Saturday 29 March ~
It's been a terrible season, one of the worst ever, for football in the East Midlands. Fans of each team will scarcely be able to enjoy the misfortunes suffered by their local rivals because they are in an equally poor position. Derby County may yet set a new record for the lowest number of points gathered by a team in the top division. Leicester are facing relegation from the Championship under their third manager of the season. Nottingham Forest are already out of the race for automatic promotion from League One and may endure more misery in the play-offs. And finally Notts County and Mansfield meet today in a fixture that may be crucial in deciding which of them will drop into the Conference.
If County beat Mansfield they will be ten points ahead of their rivals. If they lose, there will be a breachable gap of just four points – with bottom-placed Wrexham still having a chance of overhauling both clubs. County, whose current manager played for them during their three years in the old First Division in the 1980s, have had slow but steady decline this season. To avoid becoming the first founder member of the league to drop into the Conference, a lot will depend on their improving defence – they have had two clean sheets in the last three games, including a draw at second-top Peterborough.
Mansfield fans have been striving to rid themselves of the club's owner Keith Haslam for a long time. Supporter opposition has hardened as the team slipped down the League; manager Billy Dearden was sacked recently after complaining that money from the club's FA Cup run had not been made available to strengthen the struggling team. Haslam's fourteen-year reign seems set to end soon with a couple of bidders vying to take charge. One consortium led by James Derry seems to have been cautiously welcomed by most supporters but their move has been held up by backers pulling out.
The other bidder in the race has already made alarming some public statements. This is John Batchelor, a motor sports entrepreneur who was briefly in control of York City and whose badge he adapted to incorporate a chequered flag. Batchelor is full of ideas, the strangest of which is to change Mansfield's name to Harchester United to attract interest from fans of Sky One's Dream Team series. There's plenty more. This doesn't appear to be an April Fool. If the football authorities deem this delusional twerp to be an appropriate person to take charge of a professional club with thousands of supporters, we might as well pack up watching altogether.