Craig Priest’s Mansfield Town blog: I can’t wait for the rollercoaster ride to begin

Matt Rhead celebrates scoring for the Stags-Pic by: Richard Parkes
Matt Rhead celebrates scoring for the Stags-Pic by: Richard Parkes

It doesn’t seem like five minutes since Mansfield Town became the first team to relegate a club wearing their own colours following the kit mishap at Bristol Rovers on the final day of last season.

And yet we’ve (briefly) cheered at our national heroes at the World Cup, egged on Andy Murray to win Wimbledon and filled our time with other bits and bobs.

On Saturday though these half-hearted tasks can be binned as preparations begin for another rollercoaster ride watching our beloved Mansfield Town as the One Call Stadium gates open to welcome League One neighbours Notts County for the first pre-season friendly.

Although there are obvious fears at the lack of a goalkeeper signing and although the grape vine whispers suggest Stags could well be in financial trouble this term, I can’t help but look forward to match day returning – secretly we all love the drama.

In previous pre-seasons I’ve been privileged enough to be sat with a headset on providing match commentary from the back and beyond. This has granted me access to certain whispers and names which we as press are instructed to reveal to the public as ‘A.Trialist’ – it’s also given me access to hearing names of potential signings who, 75 per cent of the time actually materialise.

I loved that part of the job as it kind of helped to picture the next step and in a roundabout way second guess how the side was going to look on opening day – I always went into the friendly’s and treated them as a league match and reported accordingly.

For example left-back Paul Black had a mare against Boston United in a pre-season match last year, something I addressed rather than cover up with the old fashioned “it’s just a friendly” line – why, because, as I realise now after a season away from that world and facing an almost certain future away from it, no game is ever a friendly when it involves the club you love.

My point is not to say ‘someone pity me’ it’s to say that despite the hurdles of a lack of players and budget that’s a lot more resilient than the Brazilian back four in a world cup semi-final, the excitement and eagerness to see the whole thing unfold in real time is too hard to resist.

We want to win for bragging rights, we want to win to cap off a hard week at work earning the ticket money, we want to win for an excuse to go back again!

I’m certainly looking forward to seeing what Paul Cox has up his sleeve; this without doubt will be his toughest test as a manager.

Looking back through his career, at some point he’s had restrictions but never has he had his hands tied so tight. Looking back through his record of signing players, some have come with good pedigree which naturally is accompanied by a higher wages fee, others have come to prevent rival teams from having them (unethical but ultimately it worked) and others have come from suggestions of Cox’s trusted back room team.

Ritchie Sutton came unproven but highly recommended by Paul Odgen (Chief Scout) who’d previously managed the versatile defender.

Adam Murray also has an eye for a player and will be key in recommending short term loan players he’s either played with or against (ala Adam Chapman), whilst Micky Moore has the knack of suggesting young players he’s managed or coached in the past, despite new loan signing Amari’i Bell being 20 and having little football league experience, he’ll fit right in with the way the club operates.

As for Cox’s final two members of the backroom team Richard Cooper and John Ramshaw, both have done well in coaching and progressing the club’s own young players such as Liam Marsden and Jack Thomas and both have a working relationship with Cox that goes back a long way. For once, I can actually just about justify such a big backroom set-up in this current situation.

Notts County will prove a strong test for Stags on Saturday, it will no doubt be a highly competitive game with Notts looking to build on their 4-0 victory over Arnold Town in their opening pre-season fixture.

Stags may be without a recognised glovesman with plenty of names in the running to take over the number one slot from Alan Marriott, that shouldn’t halt our excitement though as football returns – every game is a new adventure.

The clock is ticking down to kick-off, the fresh green grass of home becomes more and more inviting as we prepare for another action packed ride! All we and Cox’s men need remember is this “If your only fear is falling, you should jump without a warning”

Before I sign off this blog, I’d like to dedicate it to an old friend of mine and a friend of many a Stags fan, Kevin ‘Dodgy Kev’ Vernon who sadly lost his battle with illness this week. Kev was a passionate supporter that, no matter the nature of the fixture, followed the boys come rain or shine across the country for years. I’ve no doubt he’ll be watching down on Saturday cheering the boys on. RIP Kev, sleep well old friend.

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