Time flies when you’re having fun - it moves even quicker in football.
Can you believe that TEN years ago this weekend Mansfield Town of League Two, made the trip up North to face Premier League Newcastle United in the FA Cup Third Round.
I was 14 at the time and back then, a much skinnier, far more ginger and much more awkward me, and regularly skipped school (I mean attended lots of dentist, hospital and optician appointments) to watch Mansfield Town FC without fail.
I didn’t have a season ticket so was petrified I wouldn’t get a ticket for the game. So I was naturally buzzing when I was presented with tickets. Dressed in a horrible pair of jeans with a Lonsdale jacket I’d got for Christmas covering my home shirt (with COKE 15 on the back), I remember the excitement of matchday and how much of an awesome experience going to Newcastle was.
I remember little of the journey, other than a gang of us all congregating together as coach up on coach lined all the way down Quarry Lane to ferry the population of Mansfield to St James in the hope of a giantkilling.
We all stuck together as ‘the regulars’ and managed to get on the same coach.
I slept and listened to my Alba MP3 Player all the way – changing the pound shop batteries every two minutes whilst chatter and excitement built.
The experience was epic and was unlike any pre-match build up I’d experienced before.
The play-off final in Cardiff had far too much worry and expectation attached, this time we were there for the ride.
I still remember the sound of excited gasps followed by admirable silence as the coaches drove past St James’ to the drop-off point.
Beforehand a group of us crammed into Shearer’s Bar, constantly turning to anyone who could translate the native tone in order to have a conversation with our Premier League hosts.
I have to be honest, I hated the pub beforehand – I’ve always wanted to see the warm-ups and study the coaching drills, so I was pleased when we headed back up a slight hilly incline towards the entrance.
We stopped halfway and had a photo to show my dad, it was outside the St James’ Park welcome sign and taken on an old white phone which I’ve since lost.
After going through the turnstiles we headed up numerous flights of stairs to our stated destination – at which point my brother said to me ‘this isn’t high’.
I walked out first, took one look and turned around, even more pale than usual and said, ‘wanna bet’ (or words to that effect)?
It was HIGH! Even higher when we reached our seats which were on the edge of the row.
My day was temporary ruined when a drunk supporter tripped UP the step and spilt a bottle of Coke on my COKE shirt – oh the irony. A sulk later, it was game time.
I remember little else, the players were dots, which perhaps explains why I still don’t use 3D mode on Football Manager.
We played well, perhaps the best we played that entire season, but were inevitably beaten by an historic goal from a footballing god – Alan Shearer, spinning midway through the second half to drill low beyond Pressman in the Stags goal to end a goal drought and pull level with Newcastle’s all-time goal scorer, Jackie Milburn. That was a brilliant moment to witness to be fair.
Giles Coke came close to levelling things late on, but with Shay Given between the sticks, one of my goalkeeping heroes, it was never on the cards. The full-time whistle was one of relief for Newcastle and one of pride for us.
In the 10 years that passed for me, Stags stayed as the number one in my life, fell from grace and rose again.
But what of the Stags side that day? I consulted the internet to attempt to find out . . . .
Kevin Pressman – The Sheffield Wednesday legend joined Stags in the summer of 2005, linking up with his old team mate Carlton Palmer who was of course the man in charge at the beginning of the campaign.
Owls Favourite ‘Big Kev’ joined after spells with Leeds and Coventry acting as cover and quickly established himself as Stags No.1 with Jason White as his understudy.
I recall his display at St James’ Park to be one of his best in a Stags shirt, being extremely unfortunate to be beaten by that piece of Alan Shearer magic.
I remember him as a very vocal shot-stopper and, having attended every game that season, only recall him ever coming out of his box once – at Shrewbury away at Gay Meadow.
Mark Stallard (who of course later went onto play and briefly co-manage us) was put through with a long ball over the top and left the back four stranded (the norm for that season), but Pressman came racing out and slammed the ball into touch, whilst Stallard, sensibly darted out of the way to avoid being booted with the ball.
Pressman left Stags at the end of that season and hung up his boots, although not for long as he turned out the following season for Northern Irish Side Portadown following a keeper crisis – he went on to win a player of the season award, aged 39 and has since moved into coaching, currently at Millwall working with their keepers after an ill-fated spell as Scunthorpe United assistant and a spell with Bradford.
Jake Buxton – Local lad Jake had risen through the youth team and established himself in the side, either on the right side or in the middle of the back four.
As we know, Jake went onto captain Mansfield during our darkest hour of relegation, moving on at the end of that season to join Nigel Clough at Burton Albion despite being on Paul Holland’s squad list for our Conference debut season had he got the job, according to Holland’s autobiography.
Buxton, despite being heavily criticised by most fans during our ‘season of death’ went on to have a fairly successful career, winning promotion from the conference with Burton, as captain if memory serves me correct, before linking up with Clough for a second time at Championship Derby County and has since made over 130 appearances for the Rams where he remains, albeit nursing an injury.
Alex-John Baptise – Like Buxton, Baptise was another local lad who regularly attracted the attention of higher division clubs, and numerous Soccer AM segments.
Baptise left Stags after handing in a transfer request following our demise to the Conference (I know, it’s like rats leaving a sinking ship) and subsequently joined then Championship side Blackpool.
Baptise enjoyed life by the seaside and after breaking into the first team, established himself as a decent Championship, and briefly, Premier League defender.
That was weird watching a part of the worst back four ever (arguably) popping up on Match of the Day while we were roaming around the likes of Ebbsfleet!
Post Blackpool, ‘Bap’ has enjoyed spells as Bolton and Blackburn before joining Middlesbrough in the summer, suffering an injury in the early stages of a pre-season friendly against York City.
Rhys Day – Mansfield legend Rhys was in his first of two spells with Stags when we headed to St James’ Park.
The much loved dominant Welsh centre-back was well established in the Stags side and supporters’ hearts at this point, after Keith Curle had made Day’s loan switch from Manchester City permanent back in the summer of 2003.
Following the Newcastle game, where he earned praise for his talents from many, including Shearer, Day remained with Stags until the end of the season where then manager Peter Shirtliff failed to offer Day a new deal, allowing him to join Conference side Aldershot Town.
Day did eventually return to the Stags, as one of David Holdsworth’s many loan signings from Oxford United during the 2010-11 season – making the switch permanent in the January window.
Day shared the captain’s armband with now boss Adam Murray, predominately under the management of Duncan Russell.
Sadly Day wouldn’t feature as much as supporters hoped, suffering numerous injury setbacks which forced him to retire with his final appearance being in his testimonial at the One Call Stadium, which brought back many of the players Day had played with throughout the years.
A momentary return from retirement came for Day as he joined Hyde, as player coach, in 2013, departing in the summer of 2015 after a handful of appearances to pursue a coaching career and supporting retiring sports man.
Gareth Jellyman – Curly haired Welsh left back Gareth joined in 2005 and stayed with the club until, yes, you guessed it, our relegation in 2008. Highly-rated by Billy Dearden during his tenure as boss, Jellyman has since become a journeyman of Non-League football and, perhaps more famously, the subject title of Soccer Saturday host Jeff Stelling’s book “Jellyman’s Thrown A Wobbly” which refers to the former’s reporting of the left back’s sending-off against Oxford whilst at Stags.
Gus Uhlenbeek – Able to operate at right back or as a winger, Dutchman Gus, who has two appearances for Alax to his name – joined the Stags under Palmer at the start of the 2005-06 campaign, departing on a free to FC Halifax at the end of the same season.
Ten years on from playing 79 minutes at St James’ in the Amber and Blue, Gus is now back in Amsterdam, posting the occasional happy birthday message to ex-teams on twitter… he had a few during the years.
Stephen Dawson – Tough tackling midfielder Dawson was outstanding against Newcastle, although less said about his chance to level the game from 40 yards after Shay Given’s misplaced clearance the better.
I always remember Dawson as being a constant performer for Stags in the centre of the park and since his departure in 2008, yes another one, he moved onto Bury, Leyton Orient, Barnsley and Rochdale before joining his current club Scunthorpe United.
He’s been a transfer rumour for re-joining Stags, where he made his professional debut, a few times, but nothing has ever come of them.
Giles Coke – One of a few names I’ve had printed on the back of my Stags tops down the years (the others for reference being Neil Mackenzie and most recently Brian Jensen, well BEAST), Giles was a talented youngster 10 years ago and alongside Dawson, had a decent game on the big stage.
After being snapped up by Carlton Palmer from Non-League Kingstonian, the play-making midfielder has gone onto forge a decent career for himself with spells at Northampton, Motherwell, Sheffield Wednesday and now Ipswich.
Adam Rundle – Easily the best Stags player on the pitch 10 years ago, Rundle was a man on a mission, proving to Newcastle staff they made the wrong choice to let him go as a youngster in 2001.
Rundle was a talented left winger who, on his day, would leave full backs chasing shadows – something Rochdale noticed as the snatched him at the end of the 2005-06 season
It was here were Rundle developed before he did the unthinkable and joined Chesterfield in 2010!
The Newcastle lad has since had spells with a number of clubs, both in and out of the Football League and in May 2015 made the move into management, taking charge of Northern Premier League side Norton . He was sacked in August of the same year.
Allan Russell – Now then, here’s a name for the footballing anoraks and, if Stags had an edition of Pointless, would be a good answer.
Glaswegian Russell managed four goals in his one season at Mansfield, arriving with good pedigree from the Scottish Leagues.
He’s had a number of clubs since leaving Stags, and slowly converted to a defensive midfielder from a front man.
Last seen in the States, Russell was captain of Orange County Blues (no, me neither) and according to his twitter, now works as a model and business man working with his own company, superior striker! Sorry, Allan Russell’s Superior Striker.
Ritchie Barker © - Do I really need to go there?
Lord Barker, goal machine, captain fantastic and all-round club legend skippered the boys at Newcastle and remained with the club until someone sanctioned a transfer to Hartlepool – scandalous!
He is now assistant at MK Dons and forging a very successful coaching career (bar the poisoned chalice that was Portsmouth) after spells as head-honcho at Bury and Crawley.
One Day he will return… whenever he has a spare Saturday and we’re at home, his son, I’m led to believe, still follows Stags when he can.
SUBS Adam Birchall and Nathan Arnold were the only two to feature from the bench.
Birchall now works as a coach within the Arsenal set-up after hanging up his playing boots whilst Nathan Arnold, practically still in nappies at the time, is at Grimsby in the Conference, although he could be wearing the Amber and Blue again, had Paul Cox not done a U-turn on offering him a contract following a trail at the start of the 2013-14 campaign.
Of those who warmed the bench as pure spectators, goalkeeper Jason White became an unwilling villain as number one during the relegation season, and he’s now at AFC Mansfield.
Icelandic defender John Olav Hjelde put off a move back to Norway to stay with Stags until the end of the 2005-06 season, departing and retiring a year later.
And as for midfielder Frazer McLachlan, he was last seen eating turkey at Carlton Palmer’s Christmas Dinner Table (this may not be entirely 100 per cent accurate).
Peter Shirliff, Manager – His tenure as boss didn’t last too long and he was replaced by the legendary Billy Dearden the following season after failing to make any real progress with the Stags.
He did go onto having another shot as manager of Bury in a caretaker role, before stepping back to be Lord Barker’s Number Two at Bury.
He’s since continued to do the rounds of the coaching circuit and, on reflection of Stags managers in the past decade, certainly wasn’t the worst!
Memories eh? Got to love them!