FEATURE: Pat Gavin Q&A - Two-goal hero relives his starring role in the Cobblers' 'great escape' of 1993

What does it take to earn legendary status at a football club?

By Jeremy Casey
Friday, 8th May 2020, 8:31 am
Pat Gavin and player-boss Phil Chard celebrate after the Cobblers' final day win at Shrewsbury in 1993 (Picture: Pete Norton)
Pat Gavin and player-boss Phil Chard celebrate after the Cobblers' final day win at Shrewsbury in 1993 (Picture: Pete Norton)

Let’s take the Cobblers for instance... there’s Ian Sampson, 449 games as a player and winning at Wembley, as well as managing the team to a win over the mighty Liverpool at Anfield in 2010.

Graham Carr was part of the Town team that played in the top flight in the 60s, and also bossed the 1987 division four title winners.

Ray Warburton played 200 games and captained the 1997 Wembley winners, Tommy Fowler is the club’s all-time leading appearance maker, having turned out a remarkable 552 times over 18 years.

Pat Gavin rifles home the equaliser to make it 2-2 on the day (Picture: Pete Norton)

Jack English scored more goals than anybody else, netting 143 from 321 matches between 1947 and 1959, while in modern times the larger than life Adebayo Akinfenwa hammered home 74 goals in two spells.

Then you have Dave Bowen, an accomplished player but as a boss the man who built the team that secured that one and only ‘season in the sun’ in division one in 1965-66.

And there are many more, with long service, titles, promotions and stacks of goals usually the stuff of legend... so how does somebody who netted four goals in 14 matches over an eight-week stay at the club collar such a tag?

Simple... just make sure two of those goals were scored in arguably the most important match the club has ever played.

In all, Pat Gavin made 14 appearances for the Cobblers in a two-month spell at the club

That’s exactly what Pat Gavin did a grand total of 27 years ago this week, ensuring his name will forever be etched in the Northampton Town FC history books.

Town avoided relegation to non-League and possible extinction with a final day 3-2 win at Shrewsbury Town on May 8, 1993.

The Cobblers fought back from 2-0 down at half-time on an extraordinary afternoon at Gay Meadow, with Gavin netting the equaliser and, most crucially, the winner.

It was a day of relief and celebration, and one of the best of Gavin’s career - but he never played for the club again.

Pat Gavin in action for the Cobblers

We caught up with the former striker, who now lives in Dublin and works for the Irish Rugby Football Union as the senior ticket officer.

“It is always nice to reminisce when it is a happy occasion,” said the 52-year-old when asked if he was up for a chat about the big day.

“It is 27 years, but it doesn’t feel like it, and you do think ‘where has it all gone?’

“But the memory of that day is kind of vivid, so it doesn’t seem that long ago, but it just shows you that time races away.”

Pat Gavin celebrates with Cobblers supporters on the Gay Meadow pitch

I was at the game and a couple of weeks ago I gave my account of how the day panned out in the eyes of a supporter behind the goal.

Here, Gavin explains just how it felt to be out on the pitch and in the very eye of the drama-filled storm...

First up, Pat, how was the build up to the game, and when did you find out you wouldn’t be starting, having played in the previous 13 Cobblers matches

“I found out I wasn’t playing just prior to the game. We had our pre-match meal at the hotel and then we were brought into a room for the team talk and briefing.

“That is when I found out I wasn’t starting, and you go from being so fired up, from being so that you can’t wait to get going with the nerves and the adrenalin, and it was like somebody just pulling the plug, opening the valve.

“Another kind of emotion then takes over, there’s the disappointment, or I could be less diplomatic!

“I can’t recall the immediate results and performances before that game, but I had only been there for a couple of months having come in from Barnet.

“I think I fitted in with the lads quite well, and there were a couple of good performances, a couple of not so good performances, but obviously Phil Chard (player manager) and John Barnwell (managerial consultant) thought I wasn’t the right player for that big occasion.

“But if they had spoken to me, I would have assured them that they were wrong!

"Even with hindsight, I was really up for that game, and like all the lads I just wanted to get out there and prove we were a better team than the position we were in.”

It must have been a pretty tense atmosphere in the Cobblers camp as kick-off approached?

“My nerves had probably subsided a little bit because I knew I wasn’t playing, but there was definitely a collective nervousness, and sometimes that is not a bad thing.

“I don’t think one player went into the game thinking ‘we can’t do this’, there was a real togetherness.

“I was dropped for Martin Aldridge, and I just wished him well and told him ‘go and make a name for yourself’. But the first half obviously then didn’t go to plan, and changes were made.”

It’s a bit of an understatement to say the first-half didn’t go to plan, with the Cobblers going in at the break 2-0 down. How were you feeling watching on from the bench as it all unfolded?

“Sitting on the subs bench, I was just itching to get on and hoping it’s not going to 3-0 or 4-0 and gets to a point where it may have been impossible to pull it back.

“Anybody in that situation would just want to get on and try and turn it around, but it was a big task.

“I have quantified it in my own head a few times, and if you have a team talk before a game in that situation, and said ‘lads, this is how it is, a win is not good enough we have to win 3-0’, and you have 90 minutes to go and win that game 3-0, away from home, against a team chasing a play-off place.

“So you would have everything against you, but you think ‘we can do this, in 90 minutes we can do this’. But then you think ‘lads, we have got to do this in 45 minutes’... that is a real mountain to climb!

“That young side, with a few ageing pros thrown in, had 45 minutes to go and win a game 3-0.”

At half-time, when did you discover you were going on? And what was the feeling among the group?

“I don’t recall how it actually happened, but once we got into the changing room either John Barnwell or Phil Chard said ‘we are going to make a change, it’s not working, and this is what we are going to do’.

“The memories of the good parts of the day outweigh the other bits and pieces, and I probably had my top off and pads on walking down the tunnel to the dressing room, thinking to myself ‘they have to make a change’.

"It wasn’t so much that we were 2-0 down, it was quite apparent that if we have carried on as we were, I don’t think we would have turned it round.

“When games go that way you have to make a change, they did and it went to plan from there on in.”

Phil Chard scored the first goal to get the Cobblers back into the game, which lifted the team and definitely the travelling supporters. Could you feel the atmosphere, did the crowd lift the team?

“Absolutely! The best part of the day, apart from the winning and scoring, whether as player or a supporter, was the atmosphere.

“Somebody said there was 2,000 there behind the goal or whatever, and then I think it was Darren Harmon who said that ‘Northampton town must be like a ghost town, because everybody is here’.

“Looking at the clip on YouTube, there is a scene taken from just above the heads of the crowd on the pitch, and it looks like there are 15,000 people there! It was amazing.

“The supporters who were there can all take credit for their part in that day as well, it was unbelievable. Fantastic support.”

At half-time, with the team 2-0 down and relegation rivals Halifax still drawing, the fans could easily have gone the other way and acted negatively towards the players, but they didn’t, they got right behind the team.

“We came out 2-0 down, and everybody could have easily been despondent, but that doesn’t work for anybody, whether it’s a team in the Premier League or in the Conference. You need the supporters, players, management, everybody to be together because it is crucial you all pull in the same direction.

“Without a shadow of a doubt on that day, you take those supporters away and I don’t think we win the game, and I think if you speak to any of the players who played they will say the same, the supporters were magnificent.”

The game was on a knife edge, but you then netted the equaliser - which was a pretty sharp finish from close range. You must have been pleased with that one?

“I thought it was a bit further out than it was, as it was right on the six-yard box. Kevin Wilkin did well down the right and put the ball in, and it was such a difficult pitch to play on because of the bobbles and it was hard to judge the bounce.

“The defender tried to take a touch and I got across him and put it in quite nicely, I don’t think the goalkeeper stood a chance, and the thing is if people make mistakes you have to be there to capitalise on them, and I did.”

With the Cobblers drawing, things were looking better but there was still tension until the news started filtering through that Halifax had gone behind to Hereford and the atmosphere went to another level... were the players aware of what was happening?

“As players you don’t concentrate on that, you don’t think about it. At half-time we knew we had to go out and win 3-0, and there was the moment (when it was 2-1) when Carl Griffiths went through and hit the post.

“I honestly think that if that had gone in, we would have still gone on and won the game 4-3. That is a big claim, but I think it’s how it would have been, because we were prepared to push harder, and work that bit harder than them.

“We had them rattled, they were playing for a big prize (Shrews needed a win to get in the play-offs), and some of their mistakes were caused by us and we should take credit for that.

“We had the momentum, and Mickey Bell had one cleared off the line - so if that had gone in you might be talking to a different person right now about this particular game!

“There was a massive gap between where they were and where we were, but we more than matched them in the second half, and we did it without Steve Brown (he was suspended) who was probably the best player at the club.”

We now come to the iconic moment from the game, and your winning goal - which you described in a recent radio interview as a 25-yard curler into the top corner...

“Ha ha! Yep, that’s how I remember it!!”

It was of course a ricochet off you from goalkeeper Paul Edwards’ attempted clearance from a back pass, but they all count... and this one more than most

“In my opinion, the best strikers in the world are the hardest workers.

“I was a hard-working player, I worked hard in training, and when I played I got stuck in and chased down lost causes, especially on that kind of pitch when the ball is bobbling all over the place.

“I must have chased that ball down from 35 or 40 yards away, and look what happened?

“If you work hard you get a bit of the rub of the green, and get it in front of 2,000-plus screaming Cobblers fans to stay in the Football League.

“I didn’t care about the Halifax versus Hereford game, it was irrelevant, we had to concentrate on going out there and doing what we were trying to do, and if that means scoring a goal off a part of anatomy that is not your foot or your head then so be it!

“We would have taken that goal however it came, and that’s not just me, that’s any player, any of the management, and any supporter.”

So, the big question... exactly where did that ball hit you before rolling into the Shrewsbury net. It is down in folklore as being off your backside, and that’s what it looked like from where I was in the away end, but what is the truth?

“It’s a goal that will stick more in the memory of a supporter than the player!

“Players want to score attractive goals, curlers that go in the top corner, or bullet headers, but I will take that one as it went in all day long.

“It’s an added twist to the story isn’t it?

“And I don’t think there is anybody who can really confirm what part of my body it came off of...

“I think it came off the inside of my left knee, but if people want to say it came off my backside I will run with that, it is no problem at all! Here we are 27 years later, and it all adds to the memories so it is all good.”

So, the game is won, Football League safety is secured, and on to the celebrations... there must have been relief in there as well as delight?

“There was relief, but I think the chaps were happy and we celebrated long into the night as well.

“We went back to Northampton and went to a nightclub that I can’t remember the name of, and we celebrated in style because there was a big pressure release.

“I have really good memories of the whole day, and I am really happy to be part of such a memorable day in the history of Northampton Town.”

The match was the final game of the season, and despite the high of staying up and your crucial contribution, you never played for the club again. Can you talk us through how that came to be?

“I think it was common knowledge the club was in real financial trouble, a perilous situation.

“The talk before the Shrewsbury game was that the club could go out of business if it got relegated.

“I think it was Terry Angus that said at the time that it wasn’t just about the players, it was the tea ladies and anybody who has a job at the club at the old ground.

“So I knew there was the possibility I might not be offered anything, but when you look back at that day and the way we got out of trouble, as a player I was for the cause.

“I would have given everything in that following season if I had been at Northampton, as I like to to think I did for Wigan when I went there after I got released.

“Then Northampton finished bottom the following year and stayed up due to somebody else’s ground (Kidderminster) not being up to scratch, and I did wish I was still there and that I had chipped in with a few goals to make sure they were safe before the end of the season.

“Northampton Town has a big place in my heart.

“Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t followed them religiously but I know they have had some highs since that period, and that puts a big smile on my face, knowing the supporters have had those occasions where it’s not complete worry!

“But was I disappointed to be let go? Absolutely.”

You returned to the County Ground the following season with Wigan, and scored in a 2-0 win for the Latics... but despite that you were welcomed back by the Town faithful?

“I went back the following season with Wigan, we won 2-0 and I got one of the goals, and the Northampton supporters were unbelievable, they were chanting my name and it was nice to get that kind of reception.

“When we came out for the warm-up they read out the teams and they booed the Wigan players, but then they got to number nine and said ‘a warm welcome back to Pat Gavin’, and the Cobblers supporters started singing my name.

“The Wigan lads looked at me and said ‘what did you do here? How long were you here?’ I said ‘I was only here for two months!’

“The Wigan players said how great the supporters were and even when I scored against them the Cobblers supporters sang my name again, and it was nice because I had family there behind the goal.

“I just wish I had been there playing for the Cobblers against Wigan, and scoring for them instead of against them.”

MATCH FACTS

Division Three, May 8, 1993. Gay Meadow, Shrewsbury

Shrewsbury Town 2 Northampton Town 3

Shrewsbury: Edwards, Clark, Lynch, Taylor, Brown, Blake, McKenzie, Summerfield (Worsley, 27m), Turner, Griffiths, Smith. Sub: Spink

Cobblers: Richardson; Parsons, Colkin, Harmon, Angus, Terry, Beavon, Wilkin; Aldridge, Gavin, 46m), Chard, Bell. Sub: Burnham

Goals: Shrewsbury: 24 mins: Lynch; 29 mins: Griffiths. Cobblers: 51 min - Chard; 72 mins - Gavin; 84 mins - Gavin

Booked: Shrews: None; Cobblers: 23 mins - Chard; 59 mins - Terry

Attendance: 6,612

Cobblers fans: 2,000 (and the rest!!)