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AFC Mansfield - Six years from nothing to the Northern Premier League

Andy Saunders.
Andy Saunders.

AFC Mansfield chairman and co-founder Andy Saunders is delighted to see the club reach the heady heights of the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League just six years after the Bulls’ formation.

Although they just missed out on a top two automatic promotion place after a controversial end to the Northern Counties East League season last week, their glowing record has been enough to see the Evo-Stik find a place for the Forest Town-based outfit.

“It’s been a good week for the club. We have come a long way,” beamed Saunders, who co-founded the club with Steve Hymas and Darren Bland after the three of them left posts as Mansfield Town directors.

“From 2012 to 2018 to actually get to Step 4 football, it’s been a fantastic, fantastic journey. We will now see where we go now.

“This will be a different level of football now. Don’t get me wrong, Step 5 is competitive.

“But Step 4 you are playing with some of the big boys aren’t you? You’re playing established teams with big budgets who want to get into Step 3 and above.

“We have obviously got our limitations at Forest Town to where we can take it. We can probably do this level and even Step 3. Clubs find their level and we will see where it takes us.

“When you have a professional club in the town, it’s not like places like Knaresborough, where there’s no professional club in the town or at a higher level for a good 10 miles.

“Here we have a professional club and all the peripheral non-League teams playing at Steps 4, 5, and 6, your fan base gets diluted.”

Saunders added: “It’s been great for local football this year. We’ve got promoted and Teversal and Sherwood just missed out. It’s been a good season locally with some good football played.

“Rudy Funk is on board as manager for another season. He signed a contract last season for two more seasons. And Mark Wrad, the assistant manager, has also confirmed for another 12 months, So it’s onwards and upwards.

“We will be deciding over the next few days what new targets we are going to go for next season and get decisions from players from last season whether they are going to stay next season.”

The Bulls got the promotion they wanted post-season in the end after the NCEL extended their season to allow rivals Pickering Town to complete three outstanding games and pip AFC for second spot.

“We got the golden ticket, as I refer to it, in the end,” said Saunders.

“But, at the end of the day, over the season we deserved it.

“I am a board member of the Northern Counties and I wasn’t in favour of the season being extended, but I understood why it was extended with the number of games clubs had got to play.

“But promotion and relegation issues should have been settled by the date. Unfortunately we finished our league when we should have finished it and Pickering had three games still to play.

“So they had a massive sporting advantage knowing what they had got to do.”

Another gripe was rivals Pickering being able to beef up their side for the crucial last game.

After seeing Pickering pip his side for second spot, Saunders explained: “I went to watch Pickering’s last game of the season against Hall Road and when I saw the team sheet I saw a lad on there called Casey Stewart, who had never played for them before – his first game of the season.

“He was a dual signing, who had played for Tadcaster, and what did he do? He scored the winning goal 10 minutes from time.

“That’s the wrong thing about non-League football. I have been against duel signings since day one. But it happens and I don’t think the FA will change it.

“They need to make a ruling that after 31st March, when you can’t sign players on, I think anyone who is dual signed should have played a minimum of five games.

“That would stop clubs bringing in players to try to secure promotion or try to get out of relegation.”