Jason Pearcey – profile of his career at Mansfield Town

By Martin Shaw,October 2000, for Follow the Yellow Brick Road fanzine, and Brentford fanzine "Hey Jude"

1989-1994: 91 league and cup appearances

In October 2000, former Mansfield Town keeper Jason Pearcey was forced to quit the game because of persistent injury. The 29 year-old had spent 3 seasons at Grimsby before moving to Brentford two years ago. He announced his retirement following talks with a specialist consultant, who examined his badly injured thigh. Wastage in the muscle was so bad that he may never regain full power in it following a freak clash with his own defender in a game against Wigan. Pearcey said "I’ve had more than a decade in the game and I’m thankful for that. But I’m grateful to still be walking around." Indeed he almost lost the limb after it swelled so badly and was rushed into the emergency unit of the local hospital.

Although he was forced out of Mansfield by the Field Mill boo boys, most fans of the Stags will wish Jason all the best for the future.

After 3 seasons in the Mansfield Town youth team, Jason Pearcey made his Stags debut at Aldershot on 13 May 1989 - the final match of the 1988/89 season, after regular keeper Andy Beasley had been injured in the previous game. The game at Aldershot will be remembered as Keith Cassells’ last game for the Stags, but Pearcey kept a clean sheet as Stags drew 0-0. Boss George Foster praised his young keeper saying "He gave a fine account of himself. He made one or two good saves but I’m sure he realises how important it is to keep his feet on the ground. He’s a level-headed lad and although I’m confident I could draft him in at any time, he must keep working on being a good pro."

During the 1989/90 season, Pearcey didn’t get another chance in the first team until April 1990 when Beasley failed a late fitness test before a 5-2 win against Birmingham City at Field Mill. The game will be remembered for Steve Wilkinson’s 5 goals, but it was Pearcey’s home debut. After the game, Pearcey explained that it wasn’t until the pre-match team-talk that he found out he was playing: "It was a bit of a shock. My family didn’t even have time to get up from Leamington Spa so I just had the folks from my digs there. The lads put me at ease before the start. Trevor Christie and some of them started stuffing toilet rolls and a toilet brush in my jacket. But they were great and helped talk me through it." Talking in the Football Post to John Lomas, Pearcey explained that he was also taking steps just in case his career in football failed. Pearcey had arranged a date for his PSV licence test to enable him to drive buses and coaches, and he added that when he was old enough, he intended to add the string of a HGV licence to his bow. In the next game at home to Reading, Pearcey gave a Man of the Match performance as Stags drew 1-1, with boss George Foster proclaiming of the 18 year-old Pearcey: "I think he finally bridged the gap of boy to man." Despite a 4-0 defeat in the next game at Preston, Pearcey was defended by Foster saying "We can’t blame Jason. The boy was exposed by bad defending by everyone." Pearcey then kept two impressive clean sheets, and captain Mark Kearney said of the latter of these games, a 0-0 draw at Rotherham, "Jason did everything right when he was forced into action but he maybe overdid it a little when I asked him to kick the ball into touch when George Foster went down injured. He ended up kicking the ball over the stand and out of the ground." Andy Beasley immediately returned to the side upon regaining full fitness for the last 3 games of the season and indeed Beasley earned one of the Player of the Season awards.

In season 1990/91, Pearcey didn’t get his chance until February when Andy Beasley was suspended for 3 games. Stags won 2 of the games and assistant boss Billy Dearden said "I am sure Jason has got a marvellous future. We have plenty of confidence in him and we are pleased with what he has done. Now he has got to have more confidence in himself. He has made a few mistakes, as will any young kid coming in at this level, but we’ve won 2 of the 3 games so we can’t complain." Pearcey was thrown back into the action in April 1991 when Beasley was injured and he kept clean sheets in 2 consecutive games. This earned him a new pair of gloves from boss George Foster: he had told Foster that his gloves were falling apart and Foster told him that if he kept a clean sheet in the next 2 games he could have a new pair. After conceding 3 goals in a 3-3 draw with Leyton Orient at Field Mill, a fit-again Beasley regained his place in the side for the remainder of the season.

In 1991/92, Pearcey got his chance ten games into the season as Beasley picked up another injury. Stags were in fine form surging to the top of the table with wins away to Rochdale and at home to Cardiff as Pearcey kept clean sheets. He then played his part in Stags memorable 4-1 win at Scunthorpe but he had a personal disaster at Burnley and was blamed by boss George Foster for two of the Burnley goals in a 3-2 defeat. He was thrust into the limelight as Stags played Preston live on BSkyB TV and made a couple of fine saves before fog forced the abandonment of the game. When the game was replayed, the young keeper was again criticised by his boss for an uncertain display ending with indecision allowing a Preston cross to be headed home for a late winner. Pearcey was axed and Phil Kite was brought in on loan. After two months on loan, Kite returned to Sheffield United and Pearcey returned to the Stags side immediately earning a Man of the Match award at home to Hereford, with boss George Foster stating that Pearcey had kept his side in the game. Pearcey started to hit top form and excellent performances followed especially in a 1-0 win at Hereford. He retained his place in the side through to the end of the season as Stags surged towards promotion. His form was so good that he was featured as a "Young Gun" in 90 Minutes magazine. Pearcey played his part in the glorious final day of the season as Stags beat Rochdale while close rivals Blackpool lost at Lincoln, to seal Stags’ promotion. Pearcey had played 23 league and cup games during the season, including the final 16 games of the season. As Stags celebrated, Pearcey commented following his unhappy time in mid-season "I thought my chance had gone, but that’s football. You get a second chance, the lads helped me through, and it’s just been so different. Now my main concern has to be to keep the jersey next season. All respect to Andy Beasley but I want the place. I’ve been here two years, seen us go down and now I’ve been lucky enough to play my part in getting us back up." Meanwhile, the injured Beasley said "Jason’s done very well since his return to the side. He took a lot of stick in mid-season but it’s all down to confidence, especially for a goalkeeper. Unfortunately he made a few errors when he got his first chance, the crowd got to him and the boss took the pressure off him by bringing in Phil Kite. If he’d had to endure that any longer, it might have finished him, but he was given time to calm down, relax, reflect on what he’d done before and he found it easier when he came back into the side."

Goalkeeper Darren Ward signed professional terms at the start of the 1992/93 season and as Simon Mapletoft wrote in the Chad, the Stags became one of the few clubs in the lower leagues to boast three goalkeepers all vying for the first term jersey. In the first match, with Beasley still recovering from injury, boss George Foster revealed that young Ward was close to earning his football league debut, but it was Pearcey who was given the nod. A string of fine performances, including several as Man of the Match, gave Pearcey a long run in the side that stretched for the first 28 league games of the season. Indeed, during October, Pearcey was the clear winner of the Observer/Stags Supporters’ Club Player of the Month award. With Pearcey in such commanding form, Beasley was loaned out to Kettering Town. At the beginning of November, manager Foster commented "I made Jason my first choice at the start of the season and so far he has justified that decision. Perhaps Pearcey’s finest moment came when he saved a penalty from Gavin Peacock in the second leg of the Coca-Cola Cup tie against Newcastle at Field Mill. Stags were just one goal adrift at the time but despite Pearcey’s heroics, which brought praise in a report in the Daily Telegraph, Stags lost on aggregate. After the game, Pearcey revealed "I’ve been practising penalties with Steve Charles but I just made up my mind which way to go, went, and guessed right." By Christmas, manager George Foster had no hesitation in offering Pearcey a new two year contract saying that Pearcey had been one of his most improved players that season. Ironically, one of Pearcey’s best performances came in a 5-1 thrashing at Leyton Orient when he was Stags’ Man of the Match and clearly prevented a score in double figures. As it was, the result led to chants of "Foster out!" from Stags fans, for the first time. The tide started to turn against Pearcey when Stags surrendered a three-goal lead at home to Swansea at the end of January to draw 3-3 and Pearcey was partially at fault for all three goals. He conceded five more in the next two games and was axed by George Foster who handed a debut to young Darren Ward. This time it was Ward’s turn to string together some fine performances as he held his place in the side. But a crucial error by Ward away to Brighton at the beginning of April handed Pearcey a recall during which he conceded 10 goals in 5 games. Stags were on the slide towards relegation and Ward was recalled for the final 2 games of the season. Pearcey ended the season with 38 league and cup appearances.

In season 1993/94, Pearcey played just 12 league and cup games, as Darren Ward established himself as the number 1. Pearcey won back his place at the start of the season, as Beasley had departed and Ward was injured. After a Man of the Match performance at Stoke in the Coca-Cola Cup and some other decent performances, manager George Foster was sacked after five league games and caretaker boss Bill Dearden immediately installed Darren Ward in the side. Ward then retained his place as Andy King was appointed manager. As Ward held on to his place in the side and the season drew to a close, it was Ward’s turn to be featured as a "Young Gun" in 90 Minutes magazine with manager Andy King saying "Darren is the best keeper in the Third Division and probably better than most outside." With 3 games of the season to go, Pearcey was handed a surprise recall with Ward rested and King explaining "Jason has shown a superb attitude. Now I want Jason to go out and show me what he can do in the first team after outstanding displays in the reserves. We are very lucky that we have two of the best keepers in the league on our books." Pearcey held his place for just two games, conceding 4 goals, and Ward was recalled for the final game of the season.

In season 1994/95, Pearcey played just 4 league and cup games for the Stags. He began the season as understudy to Ward and didn’t get his chance until October. Pearcey was putting some excellent performances in the reserves and despite not figuring in the first team was again featured as a "Young Gun" in 90 Minutes magazine in September 1994. Despite not playing, Pearcey was very much part of the celebrations as Stags defeated Leeds in the Coca-Cola Cup and got his chance back in the first team in October when Ward was injured. He kept a clean sheet in a 1-0 win at Northampton and was described by boss Andy King as "magnificent". But disaster struck in his second game back away to Torquay as he punched a cross into his own net for an own goal, to hand victory to Torquay. After a reasonable performance in an Auto Windscreen defeat at Wrexham, he was then subject to disgraceful barracking from the Field Mill boo boys in the next game: a 1-0 defeat at home to Doncaster. Manager King tried to defend his keeper saying: "Apart from the goal at Torquay, Jason has done extremely well for us particularly away from home. He was outstanding at Northampton and then at Wrexham. The way he was treated on Saturday was a disgrace. He’s not on loan from Chesterfield or an alien - he’s a Mansfield lad through and through. Now he doesn’t feel as if he can play for Mansfield again, which I understand. If someone is out there wearing a Mansfield shirt, the fans should get behind them. It just shows how fickle folk can be. Some people were booing Jason’s name before the kick-off but he’s been a model professional here." Pearcey himself said "Every time I play, I’m put under pressure by our own supporters and that’s frustrating. Darren Ward is a class keeper. I can’t argue that but there is no reason for the fans to slaughter me every time I go out there." Pearcey was close to tears and on King’s recommendation was offered a trial by Premiership Everton. But after a good trial at Everton, Pearcey was left cursing his luck as Everton manager Mike Walker was sacked. Pearcey said "I couldn’t believe it. Every indication was that I would be going to Everton and now it’s all off." But days later, Pearcey joined First Division Grimsby on a month’s loan with a view to a permanent move. Pearcey said "This is a good move for me. It will give me the opportunity to regain some confidence. I am disappointed by the way I have been treated by the fans." Just weeks later, Pearcey indeed joined Grimsby for a small fee, with King saying "I’m sorry to lose Jason. He’s a smashing lad but there was little point in him staying here if the fans did not want him here and he did not want to play here. From his point of view, coming back to Mansfield would have been like walking into a hell hole. A section of fans gave him a very hard time and affected him so badly that he no longer wanted to be a Mansfield player. The way he was treated was a disgrace. I happened to rate Jason highly. He is a model professional and a young man with a bright future. He’s answered his critics in the best way by moving up two division and I’m delighted for him."

And so Jason Pearcey left Field Mill, having played a total of 91 league and cup appearances spanning seven seasons.