ARTICLE ON STAGS IN THE OBSERVER
[complete with a few corrections in brackets] ...
The Observer, Sunday November 3, 2002
Of Stags and students
Mansfield's first-round FA Cup match is the stuff of myth, says Will Buckley
Next Saturday [actually in 2 weeks time - Martin], the students of Bath University play Mansfield in the first round of the FA Cup. Technically, 'student plus ten associates' might be a more correct term, for only one of their team is engaged on a degree course, but the FA Cup is a venerable institution, and a little gloss to sustain the myth-making can probably be excused. Whatever, it is a handy draw for the students.
The statistics reveal that this has not been the kindest of seasons for the Stags. They have conceded more goals from inside the six-yard box (17) than any other team in their division. They have conceded more goals from corners (8) than any other team in their division. They have conceded more goals from free-kicks (8) than any other team in their division. They are bottom of their division.
Friday night, however, offered the visit of Colchester. The Station Hotel was not buzzing. Two people sat at opposite ends of the cavernous public bar reading the the evening paper. On the TV screen, the grand final of Robot Wars was being played out.
'Back into the frame it was Chaos's day,' said the commentator. Isn't it always? 'What a stunner,' he said. 'It doesn't get more sensational than that,' said Craig Charles. And just as I was indulging in some impromptu media studies focusing on the similarities between the treatment of Charles, Deayton and the bloke I've never heard of, a Mansfield fan hove into view.
'It's potentially winnable,' he said about the match.
'How many have you won this season?' I asked.
'Let's see.' He paused. 'Two at home.'
'And, that's it. Plymouth and Tranmere.'
For some reason the fan had overlooked the 2-0 win at Stockport on a balmy August Bank Holiday Monday [no, that was a defeat - Martin], but perhaps a long run of defeats - including QPR (h) 0-4; Crewe (h) 0-4 [0-5 actually - Martin]; Oldham (a) 1-6 - makes you forgetful.
The first twenty minutes featured two missed chances by Mansfield's Iyseden Christie. If you put his name into a search engine the phrases 'wasteful finishing' and 'chief culprit' keep appearing. Let go by Orient at the end of last season, he spent the summer waiting for Bristol Rovers to call: 'They said they'd ring back, but they never did.' So he went back to Mansfield.
His lifetime goals-per-game ratio is 0.19. The usually wildly optimistic club web site (Ginola for Stags, Shearer for Stags, Becks for Stags) is more tempered on Christie. 'He became a firm favourite with the fans during the following two seasons when he scored goals on a fairly regular basis.' Fairly regular.
And then Kevin [that should be Craig - Martin] Disley scored a rather good goal that was immediately claimed by Christie. It was the first goal Mansfield had scored at home for 300 minutes. Down on the bench, manager Stuart Watkiss looked as if nothing could have been more expected. Watkiss had been 'ordered from the dug-out for an out-of-turn comment made to the fourth official' at Oldham [that should be Wigan - Martin], and this was his first match back.
I sat behind him to see the game as he saw it. 'Geezer, geezer, you're all too far out. You're too far out,' he screamed at his defence. Watkiss was a central defender, predominantly with Walsall, and on the basis of sticking with what you know, a large majority of his advice is doled out to central defenders. Indeed, so keen is he on yelling at them he has recently changed from a 4-4-2 to a 3-4-3 formation in order to give himself an extra target.
Colchester equalised from a penalty. Within a minute Christie somehow scored again. 'Iyseden Chrrrristie,' screamed the PA.
Kevin Pilkington, in the Mansfield goal, tipped the ball on to the bar. Watkiss waited for the ball to go out of play and then gave Kevin a thumbs-up sign before getting back to the task in hand and yelling at his central defenders, 'Close him up and squeeze him. Get out.'
Within minutes the announcer was back on his mike: 'Once again, the goalscorer for the Stags and his hat-trick tonight, Iyseden Chrrrrristie.
Watkiss kept up the advice. 'Dizzer, Dizzer drop in...Morro, Morro tuck short...f*****g centre halves fucking want f*****g...F*****g hell, lino, you going to earn your f*****g money or not?'
Steady Stuart, I thought, we don't want another ban. But Watkiss knew best, for seconds later the lino disallowed a perfectly acceptable Colchester goal that would have bought them level. Swear at someone for long enough and they'll do a job for you.
Into the second-half: 'Don't Dolly Daisy it, Liam, don't Dolly Daisy it, we've sent a centre-half up.... Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze....'
'The goalscorer yet again Iyseden Chrrrrristie,' said the PA. The first 'yet again' of his career?
'Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze, pass, get out, get out, get out, squeeze, squeeze, we don't have to do fancy, pass, come on George,' exhorted Watkiss, even though not one of his team is called George.
They won 4-2. As Christie came off the fans attempted a chant. By the time he acknowledged it, they had stopped. This did not prevent him doing so again. And why not? It's not often a 0.19 man scores 4.0.
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