Tom Reed calls for a change of mindset at Northampton Town that goes beyond how the first team plays on a Saturday…
Another week, another embarrassing defeat for Northampton Town who find themselves 4 points off the drop zone to Non-League. The players and manager have talked themselves into a corner in the media, there are no excuses left. Cobblers are in yet another relegation battle just 8 games into the season and a couple of years since winning the League 2 title.
Northampton’s history, going back years, is as up and down as the lumpy land around Sixfields as the rubbish in the stadium at the former council tip degrades beneath our feet. We are the gold Coca Cola spinners of all yo-clubs with brief periods of glorious success followed by retreat to the familiar terrain of the lower reaches of the basement division.
We can’t go on like this. Cobblers just about avoided relegation to the Conference in the early 90’s thanks to Pat Gavin’s arse but they managed it. Today’s well paid personnel look like they could hit the drop by Christmas despite aspirations of higher level football that sadly look deluded.
All the while, the shell of the East Stand looms over the fans, with the ruined athletics track behind a symbol of a pillaged community asset. We have a stadium that was considered basic at the time of its construction but is now just mangled. There are clubs in non-league with better facilities for supporters.
Chairman Kelvin Thomas took over in a whirlwind in late 2015 with a dedication to finish the East Stand via a £4 million war chest. For all his good intentions it hasn’t happened. Not that completing the Cardoza’s ruinous carbuncle was going to do much more than slap a sticking plaster over a dirty great wound in any case.
While other Football League clubs have been moving forward in a changing game, Town have been treading water. The hated blue boys at Peterborough are a constant reminder. It’s true that Kelvin Thomas had a job on his hands dragging the club into the 21st Century and on a basic commercial level that has been done. But, it seems as though the house has been done up for a sale rather than a renovation to last another 100 years.
Cobblers own no real infrastructure, no freehold rights on a training ground and the stadium is rented on a peppercorn lease, two areas that any club worth their salt invest in at the first point of opportunity. Accrington Chairman Andy Holt, a league higher than Town although a smaller club preaches from the rafters about building his club from the ground up, ditching their rented training ground and completing a new stand as I type.
At Northampton, making do is always the way. Fulfil the basic functions of a football club and we’ll get somewhere. It doesn’t work like that.
Thomas has talked down the need for a capacity increase in business terms but missing the case for growth in a rapidly expanding Town. This is nothing new with Derek Banks refusing to fund improvements from the old County Ground when Graham Carrs’ wonder boys of 1986-87 were thrashing teams out of sight. Meanwhile, other clubs from Hearts to Stevenage don’t rely on mythical benefactors to build, they crack on with community funding initiatives such as mini-bond schemes from Tifosy.
Cobblers are the County club but not the County’s club and have failed to bring in the large surrounding catchment area bar a brief period when Wembley was our second home under Ian Atkins.
Away from the nuts and bolts of building infrastructure fit for a proud old club, player recruitment has been poor whilst the progression of seemingly decent players has stalled. Why do certain good players play so badly for Northampton Town but better elsewhere is a constant conundrum?
There has been virtually no continuity in the team roster with a huge turnover of personnel. Many thought that Wilder’s team of 2015/16 needed a few tweaks in League 1 and we were promised a similar playing style yet Rob Page ripped everything up. Ricky Holmes has never been replaced. The Posh have left us behind in terms of cash bids for progressive players and are more than a league apart in wheeling and dealing.
Moreover, fan disillusionment is worrying. Normally in such a situation the manager would be a prime target but there is no appetite for yet another sacking. Instead, distrust in the players is a significant issue with a confusion as to whether they are under-performing or just rubbish. There are no signs of players wanting a better level of football playing better football for a transfer.
One fan started a ‘Sell out Sixfields’ campaign for the upcoming Notts County game but that looks a forlorn hope. On social media, fans are talking about finding something else to do on a Saturday. They’ll most probably be there versus the Magpies being loyal as they come but the disconnect is real and troubling.
Communication between Chairman and fans, originally a key part in Thomas’ style has seemingly stopped. The Supporters’ Trust, once the benchmark fans’ organisation have lost their place on the board which is unhealthy for all concerned. They might yet have a key role to play however as fan-ownership of clubs is a serious proposition now with Wimbledon and Exeter going from strength to strength and up the League.
There are rumours of an impending takeover and maybe it is time for Thomas and Bower to move on. Things don’t appear to have worked and and there would be few hard feelings if they pass the ‘project’ on to a party with the good of the club at heart. That is obviously easier said than done and Cobblers fans are as weary of the land saga that has enveloped us as much as they are wary of the sharks that often circle.
Whatever the case, there has to be a sea-change in the vision of the club and for it truly to be built from the bottom up. No more myopic concentration on constantly changing players who eventually let us down.
Otherwise non-league is where we are heading, all too quickly. It’s been a long time coming.