasons that followed, that’s for another time – the purpose of this blog was to compare and look at the final month of the season, as we enter the final month once more, this time under the guidance of Paul Cox, this time with something to aim for, a dream still possible.
Looking back at the ending to that 2003/04 season and the last time we we’re involved in the play-offs – we failed to be true to the season that had past, we had some inconsistent results and finished weaker than we could be. In the end all the hard work we’d put in as a team boiled down to nothing bar an uncontrolable fate – to let it happen once is bad enough, but twice? That’s not a team who really and truly deserves to be promoted – I never thought I’d end up writing that! I think I’m right though, yes I know you can blame the linesman for getting a twitch in his arm and wrongly ruling out Colin Larkin’s goal – but still we should have had the task complete before then. Same with the play-off semi-final really, 2-0 ahead and then to throw it away is somewhat laughable – but hey that’s gone now.
We had a talented bunch of players and despite what people say, a manager that could have gone onto achieve great things with us. I see the comparisons to our squad now – only I think we’re a lot mentally stronger, we have a man manager whose been in the position he’s in now numerous times before rather than a football management virgin. Paul Cox has been through every sinario and learned the hard way what to do – I believe this is his time, this is our time. I said last week in an article for the Chad about not painting pictures of what could be, I see myself as a realist both in life and in football and with what, five games to go now, anything can happen.
I set out to compare the seasons when we’ve had something to play for rather than just a case of rubber stamping things, I picked out two seasons – I’m at the end of the first now so here goes with the second, I apologise for a reoccurrence of pain in advance.
In 2003/04 we lost our heads and let our destiny fall out of our hands in my opinion – do I remember the season and it’s events with a fondness? Yes of course I do, is this season one which will boil down to fate? Both my head and heart say no – this season is unique – I can’t wait to see how it will pan out.
Moving onto the next season we’re we’ve had something to play for in the final month – 2007/08 the failed great escape. I know that right now you’re thinking how can I possibly be comparing the two sides, I’m not – I’m merely comparing the feelings felt then, and those felt now.
Rather stupidly the feeling I’m getting from this seasons events I compare to falling in love for the first time. Many ask what love actually is and I think I know, but couldn’t possibly share for three reasons, the first – everyone falls in love in different ways, there is no pattern, no formula, no right or wrong. Secondly the girl in question might be reading this and thirdly, you’d all call the men in white coats to lock me up! Obviously I’m only having a laugh with the last two reasons; my point is that the love like this season is unexplainable even to the most cultured of minds.
The other thing I was saying about comparing a team destined for the plunge into darkness with a team rising with the morning sun – boils down to adrenaline. There was a half hearted belief that we could survive when Paul Holland took the reins, a couple of half decent results and heads began to lift – despite all the off field stuff there was a moment of togetherness when for a brief moment everyone believed that the impossible was in fact possible.... it’s just a shame that ball flew over Jason White’s head, people stormed the boardroom, Stockport failed to find there shooting boots and emotions took over. Boy those days were ugly.
Rather stupidly I woke up every match day thinking ‘today could be our day’ – I looked in the mirror and tried to prepare myself with Churchill type speeches, reality is whinny my friend that footballs not played on beaches and the only fight we could muster is to keep walking the ball back to the centre circle to start all over again.
Chester V Stockport – Tears in the rain, a funeral type atmosphere at Dagenham, already down – only pride to play for, another beating. Depressing, yes – but I think we can learn a lot from those horrible tear fuelled days – in the face of adversity you should always laugh and smile, because true sprit will always make you stronger than those who try to bring you down. You should embrace the moment and remember as you saw it, not by a headline about off field issues, a photo of a steward strangled a 12 year old or a video of all those goals going in to theme tune from the under siege movies.
Memories are delicate and way to precious in times of need to spoil with the wrong story.
It’s results really that make or break you, not just in terms of the league table, but in terms of mindset – look back at 03/04 a few bad results and heads went down, yeah there was the awesomeness of Huddersfield away but that came from being wrapped up in the moment. Back in 07/08 when everything was doom and gloom, I have a sneaking feeling that had we beaten Rotherham and picked up a few more stronger results, the headlines that emerged would have never have surfaced.
That said, those times are gone – never look back for too long otherwise you won’t notice the lamppost your about to walk into – trust me, it hurts!
Paul Cox, experienced with pressure PIC: (C) James Williamson
This season we should be proud of what we’ve already achieved regardless of what happens from here on in – we’ve accepted reality and appointed a non-league manager who in turn has brought in non-league players. Going to the grounds that used to produce the smell of arrogance from us has stopped, instead we travel looking forward to the mystery and love these grounds bring – in my personal diary I’ve so many stories about probably EVERY ground we’ve visited, one day if you’re lucky, I might share them. This league is horrible, but under that seal lies a beautiful tale that when we do return to the football league, we will be proud to tell wherever we go.
Kettering away, Stockport at home, Hayes and Yeading away, Wrexham at home and finally Kidderminster away – Five games, five more stories, five more chapters in the greatest book ever written.
In the past we have looked too far ahead, we have expected maybe that little too much and whilst the players have tried to deliver, it’s perhaps been too strenuous. This bunch of players have the capabilities to deliver what we ALL desire, and like I said before I refuse to paint pictures of what could be.
Let’s enjoy these final five, let us cherish every second and then we’ll see where we are.
We are a new Mansfield Town, both in terms of owners, managers, players and to some extent, supporters – they’ll be some of you reading this or indeed that will get to hear about this that are like I was ten or so years ago, experiencing the ride for the first time. That’s a great thing, everyone has an individual story, let’s all stay together as we have been doing beautiful over the past few months and ensure that EVERY ending to EVERY story reads the same.
I believe in Paul Cox, I believe in his players and I believe in you, the supporters – together we provide the strong foundations that Paul Cox said success was built on when he first arrived at Field Mill. Our season is not over, nor is it coming to an end – boy, it’s only just beginning, don’t you just love it!
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_ As Mother Nature and Jack Frost again conspire to ruin another football Saturday, I sit at my desk looking around my room thinking back over the years to who and what led me to Mansfield Town FC. I often hear people speak about their idols and chat fluently about their favourite players growing up, their first game, why they love the Stags etc. Over the past couple of years focussing again on my media work I have started travelling in the car to away games and as such, have missed out on coach conversations which at some point will always revert to the hero’s, villains and idols conversation. Today is a perfect opportunity for me to share with you some memories, explanations and hopefully funny stories with you – hopefully by doing so I personally will be reminded of the real reason Mansfield Town FC is tattooed on my heart rather than the self-inflated ego story some may see me as know days. In turn it may also get you guys thinking about your idols, the players you hate with a passion and of course, the players you will always be happy to by a pint for – the hero.
I know that some of you will have already read my initial reasoning for watching Stags – I like many others at school was bullied, with bright ginger (often out of control) hair, goofy glasses and an extremely short fuse when it came to teachers – it’s easy to see why! It’s remarkable to think that now football’s my life, ten years ago I hated it with a passion. When I was about 8, my bedroom was painted in Manchester United colours, but if truth be told I was more interested in reading an Enid Blyton novel than watching football, I never went to old Trafford nor did I ask to, in fact I remember spending a lot of time under my bed reading my torch light rather than under the glare of united stars plastered on my wall. Before I started at Jo Whit secondary, my parents had split and divorced and I moved house, the blank walls of neutral colours we’re fine by me – see you later glory hunting, my brief affair with football was over. At school I hated most lessons especially PE – imagine my horror one day when the rain lashed down and a teacher was absent, meaning our class of PE no hopers mixed in with the school football team AKA bullies united, who insisted of a warm-up match ahead of their next game against the local rivals. To cut a long, over told story short – as the weedy kid I was placed in goal (rules of the playground) and as the game was drawing to its conclusion – a penalty against us was awarded. Up stepped the bullying head-honcho who then saw his kick saved by, and I quote, ‘The ginger one’. The feeling of beating a bully was enough to re-light the football fire, and after a few weeks of good behaviour (not throwing chairs at teachers) I was allowed to go to Field Mill.
Don’t ask me who they we’re playing, what the date was or what the score was, I had no idea – I’d been before to the odd game but paid little or no attention. This time I was keen to learn and, with my mindset on being a keeper, watching Kevin Pilkington like a hawk. I studied his movement, his commands etc and soon we’re recreating the moves on the local field playing with a few mates. I got to very few games that season (2002-03) due to my temper getting me into trouble, but I worked hard when I could to go again, each time watching Pilkington closely before emulating him on the local field. Soon there came a time where the school set up a lunchtime 5-a-side league, our team ‘Norfolk and Chance’ entered with me as the captain and the keeper, I recall our opening league game with a fondness. At first our team lived up to their re-name ‘No Chance’ (bloody teachers, what did they have against comedic names) as our opponents kept the ball and penned us in, a shot was blazed towards the top corner as the other teamed looked to grab their first goal, I sprung across and tipped the ball away before holding onto the powerful rebound. A quick throw then found our striker unmarked, he converted before setting another two in between a barrage of Priest saves. A penalty was the only thing to beat me, although it went in via my foot – we we’re awarded a penalty of our own soon after, with everyone bar me on the score sheet for ‘No Chance’ the lads gave me the penalty, which I smashed straight down the middle, giving my opposite number no chance, sealing our against the odds victory.
_Needless to say the feeling of scoring my first ever goal arriving before my first clean sheet moved my hawk-eyed focus away from Pilkington and onto someone else. Don’t ask why, but the player to take centre stage, was Neil MacKenzie. Soon I adopted his shirt number as my own and as the new season arrived, was presented with my first ever stags shirt with his name and number printed on the back, sadly I no longer have it, I do have the following season’s away top with his name on though! I remember going to watch Keith Curle’s side during the play-off season on a more regular basis, including away from Field Mill – I remember MacKenzie’s name being chanted where ever we went and along with that powerful penalty in the semi-final shootout, recall listening to the Hull City away game on the radio (I’d been a naughty boy so couldn’t go). Macca scored the only goal of the game, a thunderous volley 6 minutes from time after coming off the bench – the chants of Neil MacKenzie weren’t just sung by the 1,545 travelling fans – they we’re sung by me too.
As the years have passed many more players have become my heroes, I’ll take you through my current heroes later but as I mentioned at the top of this piece, with heroes come villains. Following the suspension and then departure of Keith Curle, Carlton Palmer arrived and immediately loaned Macca to the other MTFC, Macclesfield. In doing so I took an instant dislike to the former England international and wanted his head impaled on a spike! Palmer eventually took full charge and slowly dismantled our side and at the end of the 2004-05 season, was influential in the departure of my goalkeeping hero Kevin Pilkington, who then himself became a villain signing for Notts County and breaking Chris Beardsley’s leg in a 50/50 challenge on his Field Mill return. Many might see me writing that as a dig, it’s not – these things happen in football it is after all a contact sport. Pilkington has twice redeemed himself, returning to Stags last season filling in for Marriott before palming the ball into Louis Briscoe’s path in the FA Trophy semi-final last season! Good times, no joking aside Kevin Pilkington will always be an idol of mine, captain of arguably our most successful and strongest side over the past decade, a fine shot stopper and a gentleman to boot.
Neil MacKenzie made a return to Field Mill too, but delivered little bar kicking a bin after a reserve team game during his brief return. I imagine he had his reasons for that though. Neil has a lot to answer for, he’s stint on channel four’s countdown saw me happily tune in and play along – I scored little more than three on each letters round and always failed at the numbers, after each of his victory’s I longed for the chant’s of ‘Neil MacKenzie’ to be bellowed from the countdown audience, alas there knitting clearly could not be disturbed!
During my ten years as a Stags fan I have, as mentioned, adopted a number of players as heroes, and I’ve seen my fair share of villains, I shall save those stories for another day though. Now days my current hero in the ranks is skipper Adam Murray, along with the playing ability I’d look for when I was younger and hungry to play the beautiful game, it’s his story which seals his place on my hero’s list. Murray openly talks about his past in his brilliant ‘Captain’s Blog’ – the message I get from it is that, no matter what’s happened in the past, with belief, hard work, dedication and desire – you can achieve what you want and more importantly, find yourself and your light in the darkness. I look at ten years ago when I was at school, I had very few friends, I had a temper which saw many a teacher clobbered with a chair (I’m VERY ashamed of this), I had more detentions and exclusions than you’ve had hot dinners. I hated everything about my life and seemingly went from one bad place to another, facing a lot of difficulties it would be unfair to write about. Now I love football, I know what I want for a career and am finally on the right path, I have confidence and have friends – I have found myself because of Mansfield Town FC. That’s why I love them, nothing will ever change that.
Heroes change from one season to the next as do idols as players and managers come and go. I have a constant idol though, always there week in week out – the fans. I’m not mentioning names, the individuals know who they are and why. What I will say is, that in following my career path I often seem to leave you all behind, the coach travel, the pre and post game pub, the long chats and silly O’clock! I miss you all, every game the first thing I look for has always been and will always be you – you all taught me the value of friendship and love, it’s something I’ll never forget.
My team, my friends, and my dream – nothing can beat that combination, every Friday night at 5-a-side I put aside the headphones and go back to trying to be a footballer, passing like Murray, belting the goals in like MacKenzie, keeping them out like Pilkington... falling over like Craig Priest!
That’s the heart of my story, hero’s, villains and idols – what’s yours?
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