Two years since fans last sat in the East Stand at Sixfields - seats could finally be installed in the ill-fated structure for the Cobblers last four home games of the season.
Builders Buckingham Group are poised to move onto the site and put 1,924 permanent seats back into the stand as part of what Northampton Town Football Club is calling “phase one” of the redevelopment.
It means the eventual capacity of Sixfields will be more than 2,000 shy of the 10,000 first revealed by former chairman David Cardoza back in 2013. But Cobblers chairman Kelvin Thomas said a conference centre and corporate box facilities will feature in the finished East Stand, though he admitted it will have a “temporary feel” for now.
He said: “There has been a lot of work done in the last couple of months and working closely with Buckinghams we are very excited to confirm publicly that together we are starting the process of putting the stadium back together.
“It is important to us all that the club has a four-sided stadium again and this is the beginning of that work.
“Getting the right solution for the next phases of the stand and possible conference centre will still take some time as we continue to discuss plans, designs and options, plus there are also some legal issues that still need to be taken care of.
“But we felt it was very important listening to fans that we were able to start work as quickly as possible by at least putting some seats back in.
“With this phased approach we can also hopefully benefit from these seats as we finish the season, and while doing it this way will incur some additional cost we would hope to mitigate some of that with the possible increased income from those final home matches.”
Mr Thomas, who took over the club in November, said there had been less work done to the East Stand than he and his financial backers “were led to believe during the takeover” and said the process of putting seats back in has “been more challenging” than first envisaged. However the 1,924 new seats will not just be a temporary measure.
“These are seats that will form part of the new stand when completed,” Mr Thomas said. “Some of the access areas and walkways will have a temporary feel, but catering and other facilities will be serviced by the existing facilities and the Fans’ Village by the North Stand.”
The announcement that works are about to resume comes at the right time, with the promotion chasing Cobblers already selling out for their final home game against Luton Town in May.
However, if the stand can be opened for the last four home games of 2015/16 fans will not be able to use the upper level disabled platform because lifts will not have been installed.
Though they will feature in the final design, Mr Thomas says, and the disabled area at the front of the East Stand will be available on completion of “phase one.”
Mr Thomas said the club has ordered and paid for the additional seating and said the League Two side is working closely with the FA’s Safety Advisory Group to confirm how many they can use for each match.
“Once we have that confirmation we can then release details of packages and ticket sales for the final home games as we expect these to be very popular,” he said. “All details will be on the website, the club’s social media channels and shared with local media as soon as possible.”
The East Stand development was meant to be funded by a £10.25 million loan from Northampton Borough Council. But builders Buckingham Group were only ever paid £441,917 for around £3.5 million worth of completed works. The firm downed tools twice over two years.
The last time Northampton Town fans sat in the East Stand it was May 2014, the side were facing Kelvin Thomas’s former club Oxford United and the Cobblers team had to win to stay in League Two .
But there will be a sense of poetic justice if the Cobblers fans get to see their side celebrate promotion from a seat in the East Stand come May 2016.
Manager Chris Wilder, who took over in January 2014 said: “It is great news for the club that the seats are going back into that stand. As coaches and players we always want the best atmosphere and at times it’s been tough with that stand empty, but it is going to be fantastic for the players to see supporters over there again. We want as many people as possible to be able to come and cheer us on, we face an important final 14 games and having supporters in the East Stand will be a big boost to us all.
“I have really appreciated the backing we have had from the new owners in a short space of time, from stabilising the finances, to the recruitment in the transfer window, and now with work restarting on the stadium, it is great to see the club moving forwards.”