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