WEMBLEY 2020: Self-driven Cobblers prove they can rise to any occasion... even behind closed doors

The Cobblers players mob goalscorer Callum Morton after his match-winning strike at Cheltenham Town on Monday night (Picture: Pete Norton)The Cobblers players mob goalscorer Callum Morton after his match-winning strike at Cheltenham Town on Monday night (Picture: Pete Norton)
The Cobblers players mob goalscorer Callum Morton after his match-winning strike at Cheltenham Town on Monday night (Picture: Pete Norton)
In any normal year, this week would be all about the clamour for play-off final tickets.

Tens of 1,000s of Cobblers fans would be ordering online or queuing up outside the PTS Academy Stadium, desperate to get their paws on an over-priced brief for Monday night’s final against Exeter City.

All thoughts of what a nightmare for fans attending a big game at the national stadium is would be put to one side, with each and every fan, and the very welcome bandwagon jumpers, knowing they have ‘got to be there’.

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After all, the Cobblers don’t get to Wembley, or win promotion, every year.

There is a great team spirit at the CobblersThere is a great team spirit at the Cobblers
There is a great team spirit at the Cobblers

Monday’s play-off final is only Town’s fourth visit to the national stadium, and for a football supporter of any club, and particularly a lower league club, these are the days it is all about.

Sadly of course, those same fans who would have packed out the cavernous red-seated bowl that is Wembley will not be heading down to London to cheer on their heroes on Monday night.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put paid to that.

Massed gatherings are banned for the foreseeable future - unless you want to go on a protest march or go for a day at the beach - which means everybody has had to try and get used to football being played behind closed doors.

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The delight is clear on Charlie Goode's face after the Cobblers' third goal at CheltenhamThe delight is clear on Charlie Goode's face after the Cobblers' third goal at Cheltenham
The delight is clear on Charlie Goode's face after the Cobblers' third goal at Cheltenham

And it is tough on football fans across the UK, and extremely tough on the 1,000s of Cobblers and Exeter fans who would have relished this week’s play-off excitement.

But, sadly, in this ‘new normal’ it is the way things have to be - for now.

So instead of decking themselves out in various shades of claret, digging out their lucky t-shirts and pants and heading off to the PTS, Whaddon Road or Wembley, Town fans have had to settle for watching their team on the telly.

But that fact won’t have taken away from the elation, joy astonishment and absolute pride in the Cobblers’ stunning performance in beating a shell-shocked Cheltenham Town on Monday.

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The deserted away end at Whaddon Road on MondayThe deserted away end at Whaddon Road on Monday
The deserted away end at Whaddon Road on Monday

In fact, judging by the reaction on social media following the win, I know it didn’t!

Now I know I am in the incredibly privileged position of being able to attend matches at the moment.

I was at the PTS and Whaddon Road for the semi-finals, joining my Chron colleague James Heneghan, a clutch of other journalists, TV and radio reporters and club staff and officials.

It was truly special to witness that performance from Keith Curle’s side in seeing off the Robins 3-0 to overturn that 2-0 first-leg deficit, instantly rocketing ‘Cheltenham 2020’ into the same bracket as ‘Bristol Rovers 1998’ and ‘Mansfield 2004’ when it comes to memorable Town play-off fightbacks.

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And I am all too aware how lucky I was to be there, particularly as I know what watching this team means to so many people.

Throughout what was a pulsating game, I kept looking to my right and thinking ‘how good would this be if the fans were here?’

How good it would be to see that away end rocking with 1,500 Cobblers supporters revelling in their team’s epic performance?

Fans who would have loved and lapped up the commitment and sheer will to win of their team.

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They would have relished every biting Alan McCormack challenge, and every snarl aimed at startled Cheltenham opponents from the Irishman.

They would have hailed every towering defensive header and crucial block from Charlie Goode, Jordan Turnbull and Scott Wharton.

They would have licked their lips and loved every teasing Nicky Adams cross, and every penetrating and darting run from Sam Hoskins.

They would have roared on every lung-busting sprint and chase from the remarkable Callum Morton, and every all-or-nothing challenge from Vadaine Oliver.

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And, of course, they would have taken the roof off the place with every goal scored as their heroes created history in the Cotswolds.

But, as we know, it was all played out in front of 1,000s of empty seats, as will Monday’s showpiece final against the Grecians.

And, if anything, that makes the performance of the Cobblers against the Robins even more remarkable.

They were up against a team with the best defence in league two, having conceded just 27 goals in 36 regular season encounters.

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That was a record second only to Liverpool in the entire country.

The Robins had lost just six times in the league campaign, and hadn’t lost any match by more than one goal.

Yet the Cobblers hammered them, and the intensity of the performance from Keith Curle’s men was staggering.

Much has been made by observers watching matches since the Premier League restart that players aren’t match fit, and seem to be going through the motions.

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Well, they all want to take a leaf out of the Cobblers’ players books. They started like a train, and just kept going.

And that bodes well ahead of the final, which will be played at a near-deserted Wembley.

The Town team was possessed, and although the players would have obviously preferred to have been performing in front a packed house, the fact they weren’t didn’t seem to affect them.

All the drive, the pride in performance, the desire and the desperation to win came from within themselves.

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They would have welcomed backing from the fans of course, and Curle and his players know that loyal support is there, just as it has been for the entire season.

But the fact is, on Monday there was no need for that incredible lift they would have got from the travelling fans.

Sitting in the old main stand at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium, you could hear how fired up the the Cobblers players were from the kick-off, and they never let up.

They were willing each other on, whether it be Goode, Adams, McCormack, Hoskins or anybody else.

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They were making sure everybody kept their focus, kept their eyes on the prize.

And they did just that with a performance that was close to perfect in terms of physical endeavour, pressure and high-intensity football.

Cheltenham, so confident and assured at the PTS four days earlier, simply could not live with them and had no answer to the onslaught.

Indeed, Town should have won by more.

Now they have to do it again at Wembley, and once again the brilliant Cobblers fans who have followed their team up and down the country since last August will have to watch the game from home or at the house of friends or family - socially distanced of course.

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But having seen this team close up, and how they have handled playing behind closed doors, every single one of those fans can be guaranteed one thing, this team will give absolutely everything they can to try and give them the promotion and celebrations they crave.

The Cobblers may have flaws, their style of football may not please everybody, but they have hearts as big as lions.

They play for the shirt and the badge.

And they play for the supporters - even though they can’t see or hear them, because they still know they are there.

They know you are there, willing them on.

We all know things can go wrong for any team on any day, that Lady Luck may not be on their side, but win or lose this Cobblers team will represent the town of Northampton with pride on Monday.

We can count on them for that.

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