Hidden away among the doom and gloom spreading through football like a plague, borne on the backs of greedy money-men, is a shimmering chink of light with the news that Mansfield Town have finally secured ownership of their ground. The announcement that owner John Radford had purchased the freehold to Field Mill was the final axe blow needed to sever Keith Haslam’s link with the club. Despite selling the Stags back in 2008 Haslam has been clinging onto the ground ever since, renting it back to the club and going as far as to lock them out when things didn’t go his way in December 2010.
The watershed moment which saw Haslam’s controlling connection to the club swirl down the plug hole came on Thursday. Radford took it right down to the wire, announcing the news that he would be completing the deal on Friday after already agreeing a long term lease extension just hours ahead of a deadline of 5pm imposed by the Football Conference meaning a promotion push for the Stags is now viable with the final box for membership criteria ticked. Barely able to contain his joy, Dean Foulkes, chairman of the Stags Supporters Association, told the local press: “This is fantastic news for the club and finally banishes the black cloud that has been hanging over the club. We now have a wonderful springboard to move the club forward and I hope everyone will get behind Mansfield Town and drive us towards our goal of promotion.”
Radford, who has made good his promise to give the club its ground back 18 months after becoming owner of the Stags, declared it a momentous day in Mansfield’s history. Manager Paul Cox likened it to the Berlin Wall coming down, heralding in a new era for the Stags. He told the Nottingham Evening Post:
“When you look at the mindset that the supporters have had in the past few years, this is a watershed moment. It is almost like the Berlin Wall coming down for the Stags fans. There has been a whole anxiety around the club and its future that has now been lifted. They will understand now that John is the real McCoy. We can start planning ahead because this is a real landmark.”
Although March 1 marks a new chapter for the club just being able to turn that page has been a near Herculean task. Last year Ian reported on ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ in the battle for Field Mill, a civil war already several years old by then, with news of a legal agreement between the club and Haslam put paid to a repeat of the dark days of 2010 when the gates were padlocked shut. It is believed Radford had previous offers for the freehold turned down by Haslam. The club had even started eying up an alternative plan, in the event that they won promotion but couldn’t use Field Mill.
Radford himself has worked hard to win the trust and respect of his fans, a hard task with the Stags supporters who, like a pet abandoned at a rescue centre, were understandably wary of a new owner. He took over at a time when the Stags were haemorrhaging £10,000 a week and wobbling close to administration. It’s taken blood, sweat, tears and a rumoured seven figure sum for the ground alone (not counting court costs picked up along the way) to secure a ground with many fans believed was theirs all along. Haslam’s connection with the Stags is gone after 17 years and as manager Paul Cox puts it, Radford has proved himself good. He said:
John has said all the way through to me that he would get it sorted and he has been true to his word. When the chairman came to me I knew it was something special because he was like an excited schoolboy!” He showed me some paperwork and said: “I’m buying it.” I couldn’t believe it. He really has pulled out all the stops to buy the ground for the club – way beyond the call of duty – when he doesn’t owe them anything. Everyone can now get behind the club and concentrate on football. The uncertainty and stigmas have gone.
Now the Stags sit within touching distance of the play offs, working closely with the Supporters Trust and the local community, poised for a possible return to the Football League. This weekend was going to be set in fans minds as the day former manager David Holdsworth returned to Field Mill with his Lincoln side, for the first time since leaving Mansfield but that will be a mere footnote in this new chapter of the Stags’ history. In light of the dark stories which will litter this site in the coming weeks and months it is important and refreshing to note that there are still some good guys left in the game.
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