Annus Horribilis Stagus comes to an end!


Tomorrow brings the end of 2008 thank God!

As far as football has been concerned it has been an ‘annus horribilis’ with Stags sinking faster than the Titanic and England not even being at the Euro party in the summer.

Thankfully the board have a new manager in place to start 2009 and we all enter the New Year with high hopes.

Despite six different people at the helm over the 12 months, four of them on a full-time basis, Stags have sunk to their lowest ebb since before joining the Football League.

I can still remember being summoned upstairs by Stephen Booth after the 4-0 home defeat by Rochdale in March when we knew it was the end of the road for Billy Dearden.

Since then we have had the heroic efforts of Paul Holland, the bristling aggression of Billy McEwan and the stop-gap of caretakers Stallard/Moses whose six point haul could prove crucial at the end of the season.

We have suffered the pits of relegation from the League, the brief high of the takeover and going top of the BSP, the anguish of being docked four points and seeing the club plummet down the table and the uncertainty of the finalisation of that takeover deal.

Hopefully two wins have now seen the slump bottom out and hope the completion of the takeover, the removal of the disliked McEwan and the installation of what seems a bright, young manager full of fresh ideas can revive the club’s fortunes.

We should have known what to expect when, with the New Year less than 24 hours old, we saw top scorer Mickey Boulding limp off at MK Dons and his replacement John McAliskey follow him off injured soon after!

Then we began that ridiculous spell where we kept winning every away game and losing every home game.

We also had the brief TV glory of the FA Cup match with Middlesbrough which saw yours truly make his Match of the Day TV debut. I will be in my trailer darling – don’t disturb me!

Also etched on my memory is my gearstick getting stuck in fourth going over the Woodhead Pass in the small hours after an away defeat at Stockport in which both sides scored own goals.

I had to zip across roundabouts, past terrified sheep and huge lorries at full pelt until I reached civilisation where I could find a place to brake and stall the car before waiting for help, shivering on the back seat wrapped in a blanket.

I will never ever forget that final home defeat by Rotherham which all but consigned us to the drop, the freak wining goal and the mini-riot at the end which even spread into the press box where those who had lost their heads were throwing stuff at us and threatening us as well.

Then there was that final sad farewell at Dagenham and Redbridge (whose ground proved so hard to find) where fans donned fancy dress and put on a brave face for the last League hurrah – but it was all empty, meaningless gestures. Life had already been pronounced extinct, despite the final twitches of that day.

Then it really sank in when the Football League fixtures came out and we were not part of it.

No one could even say for sure when the BSP fixtures were due out!

It screamed ‘Micky Mouse League’ at us and sadly there have been other examples of that since which have underlined that.

The four point deduction farce was one and also learning that the BSP’s flagship League cup – the Setanta Shield – was being made up as it went along with no specified dates for rounds available and even the final being played at one of the finalists’ grounds on the toss of a coin and not at a neutral venue! Incredible.

The early games in the BSP didn’t feel too bad though and arriving at Crawley Town with the hot sun in our faces and top of the league actually felt really good. I even put out a hand to help haul their manager Steve Evans over the last row of seats to the press box when one or two were encouraging me to let go! And he is a big lad!

But the real culture shock set in one week in September when we visited Altrincham and Salisbury within five days of each other – two lovely little clubs but real non-League arenas where the reality of the situation began to sink in.

Amazingly the FA Trophy didn’t send us back to York for a fourth time and plans to ask the Chad to rent me a flat in the city were shelved.

Having removed them from the FA Cup we were sent to Chesterfield for what we always knew would probably be a defeat to the auld enemy. But it was nice to leave the rotting Saltergate knowing that was probably the last time we would ever have to go there again.

The cold really began to bite at Forest Green where we seemed to be playing on a pitch set in the middle of nowhere with the smoke coming from the chimney of the one visible house the best entertainment of the day. Their bangers and mash clubhouse special was delicious though.

Somehow it was even colder down on the south cast as we hit Weymouth for the first time. But, as a seaside town, I was really impressed as I was with one the best B&Bs I have ever stayed in. And we got a point!

I finished work for my annual two-weeks hols on the night we played Oxford and while I was away the texts came thick and fast about the takeover being completed and then McEwan’s sacking as well as the death of a football-loving friend of mine in his early 40s which always puts everything into perspective.

So here we are with another Auld Lang Syne ahead of us and another New Year to fear or savour.

Let’s be honest, there are no guarantees with David Holdsworth.

Billy McEwan’s CV looked good but his three-year plan was torn up inside five months.

While clubs expect managers to build strong foundations and a good youth policy, three and five year plans are not a realistic proposition.

It is a results business and fans have less patience than boards of directors.

So unless Stags start producing on the field, the new boss will follow the rest out of the door.

But my first impressions are that his man-management skills may be better than hardliner McEwan and you only have to look how the players have responded to Stallard and Moses to see they play better happier!

So let’s all enjoy this unexpected mid-season break and not think too hard about those successive long hauls to Lewes and Eastbourne next month.

Let’s think instead about that pint of real ale with an Irish whiskey chaser for midnight tomorrow!

Happy New Year Stags fans one and all – here’s to brighter memories in 12 months time.

PS – why not add your best and worst memories of 2008 below?


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