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?

Rats in the shed: Leicester City’s 1969 FA Cup final

FA CUP final day was always special when you were a kid. Perched in front of the TV all day, absorbing everything from “How they got there” to “It’s Knockout”, by the time 5pm came around you were exhausted and only wanted to get outside and recreate the final with your best Frido ball.

With Leicester City reaching their first FA Cup final since 1969, memories flood back to those halcyon days of Grandstand, World of Sport and cup final teams swigging milk from a bottle after the final whistle.

In 1969, the world was still largely black and white, but Manchester City’s red and black-striped kit was something of a continental delight. City’s Tony Book, a spindly-legged old fellow who enjoyed a late-summer career in the big time, and the veteran barrel-chested Dave Mackay were joint Footballers of the Year. Leicester City, struggling at the bottom of the first division, had somehow worked their way through to Wembley, but they did have Allan Clarke, Britain’s most expensive player, as well as Peter Shilton and David Nish, who was the youngest captain of a cup final side at that time.

My Dad wasn’t a football fan, but he said he would watch the final from the vantage point of his armchair, accompanied by a ladder of cigarette smoke climbing up to the stained ceiling. But Dad had a job to do in the morning. Our neighbour, Danny, was clearing out his abnormally long shed and he was aware there were some nasty brown rats inside. He asked my Dad to help him get rid of the pests. “In Denmark, we used to smoke them out and then clump them on the head with a spade,” he said. “Ok, Bob (his name was actually Børge), I will light a fire just inside the door and you knock them as they come out coughing.”

Watching from a bedroom window, we gazed as smoking came billowing out of the shed door. Emerging through the haze, the rats staggered out, Dad hitting them one by one. In total, there were 20 of the little bastards. Danny was elated, even though the fire got a little out of control. “Watching the cup final, Bob?” asked Danny. “Yes, I suppose so, not interested really, but may as well.” 

Minutes after saying farewell, Danny called over the fence. His TV had packed up and not even the customary thump on the top of the set could cure its ills. Dad invited him in and Danny, a regular at the Prince of Wales in South Ockendon, brought in two handfuls of Manns’ Brown Ale. Dad and Danny sat quaffing the beer from the bottles, which disgusted my easily-offended mother.

I was sat in my Chelsea kit from the BBC’s 11.25 am start to the day, even though I was worried about a green fireball that had soared across the sky the night before. “I don’t think it was an alien spaceship, more likely a meteorite,” I told my Mum. “I’m looking forward to Look and Learn coming out next week, because there might be something about in there.”

Meanwhile, the build-up continued. “Not a Leicester fan are you?”, asked Danny. “No, Chelsea, but I am supporting Manchester City today. I like Colin Bell,” I replied. After a while, Danny was getting rather expansive, comparing Joe Mercer to one of the rats that had crawled out of the shed and complaining that Malcolm Allison should really be manager of West Ham (Danny’s club).

I informed Dad and Danny how both teams had got to Wembley. Leicester has beaten Barnsley, Millwall, Liverpool, Mansfield Town and holders West Bromwich Albion on the way, while Manchester City had disposed of Luton Town, Newcastle United, Blackburn Rovers, Tottenham and Everton. City, who had won the Football League in 1968, had not defended their title well, and Leicester were bound for relegation. “City should win 3-0,” I told everyone. My calculations were based on a sophisticated set of algorithms allied to current form and FA Cup history. Also, I quoted the Daily Mirror’s preview, telling them that City had a varied and fluent style while Leicester were good in the air.

The match wasn’t memorable, but I wrote down every incident for my post-match report. The pitch looked poor and the City chairman had described it as a cow meadow. Danny had decided by now that looking through the empty beer bottle was more interesting than the football (he was more interested in darts), while my Dad was dozing away. “How old is that Lochhead fellow?” asked Danny. “He looks like 60 at least.” I quickly flicked though my “Who’s Who in Football”. “He’s 28. Used to play for Burnley and he has been capped by Scotland under-23.”

I made a note about Lochhead, just in case I could include a recommendation in my next letter to Chelsea manager Dave Sexton. “Good at heading but looks old. If he had more hair, he would play for Scotland.”

Neil Young, who didn’t go on to be part of Crosby, Stills Nash and Young, scored the only goal of a lack-lustre game to win the cup for City. “Who was the last team to win the league and then cup the following year?,” asked my now blearily awake Dad as he lit his next Players’ Number Six. 

“Liverpool,” I quipped. “No, Spurs,” he came back. He was wrong, but given he showed no interest in football, I let him think he had given me some valuable information. I entertained them by naming every FA Cup winner since 1946.

As predicted, I was eager for a game of football afterwards. I went out onto the allotments behind our house for a kick around. A neighbour’s cat, “Pickles”, was chewing something. It was long and brown with a snake-like tail. A rat that had got away. It was an omen. A dog named pickles had found the World Cup in a bush in 1966. My brothers joined me for a game on the allotment and I scored a hat-trick as Manchester City beat Leicester 3-0. I was right all along.

@GameofthePeople
Photo: ALAMY

Ajax 1971 – men of their time

AMSTERDAM was a “cool” place in 1970. It was one of the last cities to dispense with hippy culture, the hair was long, the clothes bright and the mood upbeat. It was liberated and easy and the Dutch were among the most mellow folk in Europe. It was no coincidence that Amsterdam was where John Lennon and Yoko Ono decided to launch their “bed-in” to promote world peace.

From a football perspective, Dutch football was in the ascendancy. In 1969, Ajax had reached the European Cup final and in 1970, Feyenoord had gone one better and won the trophy. An emerging style of football, which later became known as “total football” was starting to change the face of the game.

Early signs

Johan Cruyff, Ajax

When Ajax reached the 1969 final, it was something of a surprise, but the world was starting to recognise Dutch talent, notably Johan Cruyff. Ajax were fairly well hammered in Madrid by AC Milan, their inexperience showing through as the more savvy Italians ran out easy 4-1 winners. Ajax went on to lift the Eredivisie in 1969-70, holding off the challenge of Feyenoord, and completed the “double” by beating PSV Eindhoven in the KNVB Final.

Just how ready Ajax were to compete with the top clubs of Europe was open to debate – they had been easily beaten by a mid-table Arsenal side in the Inter-Cities’ Fairs Cup in 1970 leading the Gunners’ manager Bertie Mee to comment the Dutch seemed rather naïve. But something was stirring as England discovered when they endured two very difficult games against the Netherlands, a 0-0 draw at Wembley and a narrow 1-0 victory in Amsterdam.

Since 1969, Ajax had added Ruud Krol, Johan Neeskens, Gerrie Mühren and Arie Haan to their line-up and the ethos being developed by coach Rinus Michels and championed by his protégé, Cruyff, was gathering momentum. The team represented a new European order, one that would challenge, and eventually defeat, the stifling catenaccio peddled by the Italians and also make the English game look quite pedestrian.

With their flowing hair and flowing football, not to mention the iconic white and red shirts, Ajax were certainly of their time. In fact, Ajax and the Dutch national team are often compared to the Beatles and Liverpool in terms of their cultural importance. Journalist Jaap De Groot, in assessing the golden period of Dutch football, said the early 1970s were a free spirit time in Amsterdam and Ajax were a free spirit team.

Michels had joined Ajax in 1965 and transformed Ajax from a club with a laissez-faire culture to a professional outfit brimming with invention and charisma. Piet Keizer described Michels training programme as “the hardest preparation I ever had. We sometimes had four sessions a day”. Cruyff described his mentor as a perfectionist. The pair often squabbled but as the famous number 14 said, “we were becoming a machine for producing football”.

The “total football” approach saw Michels encourage players to adopt any position – full backs moving into attack, forwards dropping back into midfield and goalkeepers making full use of their area. It was all about versatility and that meant Ajax had 11 dangerous players on the pitch at any one time.

Michels’ technique began the rise of Ajax, but the 1970-71 season was to be his last in charge of this particular team. He moved to Barcelona after considering his job done for the time being.

Exceptional

Action from the European Cup Final played at Wembley between Panathinaikos of Greece (dark shirts) and Ajax of the Netherlands.

Ajax’s European campaign began with a relatively easy tie against Albania’s 17 Nëntori, but in the first leg, they wasted the two-goal lead Wim Suurbier had given them. A fortnight later, Ajax won comfortably 2-0. The second round saw them beat Basel, the Swiss champions, 5-1 on aggregate, sending them into 1971 as quarter-finalists where they were paired with Scotland’s Celtic, the 1967 winners.

In 1970-71, Celtic were still one of Europe’s top sides and had the core of their Lisbon Lions side still intact, but it was starting to age. They had won through to the last eight in prolific goalscoring mood, netting 14 in the first round against Finnish champions KPV and another 10 against Ireland’s Waterford.

Ajax received a scare before the game in that Indonesian separatists had threatened to kidnap their players. On the evidence of the first leg, this did little to curb their confidence.

Celtic’s David Hay was asked by Jock Stein to man-mark Ajax’s star man. “Their whole team was world-class but Cruyff was exceptional,” recalled Hay some years later. Hay’s role hinted at a defensive strategy on Celtic’s part and that’s exactly how they approached the game in Amsterdam. Both Cruyff and Michels were surprised at how uncharacteristically cautious Stein’s men were.

Celtic’s defensive wall hung on until the 62nd minute when Cruyff finished off a move that started with a long ball. Interestingly, the Scottish media felt Ajax were not the match on Feyenoord in the quality of their football, that Michels’ team were more direct. That was not the general consensus, Ajax were considered to be the more enterprising of the two.

Ajax scored two more goals, a free kick by Barry Hulshoff and a Cruyff-created effort by Piet Keizer. A three-goal lead had almost killed-off Celtic, but Michels refused to contemplate the semi-finals. Celtic won 1-0 at Hampden Park in front of more than 80,000 people, but Ajax were praised for their performance.

Meanwhile, Ajax were trying to retain their Eredivisie title, but old rivals Feyenoord were matching them game-by-game. From the end of February 1971 to the penultimate game of the season, Ajax did not concede a single goal, a run of 11 games in which they scored 34 times.

Ajax were drawn against Atlético Madrid in the semi-finals. The Spanish champions were being challenged all the way in 1970-71 with Valencia and Barcelona better placed to win La Liga. Atléti won the first leg in Spain 1-0 and made Ajax work hard for their second leg victory, two of the three goals coming in the final 10 minutes. Ruud Krol, who had been so pivotal in Ajax’s season, would not be in the squad for the Wembley final as he broke his leg in the KNVB Cup semi-final against NEC Nijmegen.

Final

Ajax’s 3-0 victory took them through to meet Greece’s Panathinaikos, a team managed by Ferenc Puskas, a man who knew all about European Cup finals. If some people were surprised by Ajax’s return to the final, Panathinaikos were absolute outsiders, even though they had beaten Everton and Red Star Belgrade, the latter after the Yugoslavs had surrendered a 4-1 first leg victory.

Ajax won the KNVB Cup, beating Sparta Rotterdam, but their next game would be against Sparta’s rivals, Feyenoord. Six days before the European Cup final, Ajax, who were top of the Eredivisie but level on points with Feyenoord, filled the Olympic Stadium in the penultimate game of the campaign. It was effectively the title decider. Ajax took the lead through Keizer, who bundled the ball home from close range, but he was injured and had to be replaced. Ove Kindvall, one of Feyenoord’s goalscorers in the 1970 European Cup final, levelled early in the second half and just on the hour, full back Dick Schneider put the visitors ahead. Ajax pushed forward, but Schneider netted a spectacular third with six minutes remaining. Feyenoord were as good as champions with one game to play.

Johan Cruyff celebrates with team mates after Haan scored for Ajax in the European Cup Final against Panathinaikos at Wembley.

It could be argued that Ajax had more than one eye on the Wembley encounter with Panathinaikos, but they had slipped-up right at the end of the campaign. Krol’s absence may have contributed, but Feyenoord must have been sick of hearing about Cruyff and his team of cavaliers who were now the darlings of the European media.

Ajax were red hot favourites for the European Cup and their fans poured into London, many of whom created good-natured mayhem in the city centre. In some respects, the final was meant to anoint the new prince of European football, Cruyff, and the fluid Ajax side that had become a breath of fresh air after years of stale, defence-minded football.

The noisy and colourful crowd didn’t have to wait long for the first signs that a Dutch team would win for the second successive season. Keizer swung the ball over from the left and Dick Van Dijk glanced his header past Panathinaikos goalkeeper Takis Ikonomopoulos. Ajax controlled the game, but had to wait until the 87th minute to clinch victory, substitute Arie Haan’s untidy goal finishing-off the Greeks.

While Cruyff treated the fans to one of his famous 180 degrees turns, the Dutch master’s control of the game, pointing, gesturing, directing and cajoling, gave the football world a glimpse of what was to come in the following few years.

Ajax and their fans enjoyed their first European triumph, a team that would shape football in the early-to-mid 70s and form the heart of the Dutch national team that ranks as the finest never to be world champions. As for Ajax, they were deserved and wonderful European champions.

The Ajax team that won the 1971 European Cup: Heinz Stuy, Velibor Vasović (captain), Wim Suurbier, Barry Hulshoff, Nico Rijnders (Horst Blankenberg), Johan Neeskens, Sjaak Swart (Arie Haan), Dick van Dijk, Piet Keizer and Johan Cruyff.

 

@GameofthePeople

Photos: PA