Ahead of Saturday’s trip to Ebbsfleet, I can’t help but remember our first ever game outside the football league - the trip to Saturday’s destination, Ebbsfleet’s Stonebridge Road, writes Craig Priest.
The memory of our fall into the football confrence still holds an agonising place in my mind, in fact everytime it’s dark and the rain smashes down - I shiver.
The wait for the new season to arrive seemed an eternity, even the arrival of new owners, a new management team and a brand new playing squad failed to excite or numb the excrusiating pain. Competitive football, just like this pre-season post Wembley, would be the only cure.
Like every football fan dropping down a division, my attitude towards the fixture and in turn, the league, was arrogant. I thought my mighty Mansfield Town could glide triumphantly back to our rightful home - how little I knew.
Along with other supporters I headed to the game on the coach in high spirit, confident of victory - the first of many. My arrogance and dreams of what could be we’re soon smashed as the coach pulled up outside the ground.
Despite the August setting there was nothing fresh about Ebbsfleet, the nearby streets were littered with crumbling paintwork, cracked pavements and broken glass bottles.
Stepping off the coach longing for the sparkle of Football League staudia such as Shrewsbury (The New Meadow), my attention was drawn too a large, mud and rain stained sign, reading: “Blue Square Premier Game #1” I knew there and then that it would be a painful crawl, rather than an easy glide back to the promise land.
I wasn’t wrong either, at half-time Billy McEwans new look Stags found themselves on the wrong end of a 2-0 scoreline. Despite a second half revival in front of the Mansfield faithful with goals from messers Blackwood and Stallard, our season continued on it’s rocky course and despite the glimmer of light offered by Wembley - there has been little to smile about.
Personally I think our lesson has been learnt, arrogence has gone with respect, understanding and a begrudging paitence taking its place.
In Paul Cox we’ve a manager in place who has demonstrated both coaching ability and man mangement ability, whilst leading our beloved during their fourth season.
It’s Cox’s man management ability which I believe has been key to our journey so far, the management of Matt Green, Luke O’Neill and of late, creative midfielder Gary Roberts, being the main starlets.
With O’Neill outstanding at the back, Roberts magical in midfield and Green on fire upfront, I’m hopeful this seasons trip to Ebbsfleet will go someway to banishing the memory that first game herolds.
A victory is needed, of that we all agree, an unbeaten January may be just the start of our push to the play-offs with a fFootball League return the end prize.
I hope to see you all at Ebbsfleet on Saturday, always loud, always proud - forever Mansfield Town, following that dream.
COME ON YOU STAGS!