Third Division clubs beware: the circus is coming to town

FAN'S EYE VIEW; No 125 Mansfield Town
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The Independent Online
In supporting the team for 20 years from the town which has held such titles as "Murder and Crime per capita Kings of the UK" and "Where Scabs support Stags" (the latter from a Yorkshire Miners Newsletter, circa 1984), a suitable analogy of Mansfield Town's performances is that of a bobsleigher's profession - "a very fine dividing line between karma and carnage".

In attempting to mix the players of Real Madrid in the Fifties and the Dutch style of the Seventies, over the past 18 months Andy King has introduced a wonderfully cavalier (or in this area maybe that should be a 3.0l Ford Capri) approach to gaining victories.

However, with the usual personnel fatter than Puskas, older looking than Di Stefano, and with Cruyff's Total Football maxim usually being interpreted as "Let's change from 4-4-2 to 0-0-10", we witness sharp shooting (12 goals in 24 hours last Christmas; 10 in the last two visits to Wigan), to suicidal defending because of our defence going on Aboriginal-type walkabouts. This is not only the capitulations like those recently at Preston and at home to Bury, where ex-players, but still heroes, Wilkinson and Stant knocked in a hat-trick and four goals respectively on successive Saturdays, but an unmatched ability to snatch draws from the jaws of victory - against Scarborough in September we took the lead in the second minute of injury time and still didn't win.

The affair with a lesser light is not like a big club manic affliction where supporters call for more revolutions than the average Peruvian freedom fighter, but more of a Liz Taylor/Richard Burton romance where despite the drink, divorce and destruction accounting for 90 per cent of the existence, it's the once-in-a-blue-moon Anthony and Cleopatra spectacle that makes you gloat, "Can you remember when...?"

1) In 1975 when the BBC cameras came to the fiefdom of Field Mill for the one and only time to show the fifth-round FA Cup tie against the then big boys of Carlisle who won, "by the jammiest goal ever in the history of Association Football, which was, by a conservative estimate, 75 yards offside" according to my brother. I, of course, believed him, saw nothing on TV later on to dispute this, and was even more upset when he appeared in the crowd during the highlights.

2) In the 1977-78 season we drew 3-3 with Spurs in the old Second Division on a pitch so bad that it had to be cleared of hippos and rice planters before the match could start (according to my brother again, a player actually drowned in the six-yard box during the game, a claim which has never been proved or refuted).

3) Johnny Miller (ex-Orient and Norwich, not ex-US Ryder Cup) took a penalty which ended with the ball hitting the crossbar and ballooning over the North Stand (for the unaware, a construction comparable with the away end at QPR).

4) May 1987 - Our big day out! Twenty thousand disciples (including my mother and sister, who had never seen them before or since - usually, I don't blame them) throwing about donkey jackets as the mighty yellow machine stuffed Bristol City 4-3 on penalties in the Sherpa Van thingy at Wembley after two hours of probably the most tedious pile of garbage ever played in that stadium.

Personally, forget your Wimbledons and Wycombes, I prefer my team to be a small fish in a small pond, meeting and beating Leeds in the cups and Lincoln (occasionally) in the league. (Europe? Forget it. The closest we came was in being beaten by Workington in It's a Knockout!). My one ambition is for us to play Liverpool away in the FA Cup, go one down and then blitz the Kop in the second half to go 5-1 up with two minutes to go, safe in the knowledge that with an X inscribed on my fixed-odds coupon, we may still scramble a draw before losing honourably in the replay.

Third Division clubs beware: the circus is coming to town. Conjurors or chimpanzees? It's anyone's guess.