It’s taken me eight months to get this done. Having started and stopped many, many times over that time it felt like it just needed to get written so here we go. As my silence on here probably indicated, this will officially be my last blog here. I’ve tried to keep up in a world of busy family life but having found a new outlet for my Cobblers ramblings and given the circumstances it’s absolutely the right time.
So here goes…
It’s 24 May 1997 and John Frain has just changed everything. With one swing of his left foot (at the second attempt) he’d created a moment that will last forever under the twin towers of Wembley. Within the 32,000+ strong Northampton Town support was a man lifting a 12 year old boy into the air in a moment of unbridled joy that only moments like this can create. The boy’s football watching life changed that day and the man’s pride at sharing the moment with his two sons was evident on his beaming face.
The man was my Dad. The boys present were my brother and me. As Dad lifted us into the Wembley air, a bond was sealed. Having been taken to the County Ground and having caught the claret bug through Dad’s passion for the Cobblers this was a culminating moment and one where I knew there was never going to be a moment to turn back or to join the other kids at school who donned their Premier League shirts on mufti day, taking the piss at my haggard Cobblers effort.
As many others will have bonded with a parent through their football passion, we bonded with Dad over the Cobblers and when I went away to university in Southampton there was never a weekend that I didn’t call home to chat through the game with him. Saturday phone calls after a win, Sunday phone calls if I wanted to wait for him to calm down after a defeat or poor performance. Plenty of Sunday phone calls, I’m sure you can imagine!
For fifteen years or so, as I moved around the south of England, this tradition continued and it was a treat every time I got to come back and re-join Dad in the stands of Sixfields or on the terraces of an away day. Sharing moments like the incredible double away day at Mansfield, promotion at home to Chester, the Anfield win and the title winning season was special but there were, of course, times when the ‘big manly hugs’ were of consolation rather than joy.
As I grew away from the weekend result being the most important thing in life, these times together became more and more special. Even a simple thing as a pre match pint was something to really look forward to because I saw the joy it gave Dad to be able to go and support the club he loved and his happiness at being able to share it with us, and later with his grandsons. It became more about the fact that I was getting to spend that time with him and while we both had a good old moan when things went wrong I hope it was the same for him.
In early 2018, Dad found out that he had stomach cancer and would attend what would be his final game in April last year at home to Oldham Athletic on the final day of the season. Though there was nothing to play for barring a miracle score line that would have been needed to keep us up, that joy amidst what must have been physical and emotion pain was clear on his face.
This is what football does. It gives a space for us to escape, for ninety minutes at least, whatever else is going on. It gives us special moments with loved ones and a bond like no other.
Dad passed away in late August last year and he couldn’t have been more surrounded by those he loved. The pain of those months have been the main reason why I haven’t been able to bring myself to write this but I hope that one day someone will read it who needs to see it and it brings them an ounce of comfort.
Because what I’ve learnt in these months is that it’s OK to not be OK. It’s OK to be OK. It’s OK to laugh. It’s OK to go to matches again and feel the same happiness when your team scores. It’s OK to feel sad and angry after a defeat or get emotional thanks to a last minute winner. It’s OK to escape into the world of football for a while. It’s all OK. Because the bond you have with a club is often more than a two way thing and there will always be that attachment filling up within you when you go to matches.
There won’t be a moment when I don’t think of Dad whenever I make that walk down to Sixfields or get on a coach for a big game. This was always our shared passion and that will never go away.
I thank you all for reading these blogs over the last ten years. You have no idea how much every single comment has helped me.
Huge thanks go to Northampton Town Football Club for everything including the way that you were so accommodating and thoughtful to us all last year.
I also thank my brother, Chris, his boy Harry and my son Isaac who have been with me in the West Stand all season, an emotional season despite nothing much happening on the pitch.
I thank Charles and Neil, who I’ve been working with on the ‘It’s All Cobblers to me’ podcast over the last seven months – venting and laughing about the Cobblers every week with you guys has become my new tradition.
I thank my incredible Mum for being there for everyone in her worst times and for constantly encouraging my work.
And of course, I thank my wife, Martha, who not only encouraged me to buy a season ticket this season knowing what a tough year it was going to be but who stands by my side through all of life’s struggles and happiness. We’ll be welcoming the latest member of the Brothers family into our lives in August and I sign off from this blog with prayers that her safe arrival will be a rainbow of hope for the family.
With this turning into an Oscars speech, I best go into the internet wilderness now.
Up the Cobblers, and Dad, this one, and all the other ones on this blog, are all for you.