The men who made Mansfield Town’s big night

WEDNESDAY February 26, 1969 remains one of the greatest dates in Mansfield Town’s history, the night three World Cup winners were beaten at Field Mill, the Stags’ unpretentious home.

West Ham’s Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst and Martin Peters, not to mention Bobby Ferguson, Billy Bonds, Trevor Brooking and Harry Redknapp, lined up for the Londoners, but the Hammers’ lost 3-0, a scoreline that was arguably the biggest shock in the FA Cup that season. As one newspaper said: “West Ham walked into a disaster seven miles off the M1…in a Notts mining town of narrow, snow-covered streets.”

West Ham were seventh in the first division when they arrived at Field Mill and had just drawn 1-1 with Liverpool at the Boleyn Ground. They had beaten Bristol City and Huddersfield Town in the previous rounds and nobody expected them to lose the fifth round tie at Mansfield.

The Stags had disposed of Tow Law Town, Rotherham United, Sheffield United and Southend United on route to round five. Their team had been virtually unchanged all the way through. Dave Hollins, brother of Chelsea’s John, was in goal, a Welsh international (as opposed to his sibling, who had won an England cap) who had played for Brighton and Newcastle United. 

Stuart Boam, a 20 year-old defender, started his career with Mansfield, but was bound for greater things. He was eventually sold to Middlesbrough for £ 50,000 and was renowned as a strong, determined and reliable performer. Scotsman Johnny Quigley arrived at Mansfield from Bristol City, costing the club £ 3,000. He had won the FA Cup with Nottingham Forest in 1959 and was 33 when he joined the Stags.

Dudley Roberts and Nick Sharkey both caught the eye during the FA Cup run. Roberts, who was 23, joined from Coventry City and played 200 league games for Mansfield, scoring 66 goals. He had been the hero in the third and fourth rounds of the competition against Sheffield United and Southend United. Sharkey, a Scot, came from Leicester City and represented his country at under-23 level.

Mansfield were struggling in the third division and relegation was a distinct possibility. They were one of four teams – Orient, Crewe, Hartlepool were the others – on 24 points. They went into their clash with West Ham after one win in eight games. But West Ham were a team that had earned a reputation of being a purist footballing side under Ron Greenwood, which occasionally made them vulnerable to opponents who adopted a blood and thunder approach. They had been beaten by teams from a lower division before, notably Swindon Town in 1966-67 and Huddersfield in 1967-68.

The pitch was very heavy, recent weather had caused the game to be postponed twice and there had been snowfalls. In the circumstances, Mansfield had a good chance to pull off a shock result as West Ham would be unable to play their short-passing game. The crowd at Mill Field was over 21,000 but very few West Ham fans had made the trip to Nottinghamshire.

The pitch closed the gap between the first division and the third. For example, England’s World Cup winning skipper, Bobby Moore, struggled at the start of the game and was also jeered every time he touched the ball as he had brought down Roberts early on. Later, Geoff Hurst missed an easy chance as he shot the ball across goal from six yards.  Mansfield, by contrast, made some early mistakes, but then accepted the challenge with gusto and took the tie to their illustrious visitors. 

Initially, they packed their defence to thwart Hurst and his forward-line team-mates, but once they grew in confidence, their long-ball game started to trouble West Ham. In the 22nd minute, Roberts, who constantly troubled West Ham, gave Mansfield the lead, receiving a pass from former Leicester man Jimmy Goodfellow through a packed area – “opening West Ham’s defence like a tin of sardines”-  and side-footing past Bobby Ferguson in the Hammers’ goal.

Mansfield strengthened their hold on the game in the 37th minute after Ferguson punched the ball clear from a Goodfellow cross, but Ray Keeley volleyed it straight back into the net from the edge of the area. Keely described it as a “dream goal which you never think will really happen until it does”. 

The game was settled five minutes into the second half with a third goal that owed much to a clumsy mistake by Ferguson. He ran out of his area to meet a long pass from Boam, dropped the ball and allowed it to fall to Sharkey who gratefully finished in front of goal. It was an uncharacteristic error by Ferguson, but summed up a miserable night for the Hammers.

The town of Mansfield celebrated their 3-0 victory, singing and dancing in the streets. Manager Tommy Egglestone was, understandably, proud of his team: “They ran and fought to the last ounce. They have done Mansfield proud but realised we were going to win the moment our second goal went in.”

Ron Greenwood was sporting in defeat: “If you miss your chances, you can’t grumble about losing. I wouldn’t say we played too badly so there must be plenty of credit for them for playing so well.”

Mansfield didn’t know who they would be facing in the quarter-final as Leicester and Liverpool had still to decide their tie, but Bill Shankly was watching at Field Mill and expected West Ham to win, even when they were 2-0 down. It turned out to be Leicester City but they proved to be too good for the Stags. In front of another big crowd, Rodney Fern scored the only goal to send Leicester through to meet West Bromwich Albion.

Mansfield still had to secure their place in the third division for 1969-70 and they managed to do just that, finishing in 15th place after winning seven of their last 12 fixtures. A year later, they enjoyed another good FA Cup run, reaching the last 16 before going out to Leeds United. They’ve had good and bad days since that time, but has there been a greater 90 minutes in the club’s history?

When Arsenal ruled the world


IN THE 1980s, a television series called The Thirties highlighted a turbulent and exciting decade. An entire chapter was devoted, quite simply, to “The Arsenal”. The 1930s was the age of the Gunners, a time that the club has strived to replicate ever since. Arsenal were as 1930s as Crittall Windows, British dance bands, mock-Tudor housing and Bakelite. They were thoroughly modern in every way, from the Art Deco grandstands erected at Highbury Stadium to their redesigned geometric club crest. If ever a club reflected the zeitgeist, it was Arsenal between 1930 and 1938.

They stood astride the entire period: 1930 – FA Cup winners; 1931 – League Champions; 1932 – League runners-up and FA Cup runners-up; 1933 – League Champions; 1934 – League Champions; 1935 – League Champions; 1936 – FA Cup winners; 1938 – League Champions. No other club was as consistent, as innovative or as dynamic as Arsenal in the 1930s. Only Liverpool in the mid-1970s to late 1980s and Manchester United in the 1990s can claim to have been as all-conquering.

Of course, much of Arsenal’s dominance can be attributed to Herbert Chapman. From ground-breaking tactics to publicity stunts, Chapman and his entourage changed the face of English football. He actually had a superb track record when he arrived at Arsenal in 1925, having won two league titles with Huddersfield. Arsenal, who had struggled against relegation in the two previous seasons, had advertised for a new manager and Chapman, attracted by a lucrative salary and the prospect of larger crowds than those enjoyed at Huddersfield, applied.

Chapman replaced Leslie Knighton, who had been in charge at Arsenal since 1919. Knighton could not get along with Arsenal’s notorious chairman Sir Henry Norris and prevented him from spending big in the transfer market. When Chapman casenal,me along, Arsenal spent lavishly on centre forwards, among other players. Ironically, the Arsenal advert had said: “Anyone who considers the paying of exhorbitant transfer fees need not apply.”

Chapman’s legacy

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Herbie Roberts

Chapman was one of the first managers to put results ahead of performance, although he later bemoaned the fact that a team didn’t have to play well to get results. His approach was meticulous and, certainly in Britain, ground-breaking. He was not the inventor of the WM formation, but he was certainly the most successful exponent of such tactics.

But the key to Arsenal’s success lay with one player – Alex James. In his first season, Chapman took Arsenal to a best-ever second place, behind his old club. But he soldiered on for some four years before signing James in 1929 from Preston. With his long baggy shorts and shuffling gait, James cut a Chaplinesque figure, but he became something of a household name in the 1930s, a rarity for a footballer in the movie star era. He played quite deep and had the vision to create opportunities for the Gunners’ front men – a long list of forwards in the 1930s benefitted from the rheumatic Scot’s slide-rule passing ability.

The WM formation was more defence-minded than the traditional 2-3-5 that had shaped the early professional game. Chapman identified the need for a “third back”, who eventually became what we all now call the “centre back”. The two full backs were assigned the role of marking wingers and the centre back looked after the centre forward. The half backs policed the inside forwards. In effect, 2-3-5 had become 3-2-2-3.

While James would provide the guile and craft, Chapman also recognised the need for “horses for courses”. That’s why a fundamental talent such as Herbie Roberts – an old fashioned stopper – became so instrumental in the Arsenal story. Legendary journalist Don Davies captured this ethos perfectly: “Was there ever a team where the players were more strikingly suited to the parts they had to play?” Chapman’s formula worked spectacularly and was much-copied, but nobody had the depth of resources to make it work on a sustained basis.

As promised by Chapman, it took five years to win silverware. The first signs of real success at Highbury came in 1929-30 when the club won the FA Cup for the first time. Over the next three seasons, Arsenal dominated football and in 1932, went close to winning the double, finishing runners-up in both major competitions. In January 1934, Chapman died, midway through a hat-trick of league titles for the Gunners. The club, stunned by his sudden and unexpected demise, still won the league championship in 1933-34 and appointed the club’s press officer, George Allison, as Chapman’s successor.

Arsenal pose with the FA Cup the day after beating Sheffield United in the 1936 final: (back row, l-r) George Male, Jack Crayston, Alex Wilson, Herbie Roberts, Ted Drake, Eddie Hapgood (middle row, l-r) Manager George Allison, Joe Hulme, Ray Bowden, Alex James, Cliff Bastin, Trainer Tom Whittaker (front row, l-r) Albert Beasley, Wilf Copping

Allison’s eye

If Chapman was the first of his kind, so too, was Allison. He was no tactician, almost certainly he never professed to being a football coach of any kind. But as a former journalist, he had the knack of keeping Arsenal in the eye of the public. When you consider some of the stunts that Chapman pulled off – the renaming of Gillespie Road underground station to “Arsenal” and the innovative white-sleeved playing kit, it may be that Allison was the power behind the Emperor’s throne. Allison was one of the first “kings of spin”, so who better to ensure the dynasty continued? He also had players and coaches to back him up – Tom Whittaker, Alex James and Joe Shaw to name but three. Wisely, Allison didn’t take over officially until the start of 1934-35, by which time, Arsenal had regained their title and were poised for a third successive triumph.

The last throes?

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George Male

Although the Gunners were far from being a spent force in 1934-35 for the next year or so, there were signs that the system and the players that had made the club almost infallible, was starting to creak. Much revolved around the likes of James, Roberts and one or two others. History has demonstrated that all great football teams have a problem with succession – fitness, age, motivation, over-familiarity all playing their part – and Arsenal found that out in the second half of the decade.

With David Jack moving on, Arsenal had signed a replacement for the talented forward in Ted Drake, who joined the club from Southampton in the latter stages of 1933-34 for £ 6,500. Other new faces such as Jack Crayston and Wilf Copping also arrived. Cliff Bastin, George Male, James and Roberts were still there, as was goalkeeper Frank Moss. James, however, had started to become injury prone.

Arsenal started well, and were unbeaten in their first five games, including an 8-1 victory against Portsmouth. Drake, who scored three times in that game, proved to be a great success and netted seven hat-tricks among his 42 league goals.

But Arsenal struggled away from home in the first half of the season. It wasn’t until late November (at Chelsea) that they secured a victory, although by the end of the campaign, they had the best travelling record.

Sunderland and Manchester City made the running with Arsenal for most of the season. Sunderland, a free-scoring team that included the likes of Raich Carter, Bob Gurney and Patsy Gallacher, inflicted upon Arsenal their second defeat of the season in October. The Gunners could not shake-off Sunderland and by Christmas, the North-East side were top of the table with Arsenal in third position, although only a point behind. While Stoke City also had their moments, it was definitely Sunderland who offered the stiffest challenge to Arsenal’s title.

Arsenal managed to make some changes in mid-season to reinforce and revitalise their bid. In January 1935, Taffy Rogers arrived from Wrexham, a few weeks later, Bobby Davidson joined from St. Johnstone, and in March, Alf Kirchen was signed from Norwich City. All would make a contribution in the run-in.

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Ted Drake

When Arsenal and Sunderland met at Highbury on March 9, a crowd of 73,295 saw a tight 0-0 draw. Arsenal were on top by two points, but both Sunderland and Manchester City were closing in. With five games to go, Arsenal trounced Middlesbrough 8-0 (another four for Drake) to lead by three points. And when they won at Middlesbrough on April 22 by a single goal, Drake again the matchwinner, they opened-up a five point gap with two games remaining. They cemented their championship win with a 5-3 victory at Leicester. Sunderland finished runners-up and Sheffield Wednesday came up on the outside to leapfrog Manchester City.

Success was merited, but Arsenal had been pushed all the way. Over the next two years, it became clear that although the Gunners were still the team everyone wanted to beat, they were no longer the best around. They won the FA Cup in 1936, but slipped to sixth in the league, their lowest placing since 1930. When they next won the title in 1938, it was with just 52 points and one point more than Wolves. As war approached, they ended the decade in fifth place. The era of Arsenal was effectively over. It would be many years before the club would enjoy comparable pre-eminence.

A visit to Highbury was always a joy. If you ever got the chance to walk through the marble hall and admire the Art Deco architecture, it just oozed class and a bygone age. It’s good to see that the old art deco stands remains in some form for Highbury was one of the icons of football architecture.

Bibliography
Cox, Jack: Don Davies, An Old International
Goldblatt, David: The Ball is Round
Inglis, Simon: The Football Grounds of Great Britain
Johnston, W.M: The Football League – Competitions of 1934-35
Knighton, Leslie: Behind the scenes in big-time football
Ollier, Fred: Arsenal, a complete record
Pevsner, Nikolaus: The Buildings of England
Stevenson, John: Britain 1914-45
Wilson, Jonathan: Inverting the Pyramid – The History of Football Tactics

Photos: PA, Neil Jensen