John Lathan - his career at Mansfield Town 

by Martin Shaw

  (photos at bottom of this page)

John Lathan is written into the history of Mansfield Town, as he was a vital part of the record-breaking Stags team that was champions of Division IV in 1974/75 and that clocked up over 100 goals in all competitions. Playing in midfield, he missed just one game that season. At just 5foot7, Lathan was not a tall man, but he was busy and tigerish in midfield, and was something of a fans favourite. 

Recently, having looked at the Vintage Stags pages of Stagsnet, John contacted me by email from his home in America. So I took the opportunity to ask him a few questions, and compiled a profile of his career, which you can read below. 

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Lathan was born in Sunderland in 1952, and joined Mansfield from Sunderland in February 1974, in a swap deal that saw Dennis Longhorn going the other way, with Mansfield also receiving cash. Lathan was valued at £11,000 in the deal. He had played over 50 times for Sunderland.  

Lathan scored on his debut in a 2-1 win at Newport County on 24 February 1974. The other scorer was Dudley Roberts who was playing his last ever game for the club after an excellent career at the Stags. Lathan then scored again, in his third game for the club: a 1-1 draw at Exeter. Three more goals followed during the rest of the season: at home to Brentford in a 1-1 draw (see photo at bottom of page), at home to Bury in a 2-1 defeat, and away to Gillingham in a 2-2 draw. He ended the 1973/74 season having made 17 appearances, and scoring 5 goals. 

The 1974/5 season was one of the finest in Stagsí history and is remembered by many Stags fans as one of the most enjoyable ever. The Stags were champions of Division IV and clocked up over 100 goals in all competitions. Lathan made 45 league appearances, and scored 9 goals. In fact he just missed one league game: the very first game of the season, away to Southport, due to suspension. 

The Stags won their first four league games of the season, and then Lathan scored his first goal of the season in the Stags first defeat of the season: a 3-2 loss at Stockport. His next goal came in a 3-1 win at Barnsley in mid October 1974. Lathan also missed a penalty in the game, as did Gordon Hodgson! Ray Clarke scored the other two Mansfield goals. At the beginning of November, Lathan scored in a 3-0 win over Barnsley (see photo) at Field Mill with Ray Clarke scoring the other two. 

On 7th December 1974, the Stags played Shrewsbury Town. The Stags were top and Shrewsbury were hot on their heels, just two points behind. Indeed the Shrews were to remain second behind the Stags from October right through to the end of the season. For the first time during the season, the attendance was over 10,000 and they saw a pulsating game as the Stags came from behind to win 3-1. Lathan scored twice in a man of the match performance (see photos of both goals). Shrewsbury took an early lead, but in the 34th minute, Stags keeper Rod Arnold cleared deep into Shrewsbury territory. John Lathan picked the ball up and moved it to Jim McCaffrey, and Lathan was there to take the return and sweep a shot home from close range past Shrewsbury keeper Ken Mulhearn. In a game of end-to-end action, another goal always appeared imminent but it did not come until the 79th minute. Terry Eccles was the scorer with a fine header, after Lathan set up the opening with a cross from the bye-line. Four minutes from time, Lathan smacked in his second goal after a superb move involving Barry Foster, Jimmy McCaffrey and Eccles. It was the Stags 16th win of the season, in just 22 league games.  

Lathanís next goal came in a dramatic 3-2 win at home to Exeter (see photo), on Friday 21st March 1975. Lathan made it 2-2 after 58 minutes after McCaffrey's centre was only partially cleared.  Kevin Bird headed the Stags winner in the fourth minute of injury time. The Exeter players surrounded the referee to complain about the length of injury time and then followed him all the way to the dressing room after he had blown the final whistle almost immediately. 

Lathan scored again on 14th April 1975, as Mansfield played host to Lincoln City and beat them 3-1. Mansfield's top gate of the season, 14,351, had to wait until the first minute of the second half for something to cheer about as Kevin Bird scored. But the real turning-point though was 8 minutes later, with a tremendous goal as Lathan hammered in a 25-yard volley after Gordon Hodgson's corner kick was only partially cleared (see photo). This game will always be remembered for an outstanding performance by Jimmy McCaffrey. 

No-one will ever forget the game where the Stags clinched the Division IV Championship just two games later, as the Stags demolished Scunthorpe 7-0 on Monday 21st April 1975 in front of 11,020 fans. Lathan scored two of the goals: on 73 minutes Lathan made it 4-0 as Hodgson's free-kick was only partially cleared and Lathan's fine shot found itís way into the net, even though it touched Eccles on the way. Then on 81 minutes it was 6-0 as Lathan raced out of his own half with the ball and let fly from 35 yards to leave the keeper grasping at thin air. Clarke (2), Hodgson, Eccles and Bird scored the other Stags goals. 

Lathan also played in all 6 games in FA Cup run to the 5th round before losing to Carlisle 1-0 at Field Mill, when the Match of the Day cameras made a rare visit. 

At the start of the 1975/76 season, Lathan played in 5 of the first 6 games league games, as well as 2 league cup games, scoring away to Scunthorpe in the league cup. But he broke his collar bone away to Bury in September 1975, which kept him until after Christmas, when he returned for 6 more games, at which stage, the Stags were rock-bottom of Division III. 

In February 1976, he joined Carlisle United for £11,000. It was the Stags first sale of a player for almost two years! Later he joined Barnsley on loan in  February 1977, nd then joined Portsmouth in March 1978, where he went on to captain the team. 

He rejoined Mansfield in August 1979 for £20,000, despite being offered an attractive new contract at Fratton Park. He was keen to move back north.  During the 1979/80 season, he made 29 appearances, scoring 1 goal in a 2-2 draw at Millwall. There was actually some dispute over who scored that goal at Millwall, as Terry Austin crossed and Lathan dived forward to divert it in, but may not have got a touch to it. It is credited to Lathan in the official history of Mansfield Town. He also played 5 league cup and FA cup games. His last game for the Stags was away to Brentford on 7 April 1980. 

His left England to emigrate to Australia in January 1981, where he joined Wollongong FC near Sydney, and he also took up coaching. He continued playing and then coaching in South Africa from 1982 to 2002, when he moved to New York, where he is now coaching at the Manhattan Soccer Club.  

In total, John Lathan made 103 league appearances for Mansfield (including 2 as substitute), scoring 15 league goals. He made a further 13 league cup and FA cup appearances, scoring 1 goal. He is remembered fondly by Stags fans, as are the rest of that record-breaking team of 1974/75. 

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Scoring against Brentford in March 1974, a month after first joining Mansfield.

Scoring against Barnsley in November 1974.

 

Two goals against Shrewsbury in December 1974. Above and below.

 

 

Against Carlisle in the FA Cup fifth round in 1975.

 

Scoring against Exeter in March 1975.

 

Against Lincoln in April 1975. Lathan, extreme right, sees his sensational 25-yard volley about to enter the net.

 

Part of the 1974/75 winning team, pictured after the 7-0 win over Scunthorpe (back row Barry Foster, Rod Arnold, Jim McCaffrey, Kevin Bird, John Lathan, Gordon Hodgson, Terry Eccles. Front row: Arthur Patrick, Lawrie Madden, Sandy Pate, Dave Smith, Paul Matthews, Ray Clarke, John Haselden).

 

Back at Field Mill in 1979. Aqua-planing against Bury in October 1979.

 

Lathan in February 1974, upon joining the Stags.

 

In 1980, having re-joined the club.

 

Lathan today, in New York.