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Archived News from March 2008

2nd March 2008 22:18



You know you're in trouble when a fan flies 10,000 miles to boycott a match and only your mates will play for you

You know a club are in trouble when a supporter flies in from the other side of the world — and then stages a stay-away protest.

Former Mansfield man Peter Passant, 59, travels to Field Mill twice a year from his home in Australia and will do so again in a fortnight.

Change please: Mansfield fans want Keith Haslam to sell the club

Passant emigrated 30 years ago, but such is his strength of feeling that he has decided to miss Mansfield's game against Grimsby Town to register his disapproval of club owner Keith Haslam.

'Having travelled so far, this hurts me immensely but I will not put another penny into Haslam's pockets,' he said. 'I'll be going to the games at Bury and Notts County and would normally have gone to the Grimsby game but if Mr Haslam is still there, I'll save the expense.'

Many Stags fans are equally fed up — which is why they protested by throwing balls on to the pitch during the televised FA Cup tie against Middlesbrough.

Manager Billy Dearden tip-toes through the political minefield as best he can. He is old-school, 40-odd years in the game and not a man given to hyperbole. So when he says: 'I think I've got the hardest job in the Football League' you are inclined to believe him.

Haslam has been in charge of the club for the past 14 years and is currently trying to sell. The takeover saga has been dragging on and Dearden, laudably trying to keep his head above water, knows it has had an effect.

If Rafa Benitez thinks he has issues with George Gillett and Tom Hicks, perhaps he should pick up the phone to Dearden.

'You can't carry on running a football club without a real leader,' says the Mansfield boss. 'And none of us really know what's going on. We keep hoping we will be sold, that the club will move on.

'In the long term, you can't carry on patching things up. If we hadn't had our FA Cup run, which netted the club about £400,000, then one or two problems would have surfaced. The fans have been OK — so far.

I think if it carries on, it may turn the other way. It's not just this season. It's been going on like this for years.'

Mansfield have relied heavily on Michael Boulding's goals — he is one of League Two's leading scorers with 19 this season — but without him, the chances of the club surviving look slimmer still.

Dearden said: 'When I left the club in 2002, we were averaging 4,800 and players like Liam Lawrence, Bobby Hassell and Craig Disley were here. The club seemed to be on the up.

'But since I've come back, it's been one thing after another. Now we have the situation where we may go out of the Football League.

'I certainly don't want to be the manager who took Mansfield Town into non-league. The circumstances of it won't sit in the record books. The circumstances will mean absolutely nothing to anyone else.

'It's more difficult than ever nowadays. Managers are being given six or seven matches. If there's no instant improvement they're out. Without any leadership above, it's virtually impossible.

'My dad used to say to me “Son, if you can get out of bed in the morning and plant both feet on the floor, it's a good day”. After working at this football club, I still believe him. But only just.'

Average wage: £600 a week
Top earners: £1,500 a week
Average crowd: 2,741
Cost of tickets: £16-£18
Chances of staying up?
They have plenty of games against teams around them in the bottom six. Win those and the future's bright. Lose and . . .

Brian Little admits his sales patter needs improvement. 'I'm trying to persuade players that the challenge of stopping us from dropping out of the Football League is worth taking on,' says Wrexham's boss. 'It's no wonder I'm having trouble.'

He's not the only one wondering why the club are in danger of relegation. After all, their Colliers Park training base — built at a cost of £750,000 back in 1997 — is so impressive that Barcelona, Rangers and England have all used it.

Little reason to smile: Wrexham boss Brian Little
Wrexham's stadium, The Racecourse Ground, hosted an international fixture last month when Norway played Wales. There are clubs operating in the Championship with worse facilities.

For the past few years, Wrexham have been your average lower league story of off-field turmoil, financial woes and a slowly disintegrating side. Now the club have taken administration on the chin, found themselves new owners and are debt free. It is just the football that's the problem.

'It's not been a 15-match blip,' said Little. 'When I was approached, I did my homework. The club had been going downhill for three or four years.

'Denis Smith did a great job of keeping things together through administration. Behind the scenes, there was plenty going on, but not much of it was good.

'They were relegated from League One two seasons ago. Last year, it took a penalty in the final game against Boston to keep them in the League. There's a bit of a pattern.'

It is 10 years since Little, 54, walked out of Premier League football at Aston Villa. Earlier in his career, he had plenty of experience down the divisions, taking Darlington out of the Conference and back into the League.

Little says Wrexham are not typical of a club in trouble. 'They had an opportunity last summer to look at the whole thing but the problem was they let everyone who had helped them stay up remain here. The minute they started playing again, there was a realisation that the lads had found their level. Then it becomes harder and harder to drag the club out of trouble.

'So I've brought in 11 and let six go and I've had support from the owners to do that. Basically, Martin Foyle (the first team coach) and I have had to use friends. Gavin Ward has played for me at Leicester City, Paul Hall at Tranmere and Danny Sonner played for Martin at Port Vale. We have gone down that road of finding players who just want to play.

'People like Mick McCarthy have offered us players which is great but, when we've asked the lads, they don't want to come. And it's difficult to blame them. You don't want it on your c.v., despite the fact that's it's going to be character building for them.

'There's a massive stigma attached to getting relegated from this league. This is the one thing nobody really wants to happen to them, even though the Conference is a first-class competition and a very tough division to get out of.

'There's not such a big gap these days between the Conference and this league. Normally, people promoted from the Conference do well.

'That's why it's important we stay up. We don't want to take the chance. We have a super set-up, a great training ground and the potential to drag in crowds of 10,000 every week. But it's what happens on the pitch that counts.'

Average wage: £800 a week
Top earners: £1,500 a week
Average crowd: 4,211
Cost of tickets: £14-£25
Chances of staying up?
Little has overseen a marked improvement. If that continues, they should be OK.


Latest | March 2008