There can be few football clubs in the country where the name of its owner frequently gets chanted.
But as the latest rendition of “There’s only one Johnny Radford” echoes around the One Call Stadium in the 75th minute, it gets you thinking – hang on, is this a Football League club that is actually being run well?
Long is the list of poorly run clubs – you only have to look through most of our Football’s Front Lines series to see the state of many EFL clubs currently – but Mansfield Town’s success on and off the pitch seems to buck this trend.
“The current position it’s in at the moment is the best it’s ever been,” Mick Gregory, a Stags fan of 52 years says.
“Without the wealth, endeavours and business acumen of John Radford, I believe the club would have closed.
“What a rescue package we got there. We’ve been very, very fortunate.”
The League Two side were taken over by local businessman John Radford in 2010 with the club languishing in the Conference.
Since then they’ve achieved promotion to League Two, but despite consistently high spending haven’t achieved higher than eighth in the previous six seasons.
Until now. The Stags sit third in the league and are allowing themselves to believe again.
“We’ve had some tough times in the past but we’ve fought through them together,” says lifelong fan Dean Foulkes.
“The bond between the fans, club and owners, is tremendous. We’re looking forward to rising the leagues together and who knows… you have to dream as a football fan.
“John and Carolyn have effectively given us the hope that dreams can come true – we just need to get promoted, obviously!”
The Carolyn in question is John Radford’s wife, who became the youngest CEO when she took up her role as a 29-year-old.
Her tenure at the club hasn’t been short of controversy, with accusations of nepotism in getting the job in the first place, and has faced a constant fight of breaking through the stereotype of what constitutes a ‘normal’ football chief exec.
She is now the only female in the Football League to hold the position, and acknowledges she still faces some resistance in her job.
What many onlookers will not realise is how much the people of Mansfield needs the Stags to be prosperous.
The Nottinghamshire town has been decimated in recent decades, thanks in part to the mining and hosiery industries’ decline.
“If the football club does well, generally the town and the mood is lifted as well, and that’s certainly the case here,” says Carolyn Radford prior to their vital 1-0 victory over Forest Green Rovers.
“Mansfield had been largely forgotten in the Nottinghamshire area – it was always out on its own, there was the two football clubs in Nottingham – Notts County and Forest, and I really do believe that the football club can have a huge influence on a town.”
It is a view echoed by Mick Gregory, who says the club has re-established itself as the focal point for a community desperately needing one.
“It plays a big part in the well-being of the community, it’s well known that it’s a deprived town.
“Over the past 20 years we’ve lost so much industry, and companies, and the mining’s gone. But I believe the football club will put the town back on the map.
“It would mean a lot to get into League One – we’ve been in the doldrums for the past few years – let’s get back there and give it another shot!”
Any club in the Football League chasing a promotion dream knows it isn’t without cost, however.
John Radford’s company One Call Insurance provides added funds to sponsor elements of the club, keeping the Stag clear of Financial Fair Play regulations, and some critics claim the model is unsustainable for a club of Mansfield’s size.
But the Radfords are committed to seeing the job through, both on and off the pitch.
There is a stadium redevelopment in the works, an on-site hotel being planned, and the great ambition is to reach the Championship.
The reality is a touch different for the moment. The Stags are third in the League Two promotion race, with 14 games remaining, and only two points ahead of fourth placed MK Dons.
Will they hold their nerve? Only time will tell – but with the fans and club in unity, few could argue the Stags wouldn’t deserve it.
MORE FROM OUR FOOTBALL’S FRONT LINES SERIES:
- How qualifying for Europe condemned Ipswich Town to 17 years of steady decline
- Why ‘poisonous and negative’ Hartlepool face a long journey back to the Football League
- Why are the oldest professional football club in the world staring into the abyss?
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