For it was the night Mansfield Town took on mighty Manchester United. And what’s more, they hammered them 3-0!
The unlikely match was a friendly that had been organised by the Stags’ new manager, Ian Greaves, who had played for United during the 1950s. He was injured at the time of the Munich air disaster in 1958, but took his place in the side at left-back immediately after the tragedy.
When he arrived at Field Mill, United were riding high in the old First Division, but boss Ron Atkinson agreed to send a reserve-team for a friendly that would help Greaves assess the squad he had inherited.
As it happened, United fielded a much stronger side than expected, including former England captain Ray Wilkins and ex-Scotland skipper Martin Buchan, plus fellow internationals Lou Macari, Paul McGrath and John Gidman.
Stags were languishing in the basement Fourth Division, and so were expecting a tough workout. But according to press reports at the time, they “meticulously destroyed” their illustrious opponents, who couldn’t match the home team’s “physical commitment”.
The Mansfield line-up included stalwart goalkeeper Rod Arnold and polished young defender Colin Calderwood, who so impressed Macari on the night that he later bought him when he was manager of Swindon Town. Calderwood also went on to play for Tottenham and Scotland before becoming a boss himself, including at Nottingham Forest.
However, the star of the show against United was striker Dave Caldwell, who bagged two of the three goals. The 22-year-old was a bit hit and miss during his spell at Field Mill, but his record of 57 goals from 157 appearances was not to be scoffed at it, and this was one of his ‘hit’ matches.
After Simon Woodhead had fired Stags in front in the 37th minute with a stunning right-foot drive, Caldwell opened his account just before half-time, driving a left-foot shot past ‘keeper Jeff Wealands.
The toiling McGrath was substituted by United at the break, and in the second period, Wilkins also gave the impression he’d had enough. One press report said: “Wilkins faded rapidly. He seemed content to patrol a small midfield area at a sedate pace and was often given a lesson in ball-winning by Bobby Hutchinson, who dominated the central action”.
United’s bleak night was capped just after the hour when the jubilant Stags netted a third goal. This time, Woodhead poked a teasing ball into the box where Caldwell nipped round Ashley Grimes to slot past the advancing Wealands.
And so there we had it. The scoreline no-one could quite believe: Mansfield Town 3 Manchester United 0.
A happy Greaves said: “I said we could have done with weaker opposition for a friendly game, but that is exactly what we made United look. I was highly delighted by the attitude. The win is great for morale.”
Sadly, the win did little to boost Mansfield’s fortunes. Three days later, they lost 1-0 at Bury on their return to league action and they ended the season in tenth place as home crowds often dipped to below 2,000.
However, Greaves did, of course, lead Stags to promotion in 1986 and, the following year, to Wembley where they lifted the Freight Rover Trophy.
As for United, they made the trip to Wembley only six weeks after their Field Mill date, going down 2-1 to Liverpool in the final of the League Cup. And they went back again in May for the FA Cup final, in which they beat Brighton 4-0 in a replay after the original match had finished 2-2. Atkinson’s men ended up third in the old First Division, 12 points behind champions Liverpool and one in front of fifth-placed Forest.
STAGS LINE-UP -- Arnold/ Blackhall, Kennedy, Matthews J., Ayre, Calderwood, Woodhead, Hutchinson, Dungworth, Caldwell, Nicholson. SUBS: Baker, Reynolds, Bird.
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