Ten years of action

WHERE you stand on what has been Sixfields' finest hour depends on your taste.

For football fans it must surely be last month's glamorous FA Cup tie with the world's biggest club Manchester United.

The fourth round clash saw the stadium welcome Portuguese wonderkid Cristiano Ronaldo, England midfielders Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes and, in the stands, Man Utd's latest signing, Louis Saha.

Not to mention legendary manager Alex Ferguson standing guard at the touchline.

But if you prefer your superstars to be denim-clad and your entertainment loud and sweaty rather than loud and chilly, your perfect day at the stadium might have been when perennial rockers Status Quo performed at the stadium's opening ceremony.

It seems hard to believe that Sixfields this year celebrates its 10th birthday.

The two sell-out events are arguably the most high profile of the attractions the stadium has hosted.

But they are among thousands of games, shows and exhibitions drawing millions to the Duston site during the last decade.

That obviously includes the matches Cobblers play at the 7,000 capacity ground throughout the nine-month football season.

As a community stadium – at the moment it is owned by Northampton Borough Council – Sixfields does not belong to the football club, it belongs to the community.

Which means it should provide a number of varied events for the whole community to enjoy. Yet the council has faced criticism for staging too few of this type of occasion. The years since the air guitar fest of an opening ceremony in 1994 have not been without controversy.

The future of the stadium and therefore the Cobblers, has been up in the air more times than a juggler's balls.

Various figures have been linked with the club, most notably former footballer John Fashanu and controversial lawyer Giovanni Di Stefano.

Visiting fans even use the lack of a Cobblers' ground to rile supporters, mocking the fact it is owned by the local council

In December the council agreed to give the club a 150-year lease for just 1, which means that while the council still owns the ground, Cobblers are responsible for its running costs.

Councillors say this will save taxpayers about 300,000 a year and see more cash ploughed back in to improve standards and offer more services.

The deal includes a commitment to provide events for the community as well as football matches.

Before Sixfields opened, the Cobblers' home ground was the three-sided County Ground in Wantage Road, which it shared with the owners, Northamptonshire County Cricket Club.

For years the football club was promised a ground of its own but fans kept away in increasing numbers as conditions gradually deteriorated.

In January 1995 the demolition men moved into the County Ground, scene of trials and tribulations for Cobblers fans more almost a century, to tear down the stands.

Northamptonshire's then cricket captain, Allan Lamb, was at the controls of the bulldozer as it heralded the end of an era.

Former player manager Dave Bowen said at the time he had been tempted back to his old club in 1959 after returning from the World Cup with the Welsh national team, with the promise of a new stadium.

He said: "It was what made me join the club. I thought things were going to start happening. I turned down a coaching post at the best club in the world, Arsenal, to take up the offer."

However, it was to be 35 years before Cobblers eventually got to kick a ball in a new stadium.

Bowen had a rollercoaster 10-year reign at Northampton, during which time he took the club from the depths of Division Four to the heady heights of the First Division, then the top flight of English football. Then they slipped back down to the fourth in almost the same length of time.

Probably the most exciting time at the County Ground was the much talked about first visit from Manchester United and George Best's six-goal tally.

Cobblers bowed out of the County Ground on a low note, losing 1-0 to Mansfield. Their debut at the brand spanking new Sixfields was only marginally more successful, notching a 1-1 draw against visitors Barnet.

Since they made Sixfields their home, Cobblers have won two play-off trips to Wembley – one win, one defeat – and seen an array of managers spin in and out of the turnstiles.

The latest boss, former Scottish international Colin Calderwood is the seventh to coach Cobblers at Sixfields in the 10 years.

The first, John Barnwell, was given the boot after just a few games at their new home, in the middle of the 1994-1995 season.

Ex-QPR player Terry Fenwick last year scooped the less-than-desirable title of English football's second shortest serving manager, lasting just seven games, all without a win. But win or lose, Sixfields is not just about football. The stadium also hosts community football competitions and has put on athletics, rugby and American football games. It has also staged the regional heats of the UK equivalent of the Special Olympics.

There are also business exhibitions, wedding fairs and various corporate and private functions held there, the revenue from which is used to help keep the stadium going.

And with the Cobblers tying themselves to the stadium for the next 150 years and major developments planned, it seems Sixfields will become as big a part of the town's history as the County Ground.