Football is an expensive hobby these days, and it’s not only your wallet that takes a hit if you pay over the odds just to see your team lose time and time again. [ad#as2]
So, it came as a welcome surprise to supporters of non-league side Mansfield Town after its owners took the extraordinary step of letting fans pay what they want to attend the Blue Square Premier League fixture against Gateshead.
Tickets would normally cost £16 at Field Mill, but the club’s owners Andrew Perry, Andrew Saunders and Steve Middleton wanted to say thanks for the town’s support since the trio took over from the controversial Keith Haslam in 2008.
“Let’s pack the ground and roar the team on to victory,” was the cry from chairman Perry before the game, and despite the wintery conditions, the fans turned out in their numbers – 7,261 to be exact, more than double the average attendance with some supporters having to be turned away at the gate.
Unfortunately for fourth-placed Stags, it was the players who froze on their “big” stage, losing 2-0 to their lowly Blue Square Premier League opponents, denting their play-off hopes and leaving fans wondering whether they had value for money.
It was reported that a season ticket holder offered £50 despite not being able to attend, while at the other extreme, one female fan admitted to paying only 2 pence – and still found herself asking “Was it worth it?” “No, not really,” was her conclusion.
She wasn’t the only one feeling short-changed, as manager David Holdsworth left his players in no doubt how he felt. “I am extremely disappointed – it’s as simple as that,” he said afterwards. “The players didn’t show any character, desire or what they can do and they need to take a look at themselves. I don’t know if it was the occasion or the big crowd but some players froze. If they can’t deal with a 7,000 crowd they shouldn’t be in football.”
Perry has remained tight-lipped on the overall takings, but he was delighted with the turnout from the town’s supporters. “It was a tremendous crowd and I just wish we could have sent them away with a smile on their faces,” he said. “If we had got 5,000 in today it would have been a success so over 7,000 was an amazing gate and I hope the game hasn’t put them off coming here again.”
The move attracted headlines throughout the country and even made news in South America, with media outlets in Brazil mentioning the experiment.
Former owner Haslam was an unpopular figure throughout his tenure, with supporters forming the Stags Fans for Change organisation to back his removal. Some fans took their views worldwide and made headlines during the Ashes cricket tour in Australia in 2007 after stewards misunderstood their “Haslam Out” banner to be an anti-Semitic message.
Despite the result, the move by the new owners should be applauded and encouraged, and it will be interesting to see if other, more high-profile clubs follow their lead.