ON A ROLL - BUT STAGS BUDGET FOR THE WORST
ON A ROLL - BUT STAGS BUDGET FOR THE WORST
Evening Post, 12 April 2002
Mansfield Town chairman Keith Haslam tells IAN WILKERSON that prudent housekeeping, along with a successful young team and the improved facilities at Field Mill, can help Stags build on their good season, whether they get promoted or not . . .
Word had obviously got round that Mansfield Town are on a bit of a roll, judging by the size of the queue for the ticket office yesterday morning.
The town has become engrossed in a campaign those of an amber-and-blue persuasion are hoping will end in the club gaining admittance to Division Two.
Cars began to arrive at Field Mill around 8.30am and by the time I entered chairman Keith Haslam's office, I've been told the number of tickets sold for the final home game of the season had reached four figures and it's only just gone 10.15am.
Everyone is anxious to get their seat but it was not that long ago when it was very different.
In 1997, Mansfield Town had the lowest gates in the Third Division, at around 1,800, who inhabited a ground, part of which was acquired from a racecourse and cascading towards a state of disrepair.
The club was under a transfer embargo after the PFA had paid the players' wages.
But 8,643 turned out for Tuesday's game against Cheltenham and chairman Keith Haslam, who took over the club in 1993, believes a combination of factors have contributed to the success.
He said: "It's been good and the support has been great. There has been a bit of a turnaround this year with the young team and the three sides of the ground being completed has given us a bit of a fresh start and everyone has responded really well.
"Seeing 8,600 fans here the other night, with more than 7,000 of those being our own supporters, was absolutely great.
"Our average gate last year was 2,700 and this year it looks like being 4,700. To pick up 2,000 supporters is tremendous."
Stags travel to York tomorrow for their final away game of the season and still have everything to play for, which was not quite the case last year when their penultimate home game of the season failed to attract 2,000 people.
But a sell-out for the final day could take their average for this season up to 5,000 and Haslam believes the explanation is simple.
"I think there has been a joint effect," he said. "We have a young, attractive side but I think the facilities have helped as well.
"The two together have culminated in the extra 2,000."
However, it is more than just an all-seater stadium and a team which wins more games than it loses.
Haslam sees the club's role in the community as a central component and heralds the club's education programme that started in September under the guidance of Samantha Bradbury as a huge success.
"I think another effect has been our education side," he said.
"By the end of the summer term, we will have had 10,000 schoolchildren educated here and, if we can retain 10% of them as supporters, that would be an extra thousand and we will be looking to expand on that next year.
"We are positive about developing our community and I think people can see we have done that with the stadium and the young side and we want to move on."
It is perhaps interesting to see a Division Three chairman apparently content with life when so many others are tearing their hair out following the problems at ITV Digital.
But Haslam believes this is only demonstrating how his counterparts at other clubs have let their clubs get into a mess by chasing their dreams.
They have to be prudent and he firmly believes his club is an example to others, now that it does not have an overdraft, compared to the £1.6m debts he inherited.
In short, banking on success is a recipe for disaster and it will not be a course he will follow, whatever league Stags are playing in next season.
He said: "Gambling on success is the worst thing you can do. I look at clubs in the Premier League who are budgeting on being in the Champions League.
"If they fail to get into Europe, they have got to sell players.
"Everyone should be budgeting for failure.
"The worst-case scenario for us is going out of the first round of the FA Cup, the first round of the Worthington Cup and you finish one place above relegation.
"That is the bottom line for gates and for income and, if you can budget for that, then anything above that is success.
"We now cannot budget on 6,000 gates next year. Whatever division we are in, you have got to look at your worst-case scenario.
"If you do that, then football clubs will never get into trouble."
Looking back on the more troubled times, he is glad he persevered and wouldn't change a thing.
He said: "I think it was a case of digging in and believing in what we wanted to achieve.
"I look back and we knew what the goal was and we have not finished yet.
"We are looking to improve things in the West Stand, we want to look at the Bishop Street Stand and we have got to look to push on on the pitch as well.
"You cannot stand still. You have to look at the next stage and think where are we now.
"If we get promoted, we will be looking to bring the right quality into the club.
"You need that blend of experience for the times in the season you need to dig deep and grind out results but the youngsters have gone through that this year.
"A lot of people, including professionals, said to me 'wait for the heavy pitches' but they coped with that and it is ironic the slump came at a time when the pitches dried out.
"You have to hold your hands up and say those lads have done excellently this season.
"Come what may, it has been a good season.
"It is not in our hands at the moment. If we get there, it will be great but, if we are in the play-offs, I'm sure the supporters would have taken that at the start of the season.
"I think we have got to be positive and we have got to build upon that now.
"The town as a whole has really moved on in the last 18 months.
"Mansfield may have been down in the dumps five or six years ago but the development on the leisure and retail area next to the ground has been superb and I think the football club was instrumental in that.
"People talk about regeneration of an area through football and we are a prime example."
And if that link brings the desired success, the queues will get longer and longer.
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