Mansfield Town v AFC Wimbledon
Field Mill / League Two / 5th September 2015
Gary Neville, Kenny Sansom, George Cohen, Lee Dixon – all great English right-backs. However, if you were to ask me right now who is my favourite English right-back I wouldn’t opted for any of the aforementioned greats. No, for me right now, it is all about former Bolton right-back Nicky Hunt. He’s a now a great in my eyes too. Let me explain. It seems through a chain of events that my pal Gibbo has befriended Nicky Hunt through some sort of link with Atherton Collieries. Kindly, Nicky, who recently signed for Mansfield Town, agreed that if ever Gibbo wanted to go to Mansfield, perhaps with a mate (me), he would sort him out with tickets. So, when a few of the Crawley fans decided they were hitting Nottingham for the night post-Notts County v Crawley (a game that was then postponed as Notts had players on international duty, so our pals headed to Carlton Town instead), I suggested to Gibbo we tag along and take in a game nearby. Mansfield sounded good…
Me and Mansfield have history from last season. I’d actually arranged to visit Mansfield’s Field Mill ground back in November 2014 for Mansfield’s FA Cup tie against lowly Concord Rangers. A proper FA Cup tie seemed the perfect time to visit. I arrived into Nottingham that November morning and it was fairly sunny, but by the time I arrived into Mansfield shortly after midday it was hammering it down. I nervously made my way through 2-3 pubs keeping an eye on Mansfield’s Twitter feed; I knew what was coming. With just over an hour until kick-off, the game was abandoned due to a waterlogged pitch. And so ensued a mad rush south to Nottingham as me and fellow groundhopper Richard were determined to make a game of football somewhere. We arrived at our seats in the City Ground’s Brian Clough Stand literally as Nottingham Forest v Norwich was kicking off. Mansfield would have to wait for another day. Today it seemed.
I met Gibbo in Manchester’s Paramount Wetherspoons early Saturday morning, after my pal had already been to another Spoons that morning. Don’t worry, he hasn’t sunk to new drinking time lows – he was on some sort of ‘have-a-cup-of-tea-in-Wetherspoons’ pub crawl. I figured I’d join him for a morning ‘brew’ (I still can’t say that word seriously – not that northern yet).
Soon, we were at Oxford Road and ready to board the 9.39am train to Nottingham. For company on this packed two carriage train we had several Wigan fans en route to Chesterfield, including Ashton Town’s chairman Mark Hayes. He kept us entertained by regaling us with a humourous tale about how he once endured a two-hour seminar from his Wigan hero Nathan Ellington in the former striker’s conservatory about selling gas and electricity; Mark turned down the opportunity to work for him, as it seemed he was purely there to sign up Ellington for a Wigan Athletic Legends charity match (he was successful).
The Wigan faithful dismounted at Chesterfield and not long after me and Gibbo were rolling into Nottingham. A quick change over and it was onwards to Mansfield. It was only a half hour train journey and it definitely flew by, as me and Gibbo came up with some brilliant entertainment for ourselves: penning original chants about his beloved Atherton Collieries. We had half a songbook by the time we arrived in Mansfield, but undoubtedly our best was the ode to the club’s ‘ramshackle’ but lovable home ground, Alder Street, to the tune of That’s Entertainment (“That’s Atherton Collieres…That’s Atherton Collieries).
Clearly my previous outing to Mansfield was fresh in my mind as on arriving I seem to remember my way around comfortably; not that Mansfield is a thriving metropolis. We popped in the bookies, where I was excited to be ID-ed, before we then headed for the main town square. I informed Gibbo that Mansfield’s Wetherspoons is a poor effort, but obviously he wanted to see for himself, so that’s where we headed first.
He agreed. It is a poor effort of a Wetherspoons, but he was happy enough with his 99p Bengali – a sister beer to his beloved ‘Sweet Action’. I opted for a lovely Red McGregor beer, which certainly did the job.
On heading back out into the busy market square, we surveyed our surroundings and tried to pick our next pub. However, we somehow ended up walking past the several we had on offer and instead we found ourselves strolling to the ground with over an hour and half still to go until kick-off.
We found the ground fairly easily with no help from Google Maps for a change and, to be honest, I was underwhelmed with the ground on first sighting it. What I couldn’t complain about though was heading to the ticket office to find two tickets waiting for us in the name of ‘Joseph Gibbons’ with the words ‘Left by Nicky Hunt’ written on the envelope. With photos taken it was time to hit the club bar.
And what a club bar! Me and Gibbo were both very impressed with what was on offer. The bar, the Sandy Pate Sports Bar, was nicely furnished with some booths even having their own private TVs; the walls were covered in Mansfield memorabilia; the bar was well-staffed; and sitting alongside the bar was a small canteen area selling food. Being Welsh, I opted for curry and chips – an order that seemed to baffle the catering staff running the food area. I will say though, it was exceptional stuff. Pint and curry and chips – a perfect greeting to a football ground.
We had a good hour enjoying the growing atmosphere in the bar and we enjoyed the company of two Wimbledon fans, who seemed to do their best to deter us from visiting their home ground; I’m not sure if they were embarrassed that they frequent the former home of Kingstonian FC or if they just thought me and Gibbo looked like dodgy characters and didn’t want us near the place.
15 minutes to go until kick-off, we found ourselves working our way up the steps into the heart of the Ian Greaves Stand. We ignored the advances of the condiment-dispensing ‘Sauce Station’ and headed straight up to our seats. It seemed Nicky Hunt had got us some of the best seats in the house (not that I expected anything less): bang on the halfway line and right behind the Mansfield press pack. We revelled in spying on their Twitter feeds on their laptop screens from our seats. Particularly humorous was the one journo tweeting about how the sunny weather was ‘deceptive’ and to wrap up warm; we decided that he was far too soft – it really wasn’t cold.
Field Mill is a fairly interesting looking ground – well, from our view it looked ‘fairly interesting’. We were housed in the two-tiered main stand, the Ian Greaves Stand, a cantilevered stand named after one of the club’s former managers. Behind each goal are the almost identical looking Quarry Lane End and North Stand, the stand where the away houses could be found today. Undoubtedly, the most interesting structure in the ground is the Bishop Street Stand – a crumbling stand on the opposite side of the pitch that only runs half the length of the pitch and is flanked by an open terrace on one side. It looked like this stand was no longer in use sadly, although the dugouts could be found in front of it. Unsurprisingly, there are plans to build a new stand in the future to replace this worn relic of a stand.
Back up in the Ian Greaves Stand, me and Gibbo had our seats and we were ready for our fix of League Two football. Soon, the players were strolling out across the pitch with Nicky Hunt leading the Yellows across the turf. I immediately expressed my love for Wimbledon’s away shirt: a dark green and lime green striped number. There was only one player I was excited about seeing on the pitch for the Dons though.
In recent years, Adebayo Akinfenwa has become an iconic figure. For those not familiar, he is the self-proclaimed ‘strongest player in football’, a tag which has derived from the fact that he is the only player in the history of the FIFA videogame series to have ’99’ for ‘strength’ – the highest rating available for players’ stats. In fact, Bayo is now probably more famous for his FIFA guise and his ‘Beast Mode’ clothes line than he is for his efforts in the lower regions of the Football League. However, I have a soft spot for the 16 stone striker for other reasons: he’s a former Swansea City striker. YOU JACK BASTARD! YOU JACK BASTARD! There was also the interesting clash on the cards today of ‘The Beast v The Beast’: Bayo Akinfenwa v Mansfield’s goalie Brian ‘The Beast’ Jenson, formerly of Bury, Crawley and, perhaps most famously, Burnley.
The game started at a very good pace with Mansfield looking the more lively. However, it was the away team who took the lead in the 6th minute in a rather simple manner. A long punt up pitch from the Dons’ keeper fell to George Francomb, who played in the on-side Tom Elliot, who had the simple task of firing home through the legs of Brian ‘The Beast’ Jenson. 1-0 to the Dons.
As the journos ahead of us rapidly tapped away at their match reports and their Twitter feeds, Wimbledon were on the attack again and Elliot almost scored again, but his volley went just wide of Jenson’s post. However, it was Mansfield who would grab the next goal and the Stags had an equaliser. I’d noted almost immediately that Mansfield’s best player was their centre midfielder Chris Clements and it was he who would score Mansfield’s opener in style. Mansfield earned themselves a freekick 20 yards from goal and Clements stepped up to curl the dead ball into the bottom corner expertly.
The game was lacking real clear-cut chances, but nonetheless it was proving to be a really entertaining game of football with both teams setting up to attack. The closest we got to a second goal came towards the end of the half when Mansfield’s Krystian Pearce had a shot cleared off the line following some pinball in the box.
Half-time: Mansfield Town 1 – 1 AFC Wimbledon.
It’s become strange for me over the past few months getting recognised at certain grounds, but it was Gibbo’s moment today when one of the journalists ahead of us suddenly turned around and declared he knew who Gibbo was from his tweeting of all things Atherton Collieries-related. It’s probably requests for autographs for me and Gibbo next.
Then, we headed to the front of the stand to get the usual photos of the place (and double thumbs up ensembles). Taking the photos for us was one of Mansfield’s female stewards, who Gibbo was sure had taken a shine to him. She was a decent photographer anyway.
The second half wasn’t as entertaining as the first and my first half statement of ‘there’s plenty of goals in this game’ was coming back to haunt me; however, it did start with a bang when Matt Green found himself heading towards goal with Wimbledon keeper James Shea stranded. Sadly, for Mansfield, Green couldn’t get his shot off, but when he played the ball to Reggie Lambe (great name) his effort was cleared off the line.
Shea almost had another nightmare moment when he spilled a shot from Craig Westcarr, but fortunately, for the keeper, it went just wide of the post. My personal highlight of the game was coming though.
We finally got to witness Beast v Beast. Akinfenwa was played through on goal and a chase was on between the onrushing Akinfenwa and keeper Jenson sprinting off his line. What ensued was an almighty collision on the edge of the box. You could feel the ground shake. Think Godzilla v King Kong. Jenson just about won the battle as his brave goalkeeping saw Bayo’s effort smothered at the feet of the Mansfield keeper.
Mansfield were putting on the pressure, but creating little as the clock ticked towards 90. They were given more of a chance when Wimbledon went down to ten men and to me and Gibbo’s outrage it involved an assault on our pal Nicky Hunt; Lyle Taylor saw a straight red for hitting Hunt in the face. He didn’t half take a long time to exit the pitch too.
There was one real final chance for Mansfield to win it, as they earned a freekick in an almost identical position to where they had scored from earlier in the match. Once again, up stepped Clements, but this time his effort made it over the wall, before bouncing agonisingly just wide of the post. Then the ref blew his whistle to call an end to today’s proceedings.
Full-time: Mansfield Town 1 – 1 AFC Wimbledon.
A decent game. We decided not to hang about though and after clapping Nicky and the gang off the pitch, we made a hasty exit and headed back into town.
Fellow groundhopper Russell Cox had recommended the Beer Shack to us and we figured we’d head there for one last drink, before heading back to Nottingham. A good shout. The Beer Shack was awesome. Okay, so it may have only consisted of the one tiny room, but what a room! Real ale was on sale and there was a pleasant atmosphere to the place. I suppose it was all rather ‘hip’. We also got the opportunity to pass on some travel advice to the friendly barman Dave, who was heading to Bruges in a few days time – a city me and Gibbo are well-acquainted with from our football trip there. However, don’t make phonecalls or answer any phonecalls in the Beer Shack whatever you do – you will soon be told to leave the bar as they have a ‘No phone call’ policy in the diminutive bar.
Not long after 6pm and with ale in our bellies, we were heading back to Nottingham and checking into our fairly decent hostel. Of course, when in this part of the world there is one Lost Boyos tradition that will never die: Hooters! Plus, Gibbo had never been there; I think he enjoyed it, especially…the, uh, customer service from the staff.
We fitted in a quick visit to The Canalhouse (runner-up in Lost Boyos Pub of the Year 2013/2014), before we met up with the Curzon Ashton and Crawley Town contingent for a night out in Nottingham involving absinthe, lots of Crawley, York and Lost Boyos stickers and amateur pole dancing in Yates. Good times.
Mansfield had been much kinder to me this time with not only the rain staying away, but a free ticket also coming my way. Field Mill was an okay visit without really getting my pulse racing, although Mansfield Town definitely have one of the finest club bar’s in the Football League. Cheers Nicky Hunt!
Highlights: free ticket from Nicky Hunt, club bar, good seats, decent game, Bayo Akinfenwa v Brian Jenson, Chris Clements goal and performance, Beer Shack, Nottingham night out.
Low Points: poor Wetherspoons, not much to Mansfield.
See all my photos from Mansfield (and some of our Nottingham night out) here.