Back in the 1980s, Douglas Adams and John Lloyd wrote a hilarious book called 'The Meaning of Liff' (still available, and highly recommended). The idea was the stuff of genius: to match up things and experiences that no one has a name for with some of the "thousands of spare words which spend their time doing nothing but loafing about on signposts pointing at places".
The result is a dictionary of sorts, with definitions such as: 'Ely (n.): the first, tiniest inkling you get that something, somewhere, has gone terribly wrong,' and 'Yarmouth (vb.): to shout at foreigners in the belief that the louder you speak, the better they'll understand you.' Hornets fans will be delighted to know that 'Luton' is defined as 'the horseshoe-shaped rug which goes around a lavatory seat'.
My own modest addition to this genre is as follows: 'Mansfield (n.): the item in any list which drives you mad because you can never remember it.'
Let me explain. If you're an anorak like me, you may find yourself passing particularly tedious passages of time (long trips to away games, dull meetings at work) by trying to name all the items on a particular list: the actors who made up 'The Magnificent Seven', for example, or the fifty states of the USA. And when it comes to the ninety-two clubs that make up the Football League (or whatever we're supposed to call it these days), the one that always escapes me is Mansfield Town.
I got to thinking about this a while ago and realised that it's not surprising that I can never remember Mansfield, given how little impression the club and its home town have made on me. For example:
Now, you may already be protesting that I can't possibly have forgotten about so-and-so, who came to Watford on loan from Mansfield in the nineties, or not know that they play in mauve and green stripes. But that's not the point. To paraphrase the B52s, everyone has their own private Mansfield. For you it might be, say, Darlington (though I'll always remember the remarkable 8-0 drubbing we gave them in a League Cup tie early in Dave Bassett's brief reign), or Carlisle (but I'm unlikely to forget that GT signed Nicky Wright and Allan Smart from them).
- >Although I've been watching Watford regularly for thirty-five years, I can't remember a single game against them
- I can't think of any connection between Watford and Mansfield Town*
- I can't name a Mansfield player or manager, past or present
- I don't know the name of their ground, or the colours they play in, or their nickname (and I'm usually good on things like that, thanks to double physics lessons at school and an easy-to-conceal copy of 'The Playfair Football Annual')
- I can't bring to mind any reason why non-Mansfield fans might remember them (a stirring giantkilling feat, for instance)
- I've never been to Mansfield, and I don't know anything about the town other than that it's in Nottinghamshire (or is it Derbyshire?)
The joy of Mansfields is that they're everywhere once you start thinking about them, and maybe an awareness of your Mansfields is an important part of your personality. Speaking personally, the Mansfield of US states is Wisconsin, in 'The Magnificent Seven' it's the one with the German name (I still can't remember it now), in African countries it's Mauretania, in the Jackson Five it's Tito.... You get the idea. Now go off and find yours. You'll be a better person for it.
*Footnote: Since I wrote this, I've discovered that Adrian Boothroyd spent three years of his playing career at Mansfield Town, a fact which invalidates my entire argument. Oh well, never mind.