THE 1976-77 Third Division season ended in the most dramatic fashion for Mansfield Town - not that goalkeeper Rod Arnold remembered much about it.
The inspirational shot-stopper, who was named Chad Readers’ Player of the Year, was knocked out right on the half-time whistle and had to be helped to the dressing room by his team-mates as Mansfield aimed to defeat Wrexham and secure the title.
“I remember the first half but the second half passed me by,” said Arnold. “I didn’t have a lot to do in the first half, we were in control of the game.
“Then right on half-time I went up for a high ball with Billy Ashcroft and I got hit hard. I was seeing stars. I remember getting helped to the dressing room by Billy McEwan and being really dazed.”
But the brave goalkeeper, who went on to play a club record 522 games, took his position between the Mansfield sticks for the second half and turned in yet another valuable contribution as Stags emerged victorious 1-0 to deservedly lift the championship and end the promotion hopes of their Welsh rivals into the bargain.
Going into the Racecourse Ground battle, Peter Morris’ men led Brighton by two points and needed a draw to confirm their title-winning credentials, while fourth-placed Wrexham needed a win to overtake Crystal Palace in the final promotion spot.
And it looked like the Welsh side would achieve their dream as they piled on the early pressure to the delight of the passionate home crowd.
But Wrexham had not bargained on the skills of Arnold, who was at his very best when he kept out a Ashcroft header with a superb 33rd minute save.
Ashcroft, scorer of 27 goals during the season, had time and space to fire Wrexham into the lead one minute from the break. But, somehow, he lost his cool and steered the ball wide to the relief of Stags
As the game headed to a nervy conclusion, the Mansfield goalkeeper once again had to be alert in the 66th minute to stop Graham Whittle from firing the home side into the lead just seconds after Wrexham had pushed top-scorer Whittle into a forward position from his midfield berth.
Ten minutes later Wrexham came even closer as the dangerous Whittle, who already had 32 goals to his name, crashed a free-kick against the upright as the pressure on the Stags’ rearguard intensified.
The normally reliable Ashcroft then fluffed another superb chance with 10 minutes to go.
That was the best that the Welsh team could throw at Stags despite their sustained spells of pressure, as the visitors defended strongly in depth and hit hard on the break whenever possible.
Stags did enjoy a few chances of their own with Ian McDonald going close in both halves, and Kevin Randall lifting a possible chance over the bar.
But it was left to the pairing of Moss and Randall to finally kill off any hopes of Second Division football at the Racecourse Ground next season.
The disappointed Wrexham fans were already streaming from the ground realising that their dream was all but over when Randall beat his covering defender on the byline with just a minute to go. He chipped the ball in for Ernie Moss to collect his 20th goal of the season and send the 3,500 travelling Stags fans wild.
There was scenes of great emotion when the final whistle sounded as Mansfield’s players and fans celebrated a memorable day and a memorable season.
“I really don’t remember the second half at all. The next thing I remember after half-time is looking up at a clock at the far end of the game which said it was full time and we were winning,” said Arnold. “I broke down in tears at the end of the game, it was just such an emotional release. It ended a great season for us. We had a really good team that year.”
Speaking after the game manager Peter Morris had little sympathy for Wrexham’s plight, saying: “You have 46 games in which to achieve promotion - if you fall in your final couple of games - and in this case at home - then it is on your own shoulders.
“We took the title under our own steam in the end - and that was important to me and my players, it was a matter of pride.
“Everyone talked about Rotherham, Wrexham, Brighton and Crystal Palace - and ignored us. But we did it in the end, and that is the most satisfying thing.”
MANSFIELD: Arnold, Bird, Wood, McEwan, Mackenzie, C. Foster, Morris, Moss, Randall, Hodgson, McDonald. Substitute: Matthews.
MATCH: Wrexham 0 Mansfield Town 1
VENUE: Racecourse Ground, 14th May 1977