Notts County v Mansfield Town, 1987
Notts County met Mansfield Town in a rare Nottinghamshire derby in October 1987. County had spent the early part of the decade in the First Division, before successive relegations. Mansfield were in the Fourth Division until promotion in 1985-86. When the clubs met in the Third Division on Boxing Day 1986, it was their first league meeting since a Second Division clash at Meadow Lane in March 1978.
The summer of 1987 saw the end of an era for Notts County as Chairman Jack Dunnett and long-serving former manager Jimmy Sirrel departed. New Chairman Derek Pavis attempted to end the decline by appointing John Barnwell to replace Sirrel and making big-name signings. Most prominent was former million-pound England striker Garry Birtles, Nottingham Forest’s joint top scorer the previous season before surprisingly being given a free transfer by Brian Clough. Birtles was joined by another of Forest’s European Cup winners in Gary Mills, and West Ham’s experienced midfielder Geoff Pike – Paul Hart was a third former Forest connection arriving at Meadow Lane.
Mansfield Town had won the Freight Rover Trophy at Wembley in May 1987, ahead of a second season in the Third Division. 1986-87’s top scorer Keith Cassells had played under manager Ian Greaves at Oxford (1980-82), before a top-flight spell with Southampton. Goalkeeper Kevin Hitchcock was sold to Chelsea in March 1988 for £250,000, enjoying over a decade at Stamford Bridge. Simon Coleman was another to later reach the Premier League, with Sheffield Wednesday and Bolton. Defender Craig McKernon signed for Arsenal in December 1989 for £200,000, but injury forced him to retire two years later without making a first-team appearance. Of the Notts County squad for this game, Wayne Fairclough (younger brother of Chris) moved to Mansfield in 1990, followed by Chris Withe (younger brother of Peter) a year later.
Both sides had experienced top-flight managers in Barnwell and Greaves. As Wolves manager, Barnwell won the 1980 League Cup and oversaw a 6th place First Division finish in the same season. Greaves had taken both Huddersfield and Bolton into the top division, and also briefly managed Wolves. After taking over at Mansfield in 1983, he spent six years at Field Mill in his final managerial role.
Match details for Notts County – Mansfield Town; Meadow Lane, Football League Division Three, Sunday 11 October 1987:
Notts County: 1. Mick Leonard, 2. Paul Smalley, 3. Chris Withe, 4. David Kevan (sub. Wayne Fairclough), 5. Dean Yates, 6. Paul Hart, 7. Gary Mills, 8. Ian McParland, 9. Garry Birtles (sub. Gary Lund), 10. Geoff Pike, 11. David Thompson. Manager: John Barnwell. Scorer: Mills.
Mansfield Town: 1. Kevin Hitchcock, 2. Mike Graham, 3. John Ryan, 4. Tony Lowery, 5. George Foster, 6. Simon Coleman, 7. Kevin Kent, 8. David Hodges, 9. Craig McKernon, 10. Keith Cassells, 11. Steve Charles. Manager: Ian Greaves. Scorer: Charles.
The return fixture at Mansfield’s Field Mill in March 1988 was also drawn 1-1 – Gordon Owen put the home side in front before Pike converted a penalty. County were top of the table at the time but eventually finished 4th and had the disappointment of being beaten by Walsall in the play-off semi-finals. Mansfield ended up in 19th place. The respective top scorers reflected the league positions – Notts County had Ian McParland with 21 goals, Gary Lund 20, and Geoff Pike 14; for Mansfield, Steve Charles got 12, Kevin Kent 10, and Keith Cassells 9. Both clubs were represented in the 1987-88 Third Division PFA Team of the Year: Hitchcock for Mansfield, Dean Yates, Pike, and McParland from Notts County.
Notts began a subsequent rise to the top division under Neil Warnock, who replaced Barnwell in January 1989 and won back-to-back promotions in 1990 and 1991. Both Yates and Lund remained at the club as they returned to the First Division. Relegation in 1992 meant they missed out on the first Premier League season, and in 2019 the Football League founder members were relegated from the bottom division, losing their league status. Mansfield also spent five seasons in non-league after relegation in 2008, returning to the Football League as Conference Champions in 2013.
The state of the Football League in the 1980s is one of the topics in my book Before the Premier League: A History of the Football League’s Last Decades.