In football you almost never wonder how the subject of your interview will dress. The Liverpool manager, Brendan Rodgers, strolls round Anfield in a quilted green jacket that would get him a walk-on part as “country solicitor in pub” on Emmerdale. Members of the Merseyside press corps can still recall the days when the Everton manager, Walter Smith, used to conduct interviews after stepping straight out of the shower. Naked but for a well-placed towel.
Carolyn Radford is not naked, although given the way Mansfield Town’s chief executive has been caricatured as a one-time escort girl who married the millionaire who appointed her two weeks after she took the job, she might as well be.
She is wearing a black-and-white check suit and, since she once worked for among others, Bulgari, Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci, it is worth asking where it came from. “Only from Zara” comes the reply laced with a giggle.
John and Carolyn Radford run Mansfield Town as chairman and chief executive, the Richard and Judy of football. John is a Mansfield man who made his money through insurance, which is why Field Mill is now officially and disappointingly known as the One Call Stadium.
John is a fan, though at 47 is probably not old enough to remember the quarter-final tie with Leicester in 1969 that represents Mansfield’s high-water mark in the FA Cup, commemorated in framed back pages in Field Mill’s reception.
He has poured considerable amounts of his own money into a club that is so stricken that the money they will make from tomorrow’s tie with Liverpool will just about cover the wage bill for a month.
Carolyn has made headlines of her own. It should have been because at 29 she became chief executive of a reasonably well-known football club, which given that she has a degree in politics from Durham University and a masters in law should not be that surprising.
When Mansfield were playing Lincoln City in their second-round replay knowing that a home tie against Liverpool and around £250,000 was on offer to the winners, Carolyn found herself seated next to Lucy Rigby, with whom she studied at Durham and who is now the Labour parliamentary candidate for Lincoln.
Carolyn Radford’s politics are founded in a deep admiration for Margaret Thatcher. This might not go down well in Mansfield, which has never returned a Conservative MP. It was once a town of mines, of DH Lawrence and a brewery that produced Marston Old Baily. No longer.
However, her marriage caused the kind of furore that accompanied the publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Carolyn, who met John through her work in fashion, had to protest she was qualified for the job and deny that she had ever worked for an escort agency. One day she will not have to answer these questions.
“I didn’t really predict that John sending me in to see what was going on at Mansfield would create such a furore. I just kept my head down,” she said. “The bottom line was this was our football club. John and I have been on a strange path. I didn’t know there was going to be so much interest. On my mother’s life, I was completely overwhelmed and shocked.”
Carolyn is not a football fan but she is passionate about Mansfield to the extent of getting herself arrested at York in the Conference play-offs in May. She had an altercation with a policeman that she puts down as “an Andrew Mitchell thing”.
There are similarities with Karren Brady, who became chief executive of Birmingham City at the age of 23 and published a book, ‘Brady Plays the Blues” in which she posed in a Birmingham kit rather more provocatively than David Gill would have done had he written about his years running Old Trafford.
Brady, whom her first manager, Barry Fry, described as “a hard bastard”, had no need of that Playmate of the Month image and nor really does Carolyn Radford. In March she and her husband celebrated winning back the leasehold of Field Mill which had been held by the club’s controversial former owner, Keith Haslam, who in 2008 was beaten up in his own boardroom as relegation from the Football League loomed. It had taken two years and plenty of forensic accountants for John and Carolyn to secure the club’s future.
Frankly, there might be better ways, even in Mansfield, to spend your money than keep pouring it into a football club that has never finished higher than 21st in the old Second Division and is losing £50,000 a week. “Sometimes, that’s a hard thing to reconcile in your own head,” Carolyn said. “It is stressful for me and for John. But I think John can’t quite believe what’s happened.
“He had a little bit of a premonition about a year ago that we would be playing Manchester United or Liverpool. And I said: ‘But we’re at Tamworth now and I’m freezing’. And now here we are and it makes it seem worthwhile when you are bankrolling it all.”