It has been a massive few days in the life of a Mansfield Town fan.
Just when you thought the doom and gloom on certain websites may begin to engulf the club due to the perceived lack of activity heading through the doors, and the tailback of players squeezing through the exit door, a signing was made which all fans were hoping for but I don’t think any were realistically expecting.
On Friday afternoon, it was announced that former Mansfield goal hero Matt Green had signed on the dotted line for the upcoming season.
Last seen in a yellow shirt firing the Stags back into the Football League from the penalty spot, Green has spent much of the last two seasons recovering from injury, in spookily similar fashion to last season’s great hope Liam Hearn.
Green has signed on the basis that the club is looking up rather than down, and will probably have been awarded in his contract a promotion bonus, given that the Stags reportedly fought off competition from Championship and League One clubs.
Delight greeted the signing, not just amongst fans but also amongst players, as Ryan Tafazolli took to twitter to welcome Green home, even hash-tagging his tweet ‘promotion’, which was re-tweeted by Chris Clements.
I dare say expectation levels will be the highest they have been for at least 10 years, should Murray’s planning materialise
Caution must be expressed given the goalscorer’s recent injury woes. However, with the Stags woefully short on goals last term, it is hard to contain fans’ excitement when considering his record of 54 goals in 84 league games.
Green was joined by fellow new signing Malvind Benning, an attacking left back previously contracted to Walsall.
Benning spent the latter stages of last season on loan at York City, who survived relegation in similar fashion to Mansfield Town.
Reports from York supporters are that he is suited to attacking rather than defending.
However, he is only 21 years of age and has a chance to flourish with currently no other left full backs at the club.
Prior to yesterday, the Stags lost Matt Rhead and Liam Hearn to Lincoln City, Ritchie Sutton to Tranmere and Rakish Bingham to Hartlepool.
When you add last year’s joint top goalscorer Vadaine Oliver to that list, who joined York City after being released by Crewe, then certain sections of the Stags faithful were beginning to panic.
That was not necessarily with disappointment at the calibre of players they had ‘missed out’ on, but because of the rather meagre-looking squad list which did not include a goalkeeper or an established striker. There were also worries about one of the buzz words surrounding Mansfield Town lately, the budget.
With three players who had been offered deals turning them down in favour of joining non-League sides, questions were raised about whether the Stags would be able to compete financially against other League sides for quality targets.
In an excellent interview by Mansfield 103.2’s Jason Harrison on Thursday, Adam Murray set out to quell supporters’ worries.
During the 17 minutes conversation, you got the feeling that Murray was sat leaning back on his chair with his hands behind his head as the Mansfield manager discussed a multitude of subjects, ranging from recent departures to pre-season friendlies.
The rookie boss, fresh from guiding the Stags to safety last term, started off by elaborating on the recent departures of promising striker Rakish Bingham and fans’ favourite Liam Hearn.
When asked if he was disappointed, Murray skilfully dodged the question like an old pro.
He explained that Bingham’s contract was structured for incremental rises.
He hinted that based on last season’s performances, Bingham may have been offered a lower contract.
Apparently Bingham had been speaking to Hartlepool for a number of weeks and had his head turned.
Whether talks had been ongoing prior to the season ending is unknown, but this could account for Bingham’s relatively small involvement.
Hearn, as he had described to Radio Nottingham himself, left for financial reasons.
The deal offered to him by Mansfield, in order to protect the club according to Murray, would have left Hearn struggling to live comfortably.
Murray seemed more affected by Hearn’s departure, a little disappointed due to the support the club had given him in his recuperation from a cruciate knee ligament injury, but seemed to accept the striker’s decision.
Later on, Murray talked of realigning the budget and getting value for money.
It seems clear that most players offered new deals were offered reduced terms.
Murray said he was disappointed but not surprised by some of the departures, and seemed to be indicating that some may have found their level.
Talk then turned to other players still deliberating on offers to stay at the One Call Stadium, specifically Chris Clements and Junior Brown.
Clements has been described on more than one occasion as the best midfielder in League Two by Adam Murray, yet a large number of fans fail to be convinced that he is even the best midfielder at the club after the emergence of youngster Jack Thomas as a first team regular.
Negotiations are still ongoing so one can only assume that those players may be keeping their options open.
Despite the perceived lack of movement from outside the club, a large chunk of the interview was devoted to recruitment.
Murray reassured fans that talks were ongoing to bolster the current squad. His focus, as well as that of the chairman and board, appears to be on bringing in players that would allow Mansfield to ‘attack’ the top of the league.
He advised that five or six signings were more or less sorted and these players would be the ‘right people’ as well as the right players, focusing mainly on players from a higher level or those who have had a positive effect on League Two.
Of course, we now know that two of those players are returning talisman Green and attacking left back Benning.
When asked if he was worried about the size of the current squad, Murray was firm in his answer. His retort was that the time for worry was three months ago and that now is time for him and the supporters to be excited.
Presumably knowing of the imminent arrivals, this was easy for him to say, but also moved to build fans’ expectations of incoming faces.
He mentioned that the targets he was speaking to covered the areas fans would be worried about, in response to Jason’s question regarding the lack of goalkeepers and goalscorers currently under contract.
Green obviously falls into the latter category and presumably more attacking players will be on the club’s radar.
At the other end, the Stags have been linked with Rotherham stopper Scott Loach, promising former County youngster Fabian Spiess and Scunthorpe fans’ favourite Sam Slocombe, who has recently been released.
Lenny Pidgeley, who was on loan at the Stags last season, has also been released by Newport, but this would not be a popular choice amongst fans.
The positivity in Murray’s statements was unwavering and infectious.
He talked of potential youth targets at Premier League clubs, perhaps referring to last season’s loanees Adam Smith and Callum Elder.
I certainly think these targets will be from Leicester City, who have agreed to a pre-season friendly in July.
He bemoaned last summer’s pre-season mantra of cutting costs and discussing the budget, saying that the club can and will compete.
He is not interested in selling Mansfield Town as anything other than contenders, which is refreshing to hear as a fan.
He talked of looking to sign footballers who were intelligent, expansive and technically good, which is in line with what he has promised all along and the players who have not been kept on for next season.
An interesting stance Murray set out was a ‘three tier’ recruitment system, focusing on signing players with potential, which is presumably where Benning fits in, signing players with experience, to add to a squad which is currently severely lacking and signing proven players who could affect League Two.
A message that was clear was that agents and players are very interested in talking to Mansfield Town, mostly down to the freshness of the manager and his ideas.
Adam Chapman, for example, was chased by three managers on the day he signed.
Murray described the signing as a coup, but caution will be expressed as he used the same word when securing the signature of Billy Kee, who did not hit the heights expected of him.
It was also impressive to hear of Murray’s connection with local clubs, outlined when discussing the signing of versatile youngster Mitchell Rose.
When asked about why Rose has been drifting between clubs since being released by Rotherham, Murray confirmed that it was him who had arranged for Rose to play for Ilkeston.
He praised Ilkeston’s staff for playing in a manner that he agreed with.
It should be noted that Callum Chettle, son of former Forest player Steve, is on the books at Ilkeston and has been attracting attention from League clubs.
When looking ahead to pre-season, the boss had a clear idea on how he would like it to go.
He again took a swipe at previous seasons, where players had taken part in events such as a hill run in Malta and an ironman-type obstacle course, saying that his players would train as footballers.
The majority of fixtures announced so far are against lesser clubs, the idea being that the Stags can get into their attacking swing and build confidence, rather than having to defend and chase the ball against teams higher up the divisions.
Blocks of these games have been arranged close together to allow the group to bond and build up a team spirit as quickly as possible.
Finally, the pitch came in for some attention this week as it was ripped up by various pieces of machinery.
Murray confirmed that this was his idea, as some changes to the set-up were going to be made.
He spoke of winning the ball back quickly, which seems to indicate that the pitch will be made smaller in length, but previous talk of expansive football illustrates that the width may be maintained.
It is hard not to be excited by the way Murray talks about his vision for the club going forward, but of course his words need to be backed up by actions once the whistle blows for the first League game in early August.
The reality is that before that whistle resounds around whichever stadium will host the Stags’ opening fixture, plenty more talking will be done by Murray as his squad comes together.
Fans will continue to be whipped up into a fervour and by 3pm on that Saturday afternoon, I dare say expectation levels will be the highest they have been for at least 10 years, should Murray’s planning materialise.
Of course, as fans, we will love it should a plan come together!