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28th December 2012 22:16

Glamour and a little loot drag Mansfield out of the doldrums
Martin Kelner, The Guardian, Sunday 16 December 2012

Football club owner and his wife have brought joy to the town that lost its mines, its brewery and its fizzy pop factory


Has anywhere suffered the slings and arrows of economic misfortune more than Mansfield? Statistically there may be one or two candidates but the town has definitely had it rough. First its mines went, leaving physical and metaphorical scars yet to heal; then its brewery disappeared, followed by Irn-Bru who made fizzy pop in the town for a while, meaning public service became the biggest local employer, and now that's being cut. So, praise be to Mr and Mrs John Radford for bringing a little joy to the benighted community.

Mr Radford has made a fortune out of insurance, not something I would normally applaud since any fool knows the insurance biz is sometimes just a respectable version of those chaps with bulging muscles who used to go round asking shopkeepers how they liked hospital food, and how they might cope in the event of a "mysterious" fire round their gaff. But John has sunk some of his loot into Conference club Mansfield Town, and has now helped the club to a tie against Liverpool in the third round of the FA Cup.

The 45-year-old has also married the club's "glamorous" (copyright: every tabloid newspaper) 29-year-old chief executive Carolyn, who boasts a colourful life before football if the red-tops are to be believed. She is a politics graduate from Durham University, is reported to have done a little escort work to finance her education, who went on to work in fashion for Bulgari and Gucci, brands probably not that huge in Mansfield, as well as Seabrook Crisps, which may be a little more prominent locally.

John's Doncaster-based insurance wheeze is called One Call, and he has renamed Field Mill, where Mansfield has hosted football since 1861, the One Call Stadium, which sounds unfortunately like cursing if you say it fast enough (the "k" sound, comedian friends tell me, is a reliable purveyor of mildly comic obscenity).

So far, so Northern-businessman-made-good-trying-to-buy-a-little-kudos-through-football, but the Radfords' appearance on ESPN's coverage of the Stags' 2-1 replay victory over Lincoln to set up the meeting with Liverpool at the Wonkall, helped dispel, or at least dilute, the stereotype.

Unless Mr and Mrs R are among the North's finest actors, their enthusiasm for the football club was transparent and refreshing. The couple were interviewed before the match, gushing away, and visibly nervous just like real fans afflicted with PMT (pre-match tension). When John spoke of his relish for the prospect of welcoming Gerrard, Suárez et al, Carolyn butted in: "We've got some cleaning up to do," not unlike a wife looking ahead to Christmas, "You know, in the dressing rooms. We've got no hot water on at the moment."

In the moment of victory, the pair hugged and jumped up and down in unconfined joy. I know very little about Mansfield Town, its finances and so on, but it looked to me to be a good deed in a naughty world.

The commentator Jon Champion concurred: "Every season," he said, "the FA Cup chooses to sprinkle its magic on a previously unassuming club in a previously nondescript town, and this year that club is Mansfield."

Nondescript is not a bad word for Mansfield. I had hoped that when the BBC signified its intention to reach out beyond the capital it might move there but it chose instead to build a little ersatz White City in Salford, handy for the fast train from Piccadilly to Euston, and so hope in North Nottinghamshire rests with the Radfords.

The early rounds of the Cup are clearly a godsend to so-called nondescript towns, constantly struggling for the oxygen of publicity. Hastings United, for instance, featured on ESPN as well last week. Their chairman Simon Rudkins, we learnt, edits the programme and works a turnstile, while the goalie Matt Armstrong-Ford was once a part-time naked butler, which would have caused problems on third round day as pre-match coverage traditionally follows these semi-pros in their day job.

In the old days, of course, working-class types from nondescript towns were on our screens every Saturday in ITV's World Of Sport wrestling, beautifully captured in a documentary on BBC4, When Wrestling Was Golden, featuring "the champions, the characters, and the rabid grannies" (weren't they a punk band from the late 70s?).

If you watched the so-called grapple game on TV between 1965 and 1988, I urge you to seek out the programme on iPlayer. I especially loved the description of villainous Mick McManus from comedian and wrestler Wil Hodgson: "He was hard. Not body-building hard but pub-fighting hard, like he could take someone outside and put them over the bonnet of a car. He looked like the sort of guy your dad would play skittles with but he had street toughness."

Actually, Hodgson was a delight throughout. He once appeared on my late night radio show to talk about his love for larger ladies and My Little Pony toys but I suppose when you come from a nondescript town like Chippenham it helps to have a hobby.



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