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In Search of the Goalless Draw
By: Andrew Doherty
"DID you go last Saturday?" asked the friendly gentleman in the club shop when I popped in the other day for some seasonal purchases.
He looked at me incredulously when I confirmed that I had been to the MK Dons fiasco. I can understand the thinking. Many have stopped going.
The rest of us are bordering on insanity or worse. But things are different now. The big AB is back in the managerial chair. Some people may not approve but many, myself among them, do. AB = organisation, structure, discipline and survival. Thatâ€™s the formula. Itâ€™s going to take a bit of time but I believe that whilst some weaknesses, notably in defence, are glaring, the raw talent is there. There is cause for positiveness. My daughter Revisâ€™s take on all this when I put this to her was "at least the crowd can use their breath for shouting at the referee instead of complaining about the manager".
Todayâ€™s game against Northampton could almost be seen as a distraction from the main event, a work out for AB to assess his troops and formulate a master plan. AB wonâ€™t see it that way. And neither should we. All this optimism is lost on my children Merlin and Revis, who have become accustomed to the rancid smell of defeat and are fully anticipating the usual feast of suffering. Theyâ€™re too young to recall the glory years. I recall the Northampton play-off final in 1998. Children now in their late teens will be embittered and twisted like the rest of us, but then it was different. They were overheard to be regarding Wembley as a regular venue for our Mariners. It was the age of innocence.
Apart from that momentous day, which I recall was fraught with tension, my only other experience of Northampton Town was a visit in the late 80s to the three-sided County Ground, where we sat in a temporary stand and watched our heroes lose 2 - 1. These days they play at the Sixfields Stadium - how many fields do you need to play dire football? - and thatâ€™s where weâ€™re going today for this FA Cup Round 1 fixture.
We arrived in good time. It was blowing a gale and cold. "Why are we freezing to death to watch Grimsby lose again?" asked Revis. A man handed us each a plastic bag - were they expecting us to be sick? Revis explained to her out of touch father that they were, when inflated, "bang sticks", which you hit together when your team scores. "Weâ€™re not going to have much use for them, then", observed Merlin, who got the job of inflating them.
We met up with Swanny and saw the bus arrive with the team. Revis considered this to be the equivalent of watching paint dry. You can pick up signs though. The team looked much happier and more confident than they had at Swindon a couple of weeks back. Bringing up the rear was the man himself, AB. We wished him well.
Swanny and I had a chat about the old days and other stuff. A vicar walked by, resplendent in black and white, to conduct pre-match prayers for the Northampton faithful. "Have things got that bad?" asked Gary.
We entered the ground after going to the "pay point", which I guess is the modern sanitised version of a ticket office. I paid money for the three of us, indeed rather a lot of it, and the man gave me tickets, which amounts to the same thing. At this point I couldnâ€™t get out of my mind something that Garyâ€™s mate Mick had told me while waiting for the team bus. I mentioned that Iâ€™d not been to the Sixfields Stadium before. Mick issued a dire warning: "Last time we were here, people had cuts and bruises and were covered in blood". I donâ€™t remember that one, even as an avid Ceefax spectator. Was anyone sent off? Mick explained he was talking about the crowd. The seats were so narrow and had nails stuck out of them, resulting in mass injury every time people got out of their seat". The best we can hope for is a 0 - 0 draw" added Mick, "thereâ€™s less chance of injury". This is the Northampton Sixfields Experience.
As we took our place in the Seats of Mass Destruction, people filed by unenthusiastically on the hill above the ground, all coming to join us for the communal suffering. "No more excuses" proclaimed an advertising board to our right.
Excuses for what, I wondered.
It was 2.55. I observed to Swanny that there werenâ€™t many people there. I speculated that maybe these DVT-friendly seats meant that there were more people in the hospital than in the ground. "The Cobblers Ward" suggested Swanny. There was plenty of noise around us as the new manager was being saluted. The game was about to start. The team had a refreshing air of youth about it, with Danny North up front and Nick Hegarty out on the flank. This was not the tired old team we were used to.
The report continues in Part 2.
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