|by Paul Taylor and
The 1979/80 season saw the Stags relegated from Division Three. Before the season started, manager Billy Bingham’s contract was terminated by mutual consent just a year into his three year contract. He was replaced by Mick Jones, a 32 year old who had been manager of non-league Kettering for the previous two years. The Stags won only 10 games all season, 9 at home and just 1 away, and were never out of the relegation zone from the beginning of January onwards. Terry Austin was top scorer, continuing his good form from the end of the previous season, scoring 19 league goals and a further 3 cup goals. But alongside Austin, Steve Taylor, signed at the start of the season for £65,000, a club record at the time, scored only 7 league goals. Highlights of a disappointing season were a 3-2 win at home to Chesterfield on the opening day of the season, and a 5-1 win at home to Rotherham, with an Austin hat-trick and two goals for Taylor. Centre half John McClelland was Player of the Season. In the FA Cup, the Stags did reach the third round before being beaten by Brighton, and also reached the third round of the League Cup, before losing to QPR.
1980/81 saw the Stags back in Division Four for the first time since 1974/75. By the beginning of October 1980, Mansfield were in mid-table. But then 6 wins on the trot catapulted the Stags into the top 4, and then another 7 wins in 10 games from the end of December through to the beginning of February kept the Stags firmly in 3rd place. Highlights included a 4-1 win at home to Crewe and a 5-0 win at home to Port Vale on successive Saturdays in January 1981. The 5-0 win against Port Vale saw all 5 goals scored in an incredible opening 45 minutes. But Mansfield ended the season with a disastrous run of just 2 wins in the final 14 games to finish in 7th place, 6 points adrift of the promotion places (in the day of 2 points for a win). Half way through the season, Terry Austin had been sold to Huddersfield for £120,000. He was replaced by striker Jim Lumby who was signed from Tranmere, and who was already top of the Division Four goalscoring list with 18 goals for Tranmere in the first half of the season. One positive of the season was the emergence of young Scottish striker Dave Caldwell who scored 8 league goals in 23 starts.
Two games before the end of the 1980/81 season, chairman Arthur Patrick resigned, after nearly 14 years as chairman. He had presided over the most successful period in the club’s history, including winning both Division Three and Division Four, and reaching the second tier of English football for the only time, along with numerous good cup runs, including beating West Ham United in 1969. Arthur Patrick resigned for what he described as “purely personal” reasons, and he was succeeded by John Almond, who had been a director for 14 years. Almond’s first task was to sack manager Mick Jones after two years in charge, with one game of the season remaining, with Jones having failed to win promotion back to Division Three following relegation in his first season.
The 1981/82 season was a poor one as Mansfield finished 20th in Division Four. Stuart Boam was appointed player-manager before the season began. Boam had been a fine centre-half for the Stags in the 1960s. Before Boam was appointed, John McClelland was sold to Glasgow Rangers for £90,000. It was a season of very few highlights, and attendances plummeted, with just 1,394 turning up against Torquay United in the penultimate home game of the season, the lowest post war crowd at Field Mill for a league game at the time. Jim Lumby was top scorer with 14 league goals plus another 3 in cup games. Midfielder Noel Parkinson was Player of the Season. Yet at the end of the season, both Lumby and Parkinson were released by manager Boam.
Before the start of the next season, Mansfield Town FC was taken over by 35 year old Nottingham businessman Richard Hartley, owner of the Motorist Discount Centre. Hartley, who had previously been Commercial Director at Notts County, became the club’s youngest ever chairman at the time, as John Almond became vice-chairman. Almond explained that the club had been thrown a financial lifeline by Hartley and that at one stage the previous season the club had been losing £4,000 per week.
Results in the 1982/83 season improved, but the Stags were only in mid-table by January 1983, and 3 defeats on the trot saw manager Boam sacked. It had been an unsuccessful 18 months in Boam’s first foray into management. Attendances had continued to be poor, with just 1,293 turning up against Torquay United, the lowest post war crowd at Field Mill for a league game, beating the record set the previous season.
Chairman Hartley appointed Ian Greaves as Boam’s successor. Greaves was hugely experienced and had been successful at clubs in higher divisions such as Bolton Wanderers and Huddersfield Town and it was considered quite a coup for the club to secure his services. Greaves’ first appointment was that of John Jarman as his assistant manager. Jarman came to Field Mill from Wolves where he had been Youth Development officer and part of his duties at Mansfield would be to discover and develop youngsters for the club. The Stags remained in mid-table for the rest of the season and finished in 10th place. Goalkeeper Rod Arnold was the Player of the Season and became the club’s record appearance maker during the season. Arnold was to leave the club the following season having made 513 league and cup appearances. Another great servant, defender Kevin Bird, was released at the end of the 1982/83 season. Bird is third in the club’s list of appearance makers, having made 452 league and cup appearances. Bird also scored 63 league and cup goals, putting him in the top 15 goalscorers in the club’s history, not bad for a defender!
1983/84 was another season of struggle for the Stags, finishing 19th in Division Four. However Ian Greaves was starting to assemble a squad that would bring success in forthcoming years as he brought in 26 year-old centre-half George Foster as captain, and young goalkeeper Kevin Hitchcock (initially on loan then signed permanently), to add to left back Mark Kearney and midfielder Tony Lowery who had joined the previous season. Greaves said he was going to build a successful side around Foster, and he did that over the next five years. However Greaves was not only been busy with first team matters, he had been trying to put in place a strong youth set up, along with Jarman. Greaves also brought in Billy Dearden, as coach, to complete his managerial team.
There were some highlights in the season as Dave Caldwell scored a hat-trick in a 5-2 win at home to Aldershot, and then scored four times in a 26 minute spell just three weeks later in a 5-0 win at home to Hartlepool. Caldwell’s 4th goal was particularly memorable as his thunderous shot from a tight angle on the right at the North Stand end flew into the net. It capped a day when it just seemed that an inspired Caldwell could do no wrong. Caldwell was an entertaining player who had a habit of scoring spectacular goals and is still considered an all-time hero by many Stags supporters, but also had a poor disciplinary record, sent off twice and receiving an astonishing eight suspensions. It was a season of contrasting results, for example the Stags beat Halifax 7-1 with a hat-trick by on-loan striker Ian Juryeff, yet lost 7-1 away to Aldershot. Caldwell ended the season as top scorer, with 21 league goals in 37 starts, plus another 2 cup goals.
The following season, 1984/85 saw a small improvement in league form as Mansfield finished 14th in Division Four. Despite finishing in the bottom half of the table, remarkably the side equalled a club record for the number of clean sheets in a season, 20, and set a post-war club record for the fewest goals conceded, just 38 in the season. But there were far too many drawn games, 18 in total, which itself was only 2 off a club record. Goalkeeper Kevin Hitchcock was the Player of the Season, with captain George Foster and young central defensive partner Colin Calderwood rocks in the defence. The defensive record showed much promise for the future under Ian Greaves. In the FA Cup, Dave Caldwell scored the fastest goal in the club’s history, after just 11 seconds in a 2-1 win at home to Rotherham.
But it was for the games in the Freight Rover Trophy (also known as the Associate Members Cup, a competition just for Division Three and Four clubs) that the season will be remembered. The Stags beat Hull, Bradford, Burnley and Bolton to set up a Northern Area Final at home to Wigan Athletic in May 1985. It was a one-off game with a huge prize for the winners: a place in the Final at Wembley Stadium. The Stags had never been to Wembley and that was a big deal for the supporters. Over 9,000 fans crammed into Field Mill in a night of high drama. Wigan took the lead when an innocuous shot took an outrageous deflection off Stags captain George Foster’s boot and flew into the net. But just when all looked lost, in the 90th minute, Foster scored an unbelievable goal at the other end, firing into the top corner of the net from 25 yards. Foster went on to play 448 league and cup games for the club, putting him fourth in the club’s list of appearance makers (behind Rod Arnold, Sandy Pate and Kevin Bird) and he only scored one other goal! The game went to extra-time, but Mansfield couldn’t force a winner. Then on to penalties and Wigan won 3-1. It was an evening of incredible excitement that ended with agonising disappointment. The club would have to wait two more years for that first visit to Wembley!
Earlier in the season, in November 1984, there was shock news that chairman Richard Hartley had resigned and severed all links with the club after less than two and a half years in charge. Hartley cited that he had to leave because of his business commitments elsewhere. However this was not the full story, and Hartley had in fact gone bust. John Pratt (known as Jack Pratt), chairman of Sutton-based Abacus Group of companies including Abacus Lighting, took over as chairman. Pratt, a highly respected businessman who later received an OBE, had already been on the Mansfield Town FC board for 17 years.
1985/86 was a great season as the Stags were finally promoted back from Division Four to Division Three. Before the season started, there was a shock as defender Colin Calderwood joined Swindon in a controversial move that upset the Stags, who were expecting him to stay. The Stags received just £30,000 from Swindon at a tribunal, though some years later received half of the £1.25 million that Swindon received from Tottenham Hotspur when he was sold on. As a result it is technically a club record fee received of £655,000. Swindon were later found guilty of making illegal payments, indeed Calderwood himself was arrested and questioned by Inland Revenue officials over a tax fraud conspiracy, but he was released without charge, and Swindon were demoted two divisions. Calderwood was to go on to play for Scotland. Ian Greaves brought in striker Keith Cassells, a player who was to become one of the most popular players in the club’s history, winger Neville Chamberlain, and another winger Kevin Kent, while Dave Caldwell left to join Chesterfield. The season got off to a great start with a 4-0 win at home to Hereford, with Cassells scoring a hat-trick and becoming the only player since the 1930s to score a hat-trick on his debut. Chamberlain scored the other goal. On three occasions during the season, the Stags won 4 games on the trot.
By Easter 1986, the Stags had won 21 of their 37 league games and promotion seemed a certainty. Four games without a win set the nerves jangling, but a 4-0 win at home to Hartlepool on a Tuesday night in April 1986 secured promotion with four games to spare. It was a joyous night with Cassells scoring twice and Chamberlain netting another, together with an own goal. The Stags ended the season in third place. George Foster was the Player of the Season and said that promotion was the proudest moment of his career and made three years of hard work since he had joined the club all worthwhile. Neville Chamberlain was top scorer in the league with 16 goals, Cassells scored 13 league goals, striker Neil Whatmore scored 9, and Kevin Kent pitched in with 8. Meanwhile the champions were Swindon and their manager Lou Macari said that Colin Calderwood was the difference between first place and third.
In the League Cup, the Stags were drawn in the second round against top flight side Chelsea, who were third in Division 1 at the time. It was a two-legged affair and the Stags roared into a two goal lead in the first leg at Field Mill with goals from centre-half Gary Pollard and striker Cassells. But Chelsea scored two goals in the final 15 minutes, through David Speedie and Pat Nevin, to earn a 2-2 draw in an incredible game, and a rare opportunity to beat a top flight side had gone. Chelsea won the second leg 2-0 with two goals from Kerry Dixon, and Dixon was denied a hat-trick by a penalty save from Kevin Hitchcock.
1986/87 was another memorable season in the history of Mansfield Town. The Stags consolidated in the league, finishing 10th in Division 3. But the season was memorable for the club’s first ever trip to Wembley Stadium in the Freight Rover Trophy (the competition just for Division Three and Four clubs). In the preliminary group stages, the Stags drew with Halifax and Rotherham and that was enough to progress to round one where the Stags won 1-0 at York with a goal from Neil Whatmore. The Stags then won 2-1 at Bury in the second round with goals from Kevin Kent and Tony Lowery. Mansfield were unlucky to again be drawn away, this time to Middlesbrough, a really tough draw, in the Northern Area semi-final. But the Stags performed superbly to come away with a 1-0 win thanks to a penalty from Mark Kearney after Keith Cassells had been brought down in the area. And so Mansfield were back in the Northern Area Final, as they had been two years earlier, but this time it was a two-legged tie and Chester were the opponents. A bumper crowd of 7,769 packed into Field Mill for the first leg, and two great finishes, from teenage striker Ian Stringfellow in the first half and from Keith Cassells in the second half, saw the Stags take a 2-0 lead into the second leg. Chester took an early lead after just 11 minutes in the second leg, but roared on by over 3,000 travelling fans at Sealand Road, the Stags held on for a 2-1 aggregate win on a great night for the club.
Mansfield had made it to Wembley for the first time ever. The date was Sunday 24 May 1987, and many fans still consider it to be the best day in the club’s history. An incredible 25,000 Stags fans made their way down for the game, against Bristol City, in a crowd of 58,586, which is incidentally the biggest crowd ever to watch a Stags game. In the first half, Stags keeper Kevin Hitchcock was forced to make several good saves. But after 57 minutes, Kevin Kent put Mansfield ahead. Keith Cassells wriggled down the left and crossed low, for Kent to dart in front of his marker and sweep the ball past the keeper. The massed ranks of Stags fans erupted. It was so nearly 2-0 just minutes later when substitute Ian Stringfellow headed against the bar from a Cassells cross.
But on 87 minutes Bristol City equalised. City substitute Keith Curle, later to become a Stags manager, had a snap shot was blocked, but it fell for Glynn Riley who scored to make it 1-1. The Stags created chances to win it in extra-time but couldn’t find the net and so it went to a penalty shoot-out. The first player to miss was Mansfield’s Keith Cassells. He’d been brilliant for the Stags and that could have been a disaster. Bristol City scored their first 4 penalties to lead 4-2. But the Stags scored their next two, while Bristol City's next two penalties, by Gordon Owen and David Moyes, were memorably saved by the size 10½ boots of keeper Kevin Hitchcock. This left centre half Tony Kenworthy to step forward and slam home his penalty for a 5-4 penalty shoot-out win. Stags captain George Foster was soon climbing the famous 39 steps to collect the trophy. More than 10,000 Stags fans turned out on the streets of Mansfield the following day to cheer their heroes on an open-top bus. The win was a triumph for manager Ian Greaves, sealing his place as one of the club’s best ever managers, and he was many years later to have the main stand at Field Mill named after him.
The league season itself had been unmemorable, but 10th place back in Division Three was highly creditable. Keith Cassells played every league and cup game during a long season and was top scorer with 18 league and cup goals. He was also overwhelmingly chosen as Player of the Season.
The 1987/88 season started with a re-match against Bristol City at Field Mill on the opening day of the season. The Stags won it 2-0 with goals from Cassells and Stringfellow. Mansfield hovered for the first three-quarters of the season in mid-table, but there was plenty of excitement in the FA Cup as the Stags beat Preston, Lincoln and Bath City successively 4-2, 4-3 and 4-0 at Field Mill to reach Round 4. In Round 4, the Stags were at home to top flight side Wimbledon. Wimbledon won an exciting game 2-1, and went on to win the Cup, beating Liverpool 1-0 at Wembley with a goal by Lawrie Sanchez.
10,462 fans packed into Field Mill for the game against Wimbledon and this remains the highest crowd at the ground since 1979. Wimbledon went into a two goal lead as Alan Cork steered Dennis Wise’s right wing cross into the net, and then a dreadful error by Stags right-back Mike Graham, mis-kicking a clearance, gifted a goal to Terry Phelan who slid a first-time shot past Kevin Hitchcock. But, after 67 minutes, the Stags were back in it when Wimbledon goalkeeper Dave Beasant raced out of his area to clear a back pass, completely missed the ball, and Kevin Kent took full advantage dribbling the ball 20 yards into the net. Just four minutes later came the crucial moment of the game. Lawrie Sanchez hauled down Tony Lowery as he surged into the box and Field Mill erupted as a penalty was awarded. The cheers turned to dejection as Steve Charles stepped up and firmly struck his spot kick but Beasant dived to his left to make a magnificent save. The Stags were unable to get back into the game after that and boss Ian Greaves said afterwards: “The players were kicking themselves for not winning or at least earning a replay but if you give bad goals away and miss a penalty, then you don’t deserve to gain anything”. Meanwhile, Wimbledon keeper Beasant wrote in his autobiography some years later: “Mansfield probably provided us with our biggest scare en route to Wembley and we needed a bit of luck to see them off at the first attempt.”
Back in the league, Mansfield went on a terrible run from mid March 1988, losing 9 out of 11 games, to plummet from mid-table to just outside the relegation zone. This dreadful run came immediately after goalkeeper Kevin Hitchcock, who had become a real hero to Stags fans, was sold to Chelsea for £250,000, a club record at the time.
With just two games of the season left, Mansfield were absolutely desperate for a victory against Brentford at Field Mill to stave off the threat of relegation. The game started badly as Brentford took the lead after 16 minutes as a tame shot squirmed from veteran goalkeeper Eric Steele’s grasp, allowing Robbie Carroll to stab into the net. With 85 minutes gone, the Stags still trailed and relegation was looming. Then it all changed. Left back John Ryan put in a great cross from the left and Kevin Kent placed a perfect header past the Brentford keeper into the net. And after 90+3 minutes, Steve Charles was pushed off the ball in the area and the referee pointed to the penalty spot. There was unbearable tension as Charles stepped up and converted the spot kick to win the game 2-1. It was an incredible moment after the frustration of the run of previous matches. The Stags were virtually safe and a draw at Port Vale the following Saturday secured their place in Division Three, although results elsewhere meant they would have been safe anyway. Kevin Kent was Player of the Season, while midfielder Steve Charles was top scorer with 16 league and cup goals, including 6 penalties, though he did miss that critical penalty against Wimbledon. Young defender Simon Coleman established himself in the side at centre-half alongside Foster and had an excellent season.
1988/89 was another season in the third tier with the Stags in mid-table for the entire season, finally finishing in 15th place. There was a shock during the season when manager Ian Greaves left the club in February 1989. His departure came after a 2-1 defeat at Notts County and a run of just one win in 8 games, including a 6-2 defeat at Wolves, in which the Stags scored first and last but conceded six times in between, including a Steve Bull hat-trick. Greaves was replaced by his captain George Foster, who became player-manager.
It was reported that Greaves had been sacked, and Greaves told the local CHAD newspaper: “I have been sacked but I wish good luck to George Foster. I leave Field Mill full of pride with my head held high.” However, years later, in an interview with the well-respected Mansfield Town fanzine “Follow The Yellow Brick Road”, Greaves cleared up that he did in fact resign, explaining that he thought he’d taken the club as far as he could. From Board meeting minutes that we have seen a copy of, we now know that Greaves had actually offered his resignation at a Board meeting a month earlier, and that was accepted, but he was asked to stay on until a replacement could be found. And that replacement was George Foster.
Greaves’ league record as manager of Mansfield Town was played 274, won 91, drawn 90, lost 93. More importantly though he had taken over the club as a mid-table Division Four side, and left it as a Division Three outfit, and given the club its memorable day at Wembley along the way, as well as leaving a stronger youth set up. He is the club’s longest serving manager, having been in charge for just over 6 years.
Popular striker Keith Cassells left the club at the end of the season after a terrific four years. He left to join the Hertfordshire police. His last home game was a 3-1 win over local rivals Chesterfield as Cassells scored but then ended the game in goal after an injury to goalkeeper Andy Beasley. Cassells was the top scorer for the season with 14 league goals, while young right back Craig McKernon was Player of the Season. Highlights of the season included the double over Chesterfield, and a 3-1 win at home to eventual champions Wolves with 2 goals from Cassells and 1 from Kent, in revenge for that 6-2 defeat away.
The 1989/90 season saw Mansfield again finish 15th in Division Three. Towards the end of the previous season manager Foster had brought in veteran striker Trevor Christie, and in October 1989 Foster also signed striker Steve Wilkinson, from Leicester, for a then club record fee of £80,000. The money for the Wilkinson signing came from the sale of young central defender Simon Coleman to Middlesbrough for £400,000, which again was a club record at the time. Young right-back Craig McKernon, who had been the Player of the Season the previous year, was also sold, to Arsenal for £200,000 in December 1989. Sadly McKernon’s career was to be cut short by injury within a year.
The season was one of two halves: the Stags were bottom of the table at Christmas 1989, but a run of 10 home wins in the remaining 14 home games saw the side climb the table. Away from home, the Stags had won 2 of the first 5 away games, but then went nearly 7 months before the next away win. The highlight of the season was a remarkable 5-2 win over Birmingham City at Field Mill in April 1990 with Wilkinson scoring all five goals, the first five goal haul by a Stags player since Ted Harston in 1937. Christie ended the season with 17 league and cup goals, and Wilkinson scored 16 league and cup goals. Christie was also Player of the Season.
It had been a decade dominated the tenure of Ian Greaves with a promotion from Division Four and a memorable day at Wembley the undoubted highlights.