FA Trophy heartache, Liverpool . . . and that night in Hereford - promotion-winner Louis Briscoe reflects on Mansfield Town's emotional road to recovery

Building a successful football team doesn’t just happen overnight.

By Stephen Thirkill
Saturday, 1st January 2022, 6:58 am
Louis Briscoe celebrates after he scores the winner against Lincoln City at Onein the FA Cup.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Louis Briscoe celebrates after he scores the winner against Lincoln City at Onein the FA Cup. (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)

Even with big finances in place it still needs to have the right man at the helm, with the right mix of players, characteristics and the desire to go out and be a success.

One man that knows that perhaps better than anyone is Mansfield Town’s promotion-winning winger Louis Briscoe.

The Burton-born player made the return to full-time football when he joined Stags from Ilkeston Town in January 2009 under David Holdsworth.

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Celebrations for goalscorer Louis Briscoe against Kettering.

But back then it was a very different era for the club as they struggled to come to terms with life in non league football.

“I had only played a few games for Ilkeston and David took me with him to Mansfield,” said Briscoe, during an interview with the Mansfield Matters podcast.

“I was just really happy to get back to full time football. Mansfield were a huge club for that league and I asked what they were doing in this league.

“Mansfield had ambition, the first season I got there was almost a relegation battle, but we pulled away with a good end to the season.”

Louis Briscoe clears the ball while under pressure from Jon-Jo Shelvey in the FA Cup defeat to Liverpool. Pic by Anne Shelley.

Stags went on to finish Briscoe’s first season at the club in 12th spot, before ending the 2009/10 campaign in ninth.

But the former Port Vale man believes the signs of change were clear for all to see when John Radford bought the club in September 2010.

“Mansfield had a lot of ambition and you could see it was a club going places when John Radford came in,” he added.

Louis Briscoe has a shot at goal during Mansfield's FA Trophy win at Worksop. PIc by Chris Etchells

“When he came in it was business as usual. We never went without as players.

“It was a really well run club and players didn’t realise how good it was until they moved away.

“There was talk of me going elsewhere, but I told my agent I wasn’t going anywhere.

Louis Briscoe congratulates Matt Green after his sixth minute goal aginst Hyde. Pic by Anne Shelley.

Promotion to the Football League was our big mission and I was adamant that I was staying.

“I firmly believed we would get back into the Football League. I made the right decision to stay and wanted to stay as long as I could.”

The tides of change were slow with a flagging Mansfield ending the 2010/11 campaign with a threadbare squad and, once again, well off the play-off places.

But that season, which saw Briscoe crowned player of the year, did bring an appearance in the FA Trophy final and perhaps the first signs of better times ahead for the club.

It was Briscoe who hit the winner with two minutes of extra-time remaining as Mansfield beat Luton 2-1 on aggregate in the semi-final, before losing to Darlington at Wembley.

“The semi-final was a bit of an eye-opener for us,” he said. “Crawley were the dominant team that year because of the money they were paying, but Luton were always the favourites each year.

“We were the underdogs and a lot of people thought our one goal lead from the first leg wasn’t going to be enough going back down there.

“We went one down one the day, but we held on to the end of the game.

“It was a great feeling putting the rebound away and a brilliant personal memory.

“It was a hard run to the semis. We lost a lot of players after Christmas and didn’t have much of a squad.

“We just made the best of what we had so it wasn’t a great squad to get to the final.

“But after the final we were on a bit of a high at getting to Wembley, and those that were left carried it on to next season.”

But he believes the real turning point came in May 2011 when Paul Cox replaced Duncan Russell as boss.

With it came a new approach and a clear focus on getting results as third-place Stags ended the campaign with play-off failure against York City.

“Paul Cox brought in an old-school mentality,” said Briscoe. “He gave us a bit more ruthlessness, which we needed.

“That was combined with John Radford’s investment and he brought in a lot of raw players, who bought into what we were about.

“It still took a while to click. We brought in a couple of players in January and then we kept winning and ended the season strongly.

“We just ran out of steam against York in the play-offs, it was one step too far.

“We missed Matt Green in the second leg (suspended following a first-leg sending off), which could have been the difference.

“But we built on that defeat and took it into the following season. We invested and brought in two or three players who had also lost in the play-offs from other teams.

“If you bring in the better players from around you then you are going to do well and win the league and that is sort of what happened.

“It also took players away from other teams and we were stronger for it.

“We had to get the right balance and carry the momentum forward.”

Mansfield successfully built on that experience as the 2012/13 season progressed.

The eyes on promotion were briefly diverted by the memorable FA Cup run, which saw Stags face Liverpool in front of the world’s tv screens.

And for Briscoe that game provided a crucial catalyst, giving Mansfield the belief and momentum to ultimately seal title glory.

“When I look back on the end of my career, playing against Liverpool and Luis Suarez is something I can feel very proud about,” said Briscoe, who hit the winner against Lincoln to set up the contest.

“One of the biggest names in football came to our town. It was an amazing experience, I had people from America wanting to interview and it all went mad.

“It gave us a lot of momentum and was a catalyst for us. We went to Stockport the following game and absolutely battered them.

“After that we created a conference record 12 wins in a row.

“There was competitiveness throughout the team, we all wanted to play - but we were all in it together and looking out for each other.

“The team spirit was brilliant and the togetherness was there even if we weren’t playing. You don’t get that very often.

“We won the league by two points and that team spirit definitely got us a few points during the run in.”

Although Mansfield clinched the title with a nervy 1-0 win over Wrexham at the One Call Stadium, it is that iconic night in Hereford which lives longest in Briscoe’s memory.

Mansfield’s dreams were slipping away as they entered stoppage time at 1-1.

But star man Matt Green stepped up to smash home a stoppage time winner and dramatically flip the title race back into Mansfield’s favour.

“There were Kidderminster fans and players watching in the crowd because they knew if we didn’t win it was in their hands,” said Briscoe.

“In the changing room after that game, it was almost a better feeling than when we actually won the league.

“It felt like we’d done enough and we were going to go out and batter Wrexham no matter what team they put out. Hereford was an incredible night.”

Briscoe is now a player-coach at Midlands Football League Gresley Rovers, but he admits that the Mansfield result is always one of the first he looks for.

The Mansfield Matters Podcast interview forms part of the pledge of three Stags supporters' who are filling the void left by Football by creating new podcast content, including interviews with former players/staff, and much more.