With a new season kicking off and former Stags star Paul Holland in his first managerial post, at Ilkeston FC, since that fateful season when Stags went down to the Conference in 2008, Holland looks back on his career and memories of Mansfield Town in this fascinating two-part series
Former Mansfield Town manager and player Paul Holland said it still haunts him that he left a club he loved on bad terms and would dearly like to be able to go back to see a game at One Call Stadium one day.
Holland, one of the finest players to grace the Mansfield pitch, saw his relationship with the club turn sour after his brave late, but unsuccessful, bid to prevent them being relegated from the Football League in 2008.
Holland took over from Billy Dearden in the March, but failed to stop the slide and was then sacked, having initially been promised another season in the role.
It severed a long relationship with the club, having joined as a talented schoolboy, ending with the club telling him to stay away.
Now working as a manager for the first time since then at Ilkeston FC, he said: “It was hard to swallow, but that is football. It left a really sour taste in my mouth.
“It was a club I’d given a lot for and a club that had given a lot to me, so to not leave on good terms, it haunts me to think your relationship breaks down over something like wanting to go back and thank people.
“I had a long history with Mansfield from a 13-year-old schoolboy right through to when I left in 2008.
“But I went to Chesterfield and I’ve been back to Chesterfield numerous times. You go and have a meal in the lounge and take your family. Hopefully I can start doing that one day at Mansfield.”
After leaving the club, Holland remembers the day it turned sour.
“It was the pre-season, I think they were playing Sheffield United and the commercial manager had a meal for myself and Clare to go down and say goodbye to a few of the sponsors and the fans,” he said.
“But I had a phone call saying I don’t think it’s advisable that you come down – stay away from the club for a bit.
“I’ve not fallen out with a lot of people at the club. There are still some very good friends down there I speak to. I speak to fans and still have a good relationship with them. Hopefully one day I can go back there with my head held high without having to sneak in or sneak out.”
Holland continued: “I have seen Mansfield play since, but that was at Chesterfield in one of the local derbies where I was doing the radio and Mansfield won.
“It is a shame and something I never thought would happen.
“The relationship I have with Chesterfield is exactly like the relationship I should have with Mansfield. But never say never. It’s probably a bit of a pride thing now.
“You want to go back, but I did feel a bit embarrassed at the time as you were the person that took them down. It wasn’t for a lack of trying or a lack of effort.
“I could have played safe, but I thought I could get them out of it, though it would have been a monumental effort. We weren’t that far away in the end.”
Having come so close, Holland said he was promised he would stay on as manager but, with the club being taken over at the time, he suddenly found himself out in the cold.
“Promises were made over that summer,” he said. “You have assurances that things would be fine and you’d be given a chance to get them back into the Football League.
“But football is football and certain promises that were given weren’t kept and it’s one of those where you look back and think that happened for a reason.
“I just wanted that one chance to try to get us back up. You do all the grafting and all the hard work and all the planning.”
He added: “I think it came out I was supposed to have arrived wearing flip flops and shorts to meet the new owners which is the biggest load of rubbish out. Once I knew who the new owners were I was on borrowed time anyway. That’s football.
“I shook hands with the new owner, Colin Hancock, as we thought on the Thursday night. We had a celebratory meal out as a family with them at a pub in Mansfield.
“Later on I had a phone call saying the deal had fallen through and new owners were going in. Even then I thought that’s me done. But I went in and wasn’t the worse for wear or wearing flip flops.”
Holland knows he might have stayed longer had he not taken on the challenge of the top job.
He said: “It was one of those, looking back, where I might have played the safe option and not even taken the job on and stayed in the role I was in with the youth and assisting. But I thought I could get them close to getting out of it.
“We needed to win the home game against Barnet, where we were 2-0 up and ended up drawing 2-2, then came the Rotherham defeat, which still goes down as my worst day in football.
“I’ve said it numerous times that I had my phone in my pocket and people were letting me know what the other scores were. We were fairly comfortable in that game. I think Notts County were losing, but then things all changed.
“You can look back and say you’d have done certain things differently, but I gave it 100 per cent as I always did and unfortunately it didn’t work out that time.”
Holland will be forever grateful for his playing career.
“After I finished school I went straight into that first season at Mansfield Town, which was a promotion season, and there’s nothing like football,” he smiled. “Once you actually get your teeth into it there is no career like it.
“People are fortunate to be involved whether it’s as a player, a coach, or working at a football club. It is a special industry but it’s also a very fickle industry in which people have got opinions about everything.”
Like many players before he found himself go from hero to zero with the Stags supporters after becoming a manager.
He said: “People pay money and they have a right to their own opinions. You’re never going to please everybody and you make mistakes along the way.
“You just need to back your own judgements and hope you’ve made more correct calls than incorrect ones.
“You take bits from every manager you’ve worked with and I’ve worked with some absolutely brilliant managers.
“I had some information evenings last week with new parents and new players at Ilkeston and you’re bringing up stories of Ian Greaves coming to my house as a 14-year-old. Then there’s George Foster, Andy King, Billy Dearden, that’s just people from my time at Mansfield.
“There have been some great people. Obviously Andy King and Keith Alexander are no longer with us and that makes you realise how short life can be as well as football. “So I look forward every day to coming to work, give 100 per cent and people can’t really fault you if you’re trying to do what everyone wants.
“I had some great times at Stags – the four years I had there as a player, obviously the promotions, getting into the play-offs in that last season.
“When I came back there were some great times as well – the promotion the first season I went back when Stewart (Watkiss) and Neil (Richardson) were involved.”
Holland added: “I didn’t enjoy my time with the football club with Keith Curle for various reasons but he would probably say exactly the same about working with myself.
“It’s one of those. I am my own person. I have my own opinions on how things can be done and I will back my judgement against anyone.
“Even towards the end of that relegation year I had an opportunity for Billy McEwan to come in as director of football and me to be first team manager.
“But I wanted to be loyal to Carl Muggleton and Ivan Hollett at the time and I wanted it to be my own decisions.
“Things improved over that short spell I was doing it but, ultimately, we know we were too far adrift.”
Although he took the hot seat late, Holland won’t shirk the fact he had been part of the whole season.
“It was over the course of the year and I was involved over the course of that year,” he said. “The Rotherham game, for reasons on and off the pitch, was an absolutely horrible day. Mansfield is close to my heart and I was as disappointed as all the fans on that day.”