Northampton Town v Morecambe
Sixfields Stadium / League Two / 7th February 2015
I had gone two weeks without attending a football match. Two whole weeks! Many would think that this would be some sort of midseason hell for me, but it definitely wasn’t. Instead I was having one of the best weeks of my life: I had spent 7 days with my school on a trip to The Gambia – and what an experience it was! Sadly, in our busy schedule I could not fit in any Gambian Premier League football but I did get to play football in the streets with local children, stroke a crocodile, break down in the middle of nowhere, visit some truly inspiring schools (the purpose of the trip was to meet our partner school out there) and I even almost got arrested for taking photos of cows and goats getting off our ferry across the River Gambia – that’s a long story for another day though.
So how do you follow up such an adventure in such an exotic location? A trip to Northampton of course! Cobblers!…No I promise it is true – I was definitely going to Northampton. (I promise I’ll avoid using that Soccer AM joke for the rest of this).
For those who haven’t read my blogs regularly, over the past 2 years or so, Morecambe have forged themselves into my sort of ‘second team’ after I visited their Globe Arena home back in November 2013. My bond with the fans has seen me visit the Globe Arena a few times since and head on away days with the Shrimps too. I was very much looking forward to reuniting with my Morecambe family after not seeing them since a Sunday trip to Morecambe four months ago for Morecambe v Exeter (where I was joined by fellow groundhopper George ‘The Manchoppper’ Cheetham and who chronicled his visit on his site here).
After changing trains in Milton Keynes (I was only in that hellhole for 5 minutes thank goodness), I arrived into Northampton train station just before 10.30am. Sixfields, the home of Northampton Town FC, is located to the west of the town centre, but with plenty of time to spare, I opted to head the opposite way and see what Northampton itself had to offer first. Not a lot if I’m being honest. With a Greggs bacon roll and coffee accompanying on my stroll around the town centre, I found little of note. The place wasn’t exactly a dump, but it wasn’t dazzling me either.
Of course, like any town in this country, I found a Wetherspoons and so I headed in there for my first drink of the day (another one ticked off), before then crossing the road to another brand pub in O’Neills.
More interesting was the Auctioneers pub across the road from O’Neills, which seemed to be the place where some of the more wacky locals gathered (more on them later). The pub had TVs showing coverage of the early kick-off between Spurs and Arsenal and cheap beer, so I was content.
Originally, I had planned to stay in town until 1pm-ish, but as there wasn’t too much going on, I instead decided to go meet my Morecambe supporting pals, father and son John and Dom, who were arriving into Northampton station at half 12 and then walking to the ground from there with them.
When I announced on Twitter that I’d be joining the Shrimps at Northampton, Dom said I should try out the town’s Lift Tower. ‘What is he talking about?’ I wondered at the time, but I was soon to learn that Northampton is the home of the Express Lift Tower – a 418ft high structure used by companies for testing and researching lifts; apparently, it is the only such tower in Britain and 1 of only 2 in the whole of Europe. So Northampton does have something semi-interesting after all. It was with the Lift Tower in sight that I met up with the Lancasters walking to the ground.
The walk to the ground took us past Northampton Saints Rugby Football Club’s ground, Franklin’s Garden. Interestingly, the town’s rugby team would be kicking off at 3.15pm today, whilst the town’s football club would be kicking off at 3pm, only a 10-15 minute walk away. At least the two clubs have their own stadium unlike many football and rugby clubs of certain towns who share stadiums and decimate one pitch.
On the walk we had seen a lot more Northampton Saints shirts and virtually no Northampton Town shirts and this would prove the case until we arrived at the Sixfields pub located on the retail park overlooking the football ground. The Sixfields is like any other pub you’d find on a retail park (it’s a ‘Hungry Horse’ brand pub) and on this early Saturday afternoon it was very busy with many enjoying prematch food and watching the North London derby on the many TVs scattered around the place.
Dom and John enjoyed hearty Mixed Grills, whilst I rambled on (and probably bored them) by going on about all the random stuff I got up to in The Gambia. As Harry Kane scored two for Spurs to defeat Arsenal on the screen above our head, the time was edging towards 3 o’clock and so we thought we’d better go watch some football down in the ground below us.
Emerging from the pub and onto the main road, we found ourselves on the hill directly overlooking Northampton Town’s home. With the ground being fairly open, you could avoid paying for a match ticket and actually watch the game from up on the hill (if you don’t mind not being able to see one set of goals). In protest of being forced to play at Sixfields last season, some Coventry City fans protested by refusing to attend games at their new ‘home’ and instead watched their games from the hill, which was christened ‘Jimmy’s Hill’ by the Cov fans in ode to their legendary manager. Dom dared me to run down the hill in hope that I’d comically tumble down it. I did complete a light jog down it as a convenient shortcut and remained on my feet; apparently, Dom also convinced fellow Morecambe fan Mark to do the same thing shortly after my descent and he did fall.
As I walked around the ground to the away end to pick up my ticket from legendary Shrimps fan Paul Carter, it began to occur to me how isolated Sixfields feels. With just the large banking, a main road and an abandoned athletics track flanking the ground, it felt like we were away from everything. Perhaps the isolation of the place comes from the fact that the area used to be the site of a landfill for domestic waste, until the leisure park and football stadium were built.
I found the purple shirted and purple mohicaned Paul just outside the away end and on handing him the £20 for my ticket, we headed through the turnstiles and into Sixfields.
Northampton Town FC sprung to life in 1897 and originally called the County Cricket Ground their home. The 3-sided venue would be the club’s home until 1994 and during that era the club would play in all four divisions of the Football League (just the one season in the top tier in 1965-66) and the ground would also witness George Best score 6 goals there in a 1970 FA Cup 5th round 8-2 defeat to Manchester United. The club shared the ground with Northampton Cricket Club who still play there to this day.
The football club moved to the west side of Northampton to their Sixfields home in 1994, where the club has since spent much of its time in the lower regions of the Football League.
As I noticed outside the ground, Sixfields is a very basic ground by Football League standards. The away end is a single-tiered stand with a window selling food/drink in the far corner (not selling alcohol!) The opposite stand, behind the other goal, is very similar to the away stand, whilst the largest stand, the West Stand, down the one side of the pitch can hold 4,000 fans and also houses the conference rooms, changing rooms and club bar. On the opposite side of the pitch stands the frame of a half-built stand. The plan is to add more executive areas to this stand and original plans show that the stand is to be fairly similar to the main stand at Morecambe’s Globe Arena. Today, this stand was frequented by two hard hat-wearing builders, who would spend their afternoon watching football, being chanted at by the away fans and chasing stray footballs.
As we took our place towards the back of the South Stand and with the teams coming out onto the pitch, I realised that the last time that I saw Northampton was during my 2nd week living in Liverpool when I acquired a free ticket for the Cobblers’ League Cup tie at Anfield; incidentally, my ticket was for the iconic Kop. In torrential rain, League Two Northampton defeated Roy Hodgson’s Liverpool on penalties. The Kop was outraged with the result, whilst I sat down quietly chuckling to myself.
On that night at Anfield, Northampton did have the shame of letting Anfield flop Milan Jovanovic score against them within the first minute, but today it was to be Northampton scoring within the opening minute; the ball was in the net after 26 seconds to be exact. A low cross from Brendan Maloney saw Morecambe keeper Andreas Arestidou only palm the ball to the edge of the six yard box for Joel Byrom to tap home easily, right in front of the travelling Morecambe fans.
As Northampton fans celebrated, I then thought I had witnessed possibly the most ‘tinpot’ thing I’ve ever witnessed at football: applause being played over the PA system. However, I’ve seen been told by several Northampton fans on social media (who took the ‘tinpot’ comment very well I must say) that the PA announcer has been moved into the West Stand whilst the new stand is built; this meant that the announcer turning on his mic made it sound it like clapping was being played over the PA, when in fact the announcer was just positioned close to the home support. It’s actually a relief to learn that, as I genuinely couldn’t understand how a club could be that desperate to generate applause.
Northampton dominated the opening exchanges and there was very little for the away fans to sing about – although they did sing one of my favourite chants of the season. The chant was in homage to the touchline patrlling Morecambe assistant manager Ken McKenna (who won several Welsh Premier League titles as manager of TNS and was their manager when I saw them play Manchester City at the Millennium Stadium many years ago):
Ohhhh Ken Mckenna/ He sets all the cones out for the team. /He wears shorts when it is fucking freezing! /We don’t care cos his legs are a dream…
And so on…
One inebriated Morecambe fan decided to take it upon himself to repeatedly chant ‘gypo’ at Northampton’s long-haired, marauding midfielder John Joe O’Toole. In his drunken state, he even suggested that he was a ‘caravan muncher’ later explaining “ye, someone who eats all the caravans.” I’m not sure what he was on either. After some heated arguments between a couple of the fans telling the drunken gentleman to shut up, attentions were turned back towards the action on the pitch – not that too much was going on really.
Morecambe never really got a hold of the first half, but they would find a breakthrough as the half came towards it close. Jack Redshaw broke through and his low shot was saved by Cobblers’ goalie Matt Duke, but the ball looped up into the air for Jamie Devitt to send a dipping header into the far post and in. It was in such slow motion that the away fans didn’t know whether to celebrate or not, until Devitt eventually ran away slapping his head in celebration.
Half-time: Northampton Town 1 – 1 Morecambe.
I do like a good bit of half-time entertainment and Northampton did it well with a good old ‘try-to-kick-a-football-into-the-boot-of-a-Skoda-and-if-you-succeed-you-win-the-car’ competition. The three lads were given three goes at landing the football within the boot; one of the home fans actually got the ball in only for it to cruelly bounce back out, whilst Morecambe’s representative took a different tack and smashed off one of the wing mirrors with his effort. Predictably, the Skoda was to remain unclaimed.
The second half was a more thrilling affair with the play ebbing backwards and forwards, but without too much goalmouth action. Morecambe legend Kevin “He’s got no hair, but we don’t care” Ellison was making a big difference after coming on at half-time, but as Morecambe did in the first half, the Cobblers scored their 2nd goal against the run of play.Evan Horwood easily worked his way to the edge of the box before mishitting a shot, which happened to go right across goal conveniently for Marc Richards to tap home. 2-1 to the Cobblers.
Morecambe tried to get an equaliser, but Duke made an excellent double save to deny the Shrimps, before the home team earned themselves a penalty, as Ricky Holmes was brought down in the box. Up stepped Richards again, but his effort cannoned off the left hand post to keep the score at 2-1. Standing next to me, John declared that the post was his Man of the Match having scored Morecambe’s opener and now stopped a penalty going in. Well played post.
Morecambe continued to try find an equaliser, but the closest they would come to one would be when Alan Goodall struck the post with a brilliant left-footed drive which had Duke beat.
Full-time: Northampton Town 2 – 1 Morecambe. Morecambe were probably good enough for a point, but ultimately created very little.
Moments after the final whistle, we were heading up the main road towards the twinkling ‘cityscape’ of Northampton in the distance. On the way to ground I had noticed the Thomas A Beckett pub and so I decided to head in there. There was still 25 minutes until Dom, John and Mark’s train back north, so they tagged along too. This was very much a rugby pub with the Six Nations on all the screens and with the place being rammed with people in their Saints shirts. I was afraid the three lads in their Morecambe gear may get knocked out, but not for wearing a rival team’s colours and badge, but for having the audacity to wear anything football-related in such an establishment.
The Morecambe lads rushed off for their train and for some reason I decided to head back into town for one last drink in the Auctioneers. Now, I thought the place was a bit odd earlier, but now the place had gone even weirder. On entering I was greeted by a drunken man repeatedly shaking my hand and holding it for an awkward amount of time purely because he had seen me earlier (which he told me over and over again). Then I witnessed an elderly man try to chat up some middle-aged goths, but the king of wackiness had to go to the old man dancing by himself. This wasn’t any old dancing though, this was an OAP performing some sort of interpretative dance to the Bon Jovi hit Bed of Roses. It has to rank up there as one of the strangest things I’ve seen on my travels. Soon people were joining Northampton’s answer to Gene Kelly on the makeshift dancefloor, whilst I questioned whether someone had slipped something in my drink or whether this strange sight was was genuinely unfolding in front of me. One pint in there was enough for me.
I bought some Red Stripe (old school) for the train and I would like to say that I headed straight home. Sadly though, someone had decided to jump in front of a train near Northampton and so I was forced to hang around Northampton train station for a bit, before taking a longer route back to Manchester via Birmingham New Street. I suppose I shouldn’t complain though – it did mean I didn’t have to go back to Milton Keynes.
To sum up Northampton, I’ll leave you with the old man in Auctioneers and his brilliant dancing. Enjoy.
Highlights: decent Wetherspoons, rugby club playing in their own stadium, Sixfields pub, nice view of the ground from ‘the hill’, the Ken McKenna chant, not a bad game, old man dancing in the Auctioneers pub.
Low Points: strange town, bit of a trek to the ground, not most interesting of grounds, Morecambe lost.
See all my photos from my visit to Northampton and Sixfields here.