>Wembley…Ten Years On…Part Ten…John Gayle

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With only a few weeks to go in the Wembley series, we take a look at the big man at the front of the Cobblers’ side on that famous day. There may have been two towers overlooking the stadium back then but we needed just one tower on the pitch…his name was John Gayle.

Big John was an intimidation tactic at the very worst for the Cobblers. Rumours was rife that before some games Gayle would square up to opposition, throw footballs at their heads and generally put himself about before a ball had even been kicked!

The John Gayle story was a long one even before his arrival at Sixfields. Starting out at non-league Bromsgrove Rovers in 1988, Gayle progressed to play for Wimbledon after a £30,000 transfer took him into the big time. After just one season with the Dons, Birmingham City splashed out £175,000 for his services and Gayle remained at St Andrews for three years, scoring 14 goals during his time with the Blues.

After a short loan spell with fellow midland club Walsall, Gayle made the move to Coventry City, where despite a £100,000 move, he made just four appearances. His travel continued to Turf Moor as Burnley came calling and Gayle spent just four months at the Clarets before agreeing a move to Stoke City in January 1995. The big man made twenty one appearances, scoring four goals in his time there before hitting three in nine starts during a loan spell with Gillingham.

Ian Atkins brought Gayle to Sixfields in February 1997, just a few months before the Wembley showpiece, in a £25,000 deal. In those few months, Gayle earned himself cult status with the Town fans and his no nonsense approach was a key figure in getting out of English footballs’ basement division. Big John stayed with the Cobblers for another season and played in the second Wembley appearance against Grimsby Town in 1998.

Gayle was released at the end of that season and signed for Scunthorpe United on a free transfer. He returned to Wembley with Scunthorpe in his first season and helped them to victory over Leyton Orient in the Division Three (League Two) playoff final. In November of 1999, Gayle moved to Shrewsbury Town and played for a year at Gay Meadow, scoring twice in eighteen games. Following a short spell with Torquay United, Gayle settled at non-league Moor Green to see out his career.

John Gayle’s love affair with Wembley Stadium wasn’t just with the Cobblers and Scunthorpe United. Back in 1991, he struck what was once described by Bobby Charlton as “the two best goals ever scored at Wembley” for Birmingham City in the Leyland DAF Cup Final! (Leyland DAF’s modern equivilant being the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy).
Nowadays, Gayle travels to the USA every year to coach football at Clevedon University whilst also coaching unprivileged children in Birmingham.

>Northampton Town Season in Review 2006/07…September

>As the season rolled on to September, the Cobblers still hadn’t gained any points at Sixfields, so it was perhaps a relief that the first two games of the month saw us back on the road.

The first port of call was Millmoor, Rotherham, in our first Friday night fixture of the season and our first game against the Millers since that famous night in 2004 when the Cobblers won 2-1 to set up a FA Cup Fourth round tie with Manchester United. Things had changed a lot since then though and Rotherham were in deep trouble after starting the season on -10 points following their fall into administration. After a strong start to the season, victory against us would have taken them back into the plus figures but Scott McGleish’s late double meant it was the Cobblers who came away with the points. Dave Hibbert gave Rotherham the lead after just 7 minutes before McGleish struck in the 74th and 82nd minutes to turn it around.

Next up was the trip to Carlisle and after last season’s Mr Bean marathon on the trip north whilst on board Sixfields Travel Club, Tim thought it best to play safe and drive this time around! Though Tim took time to discover which way was left and which right, we were safely in Carlisle before midday. That left us to wander around aimlessly in the city centre and take in some quite unusual street performers and bagpipe players before tucking into a KFC before the game. Scott McGleish continued his superb start to the season with the opening goal just after half time but Karl Hawley’s solo run and finish sent us home with just the solitary point in a 1-1 draw.

The following Tuesday saw us finally pick up our first point at home in a 1-1 draw with Yeovil Town. Jason Crowe’s first half goal put us in front but the much travelled Marcus Stewart frustrated us and our efforts for a first home win with a second half header.

The next home game brought more Sixfields despair as Tranmere Rovers were the visitors and they stormed into a 3-0 lead with goals from Calvin Zola, Gareth Taylor and a penalty from John Mullin. McGleish got one back with fifteen minutes to go but despite a late charge it was too little too late.

The contrasting home and away form continued in late September as a trip to Millwall resulted in a loanee’s first goal for the club, a manager losing his job and protest outside the ground. I remember feeling the tension as I walked around Bermondsey station in my Cobblers shirt and every single Millwall fan I crossed paths with gave me the same evil look. Luckily more Town fans arrived and we made a safe walk down the special away supporters’ entrance from the station. After some fish and chips in the sun, we entered to see the angry ‘Wall faithful gathering in the stand to our right, ready to punch their fists and shout abuse at any king of decision that went against them. They were made even angrier when Cobblers loanee Mitchell Cole broke down the left and powered a shot into the corner to score the only goal of the game! After the game, I was ambling along in my Cobblers shirt with all the away fans heading back one way to Northampton and me having to walk with/through the Millwall fans in order to get back to the south! This defeat for Millwall cost manager Nigel Spackman his job and sparked angry scenes outside the New Den as fans confronted Ray Wilkins in the car park, protesting about their poor start to the season.

Following up that trip to London was a Tuesday night game at Cheltenham Town and a ground where we previously had bad memories of dour defeats and disallowed goals but this particular hoodoo was laid to rest as second half goals from Andy Kirk and a Scott McGleish penalty gave us a second successive victory.

With the away form so good, it was even more desperate that we couldn’t find a first home success of the season and the trend continued as Port Vale came to town. First half goals from George Pilkington and Stefan Moore, on loan from QPR, killed us off in a 2-0 defeat.

So all in all a superb month away from home as we picked up ten points from a possible twelve on the road but still we were searching for home win number one following two defeat and a draw in September at Sixfields.

>Cobblers announce trio of home friendlies…

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The Cobblers have finalised the pre-season list of friendlies and it includes, for the first time in years, THREE home games as we prepare for the 2007/08 season.

The three sides coming to Sixfields in July are Championship sides Coventry City and Wolverhampton Wanderers while we’ll also face West Bromwich Albion who could well be a Premiership side come pre-season!

Before these home games we travel to Ibiza for the San An Cup to face opponants to be confirmed and upon arrival back in England travel for the obligatory game at Rockingham Road, Kettering.

The full list of pre-season fixtures:

Tuesday, July 1oth: San An Cup Match One (Ibiza)
Thursday, July 12th: San An Cup Match Two (Ibiza)
Wednesday, July 18th: Kettering Town (A)
Saturday, July 21st: COVENTRY CITY (H)
Wednesday, July 25th: WEST BROMWICH ALBION (H)
Tuesday, July 31st: WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS (H)
Saturday, August 4th: Rushden and Diamonds (A) Maunsell Cup Final

The football league season begins again on Saturday, August 11th.

>Wembley…Ten Years ago today!

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Ten Years ago today we were packing up our lunches, pulling on the “Lotto” sponsored shirts and heading for the Twin Towers! To everyone that was a part of that incredible day, Happy Anniversary!

It’s strange how time passes so quickly without you knowing it. In the last ten years we’ve been on a roller coaster of emotions in the bottom two leagues of English football, battled against administration, been taken over after an SOS appeal and gone through endless debates about the future redevelopment of Sixfields Stadium.

Since Wembley there’s been ten different men at the helm (including caretaker managers). We’ve played 467 league games since that day, including playoffs, winning 173, drawing 123 and losing 171.

So today is a day for looking back and celebrating arguably the greatest day in the club’s history and looking at the photos that have been put up on the Cobblers’ official website today still gives me goose bumps, as does watching that winning goal over and over again!

Who knows if and when we will grace Wembley with our presence again but today I’m feeling very thankful that I got the chance to see us not only play there twice but to see us win there as well. Today is a chance to remember but to be honest, it will never, ever be forgotten!

>Wembley…Ten Years On…Part Nine…Christian Lee…

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As we continue the look back on the Wembley heroes from ten years ago (exactly ten years come tomorrow!), the player in focus this week is the man once touted as the one that could be our “first million pound player” by Ian Atkins.

Christian Lee came from nowhere to break into the Cobblers first team squad in 1996/97 and the future looked bright for the youngster as impressive performances and vital goals helped the Cobblers on their way to Wembley. Joining from Doncaster Rovers in July 1995, Lee went on to make over 50 appearances for the Cobblers, though the majority of these were from the bench.

After helping the club to Wembley, Lee made it into the starting line-up, playing just behind the front two of Larry and Big John Gayle and could even have been the goal scoring hero himself after a glancing header went just wide only minutes into the second half.

Chances were limited for Lee after that and in 1999 he joined Gillingham for £35,000. Lee never made an impact at the Priestfield and was sent out on loan to Rochdale and Leyton Orient before finally leaving the club to join Bristol Rovers on a free transfer in March 2003.

After just ten appearances for the Gas, Lee moved down to non-league with Farnborough Town and again didn’t last long, being sent out on loan to Rushden and Diamonds before returning to Farnborough and finally getting a run in the first team, helping them on a memorable cup run that ended at Highbury in a game where Lee was sent off early on in a 5-1 defeat!

Lee ended his career with Halifax Town in 2005 but all of his transfer fees put together (just the £35,000 then!) didn’t even come close to Ian Atkins’ valuation of the striker!

Nowadays, Lee has found his feet in the modelling industry after being signed up by Chinese fashion label Giordano to model sportswear!

>Cobblers sign Gills’ man Jackman

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The Cobblers have revealed that Danny Jackman will join the club from Gillingham on a free transfer this summer.

Jackman, whose contract with the Gills runs out at the end of June, will join up with the squad for pre-season training after his summer break. The left back, who can also play in midfield spent two years at The Priestfield Stadium after previous spells at Stockport County and Aston Villa. Gray knows Jackman from his time at Villa Park and he comes highly rated after picking up two player of the year awards in 2006.

The signing will increase the debate about the Cobblers future of Andy Holt and Jason Crowe, both more forward thinking full back, as Stuart Gray has indicated that he would prefer to play with out and out left and right backs.

Jackman’s signing follows on from the good news last week of Chris Doig putting pen to paper on a new deal and the squad is already looking good even before the summer holidays begin!

>No Saints 14-0 (Insert Team Name here)

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History was made this evening as No Saints kept their first ever clean sheet in a stonking victory that could well put us top of the League Two table.

Confusion reigned early on in the night as we were informed that both Fidistas and our expoected opponents, Icy Retards, had both pulled out of the league. So we were put up against a new team, hence the title of this post!

With only four players, the new team couldn’t cope with the free flowing, passing and movement from the No Saints, brimming with confidence following last weeks’ victory. Aaron struck four times in an impressive performance while I added two of my own to take my personal tally to 3 for the season so far! The second half was a little more even as Kev joined the other team to make up the numbers but the damage was done and it’s six points from six as the promotion charge gets rolling!

>Northampton Town Season in Review 2006/07…August

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After a disappointing World Cup for the national team, it was back to the real football as the start of the 2006/07 season saw changes aplenty at Sixfields.

John Gorman replaced the Nottingham Forest bound Colin Calderwood and joining him from Wycombe was coach Jim Barron and midfielder Joe Burnell. Ian Sampson was promoted from youth team coach to Assistant manager while former Town players Sean Parrish and Ray Warburton joined the youth set up.

Also joining the club were front man James Quinn, midfielder Sam Aiston from Tranmere Rovers and left-back Andy Holt, signing from Wrexham. Jerome Watt also signed on a free transfer from Blackburn Rovers at the start of the season.

Going out were fans’ favourite Martin Smith, who made a move back to his native North East and to Darlington while David Rowson also signed for the Quakers. Josh Low was another big name departure from the club when he left for Championship side Leicester City while Ashley Westwood left for Chester and striker Jason Lee to Notts County.

A week before the season began, we headed off on the Sixfields Boys day trip to the Norfolk broads before the Norwich away friendly. The second annual trip to Wroxham included all the usual merriment of PJ falling asleep, fish and chips, a sighting of the ice cream boat and even a round of crazy golf, where I made a shocking start but clawed back my swing just in time. I think we called it a draw after not having enough time to finish the course! The game ended in a 1-0 win for Norwich but a grand day out all the same!

And so to the much anticipated start of the Cobblers’ assault on League One and the fixture list gave us a trip north to Gresty Road, Crewe in the opening game of the season. John Gorman’s promises of attractive and entertaining football seemed to be showing already as the Cobblers twice came from behind to claim a good point in an exciting 2-2 draw. Ryan Lowe put the Alex in front to give us the worst possible start to the season after seven minutes but Scott McGleish equalised just five minutes later. David Vaughn put the home side back in front on twenty minutes in a pulsating league opener. The Cobblers weren’t to be denied a point though and Andy Kirk hit back just before half time as we claimed a share of the spoils.

The following Tuesday saw the start of the home campaign with a tester against Brentford at Sixfields. Lee Harper’s fateful error with twenty minutes to go handed Chris Moore, a free transfer for the Bees from Dagenham in the summer, the chance to give them the points. He duly obliged and the defeat started a woeful run of home form for the Cobblers.

The first Saturday home game saw former European Cup winners Nottingham Forest visit Sixfields in what was also a quick return for Colin Calderwood. It ended with another 1-0 defeat with the unfortunate Chris Doig scoring an own goal and Scott McGleish being sent off on the hour mark. Mark Bunn took over from Lee Harper in goal for this one and Harper never gained his place back.

The following weekend and we headed to Gillingham and finally picked up our first three points of the season. On a beautifully sunny day I remember being rather unnerved by the atmosphere around the only street up to the away end of the Priestfield Stadium but luckily found the usual Cobblers travellers in the small pub at the end of that road and one of my favourite pubs of the season just for its décor of history, hanging from the ceiling were football shirts from the ages and from all teams you could think of. Jeema was greeted into the pub with his usual heroes welcome! On the pitch, the Cobblers needed just the one goal to see off Gillingham, Andy Kirk providing us with win number one.

Our Carling Cup campaign started and finished at Loftus Road despite a gutsy fightback against the Championship side. Rangers went 2-0 up through Lee Cook and Kevin Gallen before Jerome Watt’s impressive performance was rounded off with a spectacular goal and Andy Kirk levelled the score with ten minutes to go. With extra time looming, QPR cruelly won it with a goal in the 87th minute through Ray Jones.

Back to league action and the game with Bristol City, shown live on Sky Sports, rounded off the month. Andy Kirk finished off a productive month for himself with the opening goal but it was cancelled out by the first in a long line of penalty decisions that went against us this season when Phil Jevons converted from the spot. The game was overshadowed by what happened in first half stoppage time as City’s Bradley Orr was sent off for appearing to head butt team mate Louis Carey! But despite only having ten men on the pitch, City were still too strong and ran out 3-1 winners thanks to a Paul Brooker goal and the outstanding David Cotterill, who has since joined Wigan Athletic for £2 million, converting a second penalty!

So a mixed start to the 2006/07 season for the Cobblers but three home defeats on the trot meant that we were stuck in the bottom half of the table as the season gathered pace.

>Wembley…Ten Years On…Part Eight…Roy Hunter

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One man absent from Tuesday nights’ “Andy Woodman benefit match” involving all of the Wembley heroes was midfielder Roy Hunter. As one long throw specialist leaves the club, this week we celebrate another as Hunter becomes the focus of the latest Wembley feature.

Roy Hunter was straight out of the school of Ian Akins and from the moment he signed right up to his departure in 2002, he gave everything to the club and there was never a time you could fault his effort and work rate for the cause. Born in Middlesbrough in 1973, Hunter won a place as a trainee with West Bromwich Albion. After just eight starts in three years with the Baggies, The Cobblers snapped him up on a free transfer just in time for the 1995-96 season, where Hunter helped the club to a top half finish, just missing out on the playoffs.

But the following season we weren’t to be denied and Hunter played his part alongside Sean Parrish in the centre of midfield and provided the ammunition for the front two to feed off. His long throw, usually onto the ample head of Big John Gayle, caused problems of their own while he also took over the responsibility of penalty taking.At Wembley, Hunter played a full part and was the other option for the free kick that Frainy curled home in stoppage time. Who knows what would have happened if Hunter had taken the kick himself!

After the game I have vivid memories of Hunter dancing under the big flag that was placed on the pitch and getting stuck before finally appearing to join the celebrations!Hunter’s Cobblers career came to an end after over 200 appearances and 20 goals when he joined Nuneaton Borough on a free transfer.

This stint in non-league lasted just three games though and he rejoined the football league with Oxford United making 14 appearances in the 2002/03 season.After a short spell with Northwich Victoria, Hunter was last seen with Hucknall Town.

My final memory of Roy Hunter took place in the Whitehills pub in Northampton, where at a sporting auction, he bid for and won a signed Cobblers shirt a couple of years after leaving the club!

>Doig signs new two year contract…

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Chris Doig has become the latest Cobblers player to agree a new contract with the club, signing a two year deal this afternoon. It’s a massive boost for Stuart Gray and his squad building ambitions for next season as Doig joins Mark Bunn, Liam Dolman and Bradley Johnson in signing new deals.

Doig, who signed on a free transfer under Colin Calderwood in 2005, has been a rock at the back ever since his arrival from Nottingham Forest and was even linked with a move back to the City Ground before agreeing on the new contract.

Doig played for Forest from 1997 right up to signing for the Cobblers at the start of our promotion season. He previously spent a short loan spell here during his Forest days but this latest deal keeps him here until 2009.

It’s a massive boost and once again a sign of Stuart Gray’s ambition for the club, having already persuaded Mark Bunn and Brad Johnson to sign new deals while also extending the contract of influential defender Mark Hughes. The base of the squad is already beginning to take shape for the summer and Doig’s passion and strength at the back will be a huge part of next season’s plans.