Our man Josh Pickering is back with a run-down of the last month of action at for Mansfield Town and some news of his own offspring donning the amber shirt...
Last month, in my first column for LeftLion, I talked about the need for perspective and trying to see the Mansfield Town glass as half-full. There are inevitable ups and downs in this game and, as is often said, there’s the easy way, the hard way and the [insert your team’s name here] way.
Although I’m definitely an optimist, I’m also a realist. Years of witnessing ‘the Mansfield way’ have built up a degree of anxious hopefulness and now, as we stand 10 games unbeaten, our best start to a season in many a year, I find myself waiting for the inevitable crash. We’re frustratingly both perennial promotion favourites and League 2’s longest serving club. Depending on your metrics, this can be seen as either long-desired stability relative to past failures or stagnant underachievement. I think I’m probably not alone among Stags fans when I say that I’ll be bouncing with puppy-like enthusiasm one month, then wrought with angst the next, wondering how things have gone so wrong.
The football Gods can be cruel and vengeful. Get ahead of yourself or overly comfortable and they might end up punishing you for an extended period of time. Just ask Chesterfield! So I’m not whooping and hollering just yet, but can we just pause and reflect on the fact that in the entire English Football League of seventy-two teams, there is just one that is unbeaten in all competitions. Mansfield Town FC. Next up, Barrow at home.
This feat has been particularly impressive when you consider that aforementioned football Gods have been doing their utmost to mess with us (that isn’t a challenge for them to try harder by the way). Last season was derailed by an unprecedented injury crisis, seeing the club miss out on the playoffs by one goal. Lightening doesn’t strike twice though, right?
WRONG! Tell that to Alfie Kilgour, who’s Achilles tendon was ruptured as if hit by a bolt from Olympus, or a Trojan arrow, ruling him out for the season. Tell that to Stephen Quinn (out for up to four months), Rhys Oates (up to three months) or the seemingly endless list of other first-teamers sidelined since the season began. Some have been less serious and seen players return, but rarely have we been able to name a full-strength team.
One returning player was new boy, Aaron Lewis who, in his adopted role as a midfielder (Nigel doesn’t believe in positions) hit what is probably going to end up goal of the season – a first time side-footed volley from 40 yards, into the top corner. It was a cherry on top of an already sweet cake, as the Stags put Accrington Stanley to the sword 3-0 and outdid two other beautiful goals from Davis Keillor-Dunn and George Maris.
The ‘sexy football’ I mentioned last month has continued for the most part. The strikers running hard. The midfielders providing and scoring. The defenders passing it out from the back. Barring the last outing at Colchester United, where the Stags put in their only sub-par performance so far, the play has been exceptional.
Stags are sitting high up in the table, in touch with Notts County, who are top, and into the third round of the League Cup after impressively knocking out Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough (landing a glamourous home-tie against football goliaths, Peterborough United). From a fan perspective, it’s been great, but with added demand comes the inevitable issue of supply. Tickets are now hard to come by – something I’ve never really experienced in my three decades watching the Stags.
I don’t have a season ticket due to having a young family, but my dad does. It’s practically impossible for me to get a seat near him now and if we want to sit together he has to swap his seat for one in another stand. I’m not moaning, it’s great that we’re able to fill the Mill, but surely…SURELY… it’s now time for the Bishop Street Stand to be sorted. I watched my first every game on that terrace and I’d love to see it back as a stepped popular side.
The same supply and demand concern surrounds the fast-approaching derby game with Notts County. In the past Mansfield have been given four or five thousand tickets either in the Kop or the Jimmy Sirrel Stand at Meadow Lane. This year it seems we may only get three thousand. Of course, this is far more than we’d get at most grounds, and more than we can offer to travelling support at Field Mill, but do County or Notts Police for that matter, really want a couple of thousand Stags fans in the home ends?
Anticipation, after six years without a derby and both clubs doing well, will mean that demand is higher than it’s ever been. If I can’t get a seat, which is pretty likely without a season ticket, I’ll be bringing a plastic sheet and sitting with the bed-wetters 😉
This last month has also been significant for me in another area concerning MTFC. My middle-child made us very proud by signing, after a trial, for the Stags U-10s Girls. One thing the club do fantastically well is to let all age groups, boys and girls, train at the Radford and Hymas Academy, the club’s state-of-the-art training ground. Our lass has walked the corridors and sat in the same canteen as the men’s and women’s first teams, inspected with awe the lush carpet that they train on, stared up at the photo of Stephen Quinn wagging his finger at a ref and asked “did he get in trouble for that?”
It’s been great seeing how the coaches have welcomed her in and instilled a sense of belonging so early. A few weeks ago, we sat for a drink after training while Stephen McLaughlin was at the next table. Special moments for a young, aspiring footballer. Donned in glorious amber and blue, she has since played two games, scoring three goals and following her dream to one day play the game professionally.
As we drove back from her game last Sunday, past the towering floodlights of Field Mill, she asked, “will I play there one day?” and although I couldn’t promise her she would, the thought of it put a lump in my throat. So here’s to rolling with the good times and keeping the dream alive! The future’s amber. 😊
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