PAUL Cox can expect to be welcomed with open arms when he returns to Mansfield tomorrow.

Yet however friendly the reception, there won’t be an expensive motor with his name on it waiting in the club car park.

Cox and missus Natasha remain close to Stags chairman John Radford and his wife, chief executive Carolyn, after a successful three-year stint in charge of the club.

So the Guiseley boss is guaranteed a cosy catch-up over a glass of wine in the boardroom afterwards, however the FA Cup second-round tie pans out.

But Cox is well aware of the generosity of his host – Radford did, after all, once hand over an Aston Martin to reward a big win!

During his second season in charge, Mansfield were on their way to thrashing Barrow 8-1 when there was a knock on the dressing room door at half-time.

“I wasn’t impressed at first,” admitted Cox. “That’s my place of work so my reaction was fairly angry.

“But it was John to say he’d got a gift for me – and dangled these car keys.

“I thought it was something off Jeremy Kyle or something like that – I was sure it was a wind-up.

“But we went outside and he’d given me his Aston Martin. It even had my name on the number plate.

“I’ve got a wife, kids and a dog, so I’m more Brooke Bond than James Bond! But that’s the essence of John. He’s a special person.

“It’s not because he gives out gifts but the way he thinks about people. He’s a really decent guy.”

The pair have been in regular contact by text since the draw threw up the delicious prospect of Cox facing the club he took back into the Football League in 2013.

That season was equally memorable for taking Liverpool so close in the FA Cup third round – and bringing his wedding, planned for the following summer, forward to two days ahead of that game as a “bet” struck with Carolyn after the plum tie came out of the hat.

The marquee in the car park served a dual purpose for the wedding breakfast as well as match-day hospitality.

Cox said: “It’s probably one of those seasons, and I’m sure John will think the same, that you could look back on as a one-off.

“Not only did we win the championship but also put ourselves up against one of the biggest clubs in Europe. That year was such a thrill.

“It was a special time for me, not just in my professional life but personal as well.”

Having reached the Conference play-offs in his first season, Cox then steered the Stags out of the non-League wilderness after a five-year absence.

“I felt the club were a little bit disengaged when I first arrived.

“With them being a Football League club for so many years, you could sense the supporters were just beginning to think they were going to be consistently non-League.

“You’ve seen that happen at other clubs. The Conference can be relentless and can consume you.

“It’s like seeing all these ship wrecks of football clubs, who don’t realise the complexity of the league. If you don’t bounce back straight away, it can be so hard to get out from.

“I think the highest Mansfield had finished was only tenth and the supporters had lost belief. Promotion was the aim and I’m so pleased we achieved it.

“They were fabulous years and we really enjoyed them.”

A friendship with the Radfords flourished that has stood the test of time since Cox left the club in November 2014.

He said: “There has always been plenty of communication between us, which is nice because I believe we’ve always had a very good personal as well as working relationship.

“We’ve built that friendship, not just between myself and John but also my wife and Carolyn. They probably keep in more contact than we do.”

Cox retains just as much affection for the FA Cup and believes the stage for Guiseley’s debut appearance in the second round proves that the often-maligned competition can still work its magic.

“On the night of the draw, Mansfield came out and my wife said ‘it just had to be’. But that’s the romance of the cup. It can pull up a tie like this.

“(Guiseley number two) Adam (Murray) was my captain and my assistant manager when we won the championship and played Liverpool.

“Now we go back to a place where we’ve had so many happy memories.

“It says everything about the FA Cup for me, although it won’t feel romantic for 90 minutes.”

Steve Evans’ presence will ensure it could get lively on the touchline. But Cox is an admirer of Mansfield’s former Leeds boss, who he first encountered on the non-League scene when the colourful Scot was in charge at Stamford and Boston.

Cox said: “That was the education that we both had but Steve’s obviously gone on to manage as high as the Championship – and rightly so.

“This game is about winning and Steve does a lot of that.

“There are a lot of people who turn their nose up and think it’s easy. But it’s not.

“It’s hard to win games, never mind championships, and Steve has got a lot of promotions on his CV.

“That’s no fluke. That’s being good at your job and being shrewd in a very tough, uncompromising business.”