Big Read: Why Ian Greaves made it tough for Kevin Kent at Mansfield and how coal-mining helped him become a fans favourite

It wasn’t the easiest of starts to his Mansfield Town career for winger Kevin Kent.
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The Stoke-born winger had just been released by West Brom and had the chance to head north and join Ian Greaves’ side.

But Kent, who wasn’t short of offers, eventually snubbed Stags at the start of the 1984/85 season after signing a contract with Colin Addison’s Newport County.

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“I had a chance to join Mansfield before I went to Newport,” said Kent.

“Ian Greaves asked me to join, but I had a few offers on the table. For a young footballer, it was a bit devastating to get released by West Brom.

“I was the last one to get released from a great bunch of players, such as Andy Goram and Steve Bull.

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“I had played in the last match of the season for the first team against Southampton and thought I had a chance to stay..

Kevin Kent turns the ball home against Brentford.Kevin Kent turns the ball home against Brentford.
Kevin Kent turns the ball home against Brentford.

“I had come back from fracturing my face and nose in that season. I came up to Mansfield to see Ian Greaves because Tony Lowery was there.

“Newport came in as well so I went down there. They painted a big picture to me, they had this centre forward called John Aldridge. I signed and then they let Aldridge go to Oxford.”

But, with the Welshman struggling financially, the wingman once again came back to Field Mill in search of a contract.

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And it was a move that was to pay dividends with Kent playing a key part in helping Mansfield win promotion from the Fourth Division with a third-placed finish in the 1985/86 season.

Kevin Kent scores for Mansfield in the 1987 Stags Freight Rover Final at Wembley Stadium.Kevin Kent scores for Mansfield in the 1987 Stags Freight Rover Final at Wembley Stadium.
Kevin Kent scores for Mansfield in the 1987 Stags Freight Rover Final at Wembley Stadium.

He made an even bigger name for himself one season later when he became the first Mansfield player to score at Wembley as the side beat Bristol City in the Football League trophy.

“I went back cap in hand the year later to Mansfield,” said Kent.

“Newport had offered me a new contract, but the wages were bouncing all over the club. We didn’t know if the money would clear.

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“I went back to Greavesy and Tony warned me he never lays the red carpet out twice. He said I would have to come and crawl.

Kevin Kent celebrates his iconic Wembley goal.Kevin Kent celebrates his iconic Wembley goal.
Kevin Kent celebrates his iconic Wembley goal.

“Greavesy told me the deal was not going to be the same, but he needed a winger. I signed at that point and Greavesy made it as tough as he could for me.

“The team had some good players in the side. We got promoted in the first year and got to Wembley in the second year.

“It was a great time coming to Mansfield. When I first went up the miners’ strike had just kicked off.

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“Both my two grand-dads were miners. One had no legs and the other was a miner in Stoke and had no fingers and was a pit manager.

“The mining community was close to my heart and I think the fans took to me because of that.

“Greavesy took us down the pit and said ‘come and have a look at where your supporters work.’

Kevin Kent takes on his man against Fulham.Kevin Kent takes on his man against Fulham.
Kevin Kent takes on his man against Fulham.

“I was really looking forward to it, but some of the players were terrified. It was a tradition to go see the places and talk to the fans.”

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And it is an affinity which Kent, who regularly takes in the Mansfield v Port Vale fixtures, still enjoys to this day.

“I lived in the area, I bought a house in Kirkby, I lived in Woodhouse, so I know the area and was up there for five years,” he said.

“I had my first son up there. It was a great time for me and a fabulous club to play for.

“We had a promotion, we went to Wembley - it was just great because it put us back on the map really.”

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And, for Kent, that Wembley win will forever remain the happiest moment of his playing career.

“It was a fabulous occasion, every boys’ schoolboy dream is to play at Wembley and score a goal,” he said.

“Better players than me have never played at Wembley, so to play there and score and to win a cup was fantastic for me to achieve.

“It was the happiest moment of my life. My family were all there and my friends from the local pub I went to in Birmingham came down.

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“They got a bus together to come down and said they’d had a whip round and wanted to get tickets for the Mansfield end, Not only did I have to look after my family, but I had to get all the Albion fans tickets as well from the pub.

“I could have done without that with all the focus that was on the game. They had a plague made and were in the Mansfield end enjoying the day, 52 of them came.

“It was just a great day. To win at Wembley is the ultimate.”

The Wembley glory for Stags would not have happened had Kent not kept his cool when he converted his final spot-kick to take the shootout into sudden death.

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David Moyes missed the first sudden death kick for City, before Tony Kenworthy stepped up to give Mansfield their finest hour.

And for Kent it was a penalty he always felt he would score.

“I decided to go last. I knew where I was going to put the ball and was really confident I was going to score,” he said.

“I watched their keeper, he dived the same way every time so he made my mind up where I was going to put the ball.

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“He was diving to his favourite side and playing double bluff that one of us would think he will go the other way next time.

“He thought one of us would bottle it and go the other way. Keith Cassells was the only one that went that way. The rest of us went the other way and scored.

“Taking penalties in front of our own fans helped us.”

Kent eventually played 276 first-team games for the club and scored 47 goals during his six memorable seasons at the club.

The boyhood Stoke City fan then signed for Port Vale at the start of the 1991 season, before he was forced to retire through injury in 1996.