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Part Eleven - Ten long years between promotions (1990s)
by Paul Taylor and Martin Shaw
During the summer of 1990 Geoff Hall was appointed the club’s first managing director. Hall was also managing director of Abacus Municipal Ltd. Within the space of a week, first it was rumoured in the local press that Stags would be moving to a site in Sutton near the A38, and then plans were released for a revamp of Field Mill, including a hotel, restaurant and leisure complex, along with new floodlights and the re-opening of the Bishop Street stand as the CHAD Family Stand. On the pitch the Stags had a disastrous season in 1990/91 finishing bottom of Division 3 with just 8 wins in 46 games. There were few highlights to the league season, though at least the club reached the third round of the FA Cup after wins over Preston and York set up a mouth-watering tie against Sheffield Wednesday at Field Mill. A huge crowd of 9,076 fans turned up but the Stags were beaten 2-0. Steve Wilkinson was top scorer for the season with 13 goals while Trevor Christie chipped in with 10. Wayne Fairclough was player of the season.

In the summer of 1991, Trevor Christie was released and was replaced by £50,000 signing Phil Stant from Fulham. Meanwhile young midfielder Paul Holland, who had made his debut in the final game of the previous season, signed professional terms. Off the field, a set of new, single column floodlights replaced those which had stood for over 30 years. The season was to be one of triumph as the Stags won promotion from Division 4. In fact, because of renumbering of the divisions, Stags were promoted from Division 4 to Division 2! It was a season of great excitement. After failing to win the opening 2 games, Stags set off on a run of 10 wins and 2 draws from the next 12 games, including an amazing 7 successive away wins. The run is still quite memorable to this day and took in away wins at Chesterfield, Crewe, Carlisle, Halifax, Rochdale, Scunthorpe (4-1) and Northampton. Phil Stant scored in most of those games on his way to fantastic 26 goals during the season. In fact he scored four further goals in games which were expunged from the record books: 2 against Aldershot who were thrown out of the league, and 2 against Peterborough in an abandoned Autoglass Trophy game. After the fantastic run Stags were top of the table, and remained in the top 3 until early February. But a run of just 2 wins in 10 games from December to mid February had seen a slide. A run of 5 wins in 6 games followed to push Stags back on equal points at the top of the table by mid March. Only 1 win in the next 5 games meant that the Stags were just clinging on to third place. With 4 games to go, Stags had 3 of them at home and secured nervy home wins over Carlisle by 2-1 and then Halifax by 3-2 with Stant grabbing a hat-trick. A 0-0 draw in the penultimate game of the season at Maidstone meant that Stags were in third place (the final automatic promotion place) two points behind Blackpool, and one point ahead of Rotherham in fourth, but Rotherham had a game in hand. Rotherham then won their game in hand so with one game left, Mansfield were lying one place beneath an automatic promotion spot, two points behind Rotherham and Blackpool.

Stags had to beat Rochdale at Field Mill, and hope that either Rotherham or Blackpool lost. In front of 5,671, Stags were unable to break through in a tense first half, but were buoyed by news from Lincoln that Blackpool were losing 1-0. After 48 minutes, Stags took the lead through Ian Stringfellow. On 73 minutes, Phil Stant beat the offside trap to safely tuck the ball home to make it 2-0. The game entered its final minute at 2-0, with the news that Blackpool were still losing 1-0. To increase the tension, Rochdale scored, but moments later the final whistle went at Field Mill and Stags had won. All ears turned to radio commentary from Lincoln. Almost immediately, Lincoln were awarded a penalty, which was scored. This was followed by a pitch invasion by Blackpool fans, which later transpired to be because of rumours of a Rochdale equaliser at Mansfield. Thankfully of course, those rumours were wrong, but it was fully 8 minutes before the game at Lincoln was re-started for the final 30 seconds, allowing the Stags to finally celebrate promotion. Phil Stant was the player of the season for his tremendous goals tally. Phil Stant and full-back Paul Fleming, who had also joined at the start of the season, were both selected in the PFA Divisional team of the season. Steve Wilkinson had another great season scoring 14 goals despite missing over 2 months of the season through injury. For the first time in their history, the team were shown live on TV as Sky Sports covered the FA Cup first round tie with Preston at Field Mill. The game was abandoned due to fog after 30 minutes with the score at 1-1, but the cameras returned for the re-match and Stags lost 1-0.

After the glorious promotion achieved on the final day of the previous season, season 1992/93 turned out to be a disappointment as Stags won just 11 of their 46 games to drop straight back to the bottom division. The side got off to a terrible start with just 2 points from the opening 5 games, though they did at least put in good performances in only losing 2-1 to Newcastle over two legs in the League Cup. A 5-2 win over Bradford then provided one of few highlights during the season as defender Greg Fee slammed in 2 goals. The strike partnership of Phil Stant and Steve Wilkinson was broken up when boss George Foster was forced to sell Stant to Cardiff to reduce the club’s debts at the end of November. Stant went on to help Cardiff to promotion. By February, Stags had won just 5 games, but even a run of 3 wins in 4 games at the end of February never looked as though it would rescue the side. Relegation was sealed with two games still remaining, but at least there was another highlight with a remarkable 5-1 win on the plastic pitch at Preston in the penultimate game of the season. Steve Wilkinson was top scorer for the season with 11 goals, while Paul Holland was the player of the season.

During the summer of 1993, the club changed hands as Abacus Holdings sold the club to Keith Haslam, who was described as a Sheffield based property developer. Haslam, at 34, became the youngest ever Stags chairman, and the youngest in the Football League at that time. After just four games of the 1993/94 season, with 2 won and 2 lost, manager George Foster was sacked. Haslam explained: "I felt that George’s style of play and the whole strategy of his management was wrong. I don’t believe he got the best out of our talented players." Assistant Billy Dearden took over as caretaker and did a reasonable job, but suffered a few heavy defeats: 5-1 at Northampton, 4-0 at home to Chester and 4-1 at Wigan. In November, with Stags in 11th place, Andy King was appointed as new boss. King, the former Everton striker, was a surprise appointment, with no managerial experience having been acting as commercial manager at Luton. However Haslam explained that King was "bubbly and the sort of person we need to shake the football club into life again." Stags won just 1 of the first 8 games under King, but 4 wins out of 5 during February and March kept Stags firmly in mid-table and coincided with the introduction of young striker Stuart Hadley alongside Wilkinson. Stags finished the season in 12th place. Wilkinson was again top scorer with another 11 goals, while Paul Holland was again the player of the season.

1994/95 was an exciting season as Stags reached the play-offs and had a memorable victory over Leeds in the League Cup. Victory over Leeds was secured by a 1-0 win at Elland Road thanks to a Simon Ireland goal, and then a 0-0 draw in the second leg at Field Mill in the one of the finest nights in the club’s history. In the league, by mid December, Stags were below mid-table, but a spectacular run of 6 wins in 7 games scoring an incredible 27 goals, either side of Christmas thrust Stags into the play-off places. The highlights were a 4-2 win over Chesterfield with a Wilkinson hat-trick, a 7-1 win at home to Hereford with an amazing 45 yard free-kick from full-back Ian Baraclough, followed by a 5-2 win at Scarborough the following day. During this league run, Stags also played in the 3rd round of the FA Cup losing out 3-2 to Wolves at Field Mill after leading 2-0. Striker O’Neil Donaldson, on loan from Doncaster, scored 7 goals in 5 games during this purple patch, but joined Sheffield Wednesday in a move that left a bitter taste in the mouth. Five more wins out of 6 during February and March left Stags firmly in the play-off places. Despite only winning one of the final 9 games, Stags still easily reached the play-offs, where they played Chesterfield. After a 1-1 draw in the first leg at Field Mill, Stags twice led at Saltergate before being taken into extra time at 2-2. Two sendings-off for the Stags turned the game into a night-mare as Chesterfield scored 3 times in extra time to win 6-3 on aggregate. Chesterfield went on to win promotion via a win over Bury at Wembley. It was a bitter pill to swallow, but Stags at least had the comfort of knowing that their incredible 84 goals scored was not bettered in the entire football league. Wilkinson was leading scorer for the third successive season, this time with 26 goals, followed by Hadley with 16, and midfielder Paul Holland with 13. Wilkinson was the player of the season, while Holland was chosen in the PFA Division 3 team. Holland’s performances also earned him an England under-21 debut at the end of the season, but almost immediately he was sold to Sheffield United for �250,000.

The side that reached the play-offs was completely broken up as Wilkinson (who had become the sixth highest scorer in the club’s history) left to join Preston for a ludicrous £90,000, and goalkeeper Darren Ward, whose performances for Stags had earned him Welsh under-21 caps, joined Notts County for an initial £150,000. With Holland having left as well, the spine of the side was completely broken, and season 1995/96 was destined to be a season of disappointment. The season got off to a terrible start and Stags won only 4 of their first 24 games, to find themselves in the bottom three. By early October, Ian Baraclough had been sold to Notts County to remove yet more the previous season’s successful side. One of those 4 wins was an amazing 6-2 victory away to Wigan with a Stuart Hadley hat-trick. Hadley scored another hat-trick as Stags lost 4-3 against Chester at Field Mill. In the space of 7 days during October, the side lost 6-0 at Preston as Steve Wilkinson predictably bagged a hat-trick, and lost 5-1 to Bury at Field Mill as Phil Stant scored 4 times. A slightly better second half to the season saw Stags finish in 19th place in Division 3. Hadley finished top scorer with just 8 goals, though 6 of those came in 2 games. Goalkeeper Ian Bowling, who had replaced Ward, was the player of the season.

1996/97 also got off to a bad start with no wins in the first 7 games. After just 3 of those games, boss Andy King was sacked. Haslam explained: "Andy’s enthusiasm lifted the club for a time, but I feel he has lost his way." Meanwhile King said: "I love Mansfield Town and I am devastated by what has happened." Club captain Steve Parkin, just 30 years old, took over as manager after a spell as caretaker boss, with Tony Ford as his assistant. By New Year, Stags had won just 6 of their 25 league games, and were lying fifth from bottom. But 5 wins out of 8 games in January and February, and a further 3 wins around Easter catapulted Stags close to the play-offs. When on-loan striker Richard Cresswell scored the only goal in a 1-0 win at Rochdale, Stags were only 2 points behind a play-off place with 5 games left. After a 0-0 draw with Fulham at Field Mill when the Londoners clinched promotion, Carlisle visited Field Mill and also clinched promotion with another 0-0 draw in front of the Sky Sports live TV cameras. But Stags were denied what would have been a crucial victory when a header from centre-half Stuart Watkiss was deemed not to have crossed the line, though TV pictures clearly showed that it did. Defeat in the next match at Swansea meant Stags missed out. John Doolan was the leading scorer with 7 goals - even fewer than Hadley’s haul the previous season, and goalkeeper Bowling was again the player of the season. The average home attendance for the season slumped to an all-time low 2,283.

1997/98 was a season that was mostly about Steve Whitehall. The 30 year-old striker was a proven goalscorer and joined from Rochdale. However it was youngster Iyseden Christie, signed from Coventry, who stole the early season limelight. After a goal in an opening day win over Hull, Christie scored a great hat-trick in a 4-2 win over First Division Stockport in the League Cup. Unfortunately, despite leading on aggregate in the second leg until the 89th minute, Stags ended up losing 8-7. For the first half of the season Stags hovered the bottom 6 with only six wins in the opening 24 games. But 6 wins during January and February hoisted the side into the top half of the table. Whitehall was scoring consistently and by the end of March, with 6 games to go, Stags were a mere 6 points behind the play-off places. But 4 successive draws, 3 of which had seen the Stags ahead, scuppered the chances. The last 2 games were won 1-0 and Stags thus ended the season unbeaten in 11 games, in 12th place, 5 points behind the play-off places. Whitehall made a clean sweep of player of the season awards after his 26 goals, with Christie behind on 14 goals. But supporters’ protests had overshadowed the last week of the season as the players had not been paid for a second successive month. Whitehall left the club in July to join Oldham. The striker had been unhappy at not being paid on time several times during the season, and had also been under strain from driving from his Warrington home.

1998/99 can best be described as a season of two halves. A final position of 8th was just one place behind the play-off places, but represented a huge disappointment, because for most of the season the team were positioned in the top 7. Over the first 23 games, the Stags picked up 40 points, but over the last 23 games, only 27 points were earned. Stags’ season was based around a home record that was the second best in the Division. By contrast, only 4 games were won away from Field Mill, 3 of these came in a spell of 4 away games during October and November, and Stags did not win a single away match after mid November. There were many highlights of the season, such as a 3-1 win over eventual champions Brentford at Field Mill, and a 5-0 win over Barnet, featuring a Lee Peacock hat-trick, with national exposure gained as the first match ever played with a new yellow fluorescent ball, and with second half commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live. National exposure was also poured on Stags player/assistant manager Tony Ford who at the age of 39, broke the all-time record of league appearances for an outfield player when he played his 825th game, away to Plymouth in January. A week later, Stags played Rotherham at Field Mill in a match live on Sky Sports TV. Fate dealt Stags a bitter blow as 2 early goals were disallowed, and Rotherham went on to win 3-0. Despite a run of just 4 wins between early January and late April, the Stags remained in the play-off places or just outside. Victory over Hartlepool in late April left Stags in a play-off place with just 3 games to play, but defeats against Exeter and Shrewsbury extinguished hopes of making the play-offs. Keeper Ian Bowling received 2 awards of the player of the season, with Lee Peacock receiving one other award of the player of the season. Peacock finished the season as top scorer with 19 goals. In early June, after 7 players had been released, and the club had been placed under a transfer embargo, manager Steve Parkin resigned. The embargo had been in place for much of the season after the club had had to borrow money from the PFA as the club were in debt. Parkin explained: "I have worked under these circumstances for a big part of my managerial career and now I feel the job has become untenable." Rumours abounded that Parkin was to take over as manager of Rochdale. He did, some weeks later.

1999/2000 was another season of fluctuating fortunes. New manager Billy Dearden arrived at the club in July, with only 9 players in the squad, and hastily had to put together a makeshift side once the embargo had been lifted. He suffered a disastrous start to the season with a 6-0 defeat at Brighton. After the first five games Stags were already hot favourites for relegation to the Conference, with just one point. But this was followed by an unbeaten run of 5 games including 3 victories, which lifted Stags up the table. And so the season continued with inconsistent form, well-highlighted by 2 games in November where Stags lost 5-2 at Macclesfield and yet just 4 days later thrashed Lincoln by the same score. The departure of fans' favourite Lee Peacock to Manchester City in October was a bitter blow. But young Chris Greenacre who came in the opposite direction proved to be a fine replacement. The season really took off with a fabulous run of 26 points from 12 games between the end of November and the beginning of February. The Stags found themselves in eighth position and just one place of the play-offs. But defeat at play-off rivals Peterborough followed by 2 home defeats seemed to kill of the challenge. However back came Mansfield with 3 wins out of the next 4 games, including a wonderful 3-2 win at leaders Rotherham, live on Sky Sports TV. The performance at Rotherham was exhilarating and the quality of the goals left all Stags fans in dreamland. Greenacre’s strike was the clear goal of the season for the Stags. With 9 games left, Stags again found themselves just one place off the play-off zone. But the season ended badly, starting with a 5-0 defeat at bottom club Chester, and a run of 8 games without a goal, including 6 successive defeats. The run of more than 8 games without a goal - a total of 12 hours and 29 minutes - was easily the worst in the club’s history. In the final game of the season, Stags finally scored a goal, but could still only manage a draw and thus ended the season with 2 points from the final 9 games. The final tally of 56 points saw Stags in 17th position. There was some joy in the League Cup as Stags beat Nottingham Forest 1-0 in the second leg of the first round in a fine display, though Mansfield did lose on aggregate. Young defender Alistair Asher received 2 awards of the player of the season, with Tony Lormor receiving one other award. Lormor finished the season as top scorer with 11 goals.

2000/2001 started with redevelopment of Field Mill ongoing and Stags had to switch the first home league game of the season to an away fixture, and play the first round of the League Cup at a temporary `home` of Meadow Lane. Just before the season started, Lormor was sold to Hartlepool. However the season started in blistering fashion and in the first game, at Cheltenham, Chris Greenacre produced possibly the finest goal the club has ever scored. Receiving the ball on the half-way line from an Ian Bowling goal kick, he turned and with no Stags players near him, smacked a shot from the edge of the centre circle (a distance of fully 45.5 yards) over the Cheltenham keeper and into the net. An extraordinary effort and one which vied with the free-kick by Ian Baraclough in 1994 against Hereford, as the finest goal that most Stags fans have ever seen. The game ended 2-2. In the very next game, away to Barnet, midfielder Mark Blake tried his luck from 35 yards and scored with a looping shot. The Stags fans behind that goal simple could not believe that lightning had struck twice in successive weeks. This game ended 3-3. On 28 August 2000, the redeveloped Field Mill was opened and Stags welcomed Macclesfield Town, with home fans packed into the new North Stand and Quarry Lane ends, with away fans in the old Bishop Street stand. In a fantastic game, Stags were twice behind in the first half, but pulled back with Blake scoring the first goal in the newly redeveloped ground. Striker Shayne Bradley, who had joined for a reported £150,000 from Southampton, scored but Stags had to settle for a 4-4 draw. In the next home game, the worst league run in the club’s history came to end as Halifax Town were despatched 5-1 at Field Mill thanks to a Greenacre hat-trick. After a humbling 4-0 defeat in an eagerly awaited local derby at Chesterfield, Stags produced one of the great comebacks of all-time. Trailing 3-1 at home to Hartlepool, with Tony Lormor having returned to Field Mill with a goal, Michael Boulding was brought on as substitute and turned the game on its head in the final 8 minutes. First he produced a great solo goal, then crossed for Greenacre to equalise. Then Wayne Corden produced a stunning strike, from 25 yards, arrowed into the top left hand corner of the net. It was turning into a season of memorable goals. So from the first 10 league games, Stags had scored 21 goals and were right in the middle of the table. Either side of the Hartlepool game, Stags had played Premiership Southampton over two legs in the second round of the League Cup, having a creditable 2-0 defeat at The Dell, before losing 3-1 at Field Mill.

Only three more wins were achieved before Christmas 2000. Two more wins followed in January. Friday 2 February 2001 was a special day at Field Mill as the rebuilt West Stand was opened and a crowd of 3,800, the second biggest of the season, turned up to see Stags frustrated in a 1-1 draw by struggling Exeter. Successive wins against Halifax and Cheltenham catapulted Stags into 9th place in the table, their highest placing of the season, and just 7 points behind the play-offs. Confidence was high as leaders Chesterfield, whose financial and other irregularities had recently been exposed, were visitors to Field Mill and a crowd of 7,899 with 3,000 fans from Derbyshire, turned up at a buzzing Field Mill. But it was a huge let-down for the Stags as a howler by keeper Bobby Mimms gifted the Spireites a 1-0 victory. This sparked a run of 10 games with only one victory as Stags headed uncomfortably down the table. Following this run, Stags visited Southend United on Easter Monday. In tragic circumstances, referee Mike North collapsed during the game and died shortly afterwards. The game was abandoned. With six games of the season still left, Stags were just 7 points above bottom place. But a 2-0 win over Leyton Orient with goals by young Liam Lawrence and Bradley eased Stags fears and just this one win all but made Stags safe. Three more wins in the final 5 games saw a final position of 13th. It was the end to another topsy turvy season and one in which in the end many Stags fans were relieved to see end in mid-table safety. The highlight had been the emergence of some young players, such as the reliable Craig Disley, the talented Lawrence, and Dave Jervis and Lee Williamson. Greenacre was the leading scorer with 21 league and cup goals (in fact his 19 league goals put him equal second in the Division 3 leading marksmen). But the undoubted star of the season was Les Robinson, who had left Field Mill a decade and a half earlier, to return as captain and a steadying influence in central defence. Robinson swept the board of player of the season awards.

Then came season 2001/2002, and promotion back to Division 2 at last.


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