2 June 2012

Who are AFC Mansfield?

2nd June 2012
IN a curious development in the north Nottinghamshire football scene, three former Mansfield Town directors yesterday announced the formation of AFC Mansfield.  The new club has signed a five-year deal to play at Forest Town and will join the Central Midlands League, step seven in the non-league pyramid.

I hadn't planned to cover the subject on this website, and nor have I dived into the lengthy debate on Stagsnet, our independent supporters' site, but as this is the slow news season at the clubs I follow the closest, here goes...

Last week we learned that three members of Mansfield Town's board, Andy Saunders, Steve Hymas and Darren Bland, had all resigned due to disagreements over how the club was being run.

Upon their departure, the three issued a joint statement: “In recent months our input has not been welcomed or has been ignored and, therefore, we wish to disassociate ourselves from recent activity at the football club.

“The role of directors is to ensure correct or best practice in the boardroom, management and accountability at the football club and, in our opinion, this has not been the case in recent months.

“The situation has been brewing throughout the play-off surge but we felt this was not the correct time to speak out and cause disruption at the football club.

We would like to thank the fans for their fantastic support during our time at the club and we wish Mansfield Town Football Club all the best for the future.”

It seems that the announcement of the Stags' 2012/13 season ticket prices, which revealed a surprise hike in the cost of tickets for under-16s, was the final chapter in a growing conflict at boardroom level.

Saunders is one of the 'three amigos' who purchased Mansfield Town in 2008, heroes who rescued the club from its despised owner of the previous 15 years.  They were joined by Hymas in 2010; Bland came on board last year.  All are life-long Stags fans and have invested large amounts of their time and money in stabilising the club in recent times.  One year ago Hymas was the driving force behind the resurrection of the club's youth policy, which flourished again last season.

I was sad to see them depart but they certainly left with my very best wishes.

I had expected that they would continue to follow Mansfield Town from the stands and terraces as regular fans, as they have done for years.  Even during his time as a director, I have sat near to or stood next to Andy Saunders at matches in the past couple of seasons.  As I reported back in January on my visit to Ebbsfleet, the club's directors have often appeared to put mixing with the regular fans ahead of their more formal directors' duties.

But having been involved in the running of their home town club, they are not the sort of guys who are now willing to melt into the background.  Instead Saunders, Hymas and Bland have decided to continue putting something back into local football; they still want the buzz of being involved in the day-to-day running of a club rather than just watching from the sidelines, and I don't blame them for that.

In their latest joint statement, the owners of the newly-formed club said: "We see this as an alternative for ourselves and anyone that wants to give something back to grassroots football in Mansfield."

I do not see AFC Mansfield as a rival to Mansfield Town, as the two teams will be six divisions apart when the new season kicks off.  It's not as if the guys have defected to Eastwood or Hucknall.

But as is the case with several other Stags fans, the one thing which I don't understand in this episode is the choice of name: AFC Mansfield - why?

By its very nature, that name, with the AFC prefix, implies a phoenix club.  In modern football, that is usually associated  with a club that has been formed either because the original club has folded (e.g. AFC Rushden & Diamonds) or because there is major dissatisfaction with what is happening at an existing club (e.g. AFC Wimbledon).

What the three musketeers are really thinking of with this new venture at Forest Town is still to be fully revealed.  But that name suggests that they are somehow firing a shot across the bows of Mansfield Town and would be happy to draw local fans away from the One Call Stadium.

Whatever their thinking, and whether you like it or not, AFC Mansfield are now in the process of recruiting a manager and building a team for the 2012/13 season.