“That was a negative and right now I need two positives. You know, one to cancel out the negative and another one just so I can have a positive” so said Radio Norwich legend Alan Partridge, rambler, optimist and rock and roll icon.
The Cobblers too need two positives, after suffering the lockdown blues with fans separated from the club via computer screens and the East Stand carbuncle looking all the more stark with each passing day.
“I was born under the Hotel End”, goes the old-school Cobblers chant, sung by swaying geezers over the years at the Cherry Tree Peterborough and on that brilliantly echoey home end at the County Ground, where Northampton could win matches by “The Otel” sucking the ball into the net.
A new Hotel End at Sixfields can be the project to unite fans from the Covid: 19 doldrums and start to regenerate the club in one fell swoop. The notion of parking the East Stand development in favour of a large safe standing terrace isn’t particularly radical, probably pretty sensible. The £3million mentioned in the club’s East Stand plans might be better diverted to a project that will truly take the club into the next 30 years.
There’s an artist’s impression of the original design for Sixfields knocking about which has the Cobblers ground as a mini-San Siro but, bit by bit, budgets began to bite and we ended up with the design knocked up in 1994, which is worse now than it was then due to the East Stand mess-up. Yet, what Borough Council planners gave the club was space to grow, at a premium elsewhere, particularly the North Stand with its bowl cut into the hill behind.
Go down to Exeter on a Saturday and you’ll see the Big Bank terrace in action, the Grecians wouldn’t be without it, the largest free-standing terrace in the Football League at a capacity of 4000. Why not then the Cobblers go for a 4500 new safe standing Hotel End, taking the record and building the capacity to 11398, a figure, if full, which would get the club on the road to self-sufficiency?
The lifeblood of the club is its young fans and there’s no better way to attract the next generation than by promoting the genuine terrace culture that attracted many fans reading this but now dwindling in the modern football era. Even better a U-16 safe standing kids section like at Kilmarnock down the front for the wee-uns. The uptick in atmosphere wouldn’t go amiss either for a stadium lacking in noise and with tentative players that could do with the roar of a proper home end.
If you look at cities that have truly regenerated themselves its places like Austin, Texas that have done it via the arts and music can be the uniting factor for the Cobblers. I saw personally how the addition of the Sixfields Sounds DJ went from a few people turning up to each week to Carrs’ bar packed and grooving on a Saturday. If we turn that up to 11 and turn each home game into a mini-music festival with local and up and coming bands before and after the game then we could revolutionise the club’s turnover and provide something pretty unique as a football club in England. Go over to Germany at the original Rock and Roll club St Pauli and you’ll see the mingling of football and music to great effect across that particular district of Hamburg and the Millentor stadium.
Behind the East Stand, on the athletics track the Trust holds asset of community value, the site converted in a site for music festivals and other outdoor events to bring in 365 day a year revenue and take advantage of the Town’s brilliant geographical position for music fans.
The current East Stand design could well be stuck in the past with its old-hat executive boxes, which may not sit well with the post coronavirus needs of the business community. Instead, the creation of a Brondby style outdoor fanzone (sponsored by Carlsberg no less- Google it) to bring the prawn sandwich brigade out of the stuffy boxes and into the hubbub.
As for funding, like the planning of Sixfields back in the 90’s ,where there’s a will there’s a way. It may make more sense to question whether the East Stand is fit for the future and divert funds from any land deal to a new Hotel End project which the club can be truly proud of and simply clad off the East Stand for future development.
Such a new Hotel End project could be sorted with a combination of bonds, sponsorship, enabling work via the festival site, grants, crowdfunding, loans or a combination of all of the above. Even if the East Stand is set in stone, it doesn’t mean that projects can’t run in parallel and this could be just the sort of plan that a new infrastucture body (mooted by the Trust) could get their teeth into.
The I Paper published an article on how safe standing can help smaller clubs recover from the Covid:19 pandemic, backed by the Adam Smith institute and the Football Supporters Association.
Moreover, Man City recently announced a new rail seat section at the Etihad, signalling the start of the safe standing arms race. Cobblers can’t afford to stand still on this.
It’s time to stop dwelling on what can’t be done and start getting behind plans that will drag the Cobblers away from the myriad of nondescript League 2 clubs losing money with 4-5 thousand fans. The identity of Northampton Town has always been wrapped up in its loyal fans and terrace culture, seen in abundance on far flung away terraces, let’s invest in that and begin at home.
This could be the start of it and as Alan Partridge said, “If you don’t do it Sky (Peterborough) will.
The New Hotel End & Festival site
A new 4500 capacity safe standing stand.
A Brondby style fan-park behind the East Stand for fans and corporates.
Each Cobblers home match a mini-festival event.
Athletics track music festival/gig venue for year-round revenue.