The Cobblers’ meeting with Crawley Town this Saturday lunchtime is the latest in a long list of growing games that have featured our beloved club being broadcast to the nation on Sky Sports. As far as I can make out we’ve picked up just six wins in fifteen Live Sky games with eight defeats and one draw.
Away from those stats are experiences that create plenty of memories from my Cobblers supporting life. For Football League fans, particularly in Leagues One and Two, it’s so rare that we get the chance to have a game covered by the media juggernaut that is Sky (or any of its competitors that have chosen the odd Cobblers game over the years – hello BBC’s screening of the defeat to Canvey Island!).
With the focus on the Premier League we are very lucky indeed to have even one game per season shown on Sky so we should enjoy this spotlight for one week only and hope that we add to some of the happier memories in this piece rather than shove it in the ‘shockers’ column and try to forget about it, such as the Swansea hammering in 2000 where a 4-1 defeat at the glorious Vetch Field – one of my favourite ever away venues – threatened to knock off our promotion hopes for that season.
It all began in 1996 when I was just twelve years old and Graham Taylor’s Watford side were drawn to visit Sixfields in the First Round of that season’s FA Cup. Sky came a calling and I remember being so excited and hoping that my position in the East Stand, facing the camera, would get me some TV time! It didn’t and on the pitch the Cobblers, a division below the Hornets, were narrowly beaten as Northampton-born Darren Bazeley curled in the only goal after cutting in from the right hand side. The everlasting memory from that game, though, will always be Neil ‘Larry’ Grayson’s equaliser that never was. Larry finished a good move by the Cobblers but was wrongly adjudged to be offside and we took solace in the fact that we could check the decision out on the video (yes, VIDEO) recording later on!
Of course we would, later that season, seal promotion in front of the nation with a certain John Frain 93rd minute winner at Wembley and again the video was keenly watched back at home but this time it was kept as a precious memory rather than simply used to relive a disallowed goal or to try and spot myself eating a hot dog.
A year later and Grimsby would end the momentum and signal the beginning of the end of the successful Ian Atkins era at the club with Sky again winning the buying rights to the divisional playoff finals. What price would we have put on the semi-final win over Bristol Rovers being broadcast as well?!
Sixfields was back under the lights of Sky in September 1998 with the two legged Worthington Cup win over Premier League West Ham United becoming my first real experience of the Cobblers upsetting a bigger club. Following Chris ‘I only weigh…’ Freestone’s first leg double, I remember sitting on the edge of my sofa at home for the second leg at Upton Park and being so proud of the away support that night as Frank Lampard’s solitary goal wasn’t enough to turn around a 2-0 lead we had from the first leg. It was my first experience of watching a Cobblers game live having been in attendance at the previous matches and it gave me a pride the following day at school knowing that all of my friends that supported bigger clubs would have been watching the night before!
So Sky had been fairly good to us up until then but that Swansea defeat in March 2000 (summed up by my Dad screaming obscenities at the TV screen hoping that Steve Howard would hear him through the glass) gave us a tick in the ‘hammering on tv column.’
There was only really cup attention for the next couple of years with Fulham seen off by Marco Gabbiadini’s goal early in the 2000-2001 season in the League Cup First Round, First leg(Fulham won through after a 4-1 second leg win that fortunately wasn’t televised) and a similar 1-0 win at home to Norwich in 2003 in the same competition.
I was at uni when Sky came calling again and I was sat in the local pub to my halls of residence having arranged for the match against Swansea in a League Two game to be put on a single monitor in the corner. With my friend Steve who was tagging along as a Cobbler for the night, I leapt out of my seat and screamed as Richard Walker headed us in front and then Martin Smith sealed a 2-1 win in the second half. No-one else in the pub cared and that gave me an increased level of pride in a strange way.
There was no way that I would be missing the FA Cup Fourth Round game against Manchester United, chosen by the powers that be that same season and the sense of occasion around Sixfields was something special. It was completely worth the six hour queue for tickets to witness a game that the watching cameras just couldn’t replicate. We did ok despite a 3-0 defeat with a young Cristiano Ronaldo overshadowed by his substitute, Kieran Richardson!
We were back on Sky again for the failed Playoff attempt the following season as Southend United won 1-0 on aggregate in a forgettable semi-final double legged affair but promotion a year later meant that the next time we were called for live coverage it was for a League One match.
Gary Johnson’s Bristol City were the opposition on a Tuesday night in late August for a real test of our credentials under the new management of John Gorman. One of the most bizarre incidents in Sixfields history saw City’s Bradley Orr sent off for head butting his own player, Louis Carey with the two players needing to be separated by players from both sides! Johnson’s men recovered to win the game 3-1 though thanks to second half goals from Steve Brooker and Dave Cotterill. Andy Kirk had earlier given Town the lead before Phil Jevons equalised.
Having survived the first season in League One, the Cobblers kicked on and by the time the away game at Brentford was broadcast on Sky in February 2007 Stuart Gray had taken over and the 1-0 win at Griffin Park thanks to a Jason Crowe curler ensured that we moved safely away from any potential relegation troubles once again.
Since then there’s only been one live Sky game featuring the Cobblers (to my recollection anyway!) and that was another 4-1 defeat, this time at Luton where a young Town side was swept aside by the Hatters. I was back in the pub for that one and similar scenes to the Swansea win occurred when Bradley Johnson unleashed a stunning shot from all of thirty yards that almost broke the Luton net but my celebrations were cut short in the second half with Luton going on to score two penalties en route to the hammering.
There’s been an FA Cup tie with Leeds covered by that Setanta lot since but Sky have been the main company that have shown us over the years and they return once again for a game on Saturday featuring Town and money bags Crawley.
Wherever you are in the world watching the game, whether you’re at the game, in a pub or on the other side of the world let’s hope that we can replicate some of the better memories mentioned above. If you’re not at the game in person at Sixfields being proud to wear your shirt even if you’re alone, drag some friends along to show our little team off and enjoy the spotlight. If you are at the game, shout louder than ever, make yourself heard and create an atmosphere because lord knows we need it!