Friday 21 October 2022

The Greatest Stag Do : Part Seven : The story of Mansfield Town's glory days : 1977-78



This is the story of Mansfield Town’s glory years of the mid-to-late 1970’s. So far we have seen them win Division’s Four and Three in three seasons. They were then into the Second Division for the first time in their history. But they were finding the going tough. At the end of 1977 they were in the relegation zone, two points from safety with 19 matches to play.



They began the year with a trip to Stoke City, who provided them with their first ever win in Second Division football. A 1-1 draw saw two unlikely scorers in Jim McGroarty and David Goodwin getting their firsts of the season for their new clubs. The biggest shock of the day came at Burnden Park, where leaders Bolton were beaten by bottom club, Burnley.

Mansfield now had experienced one of the perks of being a Second Division club. They didn’t enter the FA Cup until the Third Round in January. They were drawn at home to Third Division Plymouth Argyle, then managed by Malcolm Allison.

Johnny Miller’s first half strike proved to be the only goal of the game and Stags’ fans had a glimmer of hope for another cup run.

Southampton then visited and were in great form, picking up nine points from a possible 10 in their previous five matches. They were in the promotion places too. Alan Ball scored from the spot to give them the lead. Syrett ended a four game streak without a goal to level things up. But then Ted MacDougall put the visitors back in front and the Stags were never able to get back level.

Four defeats in their last five home matches wasn’t the form of survival. Burnley followed their win at Bolton with a home win over Stoke and were now level on points with Mansfield.

They then travelled down to the south coast to take on Brighton. The Goldstone Ground was a place Mansfield hadn’t even got so much as a point at for nearly eight years. The Seagulls were fifth in the table and pushing for a second successive promotion. But they had only won one of their last five so the Stags had reason to be positive. That was until the action got underway.

Goals from Peter Ward (2) and Teddy Maybank gave the home side a comfortable 3-0 lead at the break. Ward then completed his hat-trick in the second half, with skipper Brian Horton also finding the net. Mansfield did get a goal but it was courtesy of Peter O’Sullivan putting through his own net and they suffered the ignominy of losing 1-5 with the home team scoring all the goals.

This was a bad defeat, they were well beaten and looked short of confidence. Burnley drew 3-3 with Southampton and then moved above the Stags who were then second from bottom.


If the fans hoped the FA Cup could provide some relief from their league woes. But a first half goal from Frank Worthington gave Bolton the win in the Fourth Round and now their cup run dreams were gone.

But they had already finished their fixtures against three of the top seven so hopefully there were easier games to come.

Cardiff arrived in 19th, but off the back of a 5-2 drubbing of Sunderland. Perhaps it was little surprise when Bishop and Buchanan scored for the visitors in the first half. Ian Wood finally ended his 39-game search for his first league goal of his career and the home side went in just a goal down. It was the sort of game where the next goal would be crucial. Fortunately for the home side Hodgson got it, his first for five months. A 2-2 draw gave them a crucial point, especially as Millwall beat Southampton. Mansfield were now rock bottom, with Millwall above them on goal difference and with a game in hand.

Peter Morris selected himself in the starting line-up for the first time since the Blackpool home match in early December. After the match the fans discovered it was more to say goodbye than to offer anything on the playing side. Morris was off to take over the Assistant Manager job at Newcastle United.

What were they going to do now?

The board searched around for his successor and came up with former Everton and Northern Ireland manager, Billy Bingham. There were hopes his stature in the game could attract some top quality names to the club which would go on to cement their Second Division status.

The latest winless run was at six. More alarmingly they’d won just one of their last 12. Mind you, their next visitors, Hull City had a similar record. They were fourth from bottom and three points ahead of the Stags. 7,121 watched nervously as Colin Foster put the home side in front. The home side clung on too and Mansfield moved up two places. Could they build on this?




The short answer was no. They lost their next five. Defeat at Sheffield United was followed by another home loss to Bolton. Neither match had seen them score. For Syrett the goals had dried up after his promising start to the season. He’d found the net six times in his first 15 games. His next 13 had yielded just two goals.

Bingham dipped into the transfer market and brought in Dennis Martin from Newcastle. He’d played nine times that season for the Magpies in Division One. He was thrown straight into the first team in the defeat to Bolton.

Mid-March saw them travel to Burnley for a crucial relegation battle. The phrase didn’t exist back then but if it had this would definitely have been a ‘relegation four pointer’.

Burnley were two places and three points above Mansfield, who were bottom of the table. The Clarets had really turned their form around. When they lost to Oldham the day after Boxing Day, they were rock bottom with just 12 points. They’d only suffered one defeat in the nine matches since then, picking up 11 points. In comparison Mansfield had picked up just four points over the same period. They were also coming off the back of a 4-1 win over Sheffield United, a week after Mansfield had been beaten by them, 0-2.

Paul Fletcher gave the home side a first half lead. Aston, who had missed the Bolton defeat, came on as a sub for Syrett but he couldn’t find the net. Steve Kindon confirmed the victory for Burnley, who moved up to 18th. This was three games now where Mansfield had failed to find the net, and the gap to safety was four points. More worrying there were only 11 games left.

Back-to-back 0-1 defeats to Sunderland and Notts County followed, taking their losing streak to five. They hadn’t scored in any of those, either.

It was against this backdrop the leaders arrived on Easter Saturday. In happier times this may have meant a big crowd. But it was a measure of the inertia around the town that Tottenham Hotspur only attracted a crowd of 12,106, fewer than the opening day game against Stoke City. In fact, more people turned up to see Notts County in late October than a club who were still labelled as one of ‘the big five’.

Spurs had won three on the bounce and were unbeaten in their last 17. It was a daunting task, and the ultimate David v Goliath with first taking on last.

Despite the slightly disappointing attendance the atmosphere was of ‘cup tie’ standards. Mansfield seemed to lift themselves and certainly took the game to their more illustrious opponents. It was during a period of pressure they took the lead on 28 minutes.

Bird’s cross from the right down near the bye-line was floated to the far post where Martin got up above two defenders. He headed it back across the six-yard area and Syrett was there to turn it past Daines. It was a great moment for the Mansfield number nine. It was his 10th of the season and it ended an eight-game run since his last goal.

In pouring rain and on a muddy pitch, Spurs levelled. Hoddle produced a lovely cross from a tight angle on the right. Arnold went up with Lee to try and catch it, and although he got his hands to it he was unable to hold onto it. It rolled clear for Pratt to strike it, but Arnold saved it but once again couldn’t get a decent grip on the ball. Lee rolled it to Pratt, who had another go and again the keeper was equal to it. But unfortunately for him the nearest player to him was Chris Jones and he gleefully accepted the opportunity to put it in the net.

The home side weren’t deterred and some decent passing in awful conditions, saw Martin head on Miller’s ball into the area. He found Hodgson on the right of the box and as he beat Perryman, the Spurs skipper tripped him. The referee had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Dennis Martin was given the opportunity to score his first goal for the club. But his kick was what is normally described as a ‘good height for the keeper’ and Daines saved it.

With three minutes of the first half to go, Mansfield had a corner on the right. Hodgson took it left-footed and Colin Foster got up above everyone to head it goalwards. Syrett was then able to nod it on past Daines and Neil McNab cleared it off the line. The home side and their fans called it over the line, the visitors had other ideas. But the officials ruled it in and Mansfield went into the break 2-1 up.

That’s how things remained until the final 10 minutes as Spurs had appeals for a penalty. Jimmy Holmes corner on the left was headed towards goal by Lee and found Taylor with his back to goal on the far post. He turned and hit a shot across the goal which appeared to strike Wood on the hand. The Spurs players protested and the referee gave the penalty. Mansfield players were incensed as they felt Taylor controlled the ball with his arm before turning to hit his shot. Replays suggested he did.


Hoddle took the kick and easily beat Arnold to level the scores.

Within minutes the home side struck back. Perryman gave the ball away to Hodgson in midfield. He immediately launched it forward for Syrett to run onto. But he overhit the pass and Daines came out of his area to clear. Inexplicably, the hapless keeper missed his kick and Syrett couldn’t believe his luck as he ran on and passed the ball into the empty net. There was a brief moment when it almost looked like the mud would hold the ball up, but it just rolled over the line. It was Syrett’s hat-trick and they were on the verge of a famous win.

They then should’ve put the game beyond reach. Another in-swinging corner from Hodgson was headed on at the near post by Syrett. All of a sudden Colin Foster had made a run to the far post and was unmarked. But with the goal at his mercy, he lunged at the ball and it went agonisingly wide.

Spurs were then awarded a free-kick right on the edge of Mansfield’s area as the clock ticked towards 90 minutes. It was very likely to be the final chance of the match. Hoddle took it and chipped it over the wall and into the top corner. It was a brilliant moment from a player still in the ‘promising’ category, who would go on to do that sort of thing for fun.

The game ended 3-3. Mansfield could have reason to feel they should’ve won, as Spurs shouldn’t really have had a penalty for 2-2. But the point was an important one and well earned. Above them both Millwall and Hull drew, so this was vital to stay in touch.

It had been a really entertaining game and was one of five games that day which saw five goals or more.

On Easter Monday Syrett was again on target and so was Colin Foster as they went to Fulham and won 2-0. Their first win for six matches and after five matches without a goal they’d scored five in two.

Seven games to go they were still bottom, and five points adrift of Cardiff who were just outside the relegation zone, with two games in hand. One of those came two days later as they shocked third placed Southampton with a 1-0 win. The gap to safety remained at five points but now Orient were the target and they too had two games in hand.


The joy of an uptick in form through the Easter period was short lived as Charlton came to Field Mill and walked away with a convincing 3-0 win. At least Millwall and Orient both lost.

Midweek saw Orient pick up a point so when Mansfield went to Oldham and won thanks to a Johnny Miller goal, this gave some relief. It was only Oldham’s second home defeat of the season. But the four clubs above them all picked up points too.

Blackburn were the visitors next, lying in fifth with their promotion hopes hanging by a thread with one win in their last seven. Syrett put the home side in front. Tony Parkes levelled in the second half, but then Mansfield had another penalty. This time Syrett took it and made no mistake. But they couldn’t hold onto the lead and Dave Wagstaffe equalised to share the points.

Hull and Orient both lost but Millwall won. Mansfield were now three points from safety but games were running out.

In the week Millwall and Orient both won and Mansfield were now five points from safety with just four games to go.

Mansfield were then at Blackpool. The Tangerines’ form was worse than Mansfield’s. In mid-March they were seventh. But no win in their last eight saw them slide dangerously down the table. Bob Hatton scored his 21st of the season to give the home side the lead but this was cancelled out by Miller. In the second half Mansfield had yet another penalty and again Syrett was successful. Another vital away win for the Stags, their third in succession.

With Orient beating Hull City, Mansfield knew they had to win all of their final three matches to stay up. Even then Orient still had a game in hand.

Mansfield were in action next. Bristol Rovers arrived in 17th and not completely safe. As if to sense their opportunity, Miller and Aston gave them breathing space at the break. Aston added his second and Mansfield’s third to round off a wonderful 3-0 win. Their first time they’d registered back-to-back wins since the beginning of October. It also took them off the bottom of the table since the end of January.

24 hours later all eyes were on Brisbane Road where Orient took on Southampton. The Saints arrived top of the table. Tony Funnell gave them the lead but Joe Mayo equalised and earned the O’s a crucial point.

Mansfield now needed snookers.

Even winning their final two matches might not be enough, unless a swing in goal difference could see them overcome the eight goals they were behind Millwall.

Remarkably for all concerned the fixture schedule had thrown up a huge game as Mansfield entertained Orient at Field Mill. This was probably a blessing for the visitors as they could at least influence their own chances of staying up, rather than rely on others. Mansfield could afford nothing but a win, and really needed a convincing one.

16 minutes in and the home fans got their wish. A free-kick move was finished off by Sandy Pate. It was a great moment for the, then, club’s record appearance holder. It was only his second ever league goal for the club he first turned out for in September 1968. His first was in April 1976. Now two years later could he help keep the club up?

Pate was only making his ninth appearance of the season. The days of him being a regular were past him. Incredibly between September 1968 and August 1975 he played 366 consecutive matches, and was ever-present in six consecutive seasons.

Try as they might they just couldn’t add to this. A win was vital but a 1-0 win was hardly of much use, as they needed more goals. Their first half performance was such the home fans gave them a standing ovation at the break. In the second half Arnold pulled off a fine save from Kitchen’s fierce striker but the rebound fell to Joe Mayo and he equalised.

At the end Orient’s keeper, John Jackson pulled off a terrific save from Miller which could’ve won it for the home side and threatened the visitors’ survival. But it wasn’t to be.

It ended 1-1, and with it went Mansfield’s Second Division soirée. It had lasted just nine months. Relegation had seemed inevitable for the last few weeks as they desperately tried to stave it off.

It was somewhat fitting Pate scored the last Second Division goal at Field Mill for Mansfield. The CHAD was fairly definite at where the problems lay for the club;

“Injudicious transfer deals, a spate of injuries, and the inability to attract the type of experienced player, so necessary in the higher division, have all played their part in their demise.”

The Stags final Second Division match was a trip to Millwall. A few weeks before it was thought the final two matches of the season could be a suspense-filled relegation battle, against Orient and Millwall. But Millwall’s form towards the end of the season had taken them clear of the drop. They had won their last five matches. John Seasman’s first half goal made it six in a row.

Mansfield limped out of the second tier lacking the fight many had hoped they could muster. However, they had shown some glimpses of being able to compete at that level. They weren’t outclassed in too many matches, they beat the eventual champions, Bolton, as well as the team which ended in second place, Southampton. Plus, of course they were just minutes from beating Tottenham, who also went up.

They were the only plus points at home. Field Mill had become a fortress over the previous couple of seasons, but at the higher level they only won six home games, losing nine.

Bingham had not had the effect on the players or the club many had hoped for. The team’s record under him was P 15, W 5, D 3 L 7.

Dave Syrett had proved a good acquisition with 16 goals. But he missed his strike partner from the previous season, Ernie Moss, who was only able to make 15 appearances before a knee injury kept him out. You can’t blame many a fan who wondered how the likes of Ray Clarke or Kevin Randall may have got on.

It had been a remarkable climb from fourth tier to second in three seasons. But that’s as good as it ever got for the club. They have never reached such heights again.

They finished three places above the drop in Division Three the following season, but a year later couldn’t stave off another relegation. Bingham left the club in summer 1979. Mick Jones took over but couldn’t stop the rot.

August 1980 they were back where this whole story started in August 1975, playing Fourth Division football.

There were several things which struck me about this story when I was researching it. If you were looking into a story about a club which went from Fourth Division to Second in three years you would expect to see a sudden injection of cash, or a big name manager with a new philosophy. Dave Smith was a gamble, it was his first managerial appointment. He won the Fourth Division in only his second season, then had a really impressive second half of the following season in the third, then left.

A new guy took over, also his first managerial appointment, and they won the Third Division. They beat their transfer record by selling two of their best players, hardly spent any of the money, yet it didn’t seem to affect their progress. That was until they reached the Second Division and found their team was still largely the same as had been in the Fourth Division, and the lack of experience and ability just showed them up during a long season.

The fall was as quick as the rise had been. Two promotions in three years was followed by two relegations in three years and they were back where they started. They’ve never reached the heights of the second tier of English football again, and in 2008 they fell out of the league altogether.

For a short period in their long history they were at least mixing it with the big boys. Seems a shame they couldn’t keep it going.

All pics courtesy of Stagsnet & the Chad

Wednesday 19 October 2022

The Greatest Stag Do : Part Six : The story of Mansfield Town's glory days : 1977-78


This is the story of Mansfield Town’s glory years of the mid-to-late 1970’s. So far in this story they won Division Four and then two years later, Division Three. They were about to embark on their first ever season in the second tier.


Mansfield Town were formed in 1897. 80 years they had never been higher than the third tier of English football. 20 August 1977 they were embarking on their first ever match in the second tier. During the summer manager Peter Morris made two important acquisitions to bolster his squad for the tougher challenges ahead.

Dave Syrett was a 21-year old striker who’d been at Swindon playing under former Stags boss, Danny Williams. 30 goals in 122 appearances convinced Morris he was the man who could increase the firepower and take some of the pressure off Randall and Moss. If Stags’ fans were excited about the possibility of a Randall/Syrett partnership they were disappointed when Morris went with a Moss/Syrett combination.

The other signing was Pat Sharkey. Born in Omagh, Northern Ireland, he was bought from Ipswich Town. In four years he only made 18 appearances and probably welcomed the chance of first-team football and the challenge of Mansfield’s first ever second tier season.

When the fixtures came out Stags’ fans were overjoyed to find out they were at home for the first game. If they didn’t quite realise they were going to be up against some big names throughout the season they did as soon as they saw who their first opponents were. Stoke City were a First Division club the season before, suffering the drop by one point. In their side were England’s goalkeeper, Peter Shilton, Alec Lindsay, who’d won the league, UEFA and FA Cup with Liverpool, Howard Kendall, who’d won the league with Everton, Terry Conroy, capped 27 times for Republic of Ireland, as well as the experience of Denis Smith and Alan Dodd. They were managed by George Eastham, who was in England’s ’66 World Cup winning squad.

Before the league got under way they were in action in the League Cup. Lincoln City, then in the Third Division, came to Field Mill and walked off with a 1-0 win. John Ward scored the only goal of the game and four days later they defended it with a goalless draw. Mansfield’s League Cup run didn’t even yield a goal. Perhaps their minds were on bigger things?

Now for the league season. Stoke were one of the ‘big’ clubs Mansfield would come up against that season. A crowd of 14,077 packed into Field Mill to see the stars on show.

In the build-up to the game Morris had made the point he felt former First Division sides would find more problems at a lower level than those promoted from the Third Division.

Syrett and Sharkey were both in the side, with Randall on the bench. The first half was goalless but then five minutes into the second half Syrett pounced on a loose back-pass from Alan Dodd. He took his chance superbly, and even impressed the England goalkeeper.

Shilton said afterwards;

“How he got it past me I don’t know. I was perfectly placed to deny him any sight of the goal”.

Six minutes later Stags were in dreamland. Denis Smith handled in the area and Mansfield were awarded a penalty. The other new boy, Sharkey was given the responsibility of taking it. He had to wait up to four minutes before he could, though as Stoke fans invaded the pitch. But he kept his calm and beat Shilton to put the home side two goals up. Kevin Bird then thought he’d settled the game when he headed in from a corner, but it was ruled out for a foul on Shilton. But then in the closing minutes Ian Wood fouled Garth Crooks and the visitors had a penalty. Lindsay took it and scored but Stoke were unable to capitalise. Mansfield’s first game in Division Two ended with a 2-1 win.

Three days later they were up against a familiar opponent. Terry Venables’ Crystal Palace had taken on Mansfield four times in the last two seasons, and only been beaten once. But at Selhurst Park the Eagles had won both meetings. 45 minutes into this one and it was clear this wasn’t going to change. Palace were three-up by half-time. Syrett scored his second for his new club in the second half but it was no more than a consolation goal, as Stags went down 1-3.

They stayed down south to visit The Dell. The Saints were FA Cup winners just 15 months before, but were still a Second Division side. Lawrie McMenemy had added Alan Ball to his side, and with Chris Nicholl and Ted MacDougall also in the team they represented a tough task. David Peach scored from the spot in the first half and it remained the only goal of the game. The euphoria of an opening day win had now dissipated within a week with two defeats.

There was at least the home record, unbeaten in 38 league games. Brighton were the visitors at the beginning of September. Morris named an unchanged side for the fourth successive match, with Randall again on the bench. Alan Mullery had signed John Ruggiero from Stoke and after a couple of substitute appearances, he was in the starting line-up for the first time. He duly rewarded his boss with the opening goal. Steve Piper added a second and once again Syrett was on target and once again it was in defeat. This was proving to be a tough season already, they’d met the other two promoted sides who finished below them last season and lost.

Gone too was the unbeaten home run, stretching back to December 1975.

Changes were needed. One was forced as Ian MacKenzie picked up a knee injury. It was so bad fans would only see him pull on the yellow shirt once more in his career, and in the following summer he made the incredible decision to retire.

The other was a bit of a surprise. John Aston was a youth player at Matt Busby’s Manchester United. He was 10 at the time of the Munich Air Crash and was one of those Busby placed trust in to resurrect the club. At Wembley in 1968, on a pitch alongside players of the stature of Bobby Charlton, George Best, Nobby Stiles, Eusebio and José Torres, Aston was voted Man of the Match in United’s 4-1 win over Benfica in the European Cup Final. Four years later he moved to Luton Town and now Morris saw him as adding valuable experience to his team. Aston made his debut in the home meeting with Millwall. Another of Morris’ signings, John Miller, made way. The game ended goalless with Randall replacing Syrett but to no avail.

This was the end as far as Randall was concerned. He would later reflect he was at an age where he wanted to be playing, and four appearances as a sub just wasn’t doing it for him. He dropped down two divisions to York City. Randall has always been synonymous with Stags’ Third Division title season and remained a club favourite. Typically, he scored twice on his debut at Bootham Crescent.

Ian Matthews came in for his first appearance of the season for the trip to Cardiff City, in a game where Ernie Moss finally got off the mark in a 1-1 draw.

Burnley then rocked up at Field Mill still searching for their first win of the season. They’d been relegated from the First Division two years earlier. Despite having two talented wingers in Terry Cochrane and Tony Morley, Harry Potts’ side was struggling in front of goal. Of their two goals thus far one was an own goal. Ian Brennan’s first half goal was therefore a bit of a surprise, but Syrett was also on target as the two sides went into the break level.

In the second half Mansfield tore their opponents apart, which caused Morris to reflect how they had played in a way that Second Division football should be played. Aston was especially impressive and it was his good work down the left which created the space for a cross Hodgson gleefully converted. Three minutes later they were further ahead. Syrett, always a menace, was pushed over in the penalty area and Sharkey converted the penalty. It looked for minute as if Stevenson had saved it, but he lost his grip and it rolled over the line. Moss lobbed the Burnley keeper to round off the scoring for a 4-1 win. The only black mark was the sending off of the home side’s Colin Foster and the visitors’ Paul Fletcher as the two exchanged punches in the centre-circle.

Seven games in and they were lying 12th.


A week later they had back-to-back wins for the first time when they went to Hull City and walked away with a 2-0 win. Moss scored both against a side containing Billy Bremner, to register their first win on the road in the new division. Now they looked like they belonged.

But that was as good as it would get for October.

Defeats at Bristol Rovers and Bolton Wanderers were sandwiched either side of a draw at home to Sheffield United. Bolton were the early leaders, so this was no embarrassment but it was followed with successive defeats at home to Sunderland and Notts County. County had only picked up their first win of the season a week earlier, so this was a bad loss. The Sunderland result went largely under the radar as Tottenham thumped Bristol Rovers 9-0 on the same day.

Sharkey missed both home defeats which saw Morris don his kit for the first time in the season, but he couldn’t galvanise his team. October ended with the side in 18th, one of four clubs on nine points with only Burnley on fewer.


Syrett and Moss had five goals each so far, and both added to this tally in a 2-2 draw at Charlton. Six games without a win finally came to end at home to Luton Town. Aston missed the game against his former teammates as Sharkey and Syrett gave the home side a half-time lead. Miller, who was back in for Aston, made it three with his first of the season. Morris made his 600th league appearance and was especially influential.

Sharkey scored his fourth of the season but it came in defeat at fifth placed, Blackburn. Next up was the visit of Oldham Athletic. The Latics arrived at Field Mill fourth from bottom. After winning two of their first three games, they’d won just one of their next 13. Striker Steve Taylor scored twice to give him seven in as many matches and Oldham came away with a convincing win.

They were back down into the bottom three. This would be a long winter.


The Stags travelled down to London to take on Orient at Brisbane Road. The O’s hadn’t won any of their last five matches, although only one of those was a defeat. John Chiedozie and Peter Kitchen put them ahead in the first half, with Kevin Bird getting one back for the visitors. This saw the first appearance of the season for Barry Foster. It was also the first appearance for John Goodwin, who’d just moved from Stoke City where he was struggling to find a first team place. He was the fifth new player in Morris’s side but he could do nothing to stop a third successive loss. Kitchen completed a hat-trick in the second half. He would go on to hit 21 goals that season.

Mansfield were now second from bottom.

Blackpool were next to visit together with their free-scoring strike partnership of Bob Hatton and Mickey Walsh. The two were both on target at Field Mill in a 3-1 win taking the losing run to four for the home side. That long unbeaten run seemed a distant memory, having lost four of their last five at home.

They travelled to Luton Town to try and reverse the trend. Morris dropped himself and would be seen only once more in the starting line-up for the remainder of the campaign. Syrett’s last goal had come against the same opponents five games earlier, and he took the opportunity to punish them again to take his tally to eight.

The club celebrated Christmas just a point above Burnley who were bottom. Yet they were still only a point from the two clubs immediately above them, so they were still in a battle for safety.

Fulham arrived on Boxing Day. Sadly for Stags’ fans had this fixture been played a year before they might’ve been witnessing Bobby Moore, Rodney Marsh and George Best. Moore had retired, Marsh moved to the States, and Best had called time on his term at Craven Cottage six weeks before this game.

John Mitchell, who’d been a key part of Fulham’s road to the FA Cup Final two years earlier, gave the visitors the lead at the break. But just as the home fans feared a sixth home defeat of the season, goals from defenders, Colin Foster and Kevin Bird turned things around. They’d endured five games since their last victory, and at last they could celebrate.

But the Christmas period was always a busy one in those days, and 24 hours later they made their way to London to take on Spurs. Tottenham’s 26-year residency in the First Division had come to an end in the previous season. They were second in the table, two points behind Bolton and two points ahead of Blackburn, in third.

Manager Keith Burkinshaw had largely stuck with the same team which went down, just adding strikers Colin Lee (Torquay) and Ian Moores (Stoke), though both were absent from this game. But they did contain future England managers, Glenn Hoddle and Peter Taylor.

It would be the biggest crowd many of these Mansfield players ever played in front of, 36,288.

John Duncan gave the home side the lead in the first half, with his 11th of the season. Bird scored his fourth of the season and Mansfield bravely earned a point.

After four defeats three games unbeaten was a great tonic and hopes were high of finishing off the year in good spirits. Crystal Palace visited on New Year’s Eve. They were a much changed side from the one which beat Mansfield in their first away trip of the season. Only five players remained. They were also coping with the rigours of Second Division football much better than their hosts. Terry Venables was compiling an exciting young team and one of those tipped for higher things was left-back Kenny Sansom. He opened the scoring in the first half inside the opening 10 minutes. Barry Silkman played him in and he was given far too much time to shoot.

More defensive errors were to follow, and for manager Morris it must’ve been particularly galling to come so soon after his half-time team talk. The defence froze waiting for an offside flag which never materialised, allowing Dave Swindlehurst the simplest task of beating Arnold. Three minutes later they decided to leave him unmarked and consequently Sansom’s header across the area found him and he made it 3-0.

John Aston got a consolation goal, but it was a sorry end to a promising run, causing Morris to comment after the match;

“We made mistakes at the back which you don’t expect from a schoolboy playing on a local recreation ground. That’s the third time this season we have been on the makings of a good run and failed to keep it going.”

Palace were up to eighth, seven points off promotion. But the evenness of the points distribution that season was such they were only eight points better off than the Stags. They were lying 20th, two points from safety.

The euphoria and celebrations of Third Division title success back in May seemed a little distant now. It was going to be a long 1978.

All pics courtesy of Stagsnet & The Chad

Monday 17 October 2022

The Greatest Stag Do : Part Five : The story of Mansfield Town's glory days : Division 3 title 1976-77


This is the story of Mansfield Town’s glory days in the mid-to-late 1970’s. So far we’ve seen them win Division Four. We pick the story up in their second season in Division Three. They were lying fifth, just three points behind the leaders, Rotherham United. There were still 26 matches to play.



The club dipped into the transfer market. He signed midfielder Billy McEwan, who became another ex-Chesterfield player at the club. But the big news was when they accepted a club record £110,000 from Huddersfield for Terry Eccles. Eccles had played 118 times for the Stags scoring 47 goals. They’d won the Fourth Division thanks to goals from Clarke and Eccles, now it was up to Randall and Moss to try and get them into the Second Division.

After missing the cup week they resumed their league form with a fourth successive victory. Moss scored the only goal to beat Sheffield Wednesday.

The winning run came to an end at Portsmouth, with Moss again on target. He scored in his fourth successive match with they won at Preston.

Their unbeaten run was now at seven matches. They’d lost just once in their last 13. Now they were up to the heady heights of second place, two points behind Brighton. There were five clubs below them just two points worse off.



This was always a big month. It was this time last season when they really turned things round at the start of their 19-match unbeaten run. They had six games to look forward to. The first being a tough match with Rotherham. The Millers were level on points with Mansfield.

As if to sense the importance, Morris chose this game to score his first for the club. Moss then added a second, the fifth successive game he’d been on target. Alan Crawford had been prolific for Rotherham in the first half of the season and when he scored he took his tally to 13. But they couldn’t find an equaliser, leaving Randall to score the third for Mansfield to pick up all the points.

Two days later they were again at home as Oxford United were the visitors. Oxford had come down from the Second Division but were showing no signs of going back up. Moss scored another two. What a start to his Stags career. He’d scored in six successive games, hitting seven.

Brighton were still top of the table, but had played more than anyone else. Mansfield had closed the gap to two points and had two games in hand. But behind them were Wrexham, who also had two games in hand on the Stags.

Colin Foster scored the goal which won the game at Grimsby and this was the fourth successive win. This was now 10 unbeaten and they really were in the promotion hunt.

Brighton were held at Rotherham so now Mansfield were just a point behind.

The line-up was now looking quite different from the start of the season. No Pate, Eccles, Matthews, McCaffrey or MacKenzie. Morris was playing regularly and Moss had certainly settled straight in. McEwan had come in towards the end of January, he now scored his first for his new club at Lincoln City.

Lincoln hadn’t beaten Mansfield in the league for four years, but were leading at half-time. Bird scored in the second half but Lincoln held on to win 3-2. It was Mansfield’s first defeat in 10 matches. They were still in second place as Brighton hadn’t played, but now they only had one game in hand.

MacKenzie had returned from injury to take over from Saxby at the back, and the last two matches of the month were both at home and both a success. York City were sent packing after a 4-1 win. Randall scored two to take his total for the season to 13. Morris also scored and he repeated the feat a fortnight later when they beat Walsall 3-0. Bird scored in both matches too.

February ended with Mansfield having won five of their six matches. They were still second, a point behind Brighton but with a game in hand. Peter Ward scored in both Brighton’s wins at the end of the month. Rotherham were two points behind Mansfield with the top three pulling away from the pack, with Wrexham and Crystal Palace the closest chasers.



If February had been considered important, there was no let-up in March as another six games lay ahead.

Crystal Palace were the first opponents. Venables’ team were in fifth and had matched Mansfield’s February record, five wins, one defeat. Just short of 11,000 saw Colin Foster’s second half goal win it for the home side.

Brighton were held at home by Tranmere and so the two were locked at the top on 43 points. Mansfield still had a game in hand.

That game in hand came in the week when Northampton Town were the visitors. They were in the bottom three but had won their last three.

A goalless first half saw the deadlock broken in the second by Randall. The Stags hung on to take the points and move to the top of the table. Rotherham beat Lincoln to join Brighton on 43 points. The top three sides were separated by just two points.

It was their fourth successive home match and they’d won all of them. Their home form was nothing short of remarkable. They’d won their last nine at Field Mill. It had been over two years since they last lost a league game at home. A run of 30 matches.

The players may have celebrated a little too much as they then suffered their worst period of the season. They lost at Bury and Tranmere and could only draw at home to Peterborough United and Chester City.

Despite losing at Bury they were still top as Brighton lost at Crystal Palace and Rotherham drew at Grimsby.

At home to Peterborough, Robbie Cooke scored his first goal for the club. Two days later they suffered their biggest league defeat of the season when they were trounced 0-4 at Tranmere.

This was a big shock. Tranmere hadn’t won for 11 matches. Future FA CEO, Mark Palios opened the scoring.

Rotherham then went to Tranmere and won 1-0. On the same night Mansfield were held at home by Chester City. With Brighton losing at Peterborough, Mansfield were back on top. They lead Rotherham on goal difference, one point above Brighton and two above Wrexham.

March had not been the month their February form had promised. Two wins, two defeats and two draws. They now had 11 matches left to see if they could reach the Second Division for the first time in their history.



This was the busiest month of the season, with eight games to navigate. First up would be the toughest of them all, a trip to the Goldstone Ground.

Rotherham, in second, also had a tough game as they welcomed Crystal Palace.

Kevin Randall missed the trip to Brighton as Ian McDonald replaced him. Peter Ward scored for the home side with Moss levelling things for the visitors. Gerrie Fell, who was born just 20 miles from Mansfield, put Brighton ahead at the break. It was his first start of the year and an important time to put his team in front. It seemed like the next goal would be crucial, and it fell to Brighton as Ward scored from the spot.

That was now four consecutive away defeats. Dropping to third, there was just one point covering the top three.

Given their away form it was with some relief they now had three matches at Field Mill, all against sides from the bottom half of the table.

Just after their defeat at Lincoln, they hit back with a 4-1 win when Port Vale visited. Bird scored a brace and Colin Foster was on target too. That was six each from the two defenders. Randall also scored to give him 15 for the season.

Brighton also won but Rotherham lost at Gillingham. Wrexham won and were on the same points as Mansfield, in third.

This was the Easter period so the games came thick and fast. Easter Monday saw the visit of Chesterfield. A crowd of just under 12,000 watched as goals from Bird and Moss gave the Stags another win. Brighton didn’t play so Mansfield were now a point behind.

The next night both clubs were in action. Mansfield welcomed their old foes, Shrewsbury. McEwan scored his second goal for the club to give them their third straight victory.

Brighton won as well and now had a slight gap to the rest of the chasing pack, Wrexham and Rotherham.

The run came to an end at Reading. Colin Foster put through his own net for what proved to be the only goal of the game. That was now five away defeats in a row.

Fortunately, Brighton also lost at Walsall. Wrexham won to move to within a point of Mansfield, with a game in hand.

Walsall would now provide Mansfield’s next opponents. Alan Buckley put the home side in front from the spot, but Moss equalised before half-time. It was his 10th of the season. In the second half the game was decided when Walsall defender, Roger Hynd, scored an own goal. At last Mansfield’s losing run away from home was at an end.

The night before, third place Wrexham beat fourth place Rotherham.

Brighton then drew at Lincoln so it was ‘as-you-were’ at the top. There was a four-point gap between third and fourth. Mansfield weren’t far away from securing promotion.

Five games to go, three at home.

The next visitors to Field Mill were Gillingham. Randall put the Stags in front. Damien Richardson levelled things for the visitors. Colin Foster then put the home side back in front, but John Overton gave Gillingham a point.

With Brighton and Wrexham both winning, Mansfield dropped to third. Wrexham and Mansfield were level on points, Brighton were one better. This was going all the way to the wire. There was a five-point gap to Palace in fourth.

The last game of the month saw the Stags travel to Swindon. Colin Foster scored again and it was enough to win the game.

This was a crucial win as Brighton were at Wrexham. That game ended goalless, so now Mansfield joined Brighton on 58 points with Wrexham one behind and still with a game in hand.



On the Monday night Portsmouth made the trip up to Field Mill. Colin Foster scored yet again, the third successive game. Randall’s 17th of the season crowned a 2-0 win and Mansfield had secured promotion to the Second Division, for the first time in their history.

Mansfield’s joy was soured with a bad injury to Barry Foster. The left-back suffered a double fracture of his right leg and would play no further part in the season.

The next night Peter Ward scored his 30th of the season to help Brighton to a 3-2 win over Sheffield Wednesday. At Selhurst Park Crystal Palace won a vital match against Wrexham.

Brighton and Mansfield were now on 60 points. Wrexham were three behind with Palace a further two back.

The following weekend saw Brighton and Wrexham sit it out. Mansfield had their final home game of the season. Over 11,000 came to see the visit of Northampton Town.

Bird and McEwan gave the home side a two-goal lead at the break. In the second half Moss scored his 11th of the season and the win was confirmed.

Mansfield were top, two points clear of Brighton who had a game in hand. Wrexham were two points back also with a game in hand. Crystal Palace were fourth, a point behind Wrexham.

Midweek saw Brighton travel to Swindon. Peter Ward scored his 31st of the season for the visitors, but goals from David Moss and Ray McHale gave Swindon a surprise 2-1 win.

It was the Seagulls first defeat in five matches and now handed the advantage to Mansfield. One game to go and Mansfield could even afford to lose it, if Brighton couldn’t beat Chesterfield in their last match.

24 hours later, Crystal Palace travelled to Wrexham and a brilliant second half performance saw them pull off a 4-2 win.

Palace were now in the third promotion spot, but their season had finished. In order for them to confirm promotion they would need Wrexham to win their final match. Palace had a superior goal difference so even a draw wouldn’t be enough for the Welsh side. Wrexham’s final match would be at home to Mansfield.

There was an outside chance Rotherham could overhaul Palace, but they would need to beat Port Vale by seven goals to do it.

The final day of the season saw Mansfield travel to Wrexham. The two clubs had met so many times in the recent years, with Mansfield getting the better of their battles.

The first half was goalless, which suited the visitors. Brighton were a goal down after Steve Cammack gave Chesterfield the lead. Alan Crawford had given Rotherham a half-time lead in their match.

As things stood Mansfield would be champions, with Brighton and Crystal Palace joining them in promotion.

In the second half Peter Ward scored his 32nd league goal of the season to equalise for Brighton. Rotherham knocked the goals in to give them a 4-1 win at Port Vale but that wasn’t enough to make their goal difference greater than Palace.

Then in the final minute at the Racecourse Ground the ‘old firm’ partnership of Randall and Moss combined to give Moss his 13th of the season. It gave the pair 30 goals for the season and the 3,500 Stags’ fans who’d made the trip to North Wales reasons to celebrate as they won the Third Division.

These were glorious times for Mansfield. Two championships in three years and now they were looking forward to Second Division football for the first time ever.

They finished three points ahead of Brighton with Crystal Palace finishing third.

The local newspaper, the CHAD recalled the events;

An afternoon for the 3,500 Mansfield Town fans, and every member of the team and officials at the Wrexham game, to remember for a lifetime - yet one member of the side will have to rely on newspaper cuttings and gossip for his memories of the historic occasion.

Player of the Year Rod Arnold was knocked cold right on the half-time whistle, and he could recall little of the preceding 90 minutes as he changed at the end of the game - except Mansfield had won and were champions, and Ernie Moss scored the winner.

To remind him of his contribution, it was a super save which kept out a Billy Ashcroft header in the 33rd minute. It was left to the old firm of Ernie Moss and Kevin Randall to finally kill-off Wrexham's hopes of promotion. Randall eeled his way past his covering defender right on the bye-line, and chipped the ball in for Ernie Moss to score and send the Mansfield contingent of fans behind the goal, wild with delight.

There were scenes of great emotion after the final whistle as the Mansfield players and fans celebrated their second championship in three seasons.

Mansfield had won the title going the whole season unbeaten at home. They’d gone through 1976 unbeaten at home in the league. In fact their unbeaten home record now stood at 37 matches.

Kevin Randall ended as top scorer. He justified manager Peter Morris’s faith in him as he was chosen to lead the line after Ray Clarke moved abroad. Ernie Moss also proved to be a vital signing as he and Randall shared 30 goals. The club had managed to survive the sale of Clarke and Eccles, two transfers which brought the club £200,000.

The fans could now look forward to visiting places such as Sunderland, Southampton, Bolton, Fulham and Sheffield United. They soon discovered they’d also have the prospect of a visit to White Hart Lane as Tottenham had been relegated from the First Division. What a season to look forward to.





pics courtesy of Stagsnet & The Chad