Northampton’s Play-off win wraps up rollercoaster decade


Northampton Town’s 4-0 win over Exeter City has concluded one of the most dramatic ten years that the club has ever faced.

If you said to a Cobblers fan on New Years Day, 2010, that the club were going to go through what they went through, I’m sure they would have given out verbals in response. In truth I couldn’t blame them, because as I wrote in the title, it was a rollercoaster of a decade.

As a lad from Northampton, I’ve experienced all of this, the drama, the despair, the uncertainty, and of course the joyous moments.

The story really starts on a rainy night at Anfield in September 2010, when the small East Midlands’ town made the 296 Mile round trip to face English and European Giants, Liverpool in the League Cup third round, and beat them on penalties in front of their world famous Kop End.

Now Liverpool may have played a near enough reserve team, where the likes of Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres weren’t even in the 18-man squad, but for a club in the lower ends of League Two, it meant so much. It means a lot for any club for have a cup tie at a ground like Anfield, let alone beat them!

Northampton’s shootout win at Anfield is one of the biggest upsets in League Cup History.
Credit – Getty Images

But the victory on Merseyside was arguably the highest point for the Cobblers. Over the next two seasons they were engulfed in somewhat of a relegation dogfight, which saw Cobblers’ legend Ian Sampson, and former Bristol City manager Gary Johnson sacked.

But in came Aidy Boothroyd, who at 35 years old, had guided Watford to the Premier League in 2006, and the FA Cup Semi-Finals the following year.

He was a man who had good experience, and a man who would bring stability at Sixfields, so much that the club would finish 6th in his first full season and would reach the League-Two play-off final.

However for many, including myself, who travelled to Wembley, the dream of promotion was crushed within the first thirty minutes of the game. Their oppenents, Bradford City, who were also League Cup finalists that same year, made amends for their 5-0 thrashing by Swansea, with a 3-0 victory. All coming within half an hour, all coming from crosses which the Northampton were unable to deal with.

Many of the 20,000 or so Cobblers fans walked out before the players went up to receive their losers medals, and in truth that was the start of what would become a common feature.   At the start of the 2013/14 season, just four wins by December 21st  saw Northampton Town, rock bottom in the Football League, and Boothroyd culled.

Boothroyd was replaced by the little known figure of Chris Wilder, who left a high-flying Oxford United to take over the club he had previously played for. After being in the bottom two for almost seven months of the season, on the penultimate weekend of the season, they won 3-0 at Dagenham and Redbridge and climbed out of the relegation places.

The Cobblers would secure their safety on the final day after coming from behind to beat Wilder’s old boys Oxford 3-1. The fans raced on to the pitch in celebration in what was undoublty one of the greatest escape acts in Football League history.

It was steady re-build under Wilder.  The following season they were in contentention for a place in the play-offs, but had to settle for a 12th place finish.

But the 2015/16 season was really the defining moment of the decade. A £10 Million loan by the Borough Council made to the Cobblers for development on their East Stand went missing.  This led to police investigations into former owner David Cardoza and former MP David Mackintosh. Bank accounts were frozen, players, coaching staff and admin staff at the club were not paid, and a winding up order was on the cards.

Now, as I mentioned I’m from Northampton, and I must say, with no offence intended, it’s a quiet market town with very little to offer. The main thing the people look forward to are the weekends when it’s Rugby Club (Northampton Saints) and of course the Cobblers are playing. Both teams get good turnouts each week with their passionate backings. We’ve seen in recent times the likes of Bury collapse and go under, with it’s fans devastated and heartbroken. In truth the Cobblers fans were faced with the same fear heartbreak that their North-West counterparts would feel four years later.

It was the darkest hour in the Club’s history. But a bright light would soonemerge out of the darkness. Kelvin Thomas became the owner of the Cobblers and stopped the club going under.

Northampton could finally focus on matters on the pitch rather than off it, and their performances would soon grab the attention of many people across the country for all the right reasons.

Wilder’s men lost just once after October 17, and surged towards the League Two title. It was a sensational campaign where they picked up 99 points which matched the total picked up by the Cobblers side who won the Fourth Division in 86/87.

Sadly Wilder would not lead the League Two Champions into League 1, as he stepped down to take over at Sheffield United, Who he has guided to the Premier League.

The Cobblers’ would spend two years in League One, sadly being relegated in 2018. The club went through somewhat of a managerial merry-go-round during that time, (Managers were Rob Page, the late Justin Edinburgh, Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink and Dean Austin) with each lasting around six months.

There were some great moments though in that. The Cobblers picked up some memorable wins against local rivals, MK Dons and Coventry City, and also would grab an impressive point away at Blackburn Rovers.

Arguably their greatest story of that period came in the EFL Cup, a penalty shootout win over West Brom set them up for a third tie with Manchester United. However they were unable to reprouduce their Anfield scalp of 2010, as a United side which fielded the likes of Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rashford went away from Sixfields 3-1 winners.

The Club had a poor 2018/19 season though, Dean Austin was sacked after 10 games and was replaced by Keith Curle, who guided them to a 15th place finish.

The current season did not start brilliantly either. The Cobblers were

18th after 13 games and fans were begining to lose patience with Curle.  One supporter even threw his season ticket at the former Manchester City defender and refused to watch them until he was gone!

Many thought Curle would follow the same fate as his predeccesors, but the board kept faith in him, and they were right to do so. Northampton Town embarked on an outstanding run which saw them win 11 of their next 16 matches to fire them into the play-offs. They did struggle in February and March, however with the Coronavirus pandemic putting the season on hold, and eventually curtailing the season, the Cobblers ended the season 7th.

Northampton will be back in League One next season,
Credit – Getty Images

They faced Cheltenham in the play-off semi finals, who beat them 2-0 in the first leg at Sixfields. Near enough everyone thought their play-off dream was over. But if there’s one thing we’ve learnt over the last 10 years, it’s that you never write off Northampton Town, and they proved that in the second leg.

Callum Morton’s goal 13 minutes from time helped them produce one of the greatest comebacks in Play-off history, and sent them to Wembley, where they outshone, and outclassed their opponents Exeter City 4-0. The board’s patience in Curle, and his side paid off.

Though the Shoe Army were not able to travel to Wembley, they still celebrated with their players and mobbed them when they returned to the Sixfields after their heroic display.

Their play-off win wraps up what has been a decade which has had it all. It’s a story which has had a lot of cliffhangers, dilemmas and resoultions, the Wembley win gives the story the happy ending.   An ending thatthe club’s fans and the people of Northampton deserve.


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