Darrell Clarke’s tears of despair from a year ago turned into tears of joy yesterday as he guided Bristol Rovers back into the Football League at the first time of asking.
The former Stags midfield ace (37) was left devastated last year when a Junior Daniel goal earned Stags a 1-0 win at the Memorial Ground to send the Pirates crashing out of the League.
But Rovers yesterday saw off Grimsby Town in a penalty shoot-out after a 1-1 draw after extra-time before a record-breaking 47,029 crowd to become the first side to go straight back up in a decade.
The game had a real Mansfield Town flavour to it with Grimsby fielding Stags loanee striker Ollie Palmer as well as ex-Stags Craig Disley and Nathan Arnold.
Clarke’s sprint of delight across the pitch at the end will long live in the memory and he said: “I feel like it’s a massive weight off my shoulders. The disappointment of getting relegated last year was massive, we had to rebuild a club that had hit rock bottom.
“There were massive financial cuts and people lost their jobs. “I had some dark, dark nights. You question yourself. The pleasing thing was the board didn’t hold me responsible for relegation, even though I felt responsible.
“Trying to get Bristol Rovers back into the league has taken over my life. To come back after a year, it very rarely happens. These boys are special.”
This was unlucky Grimsby’s third play-off failure since relegation in 2010.