We've recently bought back our monthly Forest and County columns after a few years in the wilderness. But it's about time we covered the other football team in Notts too, right? We are delighted to launch our new monthly Mansfield Town FC column penned by lifelong stags fan Josh Osoro Pickering...
I’m what some fans call a ‘happy clapper’, but I prefer the label ‘loyal optimist’! I think you’ve got to be when you support Mansfield Town. Supporting the Stags wasn’t a choice for me, and although as a child I flirted with the allure of the Premier League’s glitz and glamour, amber and blue runs in my veins…like an unshakable hereditary disease, passed from grandfather to father to me.
My children, largely unaware of the gravity of the situation, are equally afflicted. “Sit down my love, I’m afraid it’s bad news - you’re a Stags fan. You’ve got about 80 years left”. You can deal with life-changing news like this in one of two ways. Fight it, tell yourself you deserve better, scream at the ineptitude of the hundreds of players who’ll never match your lofty expectations or accept your lot and take what pleasure you can from it.
Stags have had a lot more downs than ups in my 32 years supporting the club. I’ve had a lifetime of stories of long-gone glory days from my dad – promotions, Wembley, giant-killings. But enduring the darkest times in the club’s history (five years in non-league, the club on the brink of folding) has made me a glass-half-full kind of guy - even when there’s sometimes only a drop left. For ten years Stags have been pushing in vain for promotion to League 1, but it’ll take more than two play-off losses, two dud managers and Steve Evans’ travelling circus to stop me from confidently proclaiming again that this (FINALLY!) is our year!
I’m not the only one buzzing for this season. Such is the belief in Cloughy’s attacking brand of football and squad he’s assembled that a record 5,200 season tickets have been sold. So much for Negative Nigel! The gaffer himself is more cautiously positive than an excitable man-child like me, of course. He goes about his business in the organised, no-frills way that has become the norm under his tenure. Transfers and pre-season have been conducted with modesty. We’ve signed some good players, but not too many and while Gillingham sunned themselves on the shores of Lake Como and Hollywood FC (Wrexham) were in…well, Hollywood, Nigel’s boys went up to Scotland to jog on the beach, play a spot of golf and win friendlies. It’s nice to see the club focusing on the simple things.
Little tweaks here and there, some impressive defensive signings and keeping last season’s best players – slowly, slowly, catchy Monkey, as they say. This is the Nigel way and I’ve fully bought into it. I’ve waited 32 years for a moment of glory. If it takes him five to build his team and achieve what six previous managers couldn’t manage in eight years before him, that’s absolutely fine by me!
I’ve never understood why people moan all game. Supporting a lower league team has to be about more than winning or great football. For me, it’s about community. People recognise me, “I remember you when you were this high” and reminisce about notable away days. I’m one of few brown faces in the Mansfield crowd, but I’ve never once had a racist comment directed at me, despite the snobby presumptions of our Nottingham cousins about what Mansfield fans must be like.
With the diverse group of fans I go to games with, the old faces, my dad and my kids, the actual football takes somewhat of a backseat at times. Win, lose or draw, the shared experience is what truly matters to us. Sentiment to one side though, we are actually bloody good at the minute!! Stags have started brilliantly. Ruud Gullit is almost certainly hot under his collar, watching our iFollow highlights because so far this can only be described as sexy football.
We opened the season at Crewe and flew out the gates with two brilliant finishes from Davis Keillor-Dunn (get money on him now for League 2 team of the season). Despite a red card and some bad luck to draw the game 2-2, there were plenty of positives. In the League Cup (I refuse to call it whatever the stupid sponsored name is this year), Stags played some of the best stuff seen in years to totally dominate Grimsby and win 2-0, progressing beyond round one for only the second time since being back in the Football League.
We now go on to Morecambe and our first home game of the season, one that will hold much anticipation for fans. It’s unlikely the Shrimps will bring more than a couple of hundred, but the home ends will be close to full, leading to more inevitable calls for the renovation of the eye-sore that is the Bishop Street Stand. If it’s left much longer, it’ll start attracting urban explorers. As I prepare to take the 4th generation of our family back to Field Mill, I’d like to end with an anecdote and hope they fare better than I did, aged 12, at Barnet away…
1996. A bitterly cold Boxing Day in the roofless visitors’ section at Underhill. We're 1 up with minutes left. A wayward Stags shot sends the ball into the away end, a few yards away from me. I'm young and enthusiastic and scramble over the steps to retrieve it. The Barnet keeper screams at me "Come on! Give it!". With hindsight I know what I should have done. I should have chucked it over my head into the crowd, flicked him a V and smiled. Instead, I panic and throw it to him. 89th minute. Route one kick up field. Flick on. Barnet score. 1-1. My dad looks at me in disgust. “Nice one, son”.
This is what lower league football is about – the memories, the connections, the stories we tell years later. I hope, whoever you support, that this season brings you all that and more. Oh and Notts, see you in October 😉
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