200 UP FOR RICHARDS IS SOMETHING TO CELEBRATE AT NORTHAMPTON
As Marc Richards came on for an 88th minute substitute appearance for Northampton in Tuesday night’s 0-0 draw with MK Dons, it might not have seemed particularly noteworthy to the watching fans that the Cobblers skipper had been introduced for the last few minutes of the match. But for the Football League history books, Richards’ introduction signalled a rare achievement for a player at this level.
By sprinting onto the field at Stadium MK, Richards had clocked up his 200th appearance for Northampton, something only two other players have achieved at the club in the last twenty years. In a footballing world where loyal players are now considered diamonds in the rough, Richards has done something quite special at Northampton. Not only has he established himself as a mainstay of the Cobblers team for several seasons, but his goalscoring heroics have also incontrovertibly elevated him to legend status in the eyes of the NTFC faithful.
Richards, or “Rico” as he is nicknamed by Cobblers fans, first joined Northampton as a fresh-faced 21 year old in the summer of 2003, making 52 of his 200 appearances for the club in the following season. He soon attracted the attention of supporters due to his instinctive eye for goal and talented finishing, and there was no better display of this than when he memorably scored four goals in just 39 minutes in a League One game against Macclesfield Town. Richards ended the season with 11 goals to his name and was considered a key player on the Cobblers teamsheet going into the 2004/05 campaign. But 2004/05 was to be a term plagued by injury for Rico, who suffered a recurring knee problem that kept him out of all but 19 games in the season. He left for pastures new in the summer of 2005, but would return to Northampton nearly a decade on to captain the club to the League Two title.
It was the now famous Chris Wilder who brought Richards back to Sixfields on a three-year-contract as Northampton prepared to launch their 2014/15 season, the club having survived relegation on the last day of the previous campaign. Many pundits expressed surprise at Wilder’s decision to give a player in his thirties such a lengthy contract, but it turned out to be one of the best decisions of the manager’s tenure. 2014/15 was to be the season that Richards soared to success, scoring 18 goals in his 36 games and winning the Cobblers Player of the Year award, with the team finishing mid-table. During the 2015 summer break, Richards was appointed captain of the club, a position he holds to this day. The new skipper was to become one of the key figures of the phenomenal title-winning charge in the season that followed, as Northampton romped home to win League Two by 13 points. Rico was in brilliant form for much of the season, finishing with as club top scorer with a commendable tally of 18 goals and earning the praise of Wilder, who called him “first-class”.
2016/17 was not a vintage time for Northampton, but throughout the managerial changes, financial problems and relegation worries the season produced, it was Richards who provided the commitment, leadership and most importantly, goals to see the Cobblers through in escaping the drop zone. He ended the campaign as club top scorer for the third consecutive season, with 13 strikes including a sensational back heel in the local derby against Oxford United.
Richards’ footballing professionalism, ability and class, along with the outstanding community work he does on behalf of the team (getting involved in charity events and regularly visiting local schools to inspire young players) made it an easy decision this summer for Northampton to award him a one-year contract to continue his stay at the club.
A cameo substitution in a Tuesday night nil-nil may have been a low-key way to make his 200th Cobblers appearance, but it nonetheless remains an impressive number for Richards to reach. His current goals total of 65 for Northampton is another figure to applaud, one that statistically puts him right up there with the most prolific strikers Northampton have had in their history. Considered both a wonder and a warrior, there are few players in recent Cobblers folklore who have been held in higher esteem than Richards by the Sixfields faithful.
Let the Rico reign continue…