Carolyn Radford, who took up her role with the Blue Square Premier club aged 29, is embracing the Cup visit of Liverpool
Carolyn Radford does not take long to show her steel. Mansfield Town's chief executive reacts with a mix of anger and sarcasm to being asked why she and her now husband, John Radford, who owns the club, did not disclose their relationship when he appointed her as English football's youngest CEO in September 2011, when she was 29.
"Just because it's not really relevant," she says. "At the time it wasn't some contrived decision at all. Why are you asking. Because? Because? Because? Sorry, I apologise about that and I'll tell you future statuses when they happen. You'll be my first to know."
To the suggestion that the non-disclosure made it appear as if there was something to hide Radford, who got engaged two weeks after becoming the Stags' chief executive, says: "No. It was just one of those things. I came into this business to try and sort the place out and it all happened so very quickly I didn't know there was going to be so much interest, to be honest. I was completely overwhelmed and shocked [by the reaction]. I just do my job. I know this kind of comes with the territory and everything. But it's not something that I court and it wasn't anything, there's nothing contrived with not telling the world our relationship status."
Mansfield, ninth in the Blue Square Premier, welcome Liverpool, the five-times European Cup winners, for a classic FA Cup third-round encounter that is being televised by ESPN as the stand-out tie on Sunday afternoon. The occasion is a welcome reward for Radford and her husband, a Doncaster-based businessman who bought the club two years ago and who earlier this year secured its future by buying Field Mill, the ground, back from the former owner, Keith Haslam.
Radford, whose former career was in fashion working for the Gucci group, brings glamour to a male-dominated industry. Her colourful profile has been augmented by a number of stories, some of which are truer than others. Of accusations by the Sun in 2011 that she worked as an escort when a student at Durham University, for example, Radford says: "Absolutely not", with the club stating these are the matter of a legal challenge.
On 2 May Radford was arrested and cautioned by North Yorkshire Police "for using threatening words and behaviour" during a Blue Square semi-final play-off leg at York City. The incident occurred after Radford went to support one of Mansfield's unused substitutes who was ejected from the ground by police. Now Radford suggests there was unfair treatment, saying: "That is something that is being dealt with that I can't comment about." Radford's career began after she studied politics and law. "I was at the Lincoln game [during a previous FA Cup round this season] with one of my friends from Durham, we both studied politics together and she is now a candidate for Labour – Lucy Rigby. She went off working for a Magic Circle law firm and I was working in fashion. We never thought we would be sat there vying for our teams to win. You never know what you're going to set out to achieve.
"Politics in football is very different to politics in the real world but it's always handy to work in different situations. Football clubs are at the heart of the community. I'm not particularly a football fan but my husband is. I don't get involved in tactics so only really focus on the business and how to take us forward and where the money is going – it's very personal when the bar staff overpour. I have to tell them to keep the measures smaller."
Among the companies that made Radford's husband, who bought Mansfield for £1 in 2010, a millionaire is the One Call Group, an insurance company which is the shirt sponsor of Doncaster Rovers. According to Radford, her husband owns about "20 other companies", though there is no money to be made from Mansfield. "It's never going to wash its face at the moment but in the future it can come very close," she says. "It's very difficult when you look at the figures – often they don't add up, you are trying to find a way to make it sustainable and I don't know if it ever will be, especially in this league that we are in now.
"It's impossible unless you use a youth initiative [to develop players], which we are now really working on. That's a model but realistically I think as you move up the different leagues you get more TV rights, you get all the other aspects, the commercials that make up the chunk of the pie that can help make it less of a money loss."
While Radford believes the Stags could go as high as the Championship, the current FA Cup run, which has already featured wins over Workington, Slough and Lincoln, will generate at least £200,000. "Something like that, yes," she says. "It's not a lot when that probably covers the wage bill for a month. We've got a 10,000-seater stadium but we've had to reduce capacity for the tie which is unfortunate. We tried to keep the ticket prices as fair as possible because, even though it's a Premier League side, we don't want to out-price our very loyal fans, so it's £2 more than the usual ticket price.
"Then we have ESPN and they have put in over £100,000 which is fantastic, a great windfall, but more than that, more than the financials, it's a true honour to have such an international brand like Liverpool coming to our mediocre stadium."
It becomes clear while talking at the One Call Stadium, for which "modest" might have been a more diplomatic description, that Radford is still grappling with football's fierce spotlight. Karren Brady, whom Radford has never met, is one woman in football who could offer advice. The West Ham United vice-chairman represents the nearest parallel with Radford's entrance into the game, having begun her career at 23 when becoming managing director of Birmingham City 19 years ago.
Radford says: "I didn't really predict the reaction to John sending me in to see what was going on, [how it] would create such a furore. I just keep my head down and keep plodding on." Why was her appointment a big deal?
"Because I'm a beautiful young woman," she says, before quickly adding: "I'm joking there. The bottom line was this was our life and this was our football club. John and I have been on a strange path but we're here now. It was never a concerted career path but I kind of got in here and have done what I can do and will carry on doing that. I'm from Charnock Richard [near Preston] and used to serve coffee in the service station in the summer when I was young. [After university] I worked in sort of the commercial side of fashion for the Gucci group which owns Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, YSL and Bulgari." Work brought Radford together with her future husband – "We met through fashion because I helped him out on a brand that he [was] building about three years ago" – before he introduced her to football. "The first football game that I came to was here," she says. "It's kind of crazy but it's a wonderful opportunity. It's a great draw and we're really embracing it."