OPINION: Picture-perfect ending to a story that makes you proud to be a Mansfield Town fan

Howard Richardson receives the signed shirt from Stags midfielder Jamie McGuire. PHOTO: Courtesy Mansfield Town
Howard Richardson receives the signed shirt from Stags midfielder Jamie McGuire. PHOTO: Courtesy Mansfield Town

It was THE endearing image from Mansfield Town Football Club this week. No, it wasn’t Matt Green’s joyful face as he ended the Stags’ 438-minute goal drought.

Or Shaq Coulthirst making that goal and then sealing a first win in five by scoring a solo second.

Or manager Steve Evans celebrating the victory against Carlisle United in the directors’ box with owner John Radford, director Steve Hymas and others – what a remarkable sight that was for those of us in the Upper Ian Greaves Stand a week ago.

No, the main photograph that grabbed my attention this week was taken on Thursday.

It showed Stags midfielder Jamie McGuire visiting fan Howard Richardson in hospital and presenting him with a signed shirt.

It was the perfect happy ending to a story that could have been so different but for something later labelled Team Mansfield by manager Evans.

Ahead of the win over Carlisle, Howard, who was walking to the ground along Quarry Lane, collapsed after suffering a cardiac arrest.

Fortunately it was seen by Stags assistant groundsman Scott Merriman, who rushed to place the fan in the recovery position before alerting the club’s medical department.

Physiotherapist Dan Kett and sports therapist Lizzie Reed then gave medical attention before paramedics arrived. Howard was rushed to King’s Mill Hospital, where he is now on the mend but facing an operation at the City Hospital, Nottingham.

It was an amazingly quick response by the club’s personnel to a potentially tragic situation. Their quick-thinking undoubtedly saved Howard’s life.

His son later said the family was told at King’s Mill that the Stags’ physios performing CPR averted a tragedy.

But the Stags community didn’t stop there. There was an outpouring of support for Howard and his family on social media and fans’ website Stagsnet.

There was also praise for the actions of the club’s staff, from Howard’s family, fans and management. Evans said: “I have always said that we are Team Mansfield and our togetherness is like a light on a dreary dark night.”

And so on Thursday McGuire went to King’s Mill to see Howard and present him with the shirt and the club’s best wishes.

Fortunately Howard himself was well enough to go on Stagsnet to thank everyone, saying: “There are so many people that I want to thank for saving my life. I don’t feel I can put into words how grateful and lucky I am. Many people deserve a mention and at the moment I am still trying to compile a list.”

The growing link between Mansfield Town Football Club and the community has not been as strong as it is now for many years — and this heartwarming story is just the latest example.

It makes you proud to be a Stags fan — proud of the club, proud of its staff, proud of its fans. And all, of course, just a couple of weeks after the stories of the anonymous supporter who bought a season ticket for a young fan helping his seriously ill mum, and fans group the Stags Supporters Association handing over the proceeds of more fundraising to the club.

Coincidentally, I spoke to Kevin Kent on Friday. The former winger is still the only Mansfield Town player to score at Wembley and his memories of that great day almost 30 years ago — when the Stags drew 1-1 with Bristol City before winning a penalty shoot-out to lift the Freight Rover Trophy — drifted on to the subject of the bond between the club and its supporters.

He stressed how much the fans’ support had lifted the players — and how the players had wanted to give something back to the community in return. Kent, from a mining background himself, talked about how the players had gone underground at Clipstone Colliery to meet the miners there, many of them Stags supporters.

Kent told me it had been an eye-opener for the players and made them appreciate how important it was for Mansfield Town Football Club and its fans to be together.

We all know what happened since those heady days in 1987 and how relationships between the club, its fans and the community soured under a subsequent owner.

How different things are now under the ownership of John Radford and management of Evans.

As the manager pointed out this week, the togetherness at the One Call Stadium is now lighting up the darkest of nights. Long may it continue.