PRIDE AND THE PASSION
Stags last ever visit to Saltergate
The magic of the FA Cup? The 1st Round proper gave The Stags a last and final chance to travel 20 minutes up the M1 into what we all like to call, 'the dark-side'. In other words, a chance for our beloved Mansfield Town to tread the well munched grass of Saltergate, the home of the dreaded, Spireites for what we all hope will be the last time ever.
The summer months had been hard on everyone with Mansfield in their hearts. The prospect of entertaining such giants as Ebbsfleet and Histon did not fill us all with joy. The realization that The Stags had lost their league status took some believing, thankfully, Haslam was gone, not forgotten, he of course had managed to hold onto the ground and as such demand rent, but the dark shadow was gone, Field Mill was alive for what seemed the first time in many a long year. This Non-League will be a breeze, or so many thought.
The good start by McEwan and his new charges gave way to times of despondency as Stags prepared to take on Chesterfield on the back of just one win in their last eight League games. We seemed to be taking on York City at least once a week, but the chance of taking on the Spireites on their own patch for the last time, well, forget League form, this was the FA Cup, Chesterfield had been awful over recent years in the competition, seemingly ever since they had that easy ride to the Semi finals all those years ago. So what did we all expect from the game? A Mansfield win and nothing else?
To be fair for once, and leaving behind those 'amber-tinted glasses' that we all seem to wear, all I was hoping for was a performance that we could all be proud of. What I didn't want was an embarrassing defeat that would be in our system for years to come. Thankfully the lads did not let us down. Far from it.
On paper they are the better team. (boy that is painful to say) but it is true. They have the odd player of class, Jamie Ward and Lester are the two that stand out. What we needed was for those players to have an off day and McEwan's men to have one of the games of their careers. There is a gulf in class, if there wasn't we wouldn't be where we are.
As the game progressed, I am pleased to say that The Stags rose to the challenge. At no time did Chesterfield look any better than us, in fact the better football was played by the men in amber. Something that surprised me a little but filled my heart full of pride. All we needed to see was pride and passion. If we were going to lose than those two emotions needed to be on show, to the players credit, they were.
I know the final result will hurt, the 3-1 defeat didn't look good in the Sunday morning papers but it didn't tell the whole story. Mansfield played football, created chances, but were undone by three moments of the difference in class. Certainly not something to be ashamed of.
I am sure that the joy of the result was enough for Chesterfield and their supporters but if they take a real long look, they were not as good as the result indicated. For too many times, Page lumped it forward and the Spireites chased. By god, it is not the kind of football I would like to see my team play week in week out. It is not sour grapes, if we had been hammered, I'd say so, the fact is that better finishing for The Stags and we could have easily been sat here as smug as the smugiest smug man on earth, as it is, we have our pride in tact and if I was a Chessy fan, I would be worried by the fact that a team gathered quickly and just on place above the relegation zone in the BSP, played the better football.
There is no doubt that a lot of work still has to be done here at Field Mill, but after so many years of dross and off the field politics the time is right to back the Club to the hilt. We need to show togetherness to move forward. It is not going to be easy, it may take a few years before the delights of Grimsby and Bury, but this is the time when our Club needs us. It is true what people say about the folks of Mansfield, that we are quick to moan and slow to praise but what we have got to get our heads around is the fact that thanks to Perry, Saunders and Middleton, we have a Club to support, a Club to get behind and a Club that we can all help build a future for.
I am thankful that our trip to the delights that is Saltergate will never happen again. They are moving and no doubt their supporters will ram home the fact that their new ground will be hosting league football, and all credit to them, I know I wouldn't be happy trooping off the Saltergate every other week. Those crumbling terraces and the awful fort Sahara brick design behind the away end and that tight and outdated main stand will be no more. We have some good and bad memories there, for me i will never forget Lawrence and his last minute winner, nor will I forget Simon Coleman breaking through the mist in a LDV game, but also I will never forget the sickening feeling of losing in the Play Off semi final. 2-1 up at half time, I joined in with the chorus of "No sheep at Wembley, there'll be no sheep at Wembley," only for a 2nd half collapse and for Wilkinson to strike the post. Whatever you own personal memories of the Saltergate are there is one thing for sure there will not be many for either side the M1 sorry to see the place replaced by a quickly built supermarket.
We may have lost our last ever visit result wise but our pride, passion and our players ability to play football won the day for me hands down.
Photos by Dan Westwell