Kevin Kent, the only Mansfield Town player to score at Wembley, recalls Freight Rover Trophy triumph

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Winger Kevin Kent still holds a special place in Mansfield Town history as the only player at the club to score in open play at Wembley.

And he recalls that the fans played a part too in lifting the Stags ahead of the Freight Rover Trophy final.

Kent, who passionately believes the Stags players at that time tried to bond with the community and raise the town’s spirits after the miners’ strike, said: “We stayed on the M4 side of London in one of the traditional FA Cup final hotels the night before the game.

“So all we saw going into Wembley was red as that was obviously the Bristol way in.

“We asked the bus driver if he could go around the other side, on the North Circular, so that we could see some yellow blue and he agreed.

“Then when we saw all the Stags fans, and all the yellow and blue, it just lifted the lads, especially going down Wembley Way. It gave us a massive boost.

“We had picked up Simon Coleman (a squad player at that time) along the way. He was in his suit and jumped on board and that also gave the lads a lift.

“That and seeing the fans sort of galvanised the team – it helped us to over-achieve and punch above our weight a little bit to upset the big boys, which is what we needed as we all knew Bristol were the favourites.

“I also remember we were given what was classed as the lucky changing room, the one to the right of the tunnel. Again that made us feel good – suddenly we felt so much better than we had done an hour earlier coming in down the M4. We thought right, this is going to be our day — and it was.”

Football players often say that cup finals at the home of English football pass them by quickly and Bristol City full back Brian Williams, who had been at Wembley the year before, gave Kent some advice when they met on the pitch ahead of the game.

“He came across and shook my hand. He said to enjoy it because it will all go fast — and he was right,” said Kent.

“I was just pleased to be there, to live out my boyhood dream. Then to score in open play and in the penalty shoot-out was beyond what I thought would ever happen.”

At full-time Kent admitted some of the players’ legs had gone after the blow of conceding a late equaliser. But when they needed hydrating and a quick drink ahead of extra-time, it nearly all went wrong.

The winger recalled: “The guy who was handing out the drinks to us messed up. He gave us neat cordial instead of it being watered down. I had to spit it out, but I was absolutely gasping for a drink.

“There was no time for him to go to the changing rooms to sort it out, so I pinched some water off Bristol. I still remember drinking out of one of their bottles. It is little things like that you remember even now.”

Kent’s big moment came in the 57th minute when he sent the thousands of Stags supporters crazy with the club’s first — and still only — goal at Wembley.

“It started with Hitchy (Kevin Hitchcock) kicking the ball out and Scouse (Mark Kearney) flicked it on. I can’t remember who popped the ball out to the left where Cass (Keith Cassells) was chasing down the left hand side.

“I remember thinking if Keith has gone down there I need to get into the middle. I just got across Brian Williams — I have a picture on my wall of him being told off by David Moyes afterwards for letting me get in – and the ball came on to my left foot, which is probably not my favourite.

“But I managed to get a good connection and put the ball in the back of the net. I’ll never forget it.”

With the score locked at 1-1 after extra-time, Kent then played a pivotal role in the penalty shoot-out.

He took the final Stags kick of the initial five, knowing that he had to score to keep his side’s hopes alive — keeper Hitchcock had just blocked Gordon Owen’s final City penalty to cancel out Keith Waugh’s earlier save to deny Cassells.

“I always wanted to take the last penalty,” said Kent. “I wanted to watch everyone else first. You usually put your best penalty-takers out first, but I wanted to take the pressure off myself a little bit. I thought we would have won it by the time my kick came around, little knowing that Keith (Cassells) would have his penalty saved.

“But I had noticed one thing and it was crucial. I took my penalty the way I did – low to the keeper’s right – because Waugh had dived left for every penalty up to then.

“I thought he wasn’t going to change then. I chatted to him when we next played them and he said he thought I might go the other way – sort of a double bluff.”

When Tony Kenworthy converted the sixth Stags penalty to win the trophy after another Hitchcock save, Kent recalls going to celebrate with the Stags fans.

“It was amazing, going across and being with all the supporters who regularly followed us — through thin and thin that season!

“A bus load of family and friends had come down from Stoke to back me, and a bus load from Birmingham who called themselves the West Bromwich Stags. They had a great day out and I saw them all at the fence pitchside.”

After the game the Stags were lauded at a club dinner at a hotel in Watford before setting off to return to Mansfield for an open-top bus parade that brought thousands of people on to the streets.

“We enjoyed ourselves for the next 48 hours! I think I had one or two hours’ sleep. When we saw how many people had come out in Mansfield to welcome us back it was unbelievable. It was like riding on the crest of a wave, Kent said.”

The popular wide player later went to Wembley again — twice in a week — as Port Vale won the Autoglass Trophy and then lost in the league play-offs.

He remembers Vale boss John Rudge could not believe the way the Stags had prepared for their big match with the overnight hotel stay and then the post-match celebrations

But Kent says the Freight Rover Trophy final will always be extra special. “I had never been to Wembley and scored. It was like going on a rollercoaster, the first time you do it you don’t know what to expect. The second time it is not quite so special because you get familiar with it. It was still a massive thrill, but the first time you never forget.”

Kent, who also won promotion with the Stags the year before the Freight Rover success, made 275 appearances and scored 45 goals over six seasons.

And he will always fondly recall the bond between the players, the club and the supporters at that time.

Kent came from a mining background with both his grandfathers suffering serious injuries while working underground in the Stoke area.

And he remembers manager Ian Greaves leading the players on a trip to Clipstone Colliery.

“Promotion and Wembley lifted the whole town after what they had gone through,” he said.

“Greavsie’s first port of call was to take the players down the mine to show us where our supporters were and where they worked. It was a massive thing, a big eye-opener for me and all the players. We thought wow, what these guys do every day! It bonded us with the community and made us want to achieve to give something back.”

Kent, who now works for a solar energy company, still has a role in football as head coach at UK Football Trials, which scouts players and gets them pro or semi-pro club trials at all levels.