MOST Mansfield Town fans may have been fearing the worst as full-back Mark Kearney stepped up in front of more than 58,000 fans to try and level the scores from the spot as Stags’ iconic Freight Rover Trophy final against Bristol City reached a nail-bitting finale.
Stags, who had already surrendered a one goal lead in normal time after Kevin Kent’s strike had been cancelled out, were 1-0 down in the penalty shoot-out after City captain Brian Williams had put the South West side ahead.
The brave Stags had already suffered penalty heartache in the Freight Rover just two years ago when they missed out on a Wembley date at the last hurdle after being beaten 3-1 on penalties by Wigan in the Northern Area final.
But there was to be no repeat of that woe this time around as ‘Mr Reliable’ Kearney kept his cool to send the City goalkeeper the wrong way and level the gripping contest.
“I was shattered going into the penalties and was quite calm when I stepped up to take my kick,” recalls Kearney, who went on to make 303 first-team appearances during his Mansfield Town career.
“The adrenalin was going and it helped me to focus and block the crowd out.
“The main thing going through my mind was which way to put the penalty. We had played Bristol City a few weeks earlier and I had scored a penalty so I didn’t know whether I should go the same way or change things.
“I decided to change things and the goalkeeper went the wrong way.”
Newman then restored Bristol’s advantage before Keith Cassells watched on in horror as his kick was tipped away by the diving Waugh to give the Southerners the advantage.
John MacPhail and Paul Fitzpatrick then beat Kevin Hitchcock, while Ian Stringfellow and Gary Pollard kept their cool under extreme pressure to keep Stags still in the contest, trailing 3-4 in the shoot-out.
But Stags, watched by a travelling army of 20,000 faithful followers, were staring defeat in the face and needed a hero to save the day.
It was now time for shot-stopper Hitchcock to write himself into Mansfield Town folklore as the super goalkpeer saved Gordon Owen’s penalty with his feet to the delight of the massed Yellow and Blue army.
Kevin Kent then showed his steel to level the scores at 4-4 and take this amazing day into sudden death penalties.
Hitchock was once again the hero when the size ten left boot of Mansfield’s marvellous goalkeeper blocked the attempt of future Everton boss David Moyes and moved Ian Greaves’ side a step closer to cup glory.
With many fans and players alike unable to watch the nail-biting drama unfold, Tony Kenworthy cooly stepped up to fire his penalty into the bottom corner of the net to set Wembley alive and cap one of the greatest days in the history of Mansfield Town.
And for the heroic Mansfield players who climbed the famous 39 steps of Wembley to lift the cup and the fans who travelled to the capital, it is a day which continues to live long in the memory.
Mark Kearney added: “This game was one of my greatest memories during my football career. I came to Mansfield when I was 21-years-old and I have stayed here ever since.
“I am always being reminded of that day by fans around the town who travelled to Wembley for the final and it is fantastic to hear their memories of the day and what it meant to them.
“We had come so close when we lost to Wigan in the regional final and that defeat spurred us on to go all the way. Ian Greaves had built a good side who could give any team a game.
“We were a close unit with an excellent team spirit and we wanted to make up for that Wigan loss.
“There were more than 20,000 from Mansfield that day and the atmosphere was just amazing. Going up those steps to lift the trophy and hear the roar of the fans is a memory I will never forget.
“Being able to play at Wembley in a cup final and lift the trophy is the highlight for any footballer. That day gives me some fantastic memories.”
The wild sceness of celebration at Wembley were then repeated 24 hours later when more than 10,000 fans lined the streets of Mansfield to bask in the moment as the players proudly paraded the trophy.
At the time manager Ian Greaves, who has since had the West Stand at Field Mill re-named in his honour, praised his playing staff and said: “The players deserve every bit of this success and all the praise. Really they are a good Fourth Division squad which has held its own in the Third Division and won at Wembley. What more could I ask for?
“Of course, a penalty shoot-out is a cruel way to settle a cup final and there is no-one who hates them more than me after the Wigan experience.
“But rules are rules and at the end of the day there were no complaints from Bristol, just friendly words of congratulations.”
Tim Morriss, the Chad sports editor at the time of the match, said it was a game he will remember forever.
“No-one could see it coming, despite going so close two years earlier,” he said.
“Probably the biggest memory is of the sea of faces and the huge crowds at the open top bus parade the following day. It just showed what sort of following the Stags can command if even remotely successful.
The Wembley win capped a long road to glory for Mansfield, who had kicked off their road to Wembley on 2nd December 1986 with a 2-2 draw against Halifax Town.
After squeezing through the initial group stage on goals scored, after Mansfield, Halifax and Rotherham played out draws in every game, Stags defeated York City 1-0 away in the first round.
Stags then travelled to Bury in the quarter-finals on 24th February 1987 and came away celebrating a 2-1 victory.
A trip to the North East saw Stags knock out Middlesborough 1-0 to move to within one stage of that long-awaited Wembley date.
Marvellous Mansfield then saw off Chester City in front of a bustling and expectant Field Mill crowd on 8th April, 2-0 in the first league of the area final, before a 1-0 defeat was enough to send Ian Greaves’ warriors through to a famous cup final showdown.
MANSFIELD TOWN: Hitchcock, Graham, Garner, Lowery, Foster, Kenworthy, Kent, Danskin, Whatmore, Cssells, Kearney.
MATCH: Stags 1 Bristol City 1 (Stags win 5-4 on pens) - Freight Rover Trophy final.
VENUE: Wembley Stadium, 24th May 1987.