AFC Mansfield Chairman Andy Saunders opens up on Relegation, their new manager & the future!

It has been a tough time for AFC Mansfield and their Chairman Andrew Saunders after their promotion to the EvoStik twelve months ago didn’t exactly go to plan.

Friday afternoon, our Editor Craig Kendall caught up with Andrew, You were promoted twelve months ago to the EvoStik but it didn’t quite work out because you’ve taken voluntary relegation back into the NCEL. How come you arrived at that decision?

I had a horrendous 2018 on a personal level. My father passed away and sometimes there are far more important things than football. To be quite frank with you, I probably took my eye off the game during that particular period. We got to the stage where the Trustees at the club agreed to the work to be done but unfortunately it got too late in the day to apply to the Football Foundation to get the actual application in. We took the view we’ll take the step back.

Is it something you’re looking forward to doing in order to immediately return to the EvoStik?

When we formed the club the intentions were to play EvoStik football. We had twelve months of actually doing it and we finished up in fourteenth or fifteenth place. We weren’t relegated from the field. It was a great thing to do: different people to meet, different clubs, different grounds to visit and it was really, really nice. Obviously now we’re back to the Northern Counties, back to some old foes and we’ll see where we go!

As you say, you finished around fourteenth in the EvoStik so you must be delighted with the season. You parted company with Rudy Funk and upstepped Mark Ward, who did a fantastic job until the end of the season. Were you a little disappointed that he didn’t stay on or could you see the reasons why he did leave?

I could see the reasons why Mark wanted a different sort of challenge. As a Chairman, I offered Mark a budget which I believed for Step 5 football was a very healthy budget. Mark felt he wanted to bring other players in and that didn’t forward in with what he wanted to do. At the end of the day with Wardy, he’s a great bloke. He did a fantastic job for AFC Mansfield for the two and a half years he was actually with us.
You move on and we welcome the new manager. Mark Chatfield’s at the club. He’s a young guy, very enthusiastic. He’s done his B Licence and he’s doing his A Licence at this moment in time. He brings with him some experience in John Stancliffe and Bruno, who played for Chesterfield, and Andy Morris, who played in the FA Cup semi-final some years ago. He’s got lots of experience behind him and I cannot wait to see him get going.

Mark did a fantastic job with Bolsover after December time. Not finishing bottom was an incredible achievement from where they were. How did the move come about for acquiring his services?

We advertised the position and had fifteen or sixteen applicants in total. Myself, the Directors and the Committee spoke about it and we decided that we wanted to go down the route of getting a younger manager who’s got different challenges, who knows what he’s doing, who can work with younger players and that’s exactly what we’ve got. One or two people raised their eyebrows when Matt was appointed but, to be quite frank with you, I believe what he did – particularly in the last sixteen games at Bolsover and getting something like 32 points – was an absolutely tremendous achievement. I’m sure he’ll do a great job for AFC Mansfield in his new position.

With three teams going up from the Northern Counties Premier next season do you think the task is going to be even harder than when you originally went up last year?

It’s a case of wait and see! To be honest with you, I lost track with Northern Counties football for the last season. I think with non-league football you tend to find somebody who probably finished second or third last season, it doesn’t mean to say they’re going to finish in those positions the following season. There tends to be a bigger turnaround of players; players decide to move on to other clubs. We’re looking forward to it. We’ll give it a good go and see where it takes us. There’s no pressure on Matt, as far as I’m concerned anyway.

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