Profile of Kevin Birds career at Mansfield Town
By Martin Shaw, with thanks to Paul Taylor
Kevin Bird is a true legend of Mansfield Town Football Club. In total, he played 445 games for the Stags (plus 5 as substitute), over 11 seasons, scoring 63 league and cup goals. In the league, he played 372 games (plus 5 as substitute) scoring 55 goals.
Bird is fifth on the all time league appearances list for the Stags (behind Rod Arnold, Sandy Pate, Don Bradley and Dennis Wright) and his 31 appearances in the League Cup is a club record for that competition. His 55 League goals put him 11th on the Stags league goal scorers list - remarkable for a defender!
Above left: Bird in 1973. Above middle & right: Bird on Sun Soccercard, 1978.
Born in August 1952 in Armthorpe near Doncaster, Kevin Bird joined his home town club Doncaster Rovers as an apprentice having been an England youth international. He joined the Stags as a trialist in August 1972 when Doncaster Rovers had given him a free transfer at the age of 20. Bird was given a three month trial by Mansfield manager Danny Williams who had appointed former Doncaster coach Frank Marshall as his assistant, Marshall having recognised Birds talent at Rovers.
In October 1972, Bird signed a full contract and soon made his debut in a 4-1 win against Chester at Field Mill. Writing in the CHAD, Stan Searl described Birds debut: "Bird proved a useful foil for skipper Sam Ellis. Bird wore the number 6 shirt vacated by the departing John Saunders. I am told that Kevin hardly slept a wink on Friday night so anxious was he about the game. But if he can build on his first league appearance there will be few other sleepless nights in prospect." Bird scored his first league goal in the final minute of a 2-1 defeat at Gillingham. It followed seconds after the Gills had made it 2-0. Straight from the kick off Bird raced through, shook off a tackle and slammed in the Stags consolation goal. Bird scored one other goal in his first season, in a 2-0 win over Aldershot on 10 February 1973. The goal came when Sam Ellis took a free kick from the right touchline, Bird picked up the ball and ran through the defence to score from 10 yards.
The 1972/73 season had seen the Stags back in Division IV following relegation after 9 seasons in Division III. Stags had got off to a magnificent start and remained top of the table right through to 30 December and extending an unbeaten home run to 27 games. But Stags won just 6 of their last 20 games after the turn of the year to gradually drop down the table. The season saw defender Bird and winger Jimmy McCaffrey become firm favourites, and a second spell on loan for Duncan McKenzie, who went on to a successful career with Leeds, Everton and Chelsea. Stags went into the final game of the season away to Cambridge knowing that a win would earn them promotion and they led twice through McCaffrey and Dudley Roberts only to lose the game 3-2 with Cambridge thus being promoted in their place.
The following season, 1973/74, was one of disappointment as Stags finished in 17th place. Bird scored 8 league goals during the season, including a typical goal as he climbed high to head in against Scunthorpe in a 2-2 draw at Field Mill in April 1974.
1974/75 was one of the finest in Stags history and is remembered by many Stags fans as one of the most enjoyable ever. Stags were champions of Division IV and clocked up over 100 goals in all competitions. Before the start of the season, manager Dave Smith made two significant signings bringing in striker Ray Clarke and midfielder Gordon Hodgson. Clarke was to be an instant hit and ended the season with 30 goals as Stags led the table throughout almost the whole season. There were so many memorable games with perhaps the pick being a 7-0 demolition of Scunthorpe United at Field Mill in April 1975 to clinch the title. Bird scored one of the goals, typically power-heading in McCaffreys corner. It was the 100th goal of the season. Typical goals from the season were a close range shot against Doncaster and a header against Lincoln. Bird had missed much of the early part of the season with a broken ankle picked up in a league cup game, ironically at Doncaster.
1975/76 was also an extraordinary season. Stags were back in Division III but made a disastrous start and by mid February were 5 points adrift at the bottom having won just 4 of their opening 27 games. Incredibly Stags remained unbeaten for the final 19 games of the season winning 12 and drawing 7, to end the season in the top half of the table and only nine points from a promotion place. Ironically Bird missed all that unbeaten run as he underwent a cartilage operation in February 1976. There was success in the League Cup as two First Division sides, Coventry City and Wolves, were beaten in memorable nights at Field Mill. In the quarter final Stags were away to First Division Manchester City but were beaten 4-2 in an epic encounter. Bird scored one of the Stags goals with a towering header. Bird scored with a typical header against Hereford at Field Mill, shortly before his injury 5 days later against the same opposition at Edgar Street.
In 1976/77, Mansfield were promoted from Division III to Division II for the first and only time in their history. It was a fantastic achievement, especially to win the championship. Bird scored another 8 league goals during the season, including one in a 3-0 win over Northampton in the final home game of the season before Stags clinched the title at Wrexham on the final day of the season. During the season, Bird switched from centre-half to right full-back, taking over from another legendary Stags defender, Sandy Pate.
1977/78 turned out to be the first and only season in the old Division II. Relegation seemed almost inevitable throughout the season as only 6 league games were won before Easter. Bird scored 4 goals during the season and 2 came on consecutive days over Christmas, first at home to Fulham with a towering header, and then away at Tottenham. Later, Bird was to describe this season as the highlight of his career.
1978/79 saw the Stags back in Division III and they got off to a bad start winning just six of their opening 35 games, to leave them firmly in the relegation zone by April 1979. However, another six victories in the final 11 games of the season led the Stags to safety, in 18th place. Bird picked up another 4 league goals. The arrival of Bob Curtis at right full-back, meant Bird could move back to centre-half for most of the season. During the early part of the season, Bird took over the captaincy from Gordon Hodgson, a status he was to hold until he was released.
In 1979/80, the Stags were relegated from Division III, spelling disappointment for Stags and especially captain Kevin Bird. At the end of the season, Stags manager Mick Jones paid tribute to his captain and stated that Bird had often played with injury because other players were out injured. Jones said that Bird "hates players who have not the same bravery and commitment that he possesses." Jones thought that if Bird had been fit throughout the season then Stags wouldnt have been relegated. Jones wished he could have "half-a-dozen Kevin Birds", and if he had, his team would have been champions, rather than being relegated. Bird scored 7 league goals from 38 games.
The following season, 1980/1, Stags were in the promotion frame all season, but missed out after a late slump, winning only one of the final 10 games. Bird scored 5 league goals including the only goal of the game on successive Saturdays in October 1980 against Bradford and Bournemouth. On 25 October 1980, before a 2-1 victory over Peterborough at Field Mill, Bird was presented with an award to mark his 300th football league appearance, which he had achieved the previous month.
In 1981/82, Bird missed much of the season due to injury and played in just 26 league games, scoring 2 goals. Bird could proudly claim that at this stage of his career, he had never been dropped, and had only ever missed out due to injury.
In 1982/83, Bird again missed much of the season, often due to injury, and played in 29 league games, scoring twice. His final league appearance for the Stags was in a 3-2 defeat at Peterborough on 7 May 1983, and Bird was one of the Stags scorers. It was a trademark goal, heading in at the far post from a quality Dave Caldwell cross, and so typical of his contributions over 11 seasons.
Two days later, on 9 May 1983, Stags held a testimonial game for Bird, against Aston Villa at Field Mill. Villa failed to send their strongest line-up but Bird included in his Stags side ex-England striker Frank Worthington, who more than made up for that disappointment. 2,903 fans turned up, well above the average for the season at Field Mill. Villa won the game 3-1 with the Stags goal coming from a Frank Worthington penalty. Bird already knew he was being released by manager Ian Greaves, and after the game, he talked about it: "It was no great shock to me. Its obviously a little sad to leave Field Mill. I have had some great times here. Mansfield are a very homely club and all the players get on well together. The last ten years have been very enjoyable."
In an interview with the Evening Post just before his release in May 1983, Bird explained that the high spot of his career was the Stags season in Division 2 in 1977/78: "We got off on a marvellous foot, beating Stoke, Peter Shilton and all, 2-1 at Field Mill. We drew at Spurs, who regained their First Division place, and I got the goal in a 1-1 Boxing Day match. Incidentally, I was told after Dave Smith left, that Spurs wanted me in exchange for Gerry Armstrong, though I never heard from the manager. But what really irks me is to think of all the odd-goal defeats we suffered in that season. We missed ten penalties that would have meant an extra ten points and kept us up." Bird explained that once his career was over, he had made up his mind to retreat from football: "Coaching doesnt appeal to me. Theres never been any substitution for playing since I was a youth."
Bird moved to Huddersfield Town, before dropping into non-league. He had played for the Stags for 11 seasons, and under seven managers.
In April 2006, Bird played for a Stags all-stars team against a supporters team of FTYBR. Bird is pictured here at that game (Bird is centre, with Colin Foster left and Les McJannet right):
On 6 May 2006, we interviewed Bird live on Stagsworld. To hear the interview, click here.
Below : a selection of 9 goals from Kevin Bird's career.
Below: April 1974, Scunthorpe home
Below: November 1974, Doncaster home
Below: April 1975, Lincoln home
Below: December 1975, Manchester City away, League Cup
Below: February 1975, Hereford home
Below: April 1977, Chesterfield home
Below: May 1977, Northampton home
Below: December 1977, Fulham home
Below: 1981 against Bury (Bird climbs above Neville Southall to score)
Below: October 1980, Bird is presented with an award to mark his 300th football league appearance
Below: May 1983, Bird before his testimonial game against Aston Villa. Frank Worthington is just behind Bird.