STAGS RETRO: Madcap businessman John Batchelor fails in bid to take over Mansfield Town

John Batchelor is ejected from the ground for his own safety at Macclesfield - Pic by: Richard Parkes
John Batchelor is ejected from the ground for his own safety at Macclesfield - Pic by: Richard Parkes

Unable to relate to – and not really caring – about the emotions attached to football, ruthless businessman John Batchelor quickly became a figure of hate during his ill-fated bid to become the new Mansfield Town owner in 2008.

Fans can be very relieved the madcap businessman never managed to take over the Stags’ reins and he died two years later in Stepping Hill Hospital, Stockport, at the age of 51 after suffering from liver disease caused by alcoholism.

Supporters were desperate to see the back of hated owner Keith Haslam – but it was almost out of the frying pan and into the fire as Sheffield-born Batchelor came up with some simply ridiculous ideas that would have left the Stags a laughing stock at best.

Those ideas included re-naming Mansfield Town as Harchester United after the fictional squad from the TV series Dream Team to make the club ‘more promotable’.

A former toilet roll salesman, Batchelor’s past involvement with sport, and York City in particular was both silly and scary.

After leaving York City into administration with debts of £1.8 million in 2003, he made it clear on that he was only interested in the Stags to make money - and he said he would have no qualms about putting the club into administration as a last resort if it became a failing business.

Batchelor, who once changed his name to John Top Gear to win backing for his touring racing team from the BBC show and became John B&Q to secure sponsorship from the DIY chain, admitted to the press that he asset-stripped the Minstermen to make a profit and had made his money from asset-stripping companies, staying within legal boundaries with no guilt over the trail of misery he left behind.

Following his time at York, Batchelor said: “I did nothing wrong,” and “I tried hard to make it work as a business.”

However, he was later investigated by the Department of Trade and Industry after pressure from supporters.

A Burnley fan, Batchelor was said to have made a profit of over £300,000 from his association with York and while the club was enduring financial difficulties he bought a house for £250,000, allegedly attracting death threats.

He also tried to tie in his racing team with the York City brand as York Sporting Club, putting a chequered flag on their kit and also changed their name to York City Soccer Club to try to get interest in the club in America.

The bizarre ‘Dream Team’ idea at Mansfield saw him approach Sky TV and the production company which owns the rights to the programme.

It is thought that actors from the hit Sky TV show would be asked to go to Field Mill as part of any sponsorship deal - together with various other ideas to link the soap opera to the Stags. That might have included the characters names featuring on the Stags shirts on the pitch.

And Batchelor also wanted some of the actors/players to feature for the Stags, at least in summer pre-season friendlies, including Harchester’s star player Karl Fletcher - actor Terry Kiely.

Stags fans were outraged and the Football League was against the name change, but Batchelor simply snapped: “Do we want professional football in Mansfield or not?

“Harchester is a virtual club - Mansfield as a town and club would benefit from that name.

“Fans have to accept that to have a professional club, it has to be done on a commercial basis and be profitable - Harchester is easier to promote than Mansfield. It is as simple as that.

“I don’t mind if the fans don’t like it or call me mad. I have been called worse and I am not in this to be popular to everyone - I tried that at York and it did not work.”

He added; “Let’s be clear, I want a football club, preferably one in the league. The ONLY reason that I want it is to make money, the only reason that I want to do that is to look after my immediate family.

“I can only do that by making it work on the pitch and as a result making it work commercially. This would be MY club, if you like what you see come and watch, if you don’t, then stay away.

“I am not even interested in discussing it with ‘fans’, however, I will talk to customers any time. If Mansfield is going to host professional football, it has to accept that there need to be some HUGE changes at this club.

“If the fans don’t want to host it, all they need to do is not turn up.”

Another idea was a pre-season tournament using his contacts to bring over Partizan Belgrade and Red Star Belgrade to take on Stags and Chesterfield in two semi-finals and a final at Field Mill.

“Why can’t we bring Europe to Field Mill? It would fill the ground,” he claimed.

In a revealing interview with the Guardian’s David Conn, he admitted on his original promises to the York City supporters’ trust: “Basically, I was lying to them. There is no way of dressing it up.”

Of his line of business he said: “I do asset-strip. I have realised if you follow the right procedures you can borrow against a company’s assets to take it over.

“I target companies in financial distress. We try to fix them - some of my companies have gone on to do very well and I have sold them.

“Where I can’t, I can arrange a ‘pre-pack’, agreeing beforehand what I will pay for assets, then put the company into insolvency. The suppliers and creditors fall away and I am left with a clean company.”

Batchelor admitted he had no pangs of conscience,” saying: “I have always worked, brutal though it sounds, within the boundaries of what is legal.”

Batchelor was initially part of James Derry’s bid to buy the club from Haslam but, when they collapsed, briefly looked set to try to take over on his own.

As he has only taken one club into administration and not two, the League were powerless to halt his Mansfield ambitions under the ‘fit and proper person’ rules.

Thankfully for Stags, it didn’t happen. Batchelor gave up and went away, Stags were relegated to the Conference under Haslam’s ownership and, after a brief time when it seemed Glapwell FC chairman Colin Hancock was favourite to take over, three local businessmen who were also Mansfield Town fans, Andrew Perry, Andrew Saunders and Steve Middleton, bought the club from Keith Haslam for an undisclosed fee, but were still renting the stadium from him.

At the start of the 2010–11 season Mansfield were bought by John Radford with Haslam still the landlord.

Batchelor was later revealed to have had a £1.5 million bid for Accrington Stanley turned down which proposed moving a newly formed ‘Lancashire United’ to Leigh and building a 10,000 seater stadium.

He he also held talks with Chester City about purchasing the club and Batchelor fronted a consortium that made a £12.5 million bid to buy Southampton in July 2009.

He was disqualified from acting as a company director for seven years from 2010 after he allowed two of his companies to enter transactions to the benefit of connected companies and himself and to the detriment of their creditors.

Batchelor had also stood as a Common Sense Sick of Politicians candidate for Blackburn in the 1997 general election, coming in last place after winning 0.8 per cent of the share with 362 votes.

Despite already having already spent a month in late 2006 in hospital for alcohol dependency, the news he had died in 2010, so soon after the Stags bid came as a shock, but no football fans in Mansfield or York would have cried any tears for his loss.