After the sublime late, late show that saw off Boro (about which more later), what next? Northampton. Not exactly a footballing hotbed. Until, of course, Marco went there. Towards the end of his career he may have been, but he was still sharp enough for Danny Brothers**, Cobblers fan extraordinaire. “Never lost his touch” – a touch I heard described by a gobby policeman in the away end at Charlton v Sunderland, eve of Marco’s transfer to Crystal Palace, as “the touch of a walrus” – “one of the best I’ve seen in a Cobblers shirt”. And what about Sammo, another former Sunderland man, now a Northampton cult hero? Both eclipsed in Danny’s eyes by a certain Martin Smith, whom he regards as the most talented footballer he has seen in his team’s colours. Danny (on the left in the picture below), an aspiring writer who runs the website A Load of Cobblers, tells all as he previews Tuesday night’s Carling Cup clash between our clubs…….
One man looking forward to the Cobblers’ trip to Sunderland more than most is Town’s assistant manager, Ian Sampson. “Sammo” made 13 league appearances for the Black Cats before moving to Northampton initially on loan in 1993. After signing permanantly in 1994, Sammo went on to achieve cult status at the club, helping us to Wembley in 1997 for the Division Three (League Two) playoff final, as we saw off Swansea with an injury time free kick from John Frain.
A year later and Sammo was at Wembley again as he helped the Cobblers to the Division Two (League One) playoff final but this time it ended in disappointment. Grimsby Town edged us out and the following year we were relegated, but Sammo remained at the heart of the defence.
After an incredible 499 games, the defender retired in 2004 following another unsuccessful playoff campaign as we lost out in the League Two semi-finals, denying him the chance to make it 500 appearances in the final.
Throughout the second half of the nineties and early naughties, Ian Sampson has been Northampton Town. Remaining at the club first as youth team boss and now assistant manager, Sammo has Claret and White running through his blood and we can only thank Sunderland for letting him go and giving us the most loyal, hard working and committed players ever to pull on the Cobblers shirt.
Sammo watched on as the Cobblers saw off Bolton Wanderers at the Reebok Stadium in Round Two as Adebayo Akinfenwa struck twice to see off the Trotters and the cause the shock of the round, propelling us into a rare week of media spotlight. The draw wasn’t what we hoped for I must admit with another long mid-week trip but the Stadium of Light visit gives our fans another chance to taste life of a Premier League team.
We’d be silly to think that the Bolton result can happen again but you never know in football. One thing we would love to have behind us is 11 Ian Sampsons on the pitch. You certainly wouldn’t bet against us if we had eleven men like him on the pitch.
And now to your questions…
What did you think of our respective clubs’ prospects before the season started? Have the first few games altered your thoughts?
I expected Sunderland to be challenging in the top half of the table this time around. Roy Keane has done an excellent job in turning around your fortunes and understanding that you have to simply consolidate in the first season back in the top flight. This season, I would think that you would have no relegation problems and end up around tenth as Keane looks to improve and make another step up. Sunderland’s start has been tough but I was impressed with the win at Spurs. Djibrial Cisse could become a very good signing and his winner at White Hart Lane showed exactly what he’s made of. The defeat to City should be a one off and I expect the Black Cats to kick on and move away from the bottom three in the coming weeks.
As for Northampton, everyone had high hopes at the start of the season following a superb finish of ninth place last season. With limited resources and with players simply not being attracted to playing at Northampton though, we struggled in the transfer market. Adebayo Akinfenwa signed a permanant deal while young hopeful Ryan Gilligan signed a new deal to keep some continuity going. With signings like Leon Constantine and Liam Davis, hopes were high of a playoff challenge this time out.
But after a 4-2 win on the opening day against Cheltenham Town and a Carling Cup win at Millwall, we slipped away and were beaten at MK Dons before drawing at home to Millwall in the league. It looked like things had turned around after the famous Bolton victory but we followed that up with a 4-1 hammering at Tranmere which typifies Northampton Town and what it’s like to support them in just a week! We were frustrated in the transfer window and now Stuart Gray will look to the loan market once again to try and bolster the squad as we look to get back on track in the league.Expectations havn’t changed and the playoffs can be challenged for if we can keep our small squad fit.
You are probably too young to have seen SAFC v Northampton in 1987/8 (old Third Division) and I am not sure if we’ve ever met since, but have you ever seen Sunderland play? Have you been to the Stadium of Light. If so what did you make of it?
I would have been three years old when that game happened so I wasn’t even aware of it but my Dad would have some recollection of standing at the old County Ground for the game I’m sure. I’ve only ever seen Sunderland play on TV with the distance of it from both my home town of Northampton and Southampton, where I now reside obviously being even further away! From what I’ve seen though, it seems a rarity in modern day stadiums in that it can generate a good atmosphere on big games and the unquestionable passion of your fans must make it a tough place to come for the big teams.
What do you think about each club’s activity in the transfer market?
Sunderland bosses appeared to drive to White Hart Lane and grab what they could this summer but what they got was three good signings from Spurs, particularly Pascal Chimbonda who can be sorted out by Roy Keane and made into a quality right back. Elsewhere, David Healy will score goals if you give him a run in the side, I’m convinced of that. Diouf and Cisse provide some much needed pace up front and will again give you a different dimension. At the back, Ferdinand and McCartney will sure up the defence so the squad is looking mightily impressive.
The Cobblers were forced to end any hope of a deadline day deal when a bid for a highly rated striker was rejected. During the summer we brought in Leon Constantine, a proven goal scorer at this level, from Leeds. He’s not lived up to his billing so far and needs to put more effort in to help the team and get the fans on his side but you don’t lose a goalscoring touch overnight. Abdul Osman was brought in from Gretna and he looks like a solid addition to midfield. Going out was the brilliant goalkeeper Mark Bunn, the best in League One, as he left for Blackburn Rovers for an undisclosed fee. Bunn’s last game was the Bolton game and he has the potential to shine if he gets the chance in the Premier League.
Do you regard any other club much as we regard Newcastle? Or are you more grown-up about such things?
No, we’re certainly not more grown up about such things. Before we play Sunderland, we are just about to take on our fierce rivals Peterborough United in the league. MK Dons and Rushden and Diamonds have tried in vain to get our attention locally but the real derby and the real hatred is saved for Peterborough. In Barry Fry they have a man we love to hate as the chairman and former boss and the history behind this fixture makes the meetings withThe Posh the games of the season.
Marco Gabbiadini was a Roker hero but came to you late in his career. Any thoughts on him, Ian Sampson and any other players and/or management linked to both clubs?
Sammo has been mentioned but Marco was another to earn cult status during his three years here. He made over 100 appearances for the club to help us to promotion and then consolidation in League One (2000-2003) but left after we were relegated. Marco was getting on a bit during his time here but he never lost his touch. One of the highlights was a memorable goal from just inside the Cardiff half at Ninian Park which typified the type of magic he could produce. He lacked a bit of pace but skill-wise he was one of the best I’ve seen in a Cobblers shirt.
One man who pips Marco is another former Sunderland man, Martin Smith. Smith, pictured courtesy of A Love Supreme picked up the mantle where Marco left off in 2003 and is the most talented player I’ve had the pleasure of seeing play for the club. Making over 100 appearances for the Cobblers, Smith’s technical ability surpasses any other and it was disappointing to see him leave in 2006 after firing us to promotion through the playoffs.
The man who took us to Wembley twice in the late nineties, Ian Atkins, also spent some time as a player at Roker Park between 1982 and 1984 and will go down in history as the manager that took us to the famous stadium for the first time. Atkins was a no nonsence boss and his hoof and run tactis certainly weren’t popular but they got the job done and he went on to make a name for himself in the lower leagues.
How does the supporter of a lower league team regard followers of the big Premier League clubs?
It depends which team it is but we generally regard Premier League fans with a lot of respect if they’ve been supporting the club in darker days. People who jump on bandwagons when a team gets successful earn no admiration. I think in general, the away followings in the Premier League show that there’s still a hardcore element at every club and the passion is certainly not lost by the true fans who are living the Premier League dream.
What is the highest you dare dream of Northampton going?
I’ve always said that all I want for the Cobblers is to be in the Premier League for one season during my lifetime. We have a fantastic base for fans when they do turn up, shown by the 40,000 we took to Wembley in 1998 so the support is there. We have to dream that one day we will reach the big time but the lower leagues bring so much adventure, shocking grounds and random day trips that I would probably miss these days if they ever go away!
What do you make of the big takeovers, such as Man City and, before them, Chelsea, Man Utd, Fulham and QPR? Could there be a fabulously rich champion out there for the Cobblers?
As good as these takeovers are great for the clubs money-wise I feel that the massive investors take away the soul of a football club. Some of these takeovers involve nothign but bored billionaires wanting a bit of fun and it can end up with the life being taken away from a proud history and heritage at a club. We were taken over back in 2003 by David Cardoza who injected enough cash to save us from administration and take us to the next level but it was nowhere near the likes of Fulham and Wigan who rose from this level a few years ago. If we did get taken over, I would rather it be by a less rich owner with a true love of the club rather than a billionaire from abroad who knows nothing about football.
Club vs country. Who wins for you?
I’ve got a bit of stick in the past for saying this but it’s club every single time for me. Although I am English and get caught up in the hype of every England game, there’s nothing like a win for your club. A true indication of my feelings towards this was back in 2004. The Cobblers were beaten in an epic two legged playoff semi-final against Mansfield Town. After a blood and thunder tie, we lost out on a place in the final on penalties and to this day I still shudder with emotion when I watch the dvd of that night at Field Mill. A month or so later and England lost to Portugal in Euro 2004, again on penalties. That defeat took me a couple of hours to get over and the heartache was a million times worse watching the players I pay to see every week going down on penalties after nine months of toil. So it’s club every time for me and given a choice of Northampton going into the Premier League for one season or England winning the World Cup, I’d choose Northampton success every time.
Who will win? Score? Will you be there?
I probably won’t be there unfortunately with the distance between Southampton and Sunderland creating an impossible task to get to the game on a Tuesday night! My heart says a Cobblers penalty shoot out win but my head says that we’ll be edged out in normal time so I’ll go for a 2-1 Sunderland win.
Danny Brothers on Danny Brothers:
Twenty-three and for the moment. unemployed, I’ve been supporting the Cobblers since a very young age and I think I was five when my Dad finally took me to a game at the old County Ground with my Pap to see us take on a Tottenham X1 in a pre-season friendly. I was hooked by the singing in the terrac.es, the crowds and the general feel of the place and was on board every time Dad went “down the Cobblers.” Growing up in Northampton I had only one or two friends who were Cobblers fans with the rest following the big names in the Premier League.
I was immediately hooked by the lower leagues though and soon joined Dad at away games when I was old enough! Trips to the glamorous locations like Rochdale, Chesterfield and Barnet were my induction to football and I never in a million years thought that we would play under the twin towers at Wembley. In 1997, our centenary year, we made it to the Division Three (League Two) playoff final and John Frain’s last minute free-kick sent 32,000 Cobblers fans into delirium. Dad lifted me up in the air in a moment that I will never forget as years of sharing the anger and disappointment of defeats in the basement league came to an extraordinary conclusion.
Since then, it’s been a time of yo-yoing between the bottom two divisions and we’re now a stable League One side with a bright future under young manager Stuart Gray. I moved to Southampton in 2003 and continued to travel up to Northampton and across the country from my new university home. Completing a Media Writing course at Southampton Solent University, I continue to reside in Southampton and have even persuaded my housemate to convert into a Cobblers fan – and I am now trying to induct him into lower league life in exactly the same way that Dad did for me all those years ago.