A Stags fan who was given his big break as a radio commentator for arch-rivals Chesterfield has been given the boot following a furious backlash from angry Spireites fans.
Craig Priest, who is a life-long Mansfield Town supporter, says he was subject to a torrent of abuse and threats after Chesterfield fans found out he had been given a month-long trial by Derbyshire-based Peak FM, covering live matches.
Messages of disbelief and in some cases, abuse, were left on Twitter and on-line football message boards by a section of furious Chesterfield fans.
And less than 24 hours before taking to the air for Chesterfield’s first game of the season, he received a call to say Peak FM had withdrawn their job offer.
They cited Craig’s former involvement with a derogatory website, geared towards stirring up hatred towards Chesterfield, as the reason for their decision.
But while Craig (22) understands the reaction of the fans, he is unhappy by what he perceives as a lack of professionalism by Peak FM.
He says he made it clear he was a die-hard Mansfield Town fan from the beginning, and the station initially gave him full backing when the Chesterfield fans learned of his appointment, ringing and texting him with reassurance.
Craig also says he only found out about his dismissal after he was contacted by the agency rather than directly from the station.
He said: “I felt disappointed, especially because Peak FM did not ring me, I just thought it was a bit spineless.
“They said all week long they were backing me, they had been fine with me being a Mansfield Town fan.
“The fact they did a massive u-turn a day before the show, I feel let down.
“I made it perfectly clear that I was a Mansfield supporter, there would be no bias and I’d be up for the challenge.
“Peak FM said they would back me 100 per cent. Everything was going smoothly then I got a Tweet from a Chesterfield fan asking if I’d be doing coverage.
“Then it all kicked off and it was just foul-mouthed abuse and threats. It was vile.
“I can understand it from Peak FM’s perspective, they don’t want to lose listeners, but they could have had the courtesy to tell me themselves.”
Craig was dismissed by the radio bosses after it was discovered and pasted on a Chesterfield fans’ forum that his name was part of an on-line list of people called ‘We hate Spireites’, which proved a final tipping point for the radio station.
Tony Mackenzie, programme controller at Peak FM, said: “We hired Craig through an agency in good faith and the Mansfield side of it reared its head straight away.
“We investigated and had reassurance he would be impartial as we would expect.
“The loyal Chesterfield fans made obvious Craig had been involved with derogatory websites, we just could not be linked to that and acted immediately.”
Craig, who lives off Bellamy Road in Mansfield, says he has ‘no recollection’ of joining the site, there were no links to it from Facebook and said he would have taken steps to remove himself had he known about it.
He says that the photo used on the website was also one from when he was about 15-years-old.
Despite Peak FM’s decision to axe him, Craig still harbours ambitions of becoming a full-time football radio commentator with a commercial station.
He is currently undergoing an apprenticeship at Sutton community radio station, Takeover Radio, and had been a regular guest on Chad’s Stags Talk podcast, as well as writing weekly Mansfield Town columns for Chad.
As a Mansfield Town fan, he has not missed a league or cup game, home and away, for nine seasons.
Because of the well-documented rivalry with Chesterfield, he said it took a rational decision to accept Peak FM’s initial offer.
“For me it’s just another football club, that’s why I said yes to going,” he explained.
“It was a really good opportunity. I would have said yes to any club.
“It was a huge, huge decision for me to make.
“I have not got anything against Chesterfield fans and Peak FM, I wish them all the best, but after all the support to then having the door slammed in your face, it hurts.
“I’m 22, I finished school with little in the way of qualifications and this is what I want to do. I never wanted to cause any trouble.”
Peak FM’s Tony Mackenzie said that the station was no longer dealing with the agency involved, and added: “We wish Craig well with his chosen career.”