SPORTS COMMENT: Thanks to Rico for the goals, the leadership and the good times
Over the many years I have been watching the Cobblers, whether it be from the terraces or the press box, I have seen plenty of footballers join the club as players and go on to leave it as legends.
There are many to choose from for many reasons, but I’ll rattle off a few I consider to be in that bracket, players such as Trevor Morley, Richard Hill, Ian Benjamin, Ray Warburton, Ian Sampson, John Frain, Scott McGleish, Adebayo Akinfenwa...
And for me, Marc Richards, who left the Cobblers by mutual consent on Monday, can be added to that list.
And that is pretty remarkable when you recall the start to his time as a Cobbler.
Martin Wilkinson signed the then 20-year-old from Blackburn Rovers, and predicted great things for the player - but six months later Richards’ only goals were two strikes in an FA Cup win over non-League Weston Super-Mare.
He took 28 league games to get off the mark, but when the goal came it was worth the wait as he volleyed home the winner in a 2-1 victory at Darlington, and he was up and running.
A month later he scored a remarkable four goals in the space of 21 incredible minutes in a 4-0 win at Macclesfield, and he had really found his feet.
His second season at Sixfields was hindered by knee injuries, before Colin Calderwood allowed him to leave, but his love affair with the Cobblers wasn’t over.
After successful spells with Barnsley, Port Vale and Chesterfield, Richards was was brought back to the club by Chris Wilder, and his transformation from player to legend could really start to get into full swing.
He left this week after five-and-a-half years spent at Sixfields over those two spells, with 63 goals scored in 145 starts and 65 substitute appearances.
So was Richards a great goalscorer for the club? That might be debatable, as there have been others who have been more prolific, but Richards has been very consistent, and the club’s top scorer in each of the past three seasons.
Was he a scorer of great goals? Definitely.
Thinking back to some of the fantastic strikes Richards has come up with over his two spells, and I have been lucky enough to see many of them, there are a few contenders for which one might be his best.
There was a 25-yard rocket at champions-elect Hull City in 2004, there was his sweet, sweet strike in the play-off semi-final defeat to Mansfield Town at a rocking Field Mill in that same year.
There was his brilliant strike from an acute angle against Sheffield United last season, the outstanding free-kicks in league two clashes at York City and at Wycombe Wanderers.
There are many more, and all Cobblers fans will have their own favourite ‘Rico’ goal. For me, the one at Hull just about shades it.
Then there are plenty more straightforward goals as well that have been absolutely critical to the team winning or drawing matches, with the penalty in the 1-0 win at Oxford United in the 2016 title-winning season immediately springing to mind.
Richards also captained Chris Wilder’s title winners, becoming one of an elite and small band of Cobblers skippers to actually get their hands on some silverware, and it was his best and most consistent season in terms of goals in the claret and white.
He scored 18 goals in 18 different fixtures, with the final strike that crucial match winner at the Kassam Stadium in mid-February, as he was to miss the rest of the season (an aborted two-match comeback in late March excepted) with an Achilles injury.
But it wasn’t only Richards’ performances and goals that proved so crucial in that memorable, unforgettable season, it was also his captaincy, his leadership, and the example he set in the changing room.
Richards played a major role in crucially maintaining unity in the playing squad as the club went through their financial crisis in October and November 2015, ahead of Kelvin Thomas and his colleagues stepping in to save the day.
A lesser, shall we say more selfish captain, may have looked after number one at that time when the players weren’t getting paid and the future of the club looked so bleak.
I understand there was plenty of vultures hovering and wanting to cherry pick Town’s top performers at that time, of which Richards was one, but he stayed put, and so did everybody else.
Richards rallied the team behind the scenes and held things together as the players impressively concentrated on getting on with winning football matches.
The skipper is due big credit for that.
He commanded huge respect in the Sixfields dressing room both prior to and throughout those troubled times, and continued to do so until he left the club this week.
Richards, who signed a new one-year deal last summer, has sadly struggled to reproduce his best form this season in what has been a struggling Cobblers team.
Chances to add to his impressive goal record have been few and far between as Town have toiled as an attacking force for much of the season, but he departs with his head held high and with his name writ large in the history books of Northampton Town Football Club.
Richards leaves Sixfields with the thanks of every Cobblers fan for the goals, the great times and the magic moments he has been part of producing during his time with the club.
But of course it’s not then end for him, Richards is not finished as a player yet.
He will now move on to try and add a few more goals to his career stats for another club, and he goes with the best wishes of everybody associated with the Cobblers.
So thanks for everything Rico, and good luck!