Northampton v Milton Keynes - 15 miles away but a world apart

The two towns are just 15 miles apart - but there is a whole world of difference between Northampton and Milton Keynes.

On Saturday, the two football clubs meet for the first time, with the rivalry between them set to step up a notch or two.

Traditionally, Peterborough have always been the Cobblers' main rivals, but a raft of east Midlands clubs in this year's League One means plenty of local derbies.

First up is MK Dons, the first visit for Cobblers to the shiny, modern – half-built – stadium:MK and the first chance to lay the foundations for what could be a long-lasting relationship between the two clubs.

Already tensions are running high, with a number of fans pledging to boycott the game in protest at the decision to relocate Wimbledon FC to Milton Keynes in 2002.

The controversy, the first example of "franchising" a football club in Britain, has prompted Anthony Collet, the fans' spokesman on the Cobblers' board, to promise not to enter the MK boardroom after the game.

He will also refuse to shake hands with Dons' chairman Pete Winkelman, the driving force behind the franchise.

Mr Collett said: "I know some of the people who helped form AFC Wimbledon after the move and I know just how bitter they felt about their club being taken away.

"There is no way I will be going into the boardroom and condoning what they did. I will not be shaking Mr Winkelman's hand, I will be cheering on my team from the away end, but that is it. There's plenty of people who won't even be going to the game, that is how strongly they feel."

Given the strength of ill-feeling, it is easy to envisage the growing rivalry between Cobblers and Milton Keynes possibly emulating that of the competition between the club and Peterborough.

Cobblers spokesman, Gareth Willsher, said: "The Peterborough rivalry is one that has been built up over 20 or 30 years. There is a lot of history there, as we played them regularly over that period. But with MK Dons now on the fixture list, it gives supporters the chance to develop another rivalry to possibly rank alongside that of Posh.

"What happened with the whole franchise argument is none of our business. We simply need to concern ourselves with winning on the pitch."

Milton Keynes have barely had time to fashion any sort of rivalry in the six years since their formation and chairman of the club's supporters' association, John Brockwell, said fans were looking forward to hosting the club that, geographically at least, are their nearest rivals.

He said: "It should be good. Northampton is only just down the M1 and hopefully this can be the first of many derbies between the two clubs. Rivalries can't simply be fabricated, they need to be established over many years."

The Cobblers are likely to face a battle to continue to attract supporters from the Milton Keynes area. Traditionally home to many Cobblers fans, Milton Keynes families now have their own club to support.

Mr Willsher said: "MK Dons have a fantastic new stadium and it's difficult to compete with that, but we are doing all we can to ensure we remain an attractive option to potential supporters."

The excitement ahead of Saturday's derby has filtered through to the Guildhall, with political leaders keen for the Cobblers to strike a blow for Northampton.

Mayor of Northampton, Councillor Brian Markham (Lib Dem, Headlands), said: "Milton Keynes and Northampton are two very different places. We have thousands of years of history and a traditional town centre. If people think having an Ikea is the symbol of a great town, then I disagree. Nobody will remember Ikea in 10 years.

"They obviously have an excellent shopping centre and it is essential we develop the Grosvenor Centre to compete. At the moment the Grosvenor Centre doesn't even compete with Weston Favell, let alone Milton Keynes."

Saturday is not just a chance to earn bragging rights on football, but also an opportunity to restore local pride, with Milton Keynes repeatedly getting the upper hand in the political arena in recent years.

The continued rapid expansion of the city, the arrival of Ikea (originally earmarked for Grange Park) and the progressive image of the council has been seen with envious eyes from across the border.

Saturday is Northampton's chance to emerge from the cash-rich concrete shadow of corporate:MK.

Come on Cobblers!