1897 - The Formation (1897 to 1903)
Much has been written of the formation of Mansfield Town Football Club and many dates been given, however most are apocryphal or at the very least wildly inaccurate.
Although organised football existed for many years in Mansfield before this the origins of the present club can be traced back to 1897 and the Wesleyan church on Bridge Street. The exact meeting where the seeds were sown is now lost in the midst of time and as such no exact date can be given for the formation. However, team formed by Frederick Abraham and Thomas Cripwell and called Mansfield Wesleyans eventually became the Mansfield Town we all know and love.
After the formation, in those early days no league was entered, the team played only friendly matches plus the odd local cup tie. The team played in the light blue and chocolate stripes and played almost exclusively at a ground on Westfield lane. The first match was played at this ground on 4 September 1897 against Sherwood Foresters and ended in a 2-2 draw. Unfortunately no details survive of the XI that turned out that day but we do know that the Foresters' Statham who put through his own goal and Taylor scored the goals.
Squad photograph: 1903
By the start of the 1902/3 season the club had decided to enter the Mansfield and District Amateur League and on 6 September 1902 the Club played its first ever league game, a 0-1 defeat at the home of Mansfield Corinthians. The team for this auspicious occasion was:
Benton (Sid), Sadler;
Hibbert, Trenam, Osborne;
Martin, Tattersall, Wilson, Gunthorpe, Abraham.
Of this side, Walter Tattersall later went on to play for Tottenham Hotspur and Watford. A week later the team's second fixture, also away from home, was a disastrous 0-13 drubbing at Shirebrook Swifts. For the record no Stags' first XI has ever suffered such a stuffing since! Thankfully, the performances did improve and the season ended with the team in a comfortable 7th position out of the 12 teams completing the season.
Professionalism and a new name (1903 - 1910)
There was some progress made the following season when a very respectable third placing in the League was achieved. It could have been better but the club had two points deducted for playing an unregistered player, with those two points the Wesleyans would have been runners up. For this season also the Club moved to play home games on the Newgate Lane ground. There was a dip in fortune the following season with a drop to 5th place in the League. By 1905/6 the Club were back up to 3rd spot.
Changes were afoot in the summer of 1906, when the M & D A League dropped the 'Amateur' from their title and the hierarchy of the methodists immediately disowned the football club and forbade them from being called Wesleyans. The Club reacted by changing their name to Mansfield Wesley and ceased to have anything to do with the church. Now with a new name and now openly professional Wesley moved into a higher sphere of football and joined the Notts & District League.
A creditable 6th position in their first season in the new league against superior opposition than in the previous years showed that the club has indeed progressed. Further evidence of this came from the Notts FA who now transferred them into the Senior Cup competition from the Junior competition of previous years. This season also the Club played in its first ever cup final when they unfortunately lost to great rivals Mansfield Mechanics by a 1-4 scoreline in the Mansfield Hospitals Charity Cup.
1907/8 went in a similar way to the previous term when a respectable 5th placing in the League, but no success in either cup competition. The following year (1908/9) with some high scoring matches the team finished one place higher in the table. Belper Town succumbed to eight goals in December and then in March Long Eaton St Helens let in one more as they went down 0-9. The chief goalscorer was a Hucknall lad named Jack Needham who notched an amazing 46 goals in the 35 matches he played. His haul included four goals on four occasions and a further three hat-tricks. At the end of the season he moved on to Birmingham and had a long and successful career in the Football League.
1909/10 turned out to be a very traumatic one for the Wesley. There was trouble off the pitch when Chairman, Fred Abraham, and Secretary, James Marples, resigned. Later in the season both were banned sine die by the FA for serious irregularities, it turned out that they had signed a player on the Sabbath, a heinous crime in those long lost days. The player they signed, William Whitby, was not disciplined but the Club lost two points for turning him out as an ineligible player. On field Needham was sorely missed as the club dropped to 17th place, one off the bottom.
Another milestone was reached this season too when the Club entered the FA Cup for the first time. They played in six matches too before being eliminated by local rivals Mansfield Mechanics in the second qualifying round replay.
The summer of 1910 saw another important change, when at the AGM it was proposed that the Club change name to either Mansfield Town or Mansfield United. It was thought this benefit the image they were trying to project as the major club in the town. It was put to the vote and MANSFIELD TOWN was accepted as the new name. Mansfield Mechanics, Town's most bitter local rivals objected to this as they thought (probably correctly) that they were the premier team, however, their protest to the FA fell on deaf ears. To further project the new image a change of strip was also accepted and so the following season red shirts and white shorts were worn.
And so to war….
1910/1 saw the team in a regular mid-table position in the league, ending in an equally mid-table position of 9th. April 17th was an unusual day, however, as the first team played two matches! In a morning kick-off they lost 1-2 at Pinxton and in the afternoon they recovered sufficiently to take a point from a 1-1 draw with Stanton Hill Victoria with eight players turning out in both matches. They were reasonably successful in the cup competitions when the 4th qualifying round of the FA Cup was reached. And the semi final of the Notts Senior Cup.
In the summer of 1911 a new league was formed, it adopted the name - Central Alliance. For the inaugural season 12 clubs were accepted as member amongst them were Mansfield Town. Town had a very poor season finishing in 11th place, one from the bottom. The new colours brought in for this season (black and white quartered shirts and black shorts) obviously brought them no luck at all. Finishing in such a lowly position meant that the club had to apply for re-election. Lady luck did smile down at this point as, with a plethora of clubs trying to get in, it was decided at the AGM to re-elect the bottom two clubs unopposed and extend the league to 18 clubs. There were mixed fortunes in the cup competitions when in the FA Cup Town bowed out at the first attempt to Hinckley United. The Club did reach the semi finals of the Notts Senior Cup where for the second season in a row, where Notts County's reserve side proved too strong.
More trouble loomed before the start of the 1912/3 season as the club were forced to find a new ground. The Great Central Railway decided to extend their line through the middle of the Newgate Lane ground. Given little time to find new accommodation they had to settle for the old ground on Radcliffe Gate. The club had played here before in 1900/1 season when there were no league fixtures, only friendlies were played. The 'new' ground was nicknamed 'the Prairie', and had no facilities what so ever, the players even had to change in the Brown Cow public house.
This was probably not much of an imposition as they were used to changing in similar facilities in the Carpenter's Arms when they played on Newgate Lane! On the pitch the club faired much better than the previous season when a comfortable 12th position was obtained. In part, this was no doubt due to the goalscoring expertise of Freddie 'Fatty' Blackwell who netted 39 times to set a new Central Alliance record. He had only one season with Town before moving to Shirebrook for two seasons. Blacknell then went to war and was killed at Ypres in October 1916 aged just 24. Five matches were played in the FA Cup before Sutton Town ended the run in the 3rd qualifying round. The semi final of the Senior Cup was reached for the third time in a row but, the other Sutton side, Sutton Junction triumphed on their own ground.
In the summer of 1913 the club were warned as to the state of the ground. Numerous complaints had been received by the Management Committee the previous season, and so the club were given until the start of the season to improve things. By October Town had been warned again, matters had obviously not improved. The team struggled all season and did not win their first match until the end of November, and in all, only six league matches were won all season with the club ending in 13th position (out of 16). The cups did not offer much consolation either as only the second qualifying round of the FA Cup was reached and the first round of the Senior Cup. The lowly league position left the club applying for re-election for a second time. This time there was no lady luck and so the following season returned to the Notts and Derbyshire League. No doubt the standard of the playing area cost the Club dearly when it came to the vote.
The 1914/5 season, even playing in the lower standard, did not start well with the first victory not coming until Boxing day. From then on in however only three more defeats were suffered all season and in the end a very respectable 4th place achieved. There was no cup success though as Town bowed out of the FA Cup to Sutton Town by a 0-5 score and in the second round of the Senior Cup Notts County Reserves triumphed 2-0 at Meadow Lane.
By the summer of 1915 the Great War was in full swing and many teams lost players, and consequently the different leagues lost a number of clubs who closed down for the duration. The Central Alliance was no different and when Mansfield Town applied to rejoin that League for the 1915/6 season they were gratefully accepted back into the fold. Even with the addition of Town and New Hucknall Colliery (who had played with Town the previous season) only 9 clubs completed the season. Town did not perform well and only a run of 4 wins in the last 5 games saw the team rise to finish in 6th position.
With so few clubs the League season finished on 27th December and so a second, subsidiary competition was organised. Three of the 9 competing clubs declared that they could not complete the season and so only six teams continued. The secondary competition turned out to be a remarkable for Mansfield Town as they proceeded to win all 10 matches and win the competition easily, rounding off the season with a magnificent 10-1 win over Sutton Junction. It has to be said that most of the other clubs were losing players at a faster rate than Town but even so winning all 10 matches is still quite a feat.
By this time, of course, the FA had abandoned their cup competition for the duration as had the Notts FA, so there were not cup competitions at all that season. One other match was played, however, when Town played the Mechanics at Field Mill (the then home of the Mechanics) to raise funds for the Footballer's Battalion. Town won the match, which was abandoned due to bad light, by a score of 4-0, however only 50 spectators attended and raised the miserly sum of just 12 shillings and sixpence!
At this point the Alliance also decided to call it a day until the end of the war, some clubs decided to carry on playing just friendly matches but at their AGM in June Town also decided to close down for the duration.