It’s been a frantic few months for Mark Ward, the well-liked and talented former First Team Manager at Evo Stik Northern Premier League East Division side AFC Mansfield. In February, former player Mark stepped up from his Assistant Manager role after the departure of Bulls’ Manager Rudy Funk and set about securing Mansfield’s status in the Division, an objective comfortably achieved with a 15th-place finish in the table. In mid-March, Handsworth Parramore legend Jon Froggatt joined up as Mark’s Assistant, but the pair were hit with a bombshell in early April when the club confirmed that they had failed the League’s ground grading regulations and had elected for relegation to Step 5. The world turned full circle for AFC Mansfield, Mark and Jon earlier this week when the club announced that the Management duo would be leaving the Forest Town Arena by mutual consent; but Mark has moved on quickly, as you’ll find out.
TBG gave Editor Craig Kendall his bus fare, sent him off to scrounge a cuppa from Mark and get his take on a tumultuous few months, and as you’ll read, Craig also fielded an opinion from Jon Froggatt too, writes Colin Muncie.
TBG: Mark, give us your thoughts on the season.
It was a very strange – and entertaining – season, to be honest. We started really well, with a couple of good Cup runs, but we lost our League form and our consistency, and things became a struggle. I lost a good friend and mentor in Rudy Funk, but I got a great opportunity to show what I could do as a Manager with a club at the bottom of the Evo Stik East. The lads were great for me, and we finished the season well, 15 points above relegation. Then we found out we were relegated due to the ground regulations not being met. It’s a funny old game!
TBG: How disappointed were you when the club elected for demotion to Step 5?
I was as disappointed as I’ve ever been; it felt like all the hard work and effort that we put in throughout the season – especially the last few months – was overshadowed by the news of relegation.
TBG: Why did you decide to leave the club?
After finding out about the relegation I was more than happy to stay at AFC Mansfield – with Jon Froggatt – and build a side to bounce back and challenge for promotion; but when we met the club to talk about next season’s plans we weren’t exactly on the same page. As we were in negotiation, I had an offer from (Northern Premier League, Premier Division side) Hednesford Town FC that I just felt I couldn’t turn down; so, I made my mind up to leave.
TBG: So, what’s next for you and Jon?
I obviously have a new challenge ahead of me at Hednesford which I can’t wait to get my teeth in to and I’ve had Froggy’s blessing. I know his phone has already been ringing with offers, and he’s even got a meeting on Tuesday night which could see him back playing, so, we’re both happy with our decisions, because we know one day we’ll be back together in that dug out.
I had a good two years at AFC Mansfield and that wouldn’t have happened without Rudy Funk seeing the potential in me which I’m grateful for. I’d also like to thank Andy Saunders and the other Directors at AFC Mansfield for the opportunity they gave me.
I’m also grateful to Froggy for coming in and helping me, and to the lads who gave me their all. It’s on to the next chapter now!
Mark’s former Assistant, Jon Froggatt, took time out to pay tribute to Mark and provide Craig with his perspective on recent events.
“First and foremost, I’d like to say thank you to my good friend Mark Ward for bringing me to what we thought was going to be a great club with great ambitions,” Jon told TBG. “I cannot praise him enough; he’s a top man who deserves so much out of football after everything he puts in. I arrived at AFC Mansfield having had 4 great years with Handsworth with the promise of us building a team, how we wanted football to be played, to continue in the Evo-Stik League. Unfortunately, due to ground grading we were told the sad news that we would be relegated despite leading the club to a greater point tally than those who went down.”
“After this we had a meeting regarding the ambitions of the club moving forward,” Jon explained. “Mark and I had put foundations in place with players for next season where we hoped we could assemble a promotion winning side, only to be told the budget both for the playing staff and management staff would be reduced dramatically. Neither of us anticipated that this would happen and after serious consideration we decided we would step down.”
“It’s sad and I’m gutted and I feel I’ve personally been led down the garden path by the club having been promised so much more,” Jon admitted. “Football can be so rewarding and also so disappointing.”
“From a footballing perspective, I’d like to place on record how well the lads at AFC Mansfield did in keeping the club in the League,” Jon concluded, “I wish them all the best in future.”
“We will both move on from this disappointment and learn from it.”
The Bootiful Game would like to thank Mark and Jon for their contributions throughout the season, and wish Mark every success in his new role.