Field Mill has been used as a football ground since 1861 (and as a cricket ground for a few years before that). The Sandygate Road ground in Sheffield, which was first used in 1860, is the oldest football ground in the world. It is currently used by Hallam FC. Bramall Lane, the current home of Sheffield United, was first used as a football ground in 1862 (though like Field Mill was used as a cricket ground for a few years before that). Field Mill is therefore the oldest football ground in the world that hosts professional football. It is also the oldest football ground in the Football League.
Field Mill staged the first competitive match to be played under artificial light in this country when the North Notts League Senior Cup final was played at Field Mill under floodlights in 1930.
National exposure for Field Mill was gained in 1998 with the first match ever played with a new yellow fluorescent ball.
The first football team to be formed in Mansfield was the Greenhalgh’s XI founded in 1861 for the employees of Herbert Greenhalgh’s cotton doubling business which was based at Field Mill. The Field Mill itself was a five storey building between Quarry Lane and Portland Street. The building was badly damaged by fire in 1904 and lay derelict until demolished in 1925. The mill pond, sitings for the waterwheel (at 40 feet in diameter believed to be the biggest in Britain) and the mill manager’s home (which became the Early Doors pub and then an Indian restaurant) still survive today.
On the opposite side of Quarry Lane to the mill was a field which, as part of the mill complex, was used for the works cricket team and, from 1861, it was also used in the winter months for the newly formed football team. At this time the field was known as Greenhalgh’s Ground, later it was to be known as the Mill Field, and from around 1885 as Field Mill.
The Greenhalgh’s team became known as Mansfield Greenhalghs and built itself quite a reputation around the midlands. The team entered the FA Cup in 1891 (losing 0-2 away at Heanor Town) and a year later the first FA Cup tie was played at Field Mill, a 5-2 victory over Eckington Works. Mansfield Greenhalghs joined the Midland Counties League in 1894 and finished a creditable 5th in their first season. The original Mansfield Town (no relation to the present club) finished as wooden spoonists. The cost of this level of football proved too much for both Mansfield clubs and in the summer of 1895 they merged and a new club, called Mansfield FC. The new club played on the Stanhope Street ground in the town.
After the demise of the Greenhalgh’s team, Field Mill was not left vacant as two teams (Mansfield Amateurs and Old Meeting House) moved in and shared the ground. Old Meeting House moved out in 1900 and Mansfield West End moved in to replace them but they only lasted two years. After this, the Amateurs had the ground to themselves until 1911. When the amateurs moved on at the start of the 1911-12 season, Mansfield Mechanics moved in. The Mechanics, who were the premier team in the town at that time, held a lease on the ground from the Duke of Portland until 1917. However when the 1915-16 season was completed the Mechanics closed down for the duration of the Great War and the lease was allowed to lapse.
Mansfield Mechanics expected to renew the lease but in 1919 the Mansfield Discharged Disabled Soldiers and Sailors (Mansfield DDSS) formed their own team and approached the Duke of Portland as regards playing their games at Field Mill. With the Mechanics still dormant, they were offered a lease on the ground which they accepted. The new club was not sure they could sustain the expense so they approached Mansfield Town to see if they would share the cost. Town were delighted to accept because they too were groundless as their old ground, called the Prairie, had been dug up for allotments during the war.
The first season after the war, Mansfield Town won the Central Alliance championship and began to have aspirations to join the Football League. There were problems with the ground in that there were fixture clashes with the DDSS, along with Town only being sub-tenants, this was a situation which would not help any future application to join the Football League. It was learned that the Duke of Portland would not be averse to selling the ground, and a company was formed called the Mansfield Athletic & Ground Co. Ltd. The sale of Field Mill went through on 2 May 1921 for a fee of £500 subject to a covenant being in place which restricted the use to sporting purposes only. At this point Mansfield Town were given a 25 year lease (to expire on 1 May 1946) so the DDSS were out (their lease had expired on 30 April 1921). Mansfield cricket club played the 1921 season at Field Mill, they too then moved on and Mansfield Town were sole occupants of what they could consider was their own ground.
Greyhound racing was introduced in 1929 for a rent of £400 per year. This was discontinued in 1931 when Town (by then known as ‘The Stags’) were elected into the Football League.
As alluded to above there was another great event at the ground when, in 1930, the North Notts League Senior Cup final was played at Field Mill under floodlights. This was the first competitive match to be played under artificial light in this country, though a few exhibition and friendly matches had previously taken place since the Victorian era. Four pylons each 18 feet high were erected, one in each corner of the ground. Phillips Lamps installed fourteen 1000W bulbs on each tower. There was no white leather in those days so a young boy was supplied with a bucket of whitewash and several balls. The balls were dipped in the bucket and changed at frequent intervals during the game. The match was played on 22 February 1930 and a crowd of around 6,500 saw Ollerton Forest defeat Welbeck Athletic 3-0. The game was attended by representatives of several big clubs and of Wembley Stadium, but in the August of that year the FA banned member clubs from playing matches under artificial light, and it was to be another 20 years or so before the idea of floodlit football was revived in this country and not until 1961 were permanent floodlights erected at Field Mill.
The Stags were elected to the Football League at that body’s AGM in June 1931 and the first Division 3 South game was played at Field Mill on 29 August 1931. The Duke of Portland was present to see Mansfield Town defeat Swindon Town 3-2 (below), Joe Readman took the honour of scoring Town’s first league goal.
The Duke of Portland is introduced to the two teams prior to the first league game in 1931.
Following the first post WW 2 season, the Stags lease on the ground expired. The club were however able to purchase the freehold of the ground (including the covenant) and, having served its purpose, the Mansfield Ground & Athletic Co. Ltd. was dissolved.
National exposure for Field Mill was gained in November 1998 with the first match ever played with a new yellow fluorescent ball. The Stags beat Barnet 5-0, featuring a Lee Peacock hat-trick, and there was second half commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live.
Field Mill was redeveloped in 2000, with three new stands built: the West Stand (later named as the Ian Greaves Stand), the North Stand, and Quarry Lane Stand (also known as the South Stand). The stand on the east side of the ground, the Bishop Street stand, is currently in a state of disrepair, and it is planned to be redeveloped in the future. Prior to the redevelopment, the old West Stand stood at Field Mill from the 1960s until 2000. It was modelled on a stand from Highbury and purchased by the Supporters Club from the defunct Hurst Park racecourse in Surrey and transported on lorries to Mansfield where it was re-erected. The old North Stand, which was terrace with a roof, was much loved by home fans, and built in 1957 funded by the Supporters Club. The stand came with a clock, and the board surrounding the clock said: "MTFC North Stand 1957 - Presented by the Supporters Club". The wording around the clock was later changed to advertise a local estate agent John Sankey with the wording: “More people use Sankey than for any other reason”, and this shot to fame on the BBC TV programme Fantasy Football League.
So from 1861 when the ground was basically a field with a cricket pavilion (which the footballers were not allowed to use) the mill field has been used for football and has, certainly since Mansfield Town took up residence after the Great War, been developed into a modern stadium.
ReferencesMansfield Town: The First 100 Years (The Official History), by Jack Retter with Paul Taylor, Glen Publications, 1997
Images of Sport: Mansfield Town FC, by Paul Taylor and Martin Shaw, History Press, 2007
Mansfield Town: A Complete Record 1910-1990, by Stan Searl, Breedon Books, 1990