In it together - teamwork the secret to success after a season to remember
What a season! What an unbelievable season.
Huge congratulations to Chris Wilder and his players for clinching the Sky Bet League Two title with Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Exeter City.
It seems to have taken a long time for this team to finally get over the line and confirm themselves to be the best team in the division, but they have still done it with four games to spare - a special achievement.
Silverware doesn’t land at Sixfields very often, in fact the Cobblers have only picked up a trophy (discounting the NFA Maunsell Cup) twice in my lifetime - and I am no spring chicken let me tell you!
The most recent was 1997 when Ray Warburton picked up the division three play-off trophy at Wembley, and it could be argued that doesn’t really count as the team finished that season fourth in the league table.
The last time the club actually won a league title was back in 1987 - and then the trophy wasn’t even silver!
The Football League was sponsored by the now defunct Today newspaper, and for some bizarre reason, the divisional winners were handed a crystal trophy on a wooden base - you could barely even see it on the celebratory team group!!
This time I trust that Marc Richards and Dave Buchanan will be lifting a proper pot at the presentation - and one that you can fill with drink!
Winning the league two title is just reward for all the hard work and brilliant performances the Cobblers have put together this season.
I have seen a lot of Cobblers teams and a lot of Cobblers players over the years since I first visited the County Ground in the mid-1970s, some great, some good, some not so good and some terrible.
Not surprisingly, the current crop rank in the great category, and the football they have played at times is the best I have seen by any Cobblers team, including Graham Carr’s brilliant class of 87.
For a spell from October through to February, the Cobblers simply destroyed opposition after opposition with some flowing, swift eye-catching football, and if they were put under pressure they were devastating on the counter-attack.
There was incisive and creative passing, fluid movement, stunning goals, both of the team and individual variety, and it is no exaggeration to say that on many occasions the team were pretty much unplayable.
There have been games when I have walked away thinking the Cobblers could have easily scored five or six, and at Morecambe in September, which ended in a 4-2 victory, it’s no exaggeration to say they should have hit double figures.
Is the current team better than Carr’s team of Trevor Morley, Richard Hill, Eddie McGoldrick, Ian Benjamin et al?
That is something Cobblers fans who have been lucky enough to witness both teams can argue about until they are claret in the face, and for what it’s worth, I rank them as pretty much equals, just with differing strengths and styles.
Carr’s team was effective, a machine, and in the final third they had such quality, which is a similar trait to Wilder’s team, a team the manager has pieced together expertly over the past two years.
Carr’s team was stronger defensively with a regimental and almost perfect offside trap, whereas Wilder’s team plays more off the cuff.
Yes, this current team might give away soft goals at times, but they more than make up for that deficiency with their forward play, which has been a delight.
The likes of Ricky Holmes, Nicky Adams, Sam Hoskins, Lawson D’Ath, John-Joe O’Toole and Joel Byrom have provided the bullets for Richards, John Marquis, James Collins and Dominic Calvert-Lewin to fire.
They have made watching the Cobblers a real event again, they have made it fun.
Town fans now look forward to the weekend not just because that is when they get their football fix, but also because they know, more likely than not, they are going to be entertained.
Yes, this Cobblers team is good and wins matches - but they are also very pleasing on the eye. Pretty much the perfect mix.
The fact I have managed to get this far without mentioning the turmoil that surrounded the club back in October and November is testament to how quickly things have changed at Sixfields, and how good they have become.
But make no mistake, in late November, the Cobblers were only a matter of days away from ceasing to exist.
The club was on its knees, in the High Court with the taxman demanding his £165,000, and the Borough Council also calling in its £10.25m loan, that had unforgiveably disappeared.
The east stand was a shell of metal beams and bare concrete, a workman hadn’t set foot in the place for three months - aside from those acting as ball-boys on match days.
Chairman at the time, David Cardoza, was under intense pressure to sell the club which was seemingly heading towards oblivion and, thankfully, he did so just in the nick of time.
Wilder’s impassioned speech after Town’s 2-1 win at Meadow Lane, where he pleaded with Cardoza to do the right thing and ‘take the deal on the table’ was a moment that will go down in club folklore.
It was also moment that ensured Wilder will always hold a special place in the hearts of all Cobblers supporters, and rightly so.
The way the manager conducted himself throughout the financial turmoil was impeccable, and he also managed to keep the players focused on the job in hand.
Things could have easily unravelled and at other clubs under different managers, they undoubtedly would have done.
But not under Wilder and his excellent assistant Alan Knill.
They used the situation to galvanise the team, galvanise the support and lay the foundations for what became a title charge.
Days after Wilder’s rant at Notts County, Kelvin Thomas - a friend of Wilder from their time together at Oxford United - and his associates took control, paid the tax bill, came to an agreement with the NBC over the loan, and the club was saved and ready to move forwards, which it has done in some style.
But as much as this season’s success has been down to the players and the management and the timely intervention of Thomas, the efforts of the club’s staff and supporters at that time can never be forgotten.
In adversity, the club became one. And it has stayed as one.
The club’s management and office staff, who weren’t paid for almost three months, never once considered throwing in the towel.
They turned up for work every day, did their jobs, and kept the club ticking over, trusting that things would work out okay.
They didn’t know that things would be okay, they didn’t even know if they would have jobs to go to a few weeks later, but they kept working, kept their club alive, and every single one of them has played their part in this title success, something Wilder is always quick to acknowledge.
They are great people, and every Cobblers follower owes each and every one of them a debt of gratitude.
Then there was the Supporters Trust who did a great job raising not only money, but also awareness of what was going on at Sixfields, rallying support.
It was heartening to see the response to their appeals from not only Northampton fans, but also supporters from other clubs across the country.
And then there is the Cobblers supporters.
The fans have been nothing short of immense throughout the whole season, but their backing during those troubled times was particularly special.
They turned out in huge numbers up and down the country when the chips were down, from Coventry, to Newport, to Nottingham, and nobody who was at those games will ever forget the emotional scenes before, during and after those matches.
Those supporters were showing their love for their club.
They were showing their love for their team, and the team could feel it.
The players could not help but be caught up in the emotion of it all, and there is no doubt that support at that time inspired them.
I have spoken to many of the players throughout the campaign, and whenever the subject of the club’s fans is brought up, almost to a man they just shake their heads and say ‘unbelievable’.
The players feel connected to the supporters, meaning they will give that little bit extra when it is required, go the extra mile, and it has gone a long way to shaping the team’s never-say-die attitude that has seen them unbeaten in the past 20 matches.
It is of course a two-way street, and the supporters see that extra effort, see that the players genuinely care, and they also raise their game accordingly.
It is a goodwill situation that the club must build on.
I don’t think I have known a time when the Northampton Town Football Club has been as united as it is now, on and off the pitch.
Long may that continue to be the case, and if it is, who knows where the Cobblers could end up in a few years’ time?
Hopefully, the league two title is just the start of something at Sixfields, but for now, it is time to just enjoy this moment of success.
A success that Wilder and his players have earned, but with more than a little help from their many friends.
Wilder, deservedly named the Football League manager of the year on Sunday night, and his players will get the plaudits and the medals and rightly so.
But they will be the first to say this season has been a team effort.
This campaign will live long in the memory, and it’s a title success that everybody who played their part, no matter how small, can be immensely proud of.
With four games still to play, it is also a season that can be celebrated in style, starting on Tuesday night when Crawley come to town.
Altogether now... ‘We are the champions, my friends, and we’ll keep on fighting til the end’
Get to Sixfields, sing up and enjoy it - and here’s hoping that this time we don’t have to wait 29 years for the next one!