League journeymen for 70-plus seasons, Mansfield Town have seen little but drama since tumbling down to the Conference in 2008. A last-gasp defeat to Darlington in the FA Trophy final at Wembley, another heroic defeat to Liverpool in the FA Cup and a return to the League after five seasons were backdropped by significant fan protests, a takeover by new management and the club locked out of their own ground.
And not just any ground, either. Field Mill – renamed the One Call Stadium in 2012 to please much needed sponsors – is the oldest to still host professional football in England.
Its name and location hark back to the roots of football in Mansfield, of mill teams and games in the Central Alliance League. Mansfield Town, formerly Mansfield Wesleyans and Mansfield Wesley, started life as a purely amateur church team but managed to wangle a move to Field Mill shortly after World War I.
Once established there, and changing their kit to today’s amber-and-blue, The Stags built up a convincing argument for entry to the Football League, winning the Central Alliance and Midland League.
Holding a legendary Arsenal side to a 2-0 scoreline in the FA Cup, Mansfield gained plaudits but not a League place – until they applied to enter the weaker Third Division (South) rather than (North).
So, in 1931, Mansfield Town joined the Football League and… for decades, nothing much happened. Promoted from Fourth to Third in 1963, relegated from Third to Fourth in 1972, Mansfield saved their brightest form for occasional cup games, memorably beating Bobby Moore’s West Ham 3-0 in 1969.
With first Dave Smith as manager then former Mansfield midfielder Peter Morris as player-manager, Town gained two promotions in quick successions, spending a single season in the Second in 1977-78. Goals from Ray Clarke helped Mansfield get there – and earn the Londoner a lucrative stay in Holland.
With Stags fans still attracting the ire of Chesterfield’s, Barnsley’s and Rotherham’s, their towns on the opposing side of the Miners’ Strike of the 1980s, by the 1990s, a young operator called Keith Haslam took over the club and early results proved promising.
A surprise win over Leeds in the League Cup prefaced an epic battle with bitter rivals Chesterfield in the League Two play-off of 1995 – Mansfield eventually made it up by right in 2002.
Haslam’s haphazard ownership proved the club’s undoing. By 2007, the fans had had enough, and their protest movement – and relegation to the Conference a year later – led to a group of Town-supporting businessmen to buy Mansfield.
Field Mill, however, remained in Haslam’s hands. Unpaid rent gave the ex-owner the excuse to lock the club out – flamboyant, Mansfield-born tycoon John Radford bought the ground, sold its name to One Call, then gifted manager Paul Cox with an Aston Martin after a win over Barrow. Radford’s wife Carolyn is chief exec of the club.
Beating Barrow may not be high on many managerial CVs, but it did come a month after a feisty display against Liverpool in the FA Cup in front of a near packed Field Mill – and lead to promotion back to the League. Goals from Matt Green, partly bought with supporters’ money, proved crucial in that memorable campaign of 2012-13.
Green returned to Field Mill in 2015-16 and was top scorer. Adam Murray, who had three spells at Mansfield in his playing days, proved himself an honest and dedicated manager despite inexperience. Replacing him with Steve Evans halfway through the 2016-17 campaign, Mansfield missed out on the League Two play-offs but may even gain automatic promotion in 2018.
For all the criticism aimed at previous Mansfield owner Keith Haslam, it was under his watch that Field Mill, the club’s venerable ground, was modernised and made all-seater. Rather than relocate, and abandon 140 years of history, Haslam decided to revamp Field Mill, where football had been played since 1861, a record for the professional game.
All three stands – North, South (Quarry Lane) and two-tier West (Ian Greaves) – were rebuilt. The all-seater stadium, effectively new, was unveiled before the 2001-02 season. Capacity has varied through the years, reduced after each negative safety inspections. Currently, it is just under 10,000, with the Bishop Street Stand inaccessible, unused but for the TV gantry, and still awaiting reconstruction. Stadium sponsorship from One Call has so far not run to funding it.
The Quarry Lane Stand, by the pond where the original mill was once, is the home end, the North Stand that formerly housed Stags fans, now allocated to visiting supporters.
The ground is conveniently located close to the train station – walk along Commercial Street, past Toys R Us, bear right along the dual carriageway, left at the nearby junction with Portland Street, then right by St Mark’s Church into Quarry Lane. Allow 10min.
The ticket office (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, match days 10am-kick-off) is on the corner of the Quarry Lane and Ian Greaves Stands, on Quarry Lane. There are online sales, too.
There are no cash turnstiles on match days but as of 2016-17, there have been cash-only purchases for home fans from the ticket office.
In the Ian Greaves Stand, prices are set at £18-£22, £14-£16 for over-60s, £13-£15 for 18-21s, £10-£12 for 7-17s. In the home Quarry Lane end, it’s £18, £14, £13 and £10 respectively. Those buying and collecting in advance receive a £2 discount. Prices for away fans in the North Stand are the same as in the Quarry Lane end, only that visiting supporters cannot pay on the day – nor receive a £2 advance discount.
The Stags Club Shop (Mon-Fri 9am-5pm, match days 10am-kick-off) behind the Quarry Lane end stocks products such as shot glasses, zip hoodies and impossibly unfashionable Christmas jumpers, not to mention rosettes, all in amber and gold and bearing the sign of the stag.
Just out of the station, by Sports Direct off Commercial Street, the Railway Inn was CAMRA 2016 Pub of the Year for Nottinghamshire, a popular stop-off for home fan and neutral alike.
Nearby, on the corner of Albert Street and St Peter’s Way, the Victoria, aka the V-Bar, is a large local also popular with home fans, with TV football and a DJ on busy evenings.
Another busy meeting place for Stags fans is The Talbot just behind Sainsbury’s on the other side of the River Maun from the ground. An upscale kitchen – gourmet burgers, steak & Ruddles ale pie, moules-frites – has been brought in, along with a spiffy refurbishment. Diagonally opposite, equally upscale Il Rosso is no pre-match pub but is usually happy to accommodate well behaved away fans who might pop in for a glass of Verdicchio Villa Bianchi. Weekdays, they do aperitivi, so you can prepare for an evening game with twofer cocktails at £10 the pair.
Behind the Ian Greaves Stand at the ground, the Sandy Pate Sports Bar caters to home and away fans on match days with live TV football, Greene King IPA, Guinness and Strongbow Dark Fruit. Current drinks offers also include four bottles of Peroni or Corona for £10. Food is served on match days after 5pm – the bar is very much a seven-day-a-week operation, with Sunday lunches, comedy nights and live music.