English Football

Through the turnstiles: Northampton Town

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IT HAS BEEN  a bitter-sweet season for Northampton Town. Last autumn, the club faced a winding-up order from the taxman and such was the financial situation that their players were unpaid for a period of time. And then there was the small matter of a £10.25m loan from the council to fund ground improvements at Sixfields, their purpose-built stadium. What had happened to it? The club’s existence was under threat but former Oxford chairman Kelvin Thomas came to the rescue, settling the club’s debts. The fans also raised a significant sum of money.

Against this backdrop, it would be easy for Northampton to just want to get through the 2015-16 season, but on the pitch, they’ve had a fantastic time, topping League Two and ready for promotion.

Needless to say, footballers have a habit of shooting themselves in the foot and the club was in the media for the wrong reasons again a week or so ago when it was claimed that striker James Collins had urinated in a glass and poured the contents over the balcony of Cheltenham racecourse.

That’s a shame, for Northampton Town are in the ascendancy again. Sixfields, which neighbours the usual retail park occupants, is a very neat little home that sits in a hollow on the edge of town. You gain a quite spectacular view as you approach it, and if you’re brave enough, you might walk down the huge grass bank off Walter Tull Way to take a short cut. Walking up it is a different matter, especially if the spongy surface is wet, one imagines.

Northampton moved to Sixfields as long ago as 1994, relocating from the three-sided County Ground that was shared with Northamptonshire County Cricket Club. The County Ground was one of football’s oddities, but not really equipped for the modern day game. Nevertheless, I bet there are some dyed-in-the-wool Cobblers’ fans that hanker for the old days.

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There’s a certain Lowryesque quality to matchday at Sixfields. The retail parks of today are undoubtedly the industrial workplaces of the age we live in, shopping becoming something of a pastime and the nation hugely dependent on “the service economy”. Northampton was once the home of all things footwear, hence the club’s nickname, “The Cobblers”, but only a few companies still survive. Evidence of the days when almost all shoes in Britain came from Northampton can be seen in the form of industrial units – now converted to homes and offices – and the plethora of terraced houses built for the workers. Standing on the hill that looks down on Sixfields, you see the ant-like figures of people heading for the game. It’s not quite “Going to the match”, but in contemporary terms, there is a vague resemblance.

Northampton had the chance to clinch promotion from League Two on the day that Game of the People visited Sixfields. They were 13 points clear of second-placed Oxford United and 16 ahead of fourth–placed Accrington Stanley. There was a possibility that victory against Notts County and a sympathetic result at Accrington might send the Cobblers up. Hence, the game was a near sell-out and a season’s best [and somewhat expectant] crowd of 6,428 was in the ground.

One of the nice things about a visit to Northampton is the chance to pop into Carr’s Bar, no doubt named after Graham Carr, the former manager of the club. This has a decidedly non-league feel to it, but you can mingle with supporters, watch a bit of TV and take a look at the club’s past glories on the wall.

The 2015-16 season marks the 50th anniversary of Northampton’s sole top flight experience, a quite remarkable story when you think about it. Between 1960-61 and 1968-69, Northampton enjoyed three promotions and three relegations. The old first divison was way-out of their comfort zone but they won 10 games, including a 2-1 victory at home against Don Revie’s Leeds United. If ever there was a roller-coaster ride, it was Northampton Town in the 1960s. The manager at the time, Dave Bowen, has a stand named after him. Nice touch.

1960-61 Division 4 3rd – Promotion
1962-63 Division 3 1st–   Promotion
1964-65 Division 2 2nd – Promotion
1965-66 Division 1 21st – Relegated
1966-67 Division 2 21st – Relegated
1968-69 Division 3 21st – Relegated

 

They’re also marking that season in the club shop at the ground, with a book on the subject, but they should have more cause to celebrate by the end of 2015-16.

The two teams lined up: Northampton: Adam Smith, Brendan Moloney, Zander Diamond, David Buchanan, Ricky Holmes, John-Joe O’Toole, Danny Rose, Nicky Adams, Marc Richards, James Collins

Notts County: Scott Loach, Wes Atkinson, Mike Edwards, Haydn Hollis, Thierry Audel, Curtis Thompson, Stanley Oborah, Liam Noble, Rob Milsom, Adam Campbell, Jon Stead.

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Northampton started at breakneck speed and quickly troubled the Notts County defence. I was particularly impressed with Ricky Holmes, who was not only fast, but skilful with it. He’s an ex- non-league player and was capped at that level by England. He joined Northampton in 2015 and he’s got a reputation for scoring notable goals. And he did just that in the 32nd minute when he met a half-hearted clearance with a spectacular volley.

The Cobblers were not ahead very long, however, as four minutes later, Thierry Audel headed home in a scruffy incident. The first header goalwards came from County’s Liam Noble, but Adam Smith pushed the ball high into the air. Audel came charging in and sent a tame header into the net. The home fans were incensed about something, but the goal stood.

The home team’s early effervescence seemed to evaporate in the second half and, if anything, Notts County looked the more dangerous side.

In the 72nd minute, Notts County took the lead when Jon Stead was bundled over in the penalty area. The tall blond striker took the kick to make it 2-1.

The visiting fans enjoyed that and started to taunt the Northampton fans in the top corner of the West Stand, asking them “where’s your party gone?”. But within a couple of minutes, parity was restored as Northampton were awarded their own penalty. Holmes did the rest, making it 2-2.

There was a degree of frustration in the crowd as Notts County were proving stubborn opponents, and there was one little heated exchange between some fans after one fellow claimed “Town, that’s shit” as an attack broke down. The man in front, clearly annoyed by the lack of loyalty being demonstrated, stood up, “and how many people here really think the Town are shit?”, he responded. He was still mumbling as he left the ground, disgusted – two minutes from time.

Perhaps he wanted to get up that hill to catch the bus back to town. That’s where we were heading and we came away watching matchstalk men walking from the ground after what was an entertaining 90 minutes. For Northampton, though,  the Champagne is on ice, and will doubtless be opened in a few days…

www.gameofthepeople.com

twitter: @gameofthepeople

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