It was only a couple of years ago when Emil and I were moaning at the fact we had never seen a match at Brocstedes Park, home of Ashton Athletic. Fast forward 18 months to now and we have now endured six visits to the cut off venue on the other side of Wigan. Enough was enough and I decided that I would go and visit somewhere new rather than watch football next to the M6 once again.
With our Crawley mates off to Notts County it seemed like a good time to tick Meadow Lane off and have a night out in Nottingham. However, Matt had already visited there so we were soon looking at whether we could get to another match and meet up wit the Crawley lot later. Mansfield Town v AFC Wimbledon was the frontrunner and I soon realised that Atherton Collieries fan and former Bolton Wanderers defender Nicky Hunt was now the captain at Field Mill.
After a couple of messages Nicky was able to sort Matt and I out with tickets, meaning that that was settled. In the meantime, Notts County v Crawley Town was postponed due to the international break meaning that Craig, Tom and Laura all headed over to Carlton Town v Loughborough Dynamo.
When I tweeted that I was off to Mansfield, I received a number of messages informing me not to bother. Apparently Mansfield was a “dump” and didn’t have much to it. As usual, I didn’t care if it was, and if it is I would like to see for myself and form my own judgement. In some last minute panic research I turned to my Crap Town book, edition two of course. Mansfield does indeed make the cut and it states, “In truth, Mansfield is a decaying, forgotten, meaningless pit of social exclusion left behind by the rampant industrial closures of the Thatcher era.” Pretty much like where I am from then.
Now looking forward to my trip even more, I made sure I was up early to make the most of our weekend away. I woke up on the Saturday morning having had just three hours sleep, I had just half an hour to get ready before catching the 07:15 train into Manchester. It was a terrible journey into the city as I had my leg caressed by Sandra (the conductor I hated during my two years at college) before she then charged me full price, refusing to accept my railcard. Bitch.
With my Manchester playlist in full flow on Spotify I was in a joyous mood. I was skipping and dancing as I made my way around to the Metrolink, catching it up to Market Street. Thankfully I didn’t slip this time, treading carefully as I stepped on to the carriage. For those of you who are wanting an update about my knee after falling on my way to Manchester City a couple of weeks ago, I have been to the doctors and I may need knee rehabilitation.
Oasis – The Masterplan was playing as I made my way towards Oxford Road. I felt like I was in the music video which sees everybody turned into Lowry style matchstick men. That didn’t last for long though as I had my attentions diverted by a Wetherspoons that I had never seen before; The Waterhouse next to Manchester Central Library. I think the doors had only just opened when I strolled in at 08:00, with one local already on a pint of John Smith’s. I ordered my usual breakfast, had a brew and sifted through my betting slips for the day. Matt was still at home at this stage which meant that I could embark on a pub crawl with a difference… I would just be drinking tea.
Next up was The Paramount which is another Wetherspoons. I was very, very tempted by a pint called Manchester Skyline but I knew I had a very long day ahead of me so I was pacing myself. Eventually the flatcap wearing Welshman walked into the building which meant only one thing; our weekend had officially began.
About to board the 10:40 train to Nottingham, a distinctive booming Wigan accent from behind me said “You get everywhere you, don’t you!” I turned around to see the familiar face of Ashton Town chairman Mark. His side weren’t in action today meaning he could go and follow his beloved Wigan Athletic away to Chesterfield. We all piled on to the two carriage service that was going between Liverpool and Norwich… yes, two carriages. A relatively good journey saw Mark talk about his recent charity football matches in which he got all of his Wigan Athletic heroes down to Edge Green Street. From convincing Mario Melchiot to jet in from Los Angeles, to going to an energy saving convention in Nathan Ellington’s conservatory it made for a fantastic discussion.
The crooked spire was now in view and the Wigan fans left us, not knowing that they were about to witness their side come from two goals down in the last 10 minutes to win 3-2. Ironically, this was the same scoreline and outcome when I went to watch Bury at the Proact Stadium quite a few years ago now. I still haven’t blogged about the day but I will do eventually.
Matt and I plodded on to Nottingham before making a change, arriving in Mansfield half an hour later. Upon arriving in Rebecca Adlington’s home town I was pleasantly surprised. The large bus station that links on to the train station felt more like a Spanish airport terminal than a place to ferry peasants around Nottinghamshire. I may be taking things a bit too far, but you could spend a good hour at the bus station having a brew while participating in a spot of people watching.
We had other things to do though. For instance, we had to go to the bookies where we were asked for ID immediately upon arrival. This only tends to happen in rougher towns which made me wonder what the Wetherspoons around the corner would be like. Matt said it was a pretty rubbish representation of our favourite pub chain, but I had to go in to see for myself. He was right; it was a bit shit. The discontinuation of Sweet Action appears to have now fully happened, meaning it was time for me to be brave and test the sister beer that is called Bengali. It was a taste sensation and now I don’t feel as unhappy about the death of Sweet Action.
The town centre was a bustling hive of activity as we walked through in search of the football ground. Matt had already been to Field Mill once before, but didn’t manage to see a match there as his FA Cup tie between Mansfield and Concord Rangers was postponed when he arrived. Despite the ground towering over most of the town, we found it slightly difficult finding our way to the ground as it won the award for Worst Signposted Ground of the Season.
When we arrived we headed to the office where I was slightly sceptical as to whether there would actually be a pair of tickets to pick up. Matt had form with this ground, and I was due to mess up at some stage after a reasonably calm and happy few months following the sport we love. Fortunately, all I had to do was say my name and I was handed an envelope which said “Joseph Gibbons x2, left by Nicky Hunt”. What a hero.
Tickets in hand we headed to the immaculate Sports Bar where home and away fans were all watching the big match of the day on the TV; Welling v Tranmere Rovers. This place was the best bar in a ground I have ever been in and with the regulars and people who had paid a bit more able to watch the Welling match in booths which had individual screens, the place wasn’t too overcrowded. We got chatting to a couple of Wimbledon fans who informed us that their ground “wasn’t worth visiting” which I thought was a fantastic way to advertise your club.
With around 15 minutes to go until kick off we headed out of the bar and through the neighbouring turnstile. We were sat in amongst the players families and friends, just two rows behind the vast media bench which was full. It was an amusing place to be sat but we had to be careful with our criticisms incase an overprotective mother heard us laughing at their son. Sitting directly behind us, wrapped in blankets were the family of 19 year old Jack Thomas with his sisters screaming his every move when he came on as a substitute.
We had an impressive view from the top tier of the Ian Greaves Stand which is named after one of the club’s former managers. Behind each goal are the almost identical looking Quarry Lane End and North Stand, the stand where the away houses could be found today. A panoramic view of the surrounding area was directly in front of us due to the small Bishop Street Stand only housing the dugouts and an abandoned terrace.
Three cult figures on show at Mansfield meant we couldn’t wait for the two teams to emerge from the tunnel. In the beautiful green kit of Wimbledon was Adebayo Akinfenwa, the world’s strongest footballer, according to the FIFA video games. The Beast was up against former Burnley goalkeeper Brian Jensen, who of course, is also known as The Beast. Last but by no means least, of course, was Nicky Hunt who led his Mansfield side out with flags being waved around Field Mill.
The game started at a very good pace with Mansfield looking the more lively. However, it was the away team who took the lead in the 6th minute in a rather simple manner. A long punt up pitch from the Dons’ keeper fell to George Francomb, who played in the on-side Tom Elliot, who had the simple task of firing home through the legs of Brian Jensen.
Elliot went close to doubling Wimbledon’s advantage minutes later but it was Mansfield who would grab the next goal. Former Leigh Genesis midfielder Chris Clements curled a free kick into the curl the bottom corner expertly. As he lined the set-piece up, I said that he would score so I spent a good few minutes convincing myself that I was some sort of God. However, a quick look at my accumulator and it reminded me that I definitely wasn’t.
The closest we got to a third goal came towards the end of the half when Mansfield’s Krystian Pearce had a shot cleared off the line following some pinball in the box.
At half time Matt and I decided to head down to the front of the tier to have our usual photographs in the ground. The girl who was acting as security to the directors kindly took our obligatory snaps and had a good laugh with us before we headed back up to our seats. I’m not one to be big headed, but her eyes were definitely fixed on me during the interval. I don’t know whether she thought I was up to no good, or whether she had a soft spot for me, but I would go for the latter. Matt agreed.
We had been laughing at the media teams who were covering the match in front of us and as they all enjoyed their half time sandwiches, one of them turned around and introduced himself. Nick and I have followed each other on Twitter for a while, and he knew all about Atherton Collieries despite the fact he lives in Newcastle and works for Mansfield Town. He didn’t give me a sandwich though.
It was time for the most stressful part of the day. Time to break the seal, and no wonder why there was piss all over the floor as I waded into the toilets. Even standing on my tip toes I struggled to reach the urinals at Field Mill. I had visions of myself tipping over on to the floor and not seeing the second half. It’s only a slight suggestion, but to encourage fans not to relieve themselves on the floor could I please encourage Mansfield Town to install step ladders into the lavatories in the Ian Greaves Upper?
Skating back through the concourse I arrived just in time for the second half. The second half wasn’t as entertaining as the first however, it did get off to a lively start when Matt Green found himself surging towards goal with Wimbledon keeper James Shea stranded. Green couldn’t get his shot off and when he played the ball to Reggie Lambe his effort was cleared off the line.
The moment which will live long in the memory of people in attendance arrived on the hour mark. A loose ball was there to be won at the edge of the Mansfield area. Two opposing players were go head-to-head to gain possession. These two players were of course, the Beasts. Akinfenwa and Jensen went crashing into each other and the whole of Nottinghamshire had to endure a large tremor which measured highly on the richter scale.
Referee Ross Joyce gradually became the main talking point with his insistence to book a plethora of players. Seven bookings weren’t enough and so right at the end of the match, Joyce handed marching orders to Wimbledon’s Lyle Taylor; and rightfully so after he had elbowed Nicky Hunt in the face.
Mansfield came within inches of claiming all three points when Clements took another free kick. Unfortunately it wasn’t to be and a draw was probably a fair result. We stayed around for a few minutes to clap the players off the pitch before heading for our recommended pub for the afternoon; The Beer Shack.
“The Beer Shack is a little old place where we can get together” – The B-52s, circa 1989
Found close to the train station, The Beer Shack appears to be one of three that are currently open, with the other two being in Hucknall and Burnley. With a capacity of around 15, the Beer Shack is possibly the smallest bar I have visited, but it made for a fantastic atmosphere. No phone calls were allowed to be made within the bar meaning it was all very civilised and friendly. David – soon to be jetting off to Brugge – was working behind the bar and pulled us both a pint of Essex Border which went down well as I stood flicking through the collection of vinyl. I was made up to find a George Formby record, so as I set about doing my best Wigan accent we made plans for getting back to Nottingham.
Upon arriving back in Nottingham we headed straight to our hostel which was found on the aptly named Mansfield Road. It took us a couple of walks around the block, and after waiting for ten minutes while the poor receptionist dealt with a migrant who wanted to be put up for free, we got shown to our room. There was some confusion with a missing key and somebody already staying in our room, but it wasn’t long before we were showered and off out into the city centre for a night out.
Hooters was our first port of call. Decent music and lots of young women strutting around in tight orange pants was a fantastic way to start the pub crawl. The stag parties that were present added to the entertainment as Batman lost his mate Robin who was trying to persuade us to wear his cape, and a bloke dressed as a Beefeater seemingly walked around the restaurant area tasting peoples meat for them; a novel way to eat for free.
The Canalhouse offers arguably the largest selection of continental beers in Nottingham and what is more, you can sit on a couch next to an indoor canal. The pub is found inside the old Canal Museum, meaning that in order to get to the bar you have to cross a small bridge over a canal which houses a barge… all of this under the same roof. Deciding what to order, I jokingly said “Do you think they have Jupiler?” and there was, meaning our heads were a little bit lighter by the time we set off to meet up with the rest of our party at the Hilton Hotel.
Somehow, Crawley fans Craig, Tom and birthday girl Laura (along with Joe and Aaron who had been watching Curzon Ashton) had found it cheaper to stay in the Hilton than anywhere else. This meant, that in a Gibbo’s92 first, we had pre-drinks in the Hilton. We spent around an hour downing copious amounts of rubbish before we headed back out to the louder part of the city centre.
Absinthe was downed in The Bluebell, Brewdog was consumed in The Bunker which was a fantastic underground bar and then things became even more spontaneous. The night ended with a very nice kebab on Mansfield Road before Matt and I fell asleep watching Mock the Week in bed; I didn’t know hostels did television?
Like our mate Lionel Richie proclaims; I’m easy like sunday morning. I wasn’t too happy though when Matt woke me up and informed me we had just half an hour to get our acts together but checking out. I didn’t have time for a shower, which meant I wasn’t in the best of moods when we headed over to the Joseph Else Wetherspoons for our breakfast. A final cup of tea was had at Fellows, Morton and Clayton, the site of Nottingham’s first successful balloon flight (like anybody cares).
We then caught the train back to Manchester and of course, we ended up in the Piccadilly Tap. I had a pint of Slap In The Face and things quickly escalated as I stayed out in the city centre until around 21:00. The reason for such a move? Wales could qualify for Euro 2016, so I thought it would be more entertaining to watch it with Matt who had his retro 1990 away shirt on. Pints were had at The Circus (apparently the smallest bar in Europe) and The Temple on Oxford Road before watching the match in The Courtyard.
A mammoth drinking weekend, yet I still felt a lot fresher than when we headed to Carlisle at Easter. I had only spent one night in Nottingham but immediately fell in love with the place. Strolling around the centre you would quite easily believe you were in a city on the continent. Nottingham has kept it’s centre as it once was, unlike Manchester where you are subjected to the concrete mess that is Piccadilly Gardens.
A load of decent pubs visited, a fantastic night and another one of the 92 ticked off with the help of Nicky Hunt. Mansfield and Nottingham provided a great weekend away and I can not wait for my next visit to the latter. I haven’t yet been to Forest or County and then there’s the likes of Ilkeston and Carlton to visit. Until next time, goodbye Nottingham!
- DISTANCE TRAVELLED TO GROUND: 78 miles
- ADMISSION: Free
- PROGRAMME PRICE: £3