LOMAS ON STAGS: 10th anniversary of one of Mansfield Town's most important arrivals

When supporters talk about who was the most important signing in the history of Mansfield Town Football Club, Paul Cox has to be up there.

Wednesday, 19th May 2021, 1:10 pm
Paul Cox ready for the start of his promotion campaign in pre-season.

You could argue the club has had bigger and better managers and certainly some fantastic players.

But when Cox arrived 10 years ago today, Stags were in freefall and in a sorry state.

They had already endured three miserable seasons in the Blue Squad Bet Conference Premier Division as Billy McEwan, David Holdsworth and caretaker Duncan Russell had tried in vain to move them back towards the promised land of the Football League.

It's easy to forget how hard it is to get out of what is now the National League.

Only the champions are guaranteed promotion.

So, even with very few slip-ups over an entire season, you can still find yourself with the late season lottery of play-offs in which anything can happen.

The division is no respecter of status or history and what happened to clubs like York City and Stockport County underline its ruthlessness.

It is full of other famous clubs as desperate as you for a return to the Football League, decent journeyman on their way down, exciting young players with an EFL future ahead (and more, like Jamie Vardy), plus up-and-coming clubs with money to throw at it.

It is a jungle. But Cox came in and immediately got Stags a play-offs place in the first season, losing over two legs to York City, after finishing third.

It was a bitter disappointment, but a vast improvement on what had gone before.

Cox's sides had traditionally made slow starts to campaigns but then stepped on the gas after Christmas.

And so it proved in 2012/13 as the season just got better and better.

I was privileged to be invited into the specially-erected marquee at the One Call Stadium for Cox's wedding party on the same amazing weekend as the home FA Cup clash with Liverpool.

It is a weekend I will never forget.

As always Cox was simply down to earth, no airs and graces, and very, very honest. He was a fantastic manager to work with press-wise.

He certainly had the team firing and, despite the heartbreak of being cheated out of a replay at Anfield by the wandering hand of Luis Suarez that weekend, the players were on a roll.

You know the rest and his achievement of promotion as champions was magnificent.

It was a shame things went sour for him a season and a half later when he decided to walk away and take a break from the pressures of the job, having ended the first season back in the Football League in 11th place.

Stags had just gone nine games without a win, including being held at home by non-League Concord Rangers and the abuse Cox and his side took from supporters after that one proved the catalyst for his departure.

But he will always be thought of fondly by myself and Stags supporters everywhere who are grateful for the nightmare he halted and he left with the second best winning ratio of any Stags manager – 48.4 per cent.