The was the top FA Cup tie in the Preliminary Round. That was undisputed as AFC Mansfield were first in alphabetical order. It was also another first for AFC Mansfield as this would be their first ever home tie in the world’s oldest cup competition. In fact, this would only be their second ever FA Cup tie, after last season when they lost 2-1 to today’s visitors, The Shiners from South Normanton.
It has only been four years since they were formed as a community club by a splinter group of Mansfield Town directors, who were unhappy with the direct that the Stags were going. They found a home at The Forest Town Arena, a cycling track 2.5 miles north-east of Field Mill. Since then they have won promotion twice, taking their place in the Northern Counties East Premier League, or step 5 of the Non-League pyramid to me and you and reached the 5th round of the FA Vase two years ago.
Whilst The Bulls will probably never gain the same profile as other “protest” clubs such as FC United of Manchester or AFC Wimbledon, their progress so far has to be admired. Funds are tight in the grass-roots of the game but focusing on the community aspect will win them friends and enable them to find their level. Oh, and their manager is called Rudy Funk which makes them a winner in my book.
I’d manage to escape from Centerparcs for a couple of hours, leaving the Fuller girls high up some trees, tied very tight to some ropes. A few weeks ago when I looked at potential “diversions” the one that stood out was a potential tie at Clipstone. Alas, they lost at Brigg Town and I had a moment of panic where I thought I may have to spend the whole afternoon in some sub-tropical biosphere carnage, without a game within a “reasonable” distance. By reasonable I had been told I could go AWOL for three hours maximum. “Why don’t you go to AFC Mansfield?” Suggested Lolly. “What? Why do you say that? I scoffed, after all what does she really know about the East Midlands Non-League scene? “Well, they are the first game on the list and Mansfield is just *there* on the map”. Whilst I didn’t let on, she was onto something. Clever girl my eldest daughter sometimes.
So at 2.30pm I headed out of Centerparcs, passing the Workshop Van Hire Stadium home to Clipstone FC, the headstocks of the former Clipstone Colliery that dominate the skyline, a boarded up pub called The Olympic Spirit and a pet grooming parlour (I think) called Doggy Style. A couple of miles down the B6030, take a left and there was the Forest Town Welfare with the Arena behind it.
Within two minutes I had spent £10.50 on admission, a programme, a beer and a chip “cob”. Ten Pounds Fifty. That wouldn’t even buy a programme these days at Wembley on Cup Final day. Ah yes, The Emirates FA Cup, two organisations that have pots of cash have come together. What interest do they really have in these early rounds? Zero really. 736 clubs enter the club, £30 million was the reported fee the FA have received yet the level of prize money on offer in the early rounds of the club has not changed since last season. Today’s winner would receive £1,925. The prize money on offer in the latter stages of the tournament means almost nothing to be big clubs. I’m sure that the £1.8m Man Utd won by beating Everton in last year’s final was a footnote in the bank account, whereas the prize money in the early rounds really means something for the little clubs.
So here is a suggestion. Reduce prize money for Premier and Football League clubs by 50% and use that as a pot for the losing teams in the Qualifying Rounds to soften any blow of elimination. Or perhaps use the money to fund a “kids go free” scheme in the cup for all Step 7 and below clubs?
So armed with food, drink and programme I took my seat on the concrete steps of the Arena, watching the teams warm up. To my right Mansfield’s substitutes and a man dressed as a bull peppered the reserve keeper with shots, with the Shiners subs tried to boot the ball as high in the air as possible. Ah yes, the South Normanton Athletic nickname. Up there with the best in my view.
The nickname ‘Shiners’ derives from the mid-1750s when South Normanton was at the heart of the ribbed stocking industry. The people involved in this craft worked long hours sitting at their windows on wooden stools, so much so that the backsides of their trousers became very shiny making them instantly recognisable as coming from the South Normanton area; since then local people have been referred to as ‘Shiners’. Not my words, but those of Wikipedia so it must be true.
AFC Mansfield 2 South Normanton Athletic 0 – The Forest Town Arena – Saturday 20th August 2016
They were certainly dancing in the streets of Forest Town after AFC Mansfield won their first ever FA Cup tie, easily beating the conditions and The Shiners thanks to two second half goals from Gary Bradshaw and earning a big cheque for £1,925 in the process. Wouldn’t it be more fun if at the end of the game they got a small FA Cup (one that gets bigger depending on the round you are in) and a cheque (again getting bigger in size depending on the round) presented on the pitch? They could even have someone by the side of the pitch engraving their name in the trophy, just like at Wembley, but perhaps using a compass or a large safety-pin.
The strong wind caused both teams issues but it was the home side that always looked the more comfortable as they created a number of first half chances but a combination of the bobbly pitch, the strong wind and comical attacking somehow kept the game goal less. The club offer a strange twist on the golden goal where you can buy two tickets, one for each half. The chap next to me saw his luck wasn’t in when he drew minute 1 and 90. I was relatively happy with my 73rd minute ticket though.
The Welfare Club was relatively full as the crowd ventured in a half-time to escape the rain. Sky Sports on the TV’s, decent bar and a couple of snooker tables. Years ago the locals would have been protecting their pints of mild. Today it was all bottles of rosé in ice buckets on the tables and talk of The Great British Bake Off.
The second half saw the home side take a more direct approach, with the wind behind them. Finally the deadlock was broken when striker Gary Bradshaw poked home in what I thought was the 73rd minute. Alas, the official time-keeper ruled me a minute out. My career record of winning the golden goal still stands at one (Cray Wanderers v Lewes in April 2012 if you ask). The South Normanton manager was not impressed with his defence, nor the officials a few minutes later when his centre midfielder was flagged offside. It seemed that he had done his homework and was quoting chapter and verse on the new regulations to a bemused linesman. He was right too.
AFC Mansfield wrapped the game up with ten minutes to go as that man Bradshaw picked up on sloppy defending and rounded the keeper to slot into an empty net. The Shiners would be heading back to Derbyshire empty-handed whilst The Bulls would be able to look forward to another home tie in two weeks time as they would be hosting Stratford Town.
The magic of the FA Cup had come to Forest Town. It’s just a shame that the powers that be still aren’t taking the qualifying rounds seriously. Good luck to AFC Mansfield and let’s hope that the prize money they earn will help them build on and off the pitch.