Harbin gets down to work with Cobblers squad as pre-season gets underway
Northampton Town's new performance coach John Harbin met the Cobblers players for the first time on Friday ahead of the opening day of pre-season at Moulton College - but he was expecting his reputation to have gone before him.
The 69-year-old was appointed in his role on the same day as Rob Page was announced as Northampton manager in May, the pair having also worked together at Port Vale, but only arrived at the club on Wednesday.
He has got to work quickly though, and on Friday he put the Cobblers players through their paces for the first time as they returned for pre-season training at their revamped Moulton College base.
Harbin has a reputation for being a something of a hard taskmaster in the game, and although of the current Town squad he has only worked previously with Jason Taylor and David Cornell, he is anticipating all of the players will know what to expect from him.
“The one thing I have found out is, that with the network of players there is no secrets in football,” said Harbin.
“Most of these Northampton players will know what I am like already, through contacts at other clubs, so they know me already. They just have to experience it that’s all.”
Harbin admitted Friday will be a steady start, even though it wa a double session, but that life will get tougher for the players in the coming weeks.
“We are doing a bit of testing on Friday, it’s nothing out of the box, and then a little bit of football on Friday afternoon,” said Harbin ahead of the sessions.
“The players had medical tests on Thursday, and then it will be into full swing on Monday before we go to camp at Loughborough University the week after that.
“But the players will enjoy pre-season.
“They will see a lot of the football, they will be tested out with one or two of the things we do, and the fitness work will be specific to the game.
“The old saying is that this league is a marathon, and it’s not all about who gets over the first hurdle that’s going to win it.
“But we have something to live up to because the club set the standard last season.”
And what condition is he expecting the Northampton players to be in on their return?
“The one thing I have found in football, in the modern day, some players will come back almost ready to play a game this weekend,” said Harbin.
“The average guy will need a couple of weeks to top up, but there will still be some down the bottom end, who will join the fat club. That happens at every club. We can judge that by the tests we give them on Friday.”
A Yorkshireman by birth, Harbin moved to Australia when he was 10 and was a boxer as a youngster and also played rugby league, a sport in which he went on to become a coach.
Harbin returned to England in the late 1990s to coach Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, and then also had spells at Dewsbury and Oldham Roughyeds, before being tempted into football by then Oldham Athletic coach Iain Dowie.
Dowie brought him in as a fitness coach and psychologist, and Harbin would then follow Dowie to a string of clubs including Charlton, Queens Park Rangers and Coventry City, where he first met Page, who was a player at the Sky Blues.
Harbin did briefly return to Australia in 2011 to coach Central Queensland Capras, but was tempted back to the UK and to football by John Sheridan in 2013, who employed him as the fitness coach at Plymouth Argyle.
When Sheridan left Argyle, Page saw his chance and persuaded Harbin to join him at Port Vale, and he now finds himself at Northampton, where he is looking forward to the challenge ahead.
“Change is good,” said Harbin, who speaks with a strong Australian accent. “A lot of people resist change, but I have always found it excites me.
“I will be working with a new lot of players, it’s a new stadium, new facilities, everything is new and it is something to look forward to.”