Northampton Town Football Club are currently in League One and have had a typical lower league existence over the last few decades. James Waterfield explains how he came to be a huge Cobblers fan, following them up and down the country…
Highs and Lows. Living Up and Down the Country.
When I was just a little boy, I asked my mother what should I be?’ It is clear that for many, a football club is passed on through generations of family. If that was the case, I would currently be supporting Leicester City, historically a team yo-yoing between the top two divisions with the odd cup win or and the 2016 Premier League Title…However this is all immaterial as around 30 years ago, through a series of different events and after a number of different cities, my Dad had the unfortunate pleasure of moving 30 odd miles south of his family home. To the market town of Northampton.
Being born in Northampton then, I feel I was always destined to like sport, although this could have been said about Leicester as well. With First Class cricket and rugby union teams, along with the Cobblers (unable to include the football team in the same part of the sentence unfortunately), there was always a range of choices to take an interest. As much as it would be apt to say that it has only been Northampton Town for me, I’m afraid that’s just not the case. The truth is, early on before other influences in my life such as school, football just didn’t interest me. I was drawn to cricket. I’m not sure why but it seemed family had a strong influence. Apparently so much that my yellow plastic cricket bat seemed to be included in a lot of the family albums.
Northampton’s County Ground
The County Ground then was the first sporting ground I visited. Although it’s not something I have asked my parents, I’m pretty sure I would have been at the ground as a baby while two football stands, plus a ‘Meccano’ one, were in place. (As if I have to ask them this question and can’t just trawl back through years of social media updates and pointless selfies to see) When I was old enough to remember, there were no real signs of the football left for a 5 year old to notice. Little did I know that while playing cricket against the wall of the newly built indoor cricket school and on the ground at intervals, I was taking the same steps (albeit smaller ones) that George Best took on his way to score his famous 6 (six!) goals.
Over time I began to realise that something else apart from cricket had happened here. I’m not sure exactly how I found out, but those signs began to appear as I became more aware of my surroundings. The Hotel End turnstiles next to the County Tavern, the faint outlines of a football pitch still there to this day if you look closely enough. Fortunately the smell of urine from the open air toilets and the smell of onions from Ansell’s burger van are no longer lingering. I still can’t get my head around this part of the grounds previous life. It’s somewhat of a juxtaposition the idea of cricket and football together. In roughly the same place, goalkeeper Barry Richardson would have been standing in front of a packed Hotel End who were kept in ‘check’ by the No Swearing sign in front. While a couple of years later I would be watching the almost ever present Jason Brown fielding at Third Man, waiting for his autograph, while listening to an old man behind snoring into his Chron‘n’Echo amongst a smattering of people.
Imagining a world before presence and memory is a thought I’ve gone through at various points in my life, probably not as much as I should as it’s so hard to figure. Never being able to experience what the County Ground was like when 20,000 people crammed into a first division match or even when only 942 famously turned up to a fourth division match. While I really do appreciate the reasoning’s for an update to the Edwardian infrastructure due to the disasters at Hillsborough and Valley Parade, I’m sure like many football fans of my age we would have wanted to experience football at grounds all over the country before the impact the Taylor Report had on stadia. As I said, the idea of being present at something that’s impossible to be at. Recollections of stories from older generations, as well as photos have given me a picture of what life was like in the previous days of our 3 sided football ground. However I’m not naïve to the fact that these stories came with claret tinted views. Safety and attitudes have changed for the better. Being able to go to a game without even thinking about the risk of being hurt is now not even an afterthought for me. Even though there are still a few idiotic ‘fans’ who seem intent on looking for fights, we are now restricted to arbitrary complaints about the new seats in the Dave Bowen Stand not allowing for enough leg room, or the constant puddle at the top of the hill. The puddle was annoying though.
Northampton Town’s Sixfields Stadium
If I’m honest I don’t think I would have been allowed to go to the football as early as I did if it wasn’t for Sixfields, built as a community stadium with a family stand to boot. My interests had changed slightly due to being at school, with friends all playing football in the playground at Parklands Lower. It’s hard to remember exact memories from that age but I’m pretty sure collecting Merlin’s Premier League football album 1999 has something to do with it.
Impressionable as I was at a young age I supported Leeds United, which continued for a lot of the school years but the Cobblers were always there too (Premier League teams will never be an option if I, all being well, become a dad). My first game then was a pretty uneventful one, against Rotherham United in the autumn of 99. Uneventful meaning I remember absolutely nothing about it. While my Dad still had a connection to Leicester, he seemed keen on taking me to my local club. It was one of the very few games my mum went to until she realised she only ever saw them lose. To my disgust, she returned for the infamous Play-Off Final against Bradford years later. Anyway, the result didn’t really matter as it just seemed natural that I would continue going to games. The only reason I knew who it was against is I spent ages as a child looking over every matchday programme as my bedtime reading.
On the other hand, the same weekend saw Leeds play out a 4-4 draw with Everton, just after having walloped one of the best names in football, Lokomotiv Moscow 4-1 in the UEFA Cup (for what it’s worth Northampton lost 1-0) Usually I’d skip to the next important landmark but the next game was quite interesting, a 2-0 win over Macclesfield Town. Less so the result despite it being my first win, but for the floodlight failure that suspended the game (My programme still bears the scars of the rainstorm as well). To top it off, Simon Sturridge went to the toilet mid-game (which I found very funny as a 7 year old) and my favourite player at the time scored, the internationally capped Carlo Corrazin!
School then consumed my life for 10 years. The ups and downs of teenage life seemed to mimic Northampton’s seasons. Promotion and then relegation inevitably followed – I just presumed this always happened so the 10 year dry period before the 2015-16 season made it even sweeter.
Looking back, my interest in Northampton during school seemed to be diluted by all the other activities and interests in life. Although due to the advance of Internet videos and being able to find all the highlights at the click of a button, might have something to do with jogging my memory since the end of school. Missing the only chance to watch the goals on the television the next day seemed to be a regular occurrence.
University of Carlisle
Like many so called ‘Millennials’, I went to University straight after school without a care in the world. For me, living in Northampton just wasn’t enough and had got all I could out of it. Carlisle was the city, and happened to be pretty much the furthest place in England away from Northampton. It was also the start of a new ritual, going to games without my Dad – Would he even continue to go to games?
An opportunity arose pretty much straight away. It just happened to be that in my first couple of weeks in Carlisle we had been drawn to play Liverpool in the League Cup. Not the usual Freshers’ week activity, I decided to go and dragged a friend, an Aston Villa fan (amongst some unusual lower league teams) along with me at the last minute. The highs and lows, just on that one night is something that will never happen again. Ever. Having won in extra-time we missed the last train, but it was worth it, even though we spent all night in a 24 hour café amongst some pretty drunk Scousers.
University then, offered me the opportunity to try out new places. Fortunately watching the Cobblers continues to also give me a reason to visit new towns and cities. Being away from home made me take real notice of the fixture list for once. Planning trips to Northampton just because they coincided with home games, and to get my washing done… Then returning on a Saturday later than I should’ve, via Crewe to see us play. Being in the north also allowed time to visit locations that wouldn’t normally interest me, such as Hartlepool or Morecambe (cheers for that NTFC). Around the start of the 2014 season, I took on the opportunity to do a post-grad course. This required me to move pretty much the same distance away from Northampton, but in a South West direction to the ‘Ocean City’ of Plymouth. I’ll probably end up circumnavigating my home town for the rest of my life.
Highs! and lows… Ups! and downs…