It has been a week of conflicting news for Mansfield Town but, after it looked as if their future may be hanging in the balance, there has finally been some good news for supporters of the Blue Square Premier club. As regular readers of this site will already be aware, Mansfield were evicted from their ground, Field Mill, for non-payment of rent by their former owner Keith Haslam. Haslam, you might remember, had used money a dividend paid to his company by the club itself in order to complete this separation of the club from its biggest single asset in the first place, prior to his departure from the club.
Over the last few days, the situation at Mansfield had looked as if it could become desperate, to the point of threatening the very future of the club. Once locked out of Field Mill, the club had to fight a battle upon two fronts: on the one hand, to try and secure a return to their ground, and on the other to find a temporary home to tide them over in the short-term – or, potentially, to find a new home to share whilst looking to secure a new ground within Mansfield, should a return to Field Mill not be possible in what could only be described as the worst case scenario.
The club identified two potential sites to share, at Alfreton Town and the home of the currently moribund Ilkeston Town. The Football Conference, however, rejected these two grounds as they do not have a Conference ‘A’ Grading. Some might have wondered why the league were taking such a hard line stance over the grading of the ground that the club might be using, but there is a degree of logic behind it. If the ground-share arrangement were to have gone ahead and subsequently become more permanent, considerable improvements would have been required, as per the league’s normal rules, in order to bring the ground up to standard in a year or so’s time. Ultimately, the rule was well-established and Mansfield Town would presumably have known this when they joined the league in the first place. Member clubs agree to the rules of the league by competing in it. Time, by the beginning of this week, was very much of the essence. On Monday, the Football Conference was pushing for something approaching a resolution to the issue:
As a consequence of information received from the club and its solicitor, the club is required no later than 5pm on Monday 20 December to notify the Conference, of where it will meet the obligation under rule, to fulfil its scheduled Boxing Day home fixture and all home fixtures thereafter.
Such a statement was pretty clear. The club’s future in the Blue Square Premier could itself be at stake if the club was unable to complete its fixtures – after all, it was failure to complete fixtures that got Chester City expelled from the Football Conference at the start of the season rather than concerns over their wretched ownership at the time or the financial pickle in which they found themselves. The club found themselves back in negotiations with Haslam, and today confirmed that agreement has been reached with him. We can, therefore, confirm that Mansfield Town will be returning to Field Mill and that the club’s most immediate problem seems to have been resolved.
What was negotiated between the two parties will be unlikely to be made to be made completely public. What we can say with a degree of certainty, however, is that the Mansfield owner John Radford’s stock will have risen with the club’s return to its home. It is to be hoped, however, that his investigation into the circumstances under which the ground came to be owned by Haslam in the first place will not be or have been jettisoned by the rush to get the club back home. That these circumstances are morally reprehensible are beyond question, but the legality of them should be properly investigated and, should the solicitors dealing deem it appropriate, it should be challenged.
It will continue to stick very much in the craw of Mansfield Town supporters that they will continue to pay rent to Keith Haslam, but the most important immediate concern that the club had was to ensure that they could continue to fulfil their fixtures and avoid the worst case scenario of explusion from the Football Conference. Mansfield may, in the long term, decide that a rental agreement with Keith Haslam is a step too far and that they can only secure their future for sure with a new ground. The local council could assist in such an eventuality, but the current economic climate would indicate that, should they ever decide that they should have to do this, that they would need to finance it themselves. For now, though, Mansfield Town are going home and that is the most important matter in the short-term.
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