by Paul Taylor and Martin Shaw
This was the decade that really can be described as the Club's golden years. During this period the foundations were laid that helped turn the Club more into what we recognise today. The first major change came as the troops were still being demobbed from the Great War. Mansfield Mechanics had let their lease on the Field Mill ground lapse during the War, perhaps they couldn't see the point in paying for a ground they weren't going to use. A football club representing the Mansfield branch of the National Federation of Discharged and Disabled ex-Servicemen's Societies (or DDSS for short) beat the Mechanics to the new lease. They could not afford to pay for the two year lease on their own and sounded out Town as sub-tenants. Seeking a move from the terrible playing surface of their current home (the Prairie) Town jumped at the chance. So as from 1 May 1919 Town's official home became the same Field Mill ground they still play on today and as from 30 April 1921 when the DDSS lease expired Town became sole tenants with a 25 year lease. It was in 1919, also, that the club changed strip yet again. This time they adopted an amber and blue halved shirt with white shorts. This also gave rise to a new nickname the AMBERS (note no use of the term 'yellows'). It was not until 1924 that the club was referred to as the STAGS in the newspaper reports, a magnificent epithet and emblem that has stayed with them ever since. Where the nickname came from and why it was adopted remains unknown, it is thought that it comes from the stag in the old borough's coat of arms representing the town's proximity to Sherwood Forest.
In 1923 the club's first ever official supporter's club was founded. The 1920s were also an exciting time on the field too, with Town becoming one of the top, if not the top, sides outside the Football League proving this in both league and cup competition. The first season after the war found the Stags still in the Central Alliance where in that first season they took the championship. There was no such excitement in league matches the following year as the club faded to 5th position. However they did reach the 5th qualifying round of the FA Cup and the final of the Notts Senior cup. The Club's ambitions were now growing and at the AGM of the Midland Counties League in June 1921 Town applied for, and were successful in attaining, a position in that League. At the time the Midland League as it was commonly known was second only to the Football League itself. The Club made a more than satisfactory start in their new status finishing in a creditable 8th position. It was in the FA Cup where the club were really successful, this time reaching the 6th qualifying round and playing Football League opposition for the first time. Walsall were the Football League opposition that came to Field Mill in December 1921. The AMBERS put in a magnificent display to earn a replay at Fellows Park. Here the run ended as the Saddlers ran out fairly easy 4-0 winners.
In 1922/3 season Town again finished in a mid-table 13th place in the Midland League and once again reached the 6th qualifying round of the FA Cup competition. Halifax Town were the Third Division (North) visitors to Field Mill this time and that's where the heroics ended as the visitors ran out worthy 2-0 winners. Some silverware did make it's way to Mansfield that year when, for the first time, the Amber and Blues' won the Notts FA Senior cup competition with a 2-1 final victory over Newark Athletic at Sutton Town's ground. The new season started with the Club appointing a manager for the first time. Jack Baynes was that man and the season started with 11 new players. In spite of losing the first match of the season they did not lose again until the November, by which time they had surged to the top of the table. What's more there were only three more defeats that season as The Stags claimed their first ever Midland League title. This resounding success tempted the directors of the Club to apply for Football League status. Town and York City applied to join the old Northern Section of the Third Division. Both were unsuccessful as the 'old boys club' re-elected Barrow and Hartlepool, with the Stags not receiving a single vote!
The 1924/5 season started with only 15 teams in the league, the Football League clubs took their reserve sides in to the Midland Combination. However after the 28 Midland League games had been completed, Town had been defeated on only 4 occasions and retained their Championship. As the season had finished by the end of February a secondary competition was organised in which the Stags finished runners up. There was also more than a modicum of success in the FA Cup too as the Ambers colours were not lowered until Fourth Qualifying Round when Third Division Doncaster Rovers won 3-2 at Belle Vue. At the Football League's AGM in June the club once again tried for Football League membership and although they faired better than the previous year receiving 12 votes, Rotherham and Tranmere were easily re-elected.
1925/6 was a generally successful season for the Stags as they won some silverware in the shape of the Notts FA Senior Cup. In the league they had to surrender their number one spot to Mexborough, in spite of scoring 120 goals in their 40 league matches. Still second place was not too bad. In the summer of 1926 Jack Baynes contract expired and he left the Club to be replaced by Teddy Davidson, Sheffield Wednesday's international goalkeeper, who became player/manager. It was not a case of 'third time lucky' in the application for League status either, as the 10 votes the Stags claimed at the AGM were not enough to displace Walsall or Barrow. Having failed to gain League status and chasing a higher standard of football the Stags were admitted to the Midland Combination, a League consisting entirely of reserve sides of Football League sides. In this higher sphere of football Town managed a very creditable second place and once again survived in the FA Cup long enough to face Football League opposition when Walsall won by 2-0 on their own ground. Cup football again seemed to the Stags forte as they once more brought the Senior Cup to Mansfield, annihilating Sutton Junction by an amazing 15 goals to one in the semi final. They also won the Notts Benevolent Bowl, The Mansfield Hospital Charity Cup and the Byron Cup that season. Town's Joe Beresford, one of many Stags to be snapped up by League sides during these golden years of success, was transferred to Aston Villa at the end of the season � he later went on to play for England. At the Football League's AGM the Stags polled a miserly 8 votes and were once again rejected.
1927/8 proved to be one where Town were very inconsistent to say the least and the return to the Midland League saw the Club finish in 10th position. There was no consolation in the cups either as Town, exempt until the 4th qualifying Round, were unceremoniously dumped out at the first hurdle by a score of 0-5 by Gainsborough Trinity. This state of affairs was probably not helped by the resignation of Teddy Davidson part way through the season but his replacement as Manager/Secretary, Jack Hickling, was soon to bring back some glory days. No application was made this time around, the general lack of support from other clubs plus the lack of on field success putting the Director's off, no doubt. Hickling retained only five players that summer as he built a side to challenge for honours once more.
1928/9 season will go down in the annals of Mansfield Town as the zenith of their non-league days. In the league they were never out of the top three and eventually won the Championship by nine points (in those days of two points for a win) and scored 132 goals in the 50 matches. The defence was, at times, suspect as they conceded 72 goals including one 2-11 aberration at Rotherham United Reserves who were at the time one off of the bottom of the table. The tremendous performances in the league were, if anything, overshadowed by Town's escapades in the FA Cup! Exempt until the 4th Qualifying Round Town disposed of Ardsley Athletic to qualify for the first round proper. Shirebrook were disposed of fairly easily at that stage, and in Round 2 the lads had to travel to Holker Street, the home of Third Division Barrow. Despite going a goal down the Ambers fought back to win the tie 2-1 and beat Football League opposition for the first time. If that tie had been a tough one waiting in Round Three were Wolverhampton Wanderers of the Second Division, the luck of the draw again taking the Stags away from Field Mill. At Molineux that cold January afternoon the Stags once again sent their travelling band of supporters home in a delirious state as the Wolves (including an ex-Stag in Tommy Baxter) succumbed to the only goal of the game. Even the London press took an interest now as Mansfield were drawn to play at magnificent Highbury, home of Arsenal. Jack Hickling was pestered by the gentlemen of the press as to how his team had achieved such success. He let slip that the players training dietary drink of egg and milk each afternoon was the secret, which led the team to be nicknamed the 'egg and milk team'. Many years later it transpired that this was made up purely for the press. How the players must have laughed, as they had their picture taken with their mythical elixir! So on 26 January 1929 some 4,500 fans had the greatest day out in the Club's history. The crowd of 44,925 is still one of the largest that the Stags have ever played in front of. Unfortunately, although the Stags battled well and only lost the match in the last 10 minutes when the Gunners scored twice, there was no happy ending. The turning point came in the 33rd minute when captain Chris Staniforth missed a penalty that would have put the Stags a goal to the good. If the Stags had scored then heaven knows what would have happened. Still those players that season had done themselves and the town proud and nothing and no one can ever take that away from them.
Town made another application to join the Football League that summer. Accompanying the Stags from the Midland League, in the attempt to displace Ashington and Hartlepool, this time were 10th placed York City. This time Town gained more votes than one of the sides applying for re-election, unfortunately so did York and it was they that were elected. Just how gutted the men of Mansfield were is not reported but once again the League's voting system was shown to be woefully unfair. but still the Stags had taken some mighty steps in this first decade after the Great War, an excellent ground, financial security and some magnificent players - The Football League could not, surely, be far away.