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Stags' owner reaffirms club's high ambitions

2 October 2017

If John Radford’s takeover of Mansfield Town meant that he became metaphorically married to the club back in 2010, then he shows no signs of a seven-year itch after celebrating that particular anniversary on Tuesday.

Chatting to the owner and chairman, it’s clear that he has lost none of the ambition and drive to make his Stags’ stewardship a hugely successful one. 

In fact, as the conversation bounces around a whole host of subjects, it doesn’t take long for him to reaffirm his determination to one day have Championship football played at One Call Stadium. 

No-one at the club, including Radford himself, pretends that his dream, if it is to become a reality, is going to happen overnight. Indeed, it’s taken this long for Mansfield to leave behind the tribulations of operating as a struggling Conference side and build to the point where they now harbour serious hopes of securing League One football by the end of this season. 

But there is a growing feeling in the corridors of power at One Call Stadium, and, you sense from those who regularly occupy the stands to support the Stags, that things remain on a steadily upward curve with Radford at the helm. 

“I’m fairly pleased with where we are at the moment, but I’m like a schoolteacher – I always think we could do better,” he smiles. “It’s still early days and the teams are still jostling for positions, but there is definitely more to come from this team. 

“I want automatic promotion this season, so I don’t want us to be too distanced from the top three – and we’re not far off. 

“We have quality in depth, and you can see that from the people we have on the bench. As the season progresses, not every player for every team is going to be able to play every game because of injury and suspension. 

“That’s why I believe the quality and depth of our squad will shine through. Every one of our squad has the quality, and many have played at a higher level and won promotions in the past. They know how to go about it and we have a manager who knows how to go about it too.” 

"The crowds are steadily improving and I think they will continue to do so over the course of the season, providing we stay in the promotion race."

John Radford, chairman

When Radford was unveiled as the club’s new backer in the early stages of the new decade, just 2,312 turned up to see Mansfield beat Eastbourne Borough 4-0 on the same day.

It’s been an eventful and, at times, bumpy ride since then, but a journey he has nonetheless enjoyed with wife and chief executive Carolyn, not least because the difficult times have enabled them to savour the champagne moments that bit more.

Radford admits: “I thought it would take much longer to get out of the Conference than it did. I remember when I first took over the club that we were locked out of the ground and, if it hadn’t have been for the weather, then we could have had a 10-point deduction for not being able to get in to play a match and been relegated to the league below. 

“But someone up above must have been smiling on us because Mansfield was covered in a blanket of snow and the game was called off by the referee anyway, giving us a reprieve.

“Every year since then we’ve had something I remember well, such as going to Wembley in the FA Trophy when Duncan Russell was here, getting in the play-offs and then going up from the Conference under Paul Cox, the FA Cup game against Liverpool and consolidating in the Football League. 

“The one thing I have appreciated more than anything else is having that hardcore of 3,500 fans we now have who come week in, week out, rain or shine. They are my reward for taking over the club.” 

For many fans, Radford is revered as the man who not only saved the club from extinction, but will eventually buy back the ground from former owner Keith Haslam, who had previously been charging the club rent to play at their long-term home. 

Just two more payments – one at the end of this season, the other in 2019 – and One Call Stadium will have been secured by the club’s owner. That will be seen as another marked step in the progress of a once-moribund team. 

It’s not the only off-field reason for optimism either. Extensive work is soon to get underway on the development of a training facility at Woburn Lane, near Pleasley, that will benefit the club’s academy and its youth sides.

Radford believes improving facilities can only help increase the chances of generating home-grown players who can make it all the way to English Football League level. 

“Woburn Lane should be finished and up and running by the end of the season,” he says. “Steve Hymas is leading the project and there are already two grass pitches laid, with work on the changing rooms, buildings and parking to start in November. 

“At the moment, the academy sides are a little bit nomadic, having to use school fields and the like, so it will be good for them to have a permanent home. 

“With the pitch we have outside the One Call Stadium where the first team train, it means we can host three or four teams at the same time. 

“I’m confident in the long-term that this can help more players come through locally to the first team. That’s what I’ve always wanted to see and I’m sure in the future there will be opportunities for them.”

Another big hope for Radford, along with helping the Stags to climb the football pyramid, is to increase the numbers regularly coming through the turnstiles. 

He believes that will happen organically, providing results on the pitch are encouraging, but insists the club will consider running cut-price offers later in the season, as they did last term. 

Radford notes: “The crowds are steadily improving and I think they will continue to do so over the course of the season, providing we stay in the promotion race. 

“If you look down the road at Lincoln, they have shown what can happen if you keep winning in front of your home crowd – they had not been beaten in a year until we went and won there. 

“The people of Mansfield deserve success and want success. They work hard all week and when they go to watch their team, they want to see it doing well or at least fighting hard, and this is what we have now.” 

“We will see with regard to fans’ offers. We will have a board meeting after the Notts County game and talk about it then.” 

Tasked with guiding Mansfield in the bid to achieve a promotion slot is manager Steve Evans, who was appointed by Radford in November of last year. 

The chairman believes his relationship with the Scot continues to be ‘a very good one’, where their shared sense of purpose is what helps them maintain such a strong bond.

Radford observes: “He knows as a manager what he wants but, to be fair to him, he does give me options – he doesn’t force players on me. 

“He suggests players who we should sign if we want to win promotion and when that’s coming from a man with the record of promotions that he has, you’d be foolish to ignore it. 

“He’s as ambitious as I am and, like me, he wants to get this club in the Championship. We have the type of squad that, if it got up this season, would not need too many tweaks when gelled to go on another decent run in the league above. 

“Would I back the manager again in January, and next season if we went up? Of course I would.” 

These days, of course, Radford is a family man, with sons Hugo, three, and twins Rupert and Albert, two, brought up to be Stags’ fans – naturally. 

That’s not to mention sharing every kick with Carolyn, who he says has done a ‘brilliant job’ in her role at the club, taking the burden off his own shoulders. 

“We love the Stags and football – and the kids know that yellow is the colour!” smirks Radford. “They are just getting their heads around the concept of a goal, but they’re not ready for a full match yet. 

“But we’re hoping they can go along to a Little Kickers at the club soon where they can meet and have a run around with other kids from Mansfield. 

“Will they be future Mansfield players or owners? I’ll certainly be doing my best!”

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