Cobblers chairman David Cardoza and manager Chris Wilder were at a supporters forum at Sixfields on Thursday night, answering questions from the fans.
A wide range of topics were covered, with the east stand redevelopment and John-Joe O’Toole the key discussion points.
Here’s how it panned out...
Q: Why was the initial east stand design not built? And where is the money that was borrowed?
David Cardoza: We have a certain amount of money from the council to build to stand so to protect the club against the risk we took a contractor on to take on the risk. The contractor is a company called First Land, they had a contract with Buckinghams to build the stand and it’s all been worked through. There’s one or two bits to be signed off but it’s all done.
The fall-out started when we weren’t happy with the original design, which was going to come in at something like £11m, Buckinghams quoted that. If you don’t believe me you can ask them. The current stand will cost about £6m.
Q: Where does the blame lie? With First Land?
Q: And has that legal case been settled now?
DC: Yes, in the club’s favour.
Q: What’s your realistic aim for the rest of the season now Chris?
Chris Wilder: Just one game at a time and see what happens! We’re in a great run, and we want to keep that going. We’re scoring goals and it’s a better place to be than before Christmas. We want to finish the season off on a high. We still think we can win games, we have some fantastic games coming up that we’re looking forward to. Other teams are looking at us and thinking ‘they can be dangerous’. We’ll be going for it and seeing how close we can get. Hopefully we can take it as far into May as possible.
Q: Is Kaid Mohamed coming back any time soon?
CW: He’s still got eight to 10 weeks of his rehab so that’s going to pretty tight between now and the end of the season. We feel the replacements, especially Ricky Holmes and Lawson D’Ath, have been excellent for us. We don’t want to lose players but the lads we have brought in have done really well.
Q: What about the other players, and especially Lewis Hornby?
CW: It’s been frustrating for him because he’s picked up niggles and he’s a young player who needs to play football. We’re trying to get him right and he’ll play in a couple of reserve games coming up.
Hopefully we’ll have Zander back for Saturday, Ian Morris is out for the season and Ben Tozer twisted his knee in training and we thought he’d be okay but he needs a small operation. So he’ll be out for four to six weeks and that’s disappointing for him too because he does well for us and he’s a valuable member of the squad.
Q: After 48 years supporting this club, i don’t mind waiting for the facilities. Do you think we’ll see seats and executive boxes in by August, and any dates for the hotel?
DC: We have to get detailed planning for the hotel. It’s difficult to say when that will start but I hope by the end of the year
Q: With the appointment of Martin Foyle, how do you see the squad panning out with young guys? How do you keep them happy?
CW: Myself and Alan (Knill) have worked with a lot of young players, and the structure of the first team has young players in there. They have to be good enough. The Football League are discussing abandoning loans, we want a first team squad of 20 players, and five or six development players that will form the rest of the squad. We want there to be a pathway through for local players, we’ve seen that with Ivan (Toney) and Lewis (Hornby). The development players will join with younger players who have been offered pro contracts to form a reserve team which will hopefully play about 16 games a season. A prime example is Lawson (D’Ath), there are a lot of young players from Prem clubs on the scrap heap, and we believe there are plenty of players like Lawson. Myself and Alan were doing all the games, and Martin comes in and widens the net. There are still non-league players to pick up. We want to bring in good senior players like (Marc) Richards, but we want a good mix of young players coming through so we have a nice competitive group of 25 players. And we keep those players in house, so we don’t have to knock on the chairman’s doors. Because of the injuries this year we’ve had to supplement the squad with loan players.
You have to make decisions about young players. David Moyo and Dean Snedker needed to play games and we had to make a tough decision. There’s a lot of young keepers out there that will challenge the first team spot.
We have fantastic connection myself and Alan, and we’ve played behind closed doors games against clubs like West Brom. With the contacts we have we want to play about 16. The younger players aren’t getting enough games, and hopefully that will tick that box.
Q: Does the development squad add to the youth system we currently have or take away from it? Will it be additionally financed?
CW: The budget for the development squad will be part of the first-team budget and it is a link between the first team and the youth team, so you’ll have second-year scholars training with the main squad. So the standard rises straight away and we’ll look to bring in a development coach too. Players will be rewarded, like Lawson has been, and we feel there are lots of players like that out there that we can turn into assets for the football club.
Q: The turnover of players have been huge. A lot of new players have been given long term contracts. Could they do it in league One?
CW: We think they are capable of playing at a higher level. I have no problems awarding longer contracts to give the club a bit of stability. Me and Alan are not here for a season to jump and get a better job. We enjoy it here, it’s a great club to move forward and try and get out of this. We feel players like Ryan, Zander and Rico have a few years left in them.
Q: Was it your decision to offer longer term contracts?
CW: Everything I propose I do with the chairman and we want stability and we want assets for the football club. We want players to play 100, 120 games for us. When I came in I spoke to the chairman I asked him what kind of football he wanted us to play and I think we’re getting towards that style. People are enjoying watching us play. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that results have picked up since we had a settled side.
Q: What keeps you motivated chairman? You’ve stuck with us through some difficult times and this contract dispute. We don’t normally chant the chairman’s name unless we want to get rid of him. You have stuck with us and we should chant your name more.
DC: I like to win. It’s as simple as that. I believe we will be towards the top of League One and heading for the Championship under the helm of Chris. I wish I had met Chris 12 years ago, this club would have been in a completely different position.
Q: A lot of chairman would have got rid of Chris Wilder at Christmas?
DC: I hadn’t taken Chris on to be our manager and at the first sign of trouble it’s ‘see you later’. We had paid a lot of money for his services.
Q: Could you give us an idea of what the capacity of the east stand will be when built and how long it will take to finish?
DC: When the stand is finished we will be just over 8,000. We’re trying to squeeze as many seats as possible in, but there’s not much we can do other than tear the stand down and start again. We were expecting 10,000 and that’s where we started from. It’s been a very expensive six months fighting it and then we’ll do all we can to get to 10,000. The hotel and conference centre will probably take a year or so to build so we’re a year to 18 months off.
Q: Will you still build the south stand?
DC: Longer term, if we go up a division, we will.
Q: Myself and a friend came to Carr’s Bar at 12.15pm. We had to wait until 12.35pm until the football was switched on. One of them was showing a blue computer screen and the other was showing SSN. We missed the first goal!!!! Switch the TV’s on man!!!!!!
DC: I’ll have a word with them tomorrow morning.
Q: What happened to Gregor Robertson?
CW: I don’t think the back four was the best before Christmas, and you have to make big decisions. Gregor did well for us after coming in and the January window is a difficult one. You’re signing players for survival at that time, not for long term and we always wanted to run with Evan Horwood at left-back this season. We’ve got Tom Newey in and we feel he’s an adequate replacement.
I wheel and deal. There are a lot of things being talked about with players coming and going and a lot of these deals are really good financially for the football club. We had good competition for both full-backs before Ben Tozer got injured.
Lee Collins showed the attitude we want when he dives in to win a header in the 94th minute of a game when we’re 3-0 up.
Q: Is the club in a position to resist offers for our best players?
DC: We always have been. We’ve only ever sold players when it was the right price. If someone came in with the right money for Ivan, me and Chris would have a long discussion. It would be both our decisions really.
CW: It’s difficult for a young player. Ivan is a fantastic player. We received an unbelievable bid that smashed the club record. It was a great bid. Scouts have still been monitoring him, and it’s only natural the boy had a bit of a dip after the move fell through. He’s with us now, he’s got himself back going over the last 2-3 weeks. It’s natural there will be speculation if players and playing well. I always offer my thoughts to chairman, and we’ll work together.
Q: Just going back to the Mansfield game and John-Joe getting sent off. I think he was very unlucky. What advice did you take on that?
CW: I made a judgement on it myself. The referee told me John-Joe had punched the lad so what do you do? We had him in and looked at the footage and felt he was under extreme provocation with the headlock and it was disappointing for him. We talked about his responsibilities and we feel if we can get that boy up and running he will be an asset to the club and we got him on a free transfer. I think it’s a pretty special day when a player gets recognition like that and it’s up to him to deal with that. If I was the Mansfield manager I’d be asking my players to frustrate him but he was in a headlock and it should’ve been a penalty. We got the referee’s report and you can’t take these guys on so you take it on the chin and move forward.
Q: Are we going to have a swanky new screen? Have you had any luck looking for a training ground?
DC: We are hoping it (the screen) might be ready for Portsmouth, if not for the next two games. The half-time score board is going. We have had conversations with the council to see if we can use the University land, that will take a couple of years. We want our own permanent ground, we’ve known that for a long while and it’s something we’re working on?
Q: When John-Joe O’Toole first came in he didn’t live up to expectation. How annoying is that for you as a manager?
CW: It’s a good question because we know what he did last season. He didn’t have a great start here but he’s worked extremely hard to get himself going. You have to make decisions and maybe his stint away from the club put him in the state of mind of what a good thing he’s on to here. We think there’s a lot more to come from him and there were a dozen clubs chasing him in the summer. We all saw what he is capable of last year and it is frustrating but you have to think of the team as well and ask if he deserves to play and if he’s doing enough in training but he’s been an integral part of our really good run.
DC: I was quite concerned because we’d given him a long contract and he didn’t look like the player we hoped he would be. He has a big part to play over the next few years.
Q: What do County Developments have to do with the stadium? What are the details of the loan?
DC: County Developments own the land. We have to pay monthly interest on the loan. We’ve not received all the £12million loan. We’ve received about £10m. Some of it has been spent, but it’s to finish the development. When it’s done you will be quite impressed, if you’re not I’ll be surprised.
Q: Since the head of sports science left we seem to have a lot less injuries, do you think there was a link there?
CW: I think a lot is talked about sports science and we keep up with the new techniques, but we’re a bit old school as well. We cringe a bit when we look back at players putting the hard yards in like we did earlier in the season. We took that decision to make that change and the players have been working harder and more intense. We can’t put it all in the sports scientists’ hands, you have to trust the way you work and we’re more hands-on with that now. I still think there’s a role for a sports scientist but it’s a question of deciding which way to go.
Q: From an outside perspective, your team at Oxford was quite defensive so what’s changed?
CW: We’ve always tried to get both parts of the pitch right and it has disappointed us that we didn’t have the ability to keep the ball out of the back of our net. I say daft things about handbrakes. Maybe the club suits our style of play but there’s not really been a change in how I set the team up. We’ve got good attacking players and we knew we needed to make a change because we were the lowest scorers in the league last season and Marc Richards has been fantastic for us.
Q: It’s nice to hear you think NTFC can get to the Championship. But when?
DC: I suspect within three years. The plan was always club debt free. You take knocks and you have to keep going.
Q: Will the club completely debt free?
DC: Essentially yes it will be debt free. The club has lost the athletics track. It still owes the rest.
Q: How long are you committed to the club?
DC: It’s been 12 years. I’m enjoying it at the minute and I just want to see where it goes
Q: It’s gone wrong, we all know it’s gone wrong. My question is what can be done to change the public perception that we had public money but we’ve made a bit of a mess of it?
DC: We’ve been doing our best to sort it out for the past six to nine months. Sometimes I think people go a bit OTT about it - it’s a football stand which has been delayed for a period. Obviously as fans it concerns us but it’s a football stand and in a few years’ time nobody will be concerned about. The stand will be built and we’ll all get we want.
Q: I think the public perception needs to be worked on more.
DC: Fair point, Steve.
Q: I notice Harry Kane getting a good goal from a corner when he was way beyond the far post. I’m always concerned that we never seem to have people way beyond the far post so that when it goes over everyone they can put it back in the mix. We’re also slow to recognise opportunities for quick free kicks and throws.
CW: We don’t set up as a set-piece team, but it’s an opportunity to score. We can get good delivery and we have players that attack the ball. But we want to see goals like the third goal on Saturday. Obviously there are players with long throws that we can see as an opportunity to score, but not many have. If we want a quick free kick to get play going again, there is licence to do that. Joel Byrom’s delivery, two goals against Newport. If you looked at that it was quite strange we scored two from set pieces when our open play was outstanding.
Q: Can we have an absolute promise that you will never sell this club to a Malaysian businessman who will change the shirt to blue.
DC: Didn’t we have a blue shirt a few years ago?
Q: Have you cut ties with Buckingham altogether?
DC: We never had a contract with them. But we are in very detailed negotiations to restart work with them. Buckingham are the injured party here, they’ve not done anything wrong, they have only told what to do. The commerical team have discussed with the county council something similar to what they are doing with the Saints flags.
Q: Is there a clause that you have a financial penalty if you put safe standing in?
DC: There isn’t but we can’t do it. We could if we were in the Conference but not now.
Q: Three players came in in January. How is it decided that a certain player gets different lengths of contract and does it cause any problems with other players?
CW: You have to take every player on an individual case. Some players might take less money and a longer contract, some might not want a longer contract. Two of the three players who have come in are playing for longer contracts, but we want a settled squad for the summer.
Q: Is there not a follow-up facility where players who put other players in a headlock can be charged after the event?
CW: The view that we all had was not the one the referee had. The facility is there for appeal but as a manager I’m reluctant. At my previous club myself and three of my staff thought we had a stonewall appeal against a decision and it got turned down. It costs you money as well, so you feel like you’re banging your head against a brick wall. Things get overturned but there’s fewer cameras at lower levels so most of the time they stick with what the referee said.
Q: Will you fill the corners (of the stadium) in?
DC: It’s too expensive to fill in the corners. It would be better to build a second tier.
Q: Who is Kashif Siddiqi?
DC: He’s part of the squad, but he’s trying to connect with the local Asian community and internationally as well, and potentially bring in investment to the club with his contacts. He’s attempting to drive things off the pitch.
Q: When we kick off, and most teams do that, they kick the ball out for a throw-in. Why don’t they try to keep it?
CW: The way we’re defending at the moment, we just want to kick it as far away from our goal as possible! There are lots of different ways to do it but we feel Marc Richards up against a left-back who isn’t the biggest it’s a good option and basically I don’t trust my back four when they’ve got the ball.
Q: We never seem to have a player on the post. Is there a reason why that is?
CW: We can bring everybody back and the other people will say why haven’t you got two or three up? There’s a decision as you can’t cover all bases. Do you want Ricky (Holmes) or Lawson back in your area? Not really.
Q: The fans’ matchday experience. The catering and queues are horrendous. What can we do about it?
DC: There’s always been a discussion about the quality of the food. We don’t get emails of complaints, but we are looking at ways of getting prices down. We will try and find a way of getting prices down.
Q: I did send an email last week about the guest beer. This year the price has gone up, as it has for soft drinks.
DC: Unfortunately we don’t set the price, but we can talk to the caterer to make sure we offer food and drink for as cheaply as possible.
Q: What’s John-Joe O’Toole’s guitar playing like?
CW: On away trips he threatens to play but he just goes off to his room. We put Lee Collins in with him on away trips and that puts an end to it. I don’t think there’s actually anything in the case.
Q: How many more years do you think Matt Duke can go for? And would you keep Shwan Jalal on?
CW: There’s still a lot to play for. I know Shwan well and he’s had a couple of promotions. He wants to try to earn a contract. Matt needs competition and we need that in every area to make sure we’re strong. Goalkeeper is a massive position and I know the boy from Wigan (Lee Nicholls) did very well here in the season the club got to Wembley, and that’s why we got Jordan Archer in. I thought he was unlucky because his performances were better than our results. I don’t see Matt’s age as a barrier. He hasn’t played a huge amount of games and I had the same situation with Michael Duberry where he was old but had only played 250 games rather than 700. Dukey’s fit, he’s doing well but we certainly need competition there.