New owners at AFC Mansfield plan to give young players a chance

AFC Mansfield is under new ownership with the North of England Football Academy (NEFA) acquiring 92 per cent of the club.

Monday, 23rd May 2022, 5:00 pm

So new owners of the Forest Town-based Northern Counties East League Premier Division outfit will be NEFA founders Spencer Fearn and Ryan McKnight while outgoing chairman Andrew Saunders will remain as club president.

And the Bulls' emphasis will be on player development and giving youth a chance.

With manager Phil Buxton departed, John Stancliffe returns to the club as joint manager with Fearn. Stancliffe, better known as 'Stan', is a UEFA B licence coach with an excellent reputation and knowledge of the non-league game and is well known to all at the club.

A new era at Bulls - Ben Nicholson, Spencer Fearn and Ryan McKnight.

Making up the management team is UEFA A and AYA licence coach Ben Nicholson, who has spent his career working at Sheffield United, Chesterfield, Sheffield Wednesday and NEFA.

Incoming joint owner Spencer Fearn said: “I have known Andrew Saunders for over a decade.

“He’s built a club to be truly proud of.

“The players and staff have the infrastructure and facilities to excel, and we are delighted to have the opportunity to take the club on to the next level.

“Andrew, his committee, and dedicated team of volunteers have created a club with real potential and the future is exciting for all of us - a future that is about providing real opportunities for young players and staff to follow their passion, develop their knowledge and progress in the game they love.

“We want to be known as the club of opportunity. The club that gives young, determined people that chance to progress in the game.

“NEFA would like to place on record our sincere appreciation for everything that Andrew has achieved during his time at the club. His continuing involvement and input as club president is greatly appreciated.”

He added: “We would like to thank Phil Buxton and Joe Kearney for their work whilst at the club and wish them all the very best for the future.

“The contribution that Phil has made to the club as a player, captain and manager has been outstanding and they will both always be welcome at AFC Mansfield.”

NEFA was formed in 2016 with a single ambition to provide the very best educational and career opportunities for its players and coaches.

Based in Rotherham and now partnered with Notts County Football Club, NEFA founders Fearn and McKnight have a track record of excellence in player and coach development.

NEFA currently have three U19 teams and a senior side that plays at Step eight of the football pyramid.

Linked with leading education provider LifeSkills, NEFA work with over 60 young players each year.

Fearn is currently ‘head of the academy’ at NEFA and has a wealth of professional experience within the game as a coach (Sheffield Wednesday), club management (Maltby Main, Frickley Athletic), and club leadership/executive (East Stirling, Stockport County).

As a student of the game, he has graduated from the Cruyff Institute with a Post Graduate Diploma in Sports Management and is currently completing two football related masters degrees before starting a PhD in October with a focus on coach education in football.

McKnight has spent his entire career working in football which ranges from being the Editor-in-Chief of Football Industry Group publication FC Business to appointment as CEO of Stockport County FC, where at just 30 years old, he became the youngest ever chief executive of a professional football club.

McKinght’s industry insight has led to a range of consultancy roles in football including at Wolverhampton Wanderers and Port Vale.

As well as his current role as CEO at NEFA, he co-leads on the Football Transfer Forum conference, in which he facilitates knowledge transfer amongst sporting directors, agents and other football industry professionals.

Fearn's message to supporters was: “Being a Bulls fan means you are taking an active role in the improvement of young people’s lives.

“You support a club that stands for second chances, for underdogs, and for hard work paying-off. “We look forward to welcoming back our existing fans and making new friends in the community. “We want to give Forest Town a club that is fully engaged in our community and one that we can all be proud of.”

AFC Mansfield have confirmed four home pre-season fixtures, with more to be announced shortly - 9th July – Grantham Town U23s (noon), 13th July – Belper Town (7.30pm), 19th July – Retford United (7.30pm), and 23rd July – Shirebrook Town (noon).

AFC Mansfield are always looking for volunteers to assist with numerous roles - e-mail [email protected] if you are interested.

Keep up to date by following AFC Mansfield, @AFCMansfield, Facebook AFC Mansfield and Instagram @AFCMansfield.