Match of the Day: Wrexham’s Hollywood stars vs Mansfield’s self-made husband-and-wife team

John Radford and Carolyn are ready to take on Wrexham on Good Friday

John Radford had finally convinced Carolyn, co-owner of Mansfield Town – who is also his wife and CEO of the club – to go to Disneyland.

John had promised the couple’s three young sons a trip to Florida and after Carolyn was persuaded, they reasoned it would be a welcome break from football. “And then we enter the theme park and I look up,” says John. “The first thing I see is a huge advertisement [for the documentary series charting the revival of Wrexham under Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney] say: ‘Welcome to Wrexham’”.

On Good Friday, the Radfords and League Two leaders Mansfield Town head to Wrexham, one of the Midlands’ promotion rivals, for real.

Despite the globally successful documentary and a wage bill expected to exceed £7 million (club accounts showed a National League record £6.9 million spent on player salaries on the way to last season’s promotion to the English Football League ) they have slipped from pole position and are in third place, three points behind Mansfield.

John, who made his millions through One Call Insurance, which he founded in 1985, suggests Mansfield’s current annual wage outlay is less than half that £7m figure and yet holds no grudge.

“It’s nice to see how quickly Wrexham has developed since Ryan and Rob got involved,” he says. “Success in football either requires very good management or you have to invest quite a bit of money.

‘Do they have a target on their back? They came up last season, did quite well and then of course there’s the publicity – so I think that’s probably where the aim will be. And I think they want that target too. It helps them.

“They come across really well,” Carolyn adds. “Very modest and sincere. From what I see they are really good people with good hearts. It’s a bit like Mansfield: the whole town turns upside down when the football club does well.”

Carolyn Radford - Match of the Day: Wrexham's Hollywood stars versus Mansfield's self-made husband-and-wife teamCarolyn Radford - Match of the Day: Wrexham's Hollywood stars versus Mansfield's self-made husband-and-wife team

Carolyn Radford, pictured in 2018, became English football’s youngest CEO in 2011 – John Robertson for the Telegraph

There are many parallels between two clubs that left the Football League together in 2008.

Both are embedded in the roots of close-knit working-class former mining communities. And both their homes are dripping with history: Friday’s venue, the Stok Cae Ras, is the oldest international stadium in the world, while Mansfield’s Field Mill is the oldest football ground.

Unfortunately, when John bought his boyhood club for just £1 in September 2010, the stadium was not included. Much-maligned former owner Keith Haslam had controversially purchased Field Mill through his company, Stag Limited, before leasing it back to the club. The number of gates was reduced, there were no training facilities and at one point Haslam threatened Mansfield with eviction on grounds of unpaid rent.

“We were excluded for one match,” John explains. “It was only by the grace of God – massive snowfall – that the game was cancelled.”

“It was a bit controversial with the previous owner and the fans,” Carolyn adds. She shows admirable diplomacy: Haslam was attacked in the boardroom by two Mansfield supporters after relegation. “It was a difficult situation to navigate,” she adds.

Nigel Clough and John Radford - Match of the Day: Wrexham's Hollywood stars versus Mansfield's self-made husband-and-wife teamNigel Clough and John Radford - Match of the Day: Wrexham's Hollywood stars versus Mansfield's self-made husband-and-wife team

Mansfield Town manager Nigel Clough pictured with John Radford in March 2024 – Focus Images Limited/Andy Sumner

But piece by piece, the Radfords were rebuilt. “You need building blocks to make it sustainable,” says Carolyn. Initially, her role largely took place behind the scenes, “before I stepped in for the….”

Both she and John burst out laughing. They are a warm, devoted couple, often finishing each other’s sentences or deferring to the other’s wisdom. Carolyn refers to her appointment as English football’s youngest CEO in 2011.

Mansfield have since returned to the Football League (as Conference Champions in 2013). The land has been repurchased. A new training center – the RH Academy – has been built with rental places and a communal events space. “It’s a big part of things,” Carolyn explains. “The idea that people really feel involved in the football club. It’s cliché, but it feels like one big family. It’s almost tribal.”

John’s eyes twinkle as he explains how pleased he is that “the people of Mansfield are proud of the club again”, and he adds: “So many people are walking around town in Stags tops. You say Wrexham stadium is full, and Mansfield is exactly the same.”

Then Carolyn jokes: “Only we don’t have the documentary,” John adds: “Can we please have a Hollywood star?”.

‘Nigel Clough is so sweet, very measured and calm’

Maybe Mansfield doesn’t need those bells and whistles. It is true that there has been a standstill on the field for ten years. But under Nigel Clough they suffered an embarrassing play-off final defeat to Port Vale away from League One in 2022, and now automatic promotion – thanks to both the league’s best scoring record and weakest defense – is tantalizingly close.

Throughout, perhaps a trait inherited from his late, great father Brian, Clough has remained steadfast in his belief that you should never ride too high nor sink too low. See, for example, the comments earlier in the campaign in which he suggested celebrations should be reserved for the end of matches, if not the end of seasons.

Easier in theory than in practice: his side have scored six goals on four or more occasions, including last month’s club record 9-2 win over Harrogate. “Nigel is very good at that,” Carolyn explains. ‘He is so sweet, very measured and calm. He ensures that no one gets ahead of themselves. It’s not over yet, and even if it is, I can’t imagine Nigel… well, he’s been around football all his life.’

For owners, controlling emotions is unthinkable. “It doesn’t do much for my anxiety level,” Carolyn admits. “But I love seeing my three boys – with the passion and energy we have passed on to them – enjoying the fruits of the hard work ahead. It makes me happy when I see them enjoying it.”

John argues: “I’m in a better mood now, losing isn’t the end of the world” before Carolyn interjects: “It is,” adding: “we’re both the same – we’ve learned to love each other for 24 years to avoid. o’clock.”

“Just a little break,” John concludes. Fortunately, there have been very few domestic mini-breaks this season, and with a six-point lead over fourth-placed MK Dons, a small handful of wins will make for a glorious season.

“It’s the team I’ve supported my whole life,” says John. “I am so proud to be the chairman helping to guide the club as it navigates through the competitions. Hopefully this will be our season. But we don’t count chickens.”

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