FEATURE: '˜I gave it everything' - Q&A with former Cobblers skipper Marc Richards
This week marked the end of an era at Sixfields as striker Marc Richards left the club by mutual consent.
The 35-year-old has been part of the fixtures and fittings at the Cobblers for the past three-and-a-half years.
After scoring 63 goals in 145 starts and 65 substitute appearances over two spells and five-and-a-half years with the club, the striker is now a Swindon Town player having signed on at County Ground on an 18-month contract.
As well as his goals and commitment to the cause, Richards was also club captain for his second stint in the claret and white, having been brought back to the club by then manager Chris Wilder in the summer of 2014.
It was an honour for the player to do that, and he joined an elite band of men to have skippered the Cobblers to silverware when he lifted the Sky Bet League Two title trophy back in 2016, following that memorable season.
I have been fortunate enough to have covered the Cobblers for the Chronicle & Echo during both of Richards’ spells with the club, and have watched on from the stands as he been transformed from inexperienced young player to somebody most supporters would agree is a club legend.
Here, in an exclusive interview with the Chron, Richards looks back on both of his spells at the club.
He remembers the highs as well as some lows, talks about the realisation that his Cobblers career was over, recalls his favourite goals, his favourite games, reveals the best manager he has worked under, what the future holds for the Cobblers now he has left, how he could have joined Portsmouth, and more...
Marc, was having to leave the Cobblers something you had been anticipating going into the January transfer window? Or had you been hoping you would be able to see your Sixfields contract through to the end of the campaign?
“I was hoping to see the season through. but obviously not getting on the pitch and not getting too many minutes in recent weeks kind of helped my decision.
“I voiced my concerns to the manager that I wasn’t getting many minutes, or not getting too many chances to come on and do my bit for the team, and basically he couldn’t guarantee me I would be getting any more game time.
“He basically said ‘if it is more minutes that you need, then looking elsewhere would be a good option’, and the ball got rolling from that point on.
“I understand where he is coming from, and I am experienced enough to know that it’s a decision that wouldn’t have been made easily, but in the same breath I am at the stage of my career where I needed to be playing games to get another contract somewhere else next season anyway.”
So, going to Swindon is a good move for you?
“The 18 months I have got at Swindon is perfect for me, because it gives me that stability now to be able to finish off my coaching badge that I am doing at the moment, as well as still playing for the next 18 months, which is something Northampton couldn’t guarantee me.
“I didn’t want to be in the rat race come the end of the summer, when there are 100s of players out of contract and my age would have played a big part in any decision clubs might have taken.
“It is a decision I’ve not taken lightly, and something I have had to really think about over the past week or so.”
Your game time has been limited in a Cobblers shirt this season, and you are now 35, but you clearly feel there is plenty of fuel left in the tank, and some more miles in those legs? Also, was it a frustration not being able to play for the Cobblers more often this season?
“I do feel I still have something to offer, my injury worries are definitely behind me at the moment, and I am always itching to get out on the pitch and try to help the team.
“I wanted to do that as much as possible, but unfortunately with the formation we were playing then it was Chris Long who was playing, and I was sat on the bench watching and cheering the lads on from the side.
“It has been a frustrating couple of months, but it is one of those things. People move on, and the manager thought he wanted to go with somebody a bit more mobile, a bit quicker, and that is fair enough, I understand that because I am no spring chicken any more.”
Personally, this season has not been ideal for you as a player, but you also had the added responsibility of being the club captain. Is it difficult to be a positive leader in the dressing when things are not going well, for you or the team?
“I have seen it in the past, where players have not been involved too much or been frozen out, and they have turned disruptive in the dressing room.
“That is certainly something that I would never do, and couldn’t do.
“While I was frustrated inside, I had to put a smile on my face and do my best to keep the dressing room as tight-knit as possible, and I believe it is.
“There are some really good characters in there at the moment, and I just hope the new lads that are coming in now settle in and help the team rise up the table.”
Since the turn of the new year, there has been a lot of transfer activity at Sixfields, with players coming in and others leaving. As a player who is in the squad and watching signings come in, especially ones in your position, is that difficult to deal with? Also, will the new faces be good for the Cobblers?
“I am used to it, and have been at a number of clubs where there have been big clearouts in transfer windows and fresh faces coming in, and the main thing now is that the new boys who come in are ready to go and they settle quickly.
“That will only help the squad.
“There is a big squad at Northampton at the moment, and I have no doubt there will be players leaving before the end of the window, and maybe one or two more coming in.
“But everybody has to be pulling in the right direction, and it is up to the experienced boys and the lads who have been at the club for a long time to try and help the lads settle in, and make sure everybody is pulling their weight.”
Do you think the Cobblers will avoid relegation from league one this season?
“I am confident Northampton will get out of trouble, knowing the players like I do, and the characters they have in the dressing room.
“The team, and the squad as a whole, is in a false position and the level of inconsistency has been too much this season.
“But with the new players coming in, and the squad growing increasingly better, you just have to look at the people on the bench at the moment, the likes of Buchs (David Buchanan), Brendan Moloney, Alex Revell, players like that.
“They have a vast amount of experience at this level, so the manager has a bit of a headache now trying to keep players happy, but it is a good headache to have.
“I am pretty sure with results going the way they are, if they can just find that level of consistency, it will get them out of the bottom four.”
And is Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink the right man to lead the team?
“I think Jimmy is the right man. His detail in training is one of best I have worked with, his sessions are good, the lads work hard, and the lads are together which is the main thing.
“If there was a split in the group then I would have my doubts about whether Northampton would survive, but I can safely say the lads are fully backing the manager. There are no cliques, there is no ‘me, me, me’ from anybody, it is all about the team.”
Now, looking back on your career at Sixfields, how do you feel your first two-year stay went after you were signed in the summer of 2003 by Martin Wilkinson? You obviously took a while to get going, not scoring a league goal until February, but then things picked up... and you ended up scoring four goals in 28 minutes in a 4-0 win at Macclesfield!
“In the first spell, I think I hit the woodwork and went close on numerous occasions before I got my first goal.
“I think the first 20 games or whatever it was, it was possibly the worst scoring drought I’ve ever had.
“You start to doubt yourself and things play on your mind during games, when you’re thinking ‘am I doing enough?’, ‘what am I doing wrong?’, and when that first goal came it was a massive relief.
“I went on to score 11 that season, with four of them in the game at Macclesfield, which is definitely one of my highlights.
“To score four goals in one half is some feat for anyone.
During your time as a Cobblers player, you were part of some pretty strong squads, and you must be delighted you came back to the club in the summer of 2014?
“Over my two spells I have been involved in a lot of successful squads.
“In the first two seasons we managed to get into the play-offs a couple of times, and I have worked under some really good managers, with obviously Chris Wilder being the main one.
“It is really down to him and David Cardoza that I came back to the club, and I want to say a thank you to both of them, because without those two I would never have lifted a trophy.”
“And that is the proudest moment in my career, by far, as to captain a club that wins any trophy is the pinnacle really.”
Ah yes, the Sky Bet League Two title-winning campaign. What a season that was! It ended in the glory of the team winning the league by 13 points, and with you lifting the trophy in front of a packed Sixfields, but it was of course also the season that nearly saw the club go out of business due to financial mis-management. Chris Wilder has rightly taken so much credit for his leadership during the dark months of October and November, when players and staff didn’t get paid, but as the captain, you must have also played a major role. How was it behind the scenes with the club’s future in the balance?
“It was a case of sink or swim.
“I think it really helped that we were doing reasonably well in the league at the time.
“We had a really tight-knit squad, and I didn’t really have to do anything myself on a personal note.
“I didn’t need to galvanise the lads, because we knew we had a good squad and we had a chance of going up.
“We knew that if we kept that focus and that work ethic for each other, then we would have a good season.
“It was a case of making sure everybody was pulling in the right direction, and at times like that when you’re not getting paid you tend to have players that could be disruptive, but that wasn’t the case.”
Once the players weren’t being paid, they would have been entitled to look after themselves and leave the club, were the vultures from other clubs circling to try and snap up the best players? Did you have any offers to move on?
“Yes. I had the opportunuty to go to Portsmouth and could have jumped ship then, but after speaking to Chris Wilder it was never going to be the case, it wasn’t something that came into my mind.
“I had moved down to Northampton to be a Northampton player, and that is where I wanted to be.
“Whether I was getting paid or not, it had no affect on myself or my performances, in fact it galvanised the club and galvanised the players even more.
“When anything like that happens, it can either make of break a club, and I think because of the characters we had there at the time, the likes of Jason Taylor, Ricky Holmes and Ryan Cresswell, who were just three of a very, very good group.
“It was without a doubt the best group that I have worked with.
“To just have those characters in the dressing room was a big factor in how we dealt with the situation.”
Chris Wilder was the manager who brought you back to Sixfields, and made you captain. You also worked under another Cobblers promotion-winning manager in Colin Calderwood, so who do you rate as the best Town boss you worked under?
“Undoubtedly, the best manager and the best management team I have worked for is Chris Wilder and Alan Knill.
“As good as Colin Calderwood was, I can only say good things about the Wilder-Knill era and I would love to be able to work with them again in the future, whether it be in a coaching role or whatever.
“Those two as a management team were perfect for the lads, their characters as well really helped the lads to come through what was a difficult time.”
It’s not just about the player’s ability for Wilder is it? Is it fair to say the character of a player is just as important to him as how good a player he may be?
“I remember just before I signed for Northampton, I knew that Chris Wilder had done his homework on me.
“He had spoken to Lee Collins, and Richie Humphreys up at Chesterfield, and I know Chris likes to do his homework on his players because he needs the right characters in.
“He has shown that throughout his career, he built a squad at Oxford that was successful, did it again at Northampton, and he’s done it again at Sheffield United.
“For him it’s not just about the playing side of it, it’s about the character he is bringing into the dressing room.
“He likes his dressing room to run itself, and it definitely did during his time at Northampton.”
You scored 63 goals during your two Town stints. Many of them were absolute crackers, and many of them were crucial, so do you have a favourite goal scored in the claret and white?
“The one at Hull has to be up there (in 2004), the one at Accrington Stanley in the promotion season, and the one at home to Sheffield United last season was quite special too.
“So it was one of those three, I can’t choose!”
I remember you were more exuberant in you celebration than normal for the one against Sheffield United... what was all that about?
“The celebration on that one came from when we played them at their place, and there was a big reaction from their bench when they scored late on (United beat Rob Page’s Town team 1-0 at Bramall Lane with a last-minute goal).
“I just wanted to get my own back, but it was harmless banter really.”
I know there were a lot of them, but do you have a favourite game you played in?
“I have had too many special moments to actually pick one that stands out, whatever game it might be.
“Certainly scoring four goals in one game at Macclesfield was a big moment, and scoring the first goal at Mansfield to get the ball rolling in what was an absolute thriller (the play-off semi-final at Field Mill).
“There are too many moments, and too many games that come to mind, but those two do stand out.”
Finally, a major downside of your departure from Sixfields was that it was between matches and you haven’t had the chance to say your goodbyes to the Cobblers supporters. Is that a regret?
“The most gutting thing for me out of the whole process, is not being able to get out on the pitch one last time and let it be known that I am leaving.
“I would have liked to have done that just to say thank you really.
“I have had so much unbelievable support, from the fans, the staff, from the people in the offices and everybody connected with the club, and I just wanted to say thank you one last time.
“And to those I couldn’t keep happy, or had doubts over me, then basically I am sorry that I was never good enough, or couldn’t please them any more!
“I gave it everything for the past four years, and I just want to say thankyou to everyone for their support.”