Adventures in Football #38: Field Mill (Mansfield Town FC)
January 15, 2022
MANSFIELD TOWN VS. WALSALL (League Two)
We went to watch the reverse of this fixture at Walsall, so it only seemed right to get the ‘second leg’ in. This is the first game I’ve been to since late November. As I work in retail Christmas can get a bit hectic. I’ve been itching to get back to the football. And what better place than Mansfield? A good old ground and a team that’s done ok over the years. Winning League 2 (then division 4) in 1975 and two years later winning League 1 (then division 3) in 1977. They only managed one year in the second tier of English football (1977-78) and they’ve spent most of their time since being either a good L2 team or a bad L1 team. Barring an unfortunate slide into non-league football in 2008/09 where they spent five years outside the football league. They won the Vanarama National League in 2013 and have resided in League 2 ever since.
The Stags were founded in 1897 and have been at Field Mill since 1919. The stadium is called One Call Stadium, for sponsorship purposes, but we’re calling it Field Mill. Field Mill is the oldest ground in the Football League, having hosted football matches as far back as 1861. Oh, but what about Bramall Lane I hear you cry? Well, that began life as a cricket ground until Sheffield FC moved in back in 1873 (technically football was played there for the first time in 1862). While Field Mill began life as a multipurpose stadium, hosting rugby, cricket and greyhound racing, it’s the oldest league stadium in the country to have hosted football as a sport and still be doing so.
So, if football had been played at Mansfield since 1861 but Mansfield Town themselves have only existed since 1897, who was playing there in the interim? Well, Harwood Greenhalgh, son of a local industrialist, owned Field Mill. It was a works pitch for his dad’s company. After Greenhalgh, a good player in his own right, finishing playing for Notts Co he founded Greenhalgh FC who used Field Mill as a home. Greenhalgh had played in England’s first ever international fixture. Before I disappear into a rabbit hole, I will stop off to note Greenhalgh was England’s only named defender in the team with the 1-2-7 formation favoured. 1-2-7!! This was due to the offside rule being more like rugby where you couldn’t pass the ball forwards at all.
Sadly, most of the old version of Field Mill was demolished when the stadium was completely renovated at the turn of the century. It’s unrecognisable now, compared to how it would have been in Greenhalgh’s time, where three sides of the pitch were composed of viewing mounds built from quarry ash. They didn’t have concrete terracing until the 1940s. We’re sat today in the Ian Greaves stand, formally the West Stand, which was the oldest part of the ground before renovation. Opposite us is the Bishop Street Stand, which has been condemned. So, it’s all boarded up.
Michael Kilby is up from Luton for this trip to Mansfield. He turned up at mine around 11am and we headed off into the fog. It was insanely foggy all day. The only time the fog seemed to clear was when we arrived into Mansfield and until the second half. Driving into Mansfield we went and parked at Grove Street, which is what the club’s website recommends. It’s a dirty clay car park but it was relatively cheap and a short walk from the ground. If we’d taken the train, it would have been a similarly short trip from the station. Field Mill is well situated for travellers into the town. It’s easy to access, even if some of the local motorists are incredibly bad and need to have their licences taken away. And yes, I do mean you; bloke trying to drive into our turn lane when there was no space to do so.
Grove Street is half a mile from the ground and I’m sure it’s normally a lovely little stroll. Perhaps less so in the middle of winter. I had four layers on but was quickly aware that my feet were already cold. A mental note that I need an extra pair of socks or something in January. Outside the ground we spotted a Walsall fan in a Trivium hoodie who was wearing shorts. Which immediately reminded me of my good friend, and Arsenal fan, Chris Wright. Whatever the weather; shorts. If you’re going to get tattoos on your calves you might as well show them off. Outside the ground is Sandy’s bar and kitchen. We didn’t really have the time for a pint, sadly. However, I was starving, having eaten nothing all day, and we grabbed a burger from the van outside. It was good. £3.50 for a quarter pounder with cheese and onions. Free condiments on the stand next to it. I’ll take that. I normally don’t eat many onions but these ones were top.
Inside the ground we shuffled through a yellow concourse and my god, it was so cold in here. You could see your own breath. How is it that much colder inside? The laws of thermal dynamics are broken!
We find our seats and we’re three rows back with an excellent view of the end Mansfield will attack in the second half. The seats are freezing and covered in condensation. This is not ideal. We stand up for as long as possible but there’s no escaping the cold seat. It’s at times like these I would love to have a standing area. I’m sure I’m not alone in that regard.
We have a mascot today. It’s Sammy the Stag and he’s all fired up. Despite getting this flag tangled up in his antlers a few times he’s a lively chap and gets the crowd going. Behind Hayden the Womble, he is probably my second favourite mascot of the season. Maybe it was just the cold weather, but he was running around and enjoying himself all game.
Here’s us looking REALLY WARM at the football. My attempts at blending in with the locals by wearing a yellow and blue top have paid off. It’s a Parma away shirt from 2001/02. No one will know. There’s an entire Manchester United contingent nearby (pretty sure it’s a youth team outing) so I’m doing better than wearing Man Utd merch. The first half is scrappy. I’ve seen enough scrappy games of football to know a scrappy game when I see one. Walsall manager Matt Taylor blamed the pitch, which in all fairness was cut up something rotten along the flanks. It’s not the bowling green Premier League players are used to sliding passes around on. I reckon one of the big lads could come a cropper a Field Mill in the FA Cup if they’re not careful.
During the first half I notice the away stand is sponsored by RM Refrigeration and Air Conditioning. The little snowflakes taunt me. I was just thinking we needed some more air-con in this ground. It’s a bit warm. I believe today’s high was two degrees. Positively balmy. While we’re talking the away end; great support from 882 Walsall fans today (total attendance 5,728, pretty lively atmosphere too). They started out being loud way before kick off and kept their spirits reasonably high until it all fell apart for them in the second half. As the gentleman to my right notes “some of them cunts up there are blocking the stairs”. There’s a sign right behind me saying ‘watch your language’ or something to that effect. We are in the family stand (I think). However, unlike when I loudly swear in front of children, it’s deemed acceptable. I like Mansfield. The lads around us are a great bunch. They all seem to be mates. I feel like we’ve been invited onto someone else’s table at the pub. It’s a bit like the feeling I had at Port Vale but in a more masculine environment.
The first half ends in stalemate with the most entertaining aspects coming from the environment, as Stephen Quinn is covered in mud, and the crowd, who turned on the referee after a phantom tackle on George Miller resulted in a free kick to Walsall and a yellow card for Oliver Hawkins. Half time sees the arrival of Harry Charsley. He’s never scored a professional goal before. On 57’ that all changed as Walsall fail to clear a cross and Charsley fires home on the volley. 1-0 Mansfield. It comes mere moments after George Miller has had a shot cleared off the line.
The game isn’t out of reach for Walsall but Mansfield look far more likely to add to their advantage and on 88’ Charsley grabs his second of the game, a composed finish after breaking into the right side of the area. Mansfield’s players celebrate right in front of us and everyone around us pours forwards to celebrate with the players. It was a lovely moment. As the fog descended on Field Mill and the opposite end became increasingly hard to see the seconds ticked away and Mansfield secured three points under the floodlights.
Final Score: Mansfield 2 Walsall 0
Apart from being freezing cold I had a nice time at Mansfield. The locals around us were a nice bunch of lads who had their own bits. The “sit down” yelling was a fun bit and these lads seemed to be really enjoying an afternoon at the football. The away fans were great at Walsall, and they seem like a top crowd. Expectations feel quite low and Mansfield doesn’t take itself too seriously, but they are a league team, and they deserve to be there.