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?

A day at the promotion races: Doncaster and the Rovers

The goal that won promotion for Doncaster Rovers. Photo: PA

YOU CANNOT avoid politics and trains when you visit Doncaster. As soon as you arrive at the railway station, you come across a plaque that commemorates two local trade unionists, Mr Steels and Mr Holmes. It’s a town that has also been heavily influenced by the railways – both the Mallard and Flying Scotsman, trains that induce a flutter of excitement with those people that stand at the end of platforms collecting numbers (and there are a few of them at the station), were built at Doncaster.

Personal recollections of Doncaster range from bumping into racing commentator Brough Scott at the station and also something as trivial as recalling an episode of Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads being filmed there. As for politics, Doncaster and its surrounding area were badly impacted by the miners’ strike in the 1980s. The aftershock of that period is probably still being felt today as the local economy has moved from traditional, industrial revolution mode (the deep mines of Yorkshire were at the heart of this growth) to a town that provides low-wage and insecure employment, characterised by shopping centres that could really be anywhere in Britain. In 1980, there were 10 deep mines in and around the town, employing 17,000 people. Today there are none.

The changing face of Doncaster can be evidenced as soon as to leave the station. English is not necessarily the lingua franca of the young. I asked two people the way to Doncaster Rovers and they could not tell me – they were the sort of age that should really know the location of the local football team, but I had picked the wrong folk. “No good asking them,” said the next chap I asked, a mid-30s Doncaster shirt-wearing Dad with his little lad. “Most of them cannot even speak English. Get the Bus from the interchange, just a quid. Not from Mansfield, are you?”. Even in that brief, clipped conversation, it was clear there exists a degree of dissatisfaction about Doncaster’s lot – the town, in fact, voted overwhelmingly to leave the European Union – to the tune of 69%.

Football has always been a distraction to the working man and in 2016-17, Doncaster Rovers or “Donny” to use their nickname, are doing their best to lift the most sagging of spirits. “We’re going up today,” was the parting shot of the man at the station, clenching his fist as he waved me Bon Voyage on the number 55 bus. It wasn’t the last time I was told that this was a day of destiny.

“Donny” were virtually there, top of Football League Two and poised for a quick return following relegation in 2016. The visit of Mansfield brought with it some tension – a local derby and the visitors known for having a challenging nature among their following. Plenty of police around in Doncaster and extra security measures were being taken by the stadium staff. “Bloody hell, I’ve been coming here 60 years (he meant club, not stadium) and I’ve never been locked out,” said one Yorkshire wag complaining that it was 1.45pm and the gates had still not opened. “What’s going on?…you usually try and keep us in the ground not stop us getting in,” he laughed.

The steward explained that because of the importance of the game and the opposition, a special briefing had been taking place. “They’re expecting a bit of bother. They’re worried that the fans will run across the pitch if we go up today.” Matey wasn’t having this. “Tell bloody [Gavin, CEO] Baldwin to get the ground open, we’re gasping for a beer.”

The Keepmoat is something of a “cookie-cutter” stadium, but in my opinion, much grander and more comfortable than the club’s old home at Belle Vue. Baldwin has commented in the press that he’s been disappointed with attendances this season, a view shared by a friendly local as I enjoyed a pre-match beer. “We should be getting more, but we never seem to get higher than around 6,000 if we’re doing well,” he said.

Actually, Doncaster’s crowds have been far worse in the club’s chequered history. In the 1980s, they were regularly touching 2,000 and in 1988, their average was below that level. They’re currently at the lowest level since moving to the Keepmoat, but promotion should take them up again.

“This team is very vulnerable,” said the Donny fan. “People will be looking at the current team and trying to take them away from us in the summer. Quite a few clubs are interested in Marquis, for example.”

John Marquis joined the club from Millwall in the close season of 2016 and had scored 26 goals before facing Mansfield. He’s on a two-year deal, but his success in 2016-17 has meant he’s been targeted by clubs like Norwich and Ipswich. From an economic perspective, Doncaster may be wise to sell him while his stock is high – Marquis is 24 and spent a lot of his time on Millwall going out on loan. He’s just been named League Two player of the year.

We looked over at a picture of Alick Jeffrey that formed part of the club’s history on the wall of the stand. He’s a club legend and they’ve not only named a street after him, “Alick Jeffrey Way” that fringes the stadium, but also a bar in the ground. Jeffrey was one of the most well-known players outside the top flight during his career. He almost signed for Manchester United in 1956 but broke his leg so badly he had to quit the game. If that had not happened, history may have been very different as he would surely have been part of the famous “Busby babes” side. Busby’s number two, Jimmy Murphy, called Jeffrey “the English Pele”, so he was obviously a genuine talent.

He returned to the game after a spell in non-league football and had a second stint at Doncaster where he is considered to be their best ever player. It is also sometimes forgotten that Kevin Keegan played for “Donny” before moving to Scunthorpe and then Liverpool.

It is the nature of football that people will often consider contemporary success as being the best of times. It was interesting to hear a veteran Doncaster fan proudly claim that “supporting Donny has never been better”, but then if you look at the honours list, this is not a club that is used to having garlands placed around its neck. It’s quite miraculous that they reached the Championship in 2008 and 2013, but to quote my pre-match pal, “Doncaster are really third and fourth tier, that’s our natural habitat.”

So promotion from the fourth tier is really so important. Gavin Baldwin got his wish in a better turnout, there were almost 10,000 in the ground by kick-off. A win for “Donny” would clinch promotion.

Manager Darren Ferguson was appointed in October 2015 and survived relegation. This season, his team have been very powerful at home, losing their unbeaten record on March 26 against fellow contenders Plymouth Argyle. They bounced back impressively with a 5-1 win at Grimsby Town.

Unsurprisingly, the mood was a little tense as the game started. Doncaster pressurised Mansfield, but their goalkeeper Jake Kean was in fine form, notably when he stopped Marquis’ header early on.  Mostly, though, Mansfield’s defence was solid and it was starting to look like an “after the Lord Mayor’s show” type of afternoon.

With 17 minutes to go, Kean was finally beaten when Doncaster substitute James Coppinger’s corner was headed home by Tommy Rowe. Mansfield had a late effort from Ben Whiteman that threatened to spoil the party, but Doncaster won 1-0 and yes, people did run on the pitch in celebration!

Darren Ferguson said that the main aim was to seal promotion in front of the home fans. “This is the perfect scenario,” he commented. I didn’t hang around. On occasions like this, you feel you are almost like an uninvited guest at a party. It also made getting away from the stadium that much easier. Next season, there may be more people in the way of a quick exit.