As someone who is Nottingham born and bred, a season ticket holder at Nottingham Forest for 3 season (excluding last year, obviously) and lives just 1 minute away from a train station to Nottingham, there was only ever going to be one stadium at which I would start my pilgrimage around the 92.
That’s right, Mansfield Town!
Mansfield Town are a football club that are seeking recovery after a slight drop-off in recent years; after their play-off penalty heartbreak against Newport County in 18/19 was followed by finishing just one spot away from relegation to the Vanarama the season after, they now employ the son of Nottingham Forest legend Brian Clough, Nigel (who wasn’t a bad player for the Reds himself). With just 2 wins from 13 league games this season, the Stags sit at 21st in the table, the same place they finished 2 years ago. And when you get involved in a game as a neutral? Well, you can sort of tell that things aren’t going Mansfield’s way.
I didn’t have to ditch my motor anywhere this week, thanks to the taxi of dad, and what good fortune that turned out to be as well; match-day parking doesn’t pull up many options and it looked like a bottleneck on the way out of the parking at the ground that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. All those horses in my 11 plate Toyota, but they would’ve been left with nowhere to go.
The first thing that surprised me was that on the night (Mansfield Town versus Sheffield Wednesday, Papa John’s Trophy) they weren’t selling matchday programmes, meaning that I’ll have to return to the One Call Stadium to complete my 92-club scrapbook. Shocking.
After collecting my ticket, I went straight into the ground to start sorting out my journalism things. It was there that I realised that Mansfield Town could be hard to crack on the catering leader board (even though they are the only club on it at the minute). The sole reason for that is the steak and ale pie. Any football club that has that in stock has an immediate place in my heart. Paired with a hot chocolate that doesn’t taste like muddy water? (Looking at you, Nottingham Forest) We are on for a winner.
As it turns out, the hot refreshments were absolutely vital, because when I say this was the coldest football game I have ever attended, I mean it. I always sit right up in the heavens on these ground-hopping trips, so the cold would hit me harder anyway, but I think it was definitely made worse by the most unique aspect of the One Call Stadium, and that’s the lack of a 4th stand. As the camera views it, the whole stand behind the goal on the right is dedicated to away fans, where you would’ve found 800 or so silent Sheffield Wednesday fans, with a huge main stand opposite and a smaller stand behind the opposing goal. Where the camera sits, however, there are no seats whatsoever, simply a small wall full of adverts and a pod for the camera to sit in. It’s interesting to see for the first time, but also makes the headwinds into the ground at least 200x stronger.
The winds had a huge impact on the game, in fact, as nobody in a blue or yellow shirt could get a single cross right, with the wind taking them all into the stands. On-loan Forest ‘keeper George Shelvey even had a couple of goal-kicks that started to head back towards him at times, so strong was the wind. Of course, it would be daft of me to blame the piercing wind and heavy rain on Mansfield Town but lord almighty I was absolutely freezing up there.
The game itself did well to match the atmosphere created by both sets of fans; average. Lewis Wing headed the visitors in front after an hour of football that was mainly headlined by Saido Berahino going for the record of “least impactful football performance” before Stephen Quinn got the Stags level after just 5 minutes. It was all un-done, however, after Florian Kamberi smashed home from 5 yards right at the death to steal it for Wednesday. Not that you’d know it was a late winner judging from the Owl’s fans celebrations; you would’ve been forgiven for thinking they’d just won a throw-in such was the quality of the “limbs”.
I stuck around for a bit after the final whistle to finish up my live blog and send off my match report, as well as trying to remember what having fingers felt like, so sure was I that they had fallen off from frostbite, and made my way out.
Overall, I quite enjoyed my experience in Mansfield. Sure, it was cold, sure the football was crap, but there’s something about Mansfield Town football club that I like. Maybe it’s the fact they sell steak and ale pies in the concourse (I will forever remember this) or maybe it’s the fans that, despite their team being a whole lot of nothing lately, seem to laugh it off and go about their day, even when they’ve just lost to a 90th minute tap-in.
I asked about a couple of fans for their thoughts on the game, and one older gent simply replied with: “Sh*t.” and a wry smile. And you know what? It was. And I think everyone in the stadium loved it anyway.
*Article provided by Louis Wheeldon (Football Correspondent).
*Main image @mansfieldtownfc Field Mill in all it’s glory known for sponsorship as the One Call Stadium.