It only feels like yesterday that I was taken out on a school project to make sketches of Northampton’s new football stadium being built on the west side of town. I’d only just been introduced to the Cobblers towards the end of the County Ground days so to be moving to a new, all seater stadium seemed exciting and fresh for a group of us who were getting into the beautiful game at the time.
Time and again since then we’ve made the trudge back up the bank moaning and full of frustration but those times are made completely worthwhile when something magical happens at our home ground. Twenty years have now passed since the first game at Sixfields so it’s a good time to look back and reminisce about those historic and memorable moments and matches.
I recently set up a poll on the blog, asking Cobblers fans for their top moments and can now reveal the top twenty as voted for by you…here’s to twenty more years!
#20 – 27/10/12: Cobblers 2-0 Port Vale – Town win it for Nicholls
This was one of the more bittersweet Sixfields victories in recent times. As Alex Nicholls raced through on goal, rounded Chris Neal in the Port Vale goal and tapped in the latest in a long line of goals at the start of the 2012/13 season, John McCombe clattered into him and put him out of action for what was eventually almost two years before the striker returned to training this summer. It was a horrific moment made even worse by the behaviour of Vale fans who berated Nicholls as he was being treated and carried off the pitch but the way the team rallied around and battled out an eventual 2-0 win thanks to Louis Moult’s well taken goal just before half time was outstanding. Truly a day that we “won it for Nicholls.”
#19 – 25/11/08: Cobblers 2-1 Leeds United – Bignalls’ big moment
Leeds United would be a thorn in our side in the 2007/08 season for the most part with an 5-2 FA Cup replay win and a 3-0 victory at Elland Road that would see us relegated on the final day of the season but this was one of the better nights of that particular campaign. Liam Davis fired Town in front before Jermaine Beckford pulled it back to 1-1. But then came a moment that young loanee Nicholas Bignall would never forget as he rose to meet a late corner to nod in the biggest goal of his career and to create a much needed positive memory from the 2008/09 season. Bignall has never risen to such heights since and now playing for Basingstoke Town in the Conference South.
The Cobblers had battled to reach the League Two Playoffs in 2012/13 thanks to a run of home games just like this one. Cheltenham came to town having just missed out on automatic promotion and with two wins over us already in the league season. The only goal of the game came when Bayo Akinfenwa’s power held the ball up and led to Chris Hackett being sent away on the right and Roy O’Donovan clipping in his third goal in three games. Hearts were in mouths when Paul Benson missed a good chance to level but the Cobblers held out and this was a major step on the way to Wembley.
#17 – 19/02/02: Cobblers 2-1 Peterborough United – Forrester downs the Posh
One of only two wins over the old enemy at Sixfields in its lifetime (the other coming in the Football League Trophy) came in this season of survival under Kevan Broadhurst in Division Two (League One). Jimmy Bullard put Posh in front with a stunning free kick after just two minutes but goals from Sam Parkin and Jamie Forrester turned the game on its head before half-time and a solid second half confirmed the first ever Sixfields win over ‘Boro.
#16 – 01/02/11: Cobblers 6-2 Crewe Alexandra – Six-Fields!
This was one of the nights where everything went in and one of the more extraordinary in Sixfields history. Ian Sampson was attempting to turn around an inconsistent first half of the season that had been partially excused by the win at Anfield in September and was still trying to put together a run of form. This night was completely out of character as Crewe, going well in the league, were completely blown out of the water. Ajay Leitch-Smith actually put Crewe in front before Shaun Harrad levelled and after Michael Jacobs’ free kick snuck in there was no looking back. Dean Bowditch headed home, Andy Holt made it four and Abdul Osman’s long range effort made it completely safe at five.
Up until this point, Town had never scored six at Sixfields but Billy McKay netted that landmark goal for 6-1 before a late consolation from Crewe’s Antoni Sarcevic. The victory would put us into the highest league position that we would be at for the rest of the season as a run of draws, Sammo’s sacking and Gary Johnson’s flirt with relegation had us all on the edge of our seats.
#15 – 01/05/04: Cobblers 3-2 Bury – We only need ten men!
The final home game of that epic 2003/04 season saw the Cobblers face a must win encounter with Bury as we chased a playoff place in League Two. Colin Calderwood had turned around the fortunes of Town since being named manager the previous October and along with that cup run had brought us to within touching distance of the top seven. Bury didn’t read the script and took the lead through John Cartledge before Martin Smith equalised. The Shakers went into the break on top, though, thanks to Dave Nugent’s goal and looked to be comfortable when Eric Sabin was harshly sent off for the Cobblers. But Marc Richards set up a thrilling finish by levelling and Derek Asamoah broke through as time stood still to fire in the winner with fifteen minutes to go. One the more forgotten games but one that will stick with me for the emotions around that season and the roller coaster ride that was summed up in one manic afternoon. Town would go on to miss out in the playoffs after more drama over two legs against Mansfield Town.
#14 – 16/09/14 – Cobblers 5-1 Hartlepool United (League Two)
The most recent game in the list, this was a joyous Tuesday night at Sixfields. The Cobblers fell behind against the Monkey Hangers earlier this season but Town came storming back to produce the result of the campaign so far. As soon as Marc Richards had levelled from the spot the momentum was with us and Kaid Mohammed netted a brace before half time. The rout was complete after the break when Lawson D’Ath made it four and Richards put the cherry on top for five in our biggest home win for well over three years.
#13 – 15/03/08: Cobblers 4-2 Swansea – Six goal thriller edged by Town
Swansea came into this as League One leaders with the Cobblers looking for an unexpected playoff push under Stuart Gray. This was arguably the best squad that we had assembled in many a year with young blood like Mark Bunn and Luke Chambers lining up next to top drawer signings Mark Little, Daniel Jones, Bayo Akinfenwa and Poul Hubertz and after games like this there was sense of genuine hope for the future. Hubertz scored twice in a superb first half that saw us 3-0 up inside twenty five minutes. Jason Scotland made it 3-1 before the break but Danny Jackman had us safely home with a Cobblers fourth. Scotland scored again late on but it wasn’t enough on a magnificent afternoon for Gray’s troops.
#12 – 25/04/98: Cobblers 1-0 Fulham – Peer’s moment of glory
A crucial match towards the end of the 1997/98 season where Fulham were going for automatic promotion and the Cobblers were in the midst of sealing a second successful playoff campaign. Fulham brought their newly inherited ‘money bags’ of a squad to Sixfields and even installed cameras to beam the game back to Craven Cottage but it was a sell-out Sixfields who would roar Town home thanks to what is arguably Dean Peer’s finest ever individual Cobblers moment as he netted the only goal in front of the North Stand just before the hour. A point at York a week later set up the Playoff Semi-Finals where we would meet Bristol Rovers. (Something tells me you’ll be hearing more about that later too!)
#11 – 25/01/04: Cobblers 0-3 Manchester United – Ronaldo and co strut their stuff
When the FA Cup Fourth Round draw was made in January 2004, the Cobblers were in deadlock with Rotherham United and were about to face the Millers in a Third Round Replay at Millmoor. When we heard that the winner of that game would take on Manchester United at home it immediately gave us an even bigger reason to go to the then-Championship side and win. And win we did, coming from behind in thrilling fashion to set up this memorable afternoon at Sixfields.
The first meeting between the sides since the famous 8-2 defeat in the 1970 FA Cup ended predictably with a United win but featured Cobblers keeper Lee Harper saving a Diego Forlan penalty after two minutes, a young Cristiano Ronaldo performing step over after step over and a good fight from a confident group of Town players. I remember queuing for six hours for a ticket to this and the atmosphere of the day was special enough to make it worthwhile. A day when the loyal Cobblers faithful were rewarded even if we did lose out in the match itself.
#10 – 25/01/97 – Cobblers 3-0 Hartlepool United – Larry’s hat-trick!
With just three games played in January 1997, all of which coming at home, the Cobblers needed points to continue the path towards an unlikely playoff place under Ian Atkins. I remember at least one of these games only going ahead because Town fans went down to Sixfields to clear snow off the pitch on the morning of the match. After being Cardiff 4-0, the second fixture saw us trounce Chester City 5-1 with five different goal scorers and the month was rounded off with this 3-0 win over Hartlepool United. Neil Grayson was, and still is, my all-time favourite Cobblers player and cemented his place in Sixfields folklore by diving into the snow after netting a hat-trick inside just four minutes either side of half time against Hartlepool and the rest of that season is glorious history.
#9 – 15/10/94: Cobblers 1-1 Barnet – Where it all began
After a delay extended the long anticipated move to Sixfields we finally played our first match in the new stadium as the late, great Martin Aldridge scored the very first goal at our new home. The goal won’t be the only thing that people remember though with Aldridge performing a flip that Faustino Asprilla would have been proud of! Aldridge tragically died in a car crash in 2000 at the age of just twenty five but his contribution to the history of Northampton Town will forever be etched inside the walls of Sixfields Stadium.
#8 – 09/04/07: Cobblers 2-1 Scunthorpe United – Party poopers!
A coming together of Cobblers fans, a late winner and a party that was well and truly pooped were the key ingredients for this one with Scunthorpe coming to Sixfields looking to earn the win they needed for promotion from League One. Before anything could happen on the pitch, though, Cobblers fans banded together to march from the town centre to the ground to protest against the council’s delayed plans for redevelopment of the stadium and to push a quick decision on the matter. Alex Pearce put Town in front early on in the game with Billy Sharp levelling and giving the away fans hope of celebration. But deep into stoppage time, Bradley Johnson swooped to win it for a Cobblers side who would go on to steer well clear of safety in League One.
#7 – 15/09/98: Cobblers 2-0 West Ham United – “I only weigh Freestone”
Having had a summer to take in the fact that we just missed out on promotion (beaten 1-0 by Grimsby Town in the Playoff final) we had started slowly in the league but this cup upset provided a welcome break from the hangover. West Ham came to town with a strong squad for the Second Round of the League Cup including the likes of Shaka Hislop, Frank Lampard, Ian Wright and John Hartson. But the Cobblers put in a gutsy performance in front of the Sky cameras to beat their Premier League opposition thanks to two goals – one a towering header and the other a scrambled effort – from Chris Freestone. In those days there were two legs to these Second Round games and Town held out at Upton Park until Lampard scored far too late to make a difference and progressed into a tie with Tottenham Hotspur in Round Three.
#6 – 06/04/12: Cobblers 2-1 Oxford United – That Good Friday feeling!
A year on from some crazy scenes against Rotherham on Good Friday (more on that later!) came another late, late show that would take a while to leave our collective minds. Town were again embroiled in danger at the wrong end of League Two and faced a nervous encounter with Oxford United at Sixfields on Good Friday.
Luke Guttridge put the Cobblers in front but Cristian Montano made it 1-1 and that was how it stood up until injury time. Then, a long ball over the top was chased down like his life depended on it by loanee Brett Williams…somehow he caught up to it, cut inside and curled in a beautiful shot that crept into the corner of the net to spark wild celebrations as Aidy Boothroyd’s men took a giant step towards safety. Williams seemed to be pulled on by the home support as he chased that ball down and it goes down as a pivotal moment.
#5 – 14/05/97: Cobblers 3-2 Cardiff – Playoff Semi-Final Second Leg
After an unexpectedly good season under Ian Atkins and with the Cobblers in their centenary year, it just felt like it was meant to end with a trip to Wembley Stadium. After a 1-0 win at Ninian Park in the First Leg of the Division Three Playoff Semi-Finals, Sixfields hosted its biggest game up until that point for the second. Ian Sampson headed Town into a 2-0 aggregate lead before Cardiff’s Jeff Eckhardt was sent off a couple of minutes later. Jason Fowler struck before half time to give the visitors hope but goals from Ray Warburton and John Gayle would send the Cobblers to Wembley on a historic night for the club. Simon Haworth added a late consolation but it was our night and the final step en route to the unforgettable win over Swansea City in the Playoff Final.
#4 – 22/04/11: Cobblers 2-2 Rotherham United – Wheelchair Pitch Invasion!
When Rotherham United came to visit on Good Friday 2011, Town were in desperation land. Sammo had been replaced by Gary Johnson and the former Bristol City man had failed to turn the fortunes around enough to avoid a battle against the drop. 2-0 down at half-time and there seemed no way back in this clash with a Millers side chasing the playoffs but Leon McKenzie made it 2-1 to set up a finish that will always be remembered for the celebration of one man.
Liam Davis got the equaliser in stoppage time, sending Sixfields delirious and for supporter Derry Felton it was too much. He proceeded to invade the pitch alone in his wheelchair and went from the half way line all the way to the North Stand to celebrate. It was one of those moments where you just can’t help but smile and know that this could only happen in the lower reaches of English football!
#3 – 29/04/06: Cobblers 1-0 Chester – Promotion finally sealed
An unprecedented move for Sixfields for this crunch final game of the season saw home fans allowed seats in the away end as all four sides of Sixfields was draped in claret for the conclusion to a three year attempt to escape League Two. Two failed playoff campaigns made the outpouring of emotion on the final whistle that bit more special as the Cobblers sealed an automatic promotion place with a tight win over Chester thanks to Scott McGleish’s goal in the first half. The final whistle saw a pitch invasion, speeches from within the tunnel area and a genuine party atmosphere with the Cardoza family completing their first mini project of promotion.
#2 – 03/05/13: Cobblers 3-1 Oxford United – Final Day Survival.
I don’t think I’ve ever been as nervous going into a home game as this one so for the drama and what it could have meant this is rightfully high up in the list. There were all the ingredients in the boiling pot for a classic last day of the season: Chris Wilder hosting a side against the club he left months before for the first time, the Cobblers needing a win to guarantee safety and a local-ish derby atmosphere.
There was a brief moment that saw us genuinely threatened with a disastrous relegation when Ryan Williams put Oxford in front and other results started to go against us. But everything turned on the sending off of goal scorer Williams who kicked out at Ricky Ravenhill and the Cobblers were in front by half-time. John Marquis placed a well taken goal into the net to settle the nerves before Ivan Toney scored his third in two games moments later. A second half header from Mathias Doumbe made it completely safe and Town had clung on to their league status again. It was, at times, too close for comfort but still a memorable day.
#1 – Northampton Town 3-0 Bristol Rovers
Division Two (League One) Playoff Semi-Final
13th May 1998
This is one of those games where I really don’t have to say a lot but one which could elicit an essay if given the chance. I will try to contain myself but, with this one still standing as what I still believe to be the single greatest night in Sixfields history that could be a challenge!
These were already heady times. Promotion via the Division Three playoffs via Wembley a year earlier had set light to an ambition not seen for years in this part of the world. How on earth a team based solely on spirit and the right attitude managed to not only stay at the top end of the table for most of the season but also momentarily bother top spot was beyond me and many others. The 1997/98 season had seen changes in playing personnel with my childhood hero Neil Grayson departing on promotion. The likes of Chris Freestone and Big John Gayle now led the line with the old guard of Sammo and Ray Warburton holding on to their central defensive partnership. John Frain was still around, as were Ian Clarkson, Dean Peer and Andy Woodman whilst Jason Dozzell had replaced David Rennie as the token older head in the camp.
Reaching the playoffs was an immense overachievement by Ian Atkins and his latest band of merry men and the town was dreaming of a second successive promotion. Our semi-final opponents were Bristol Rovers, a team managed by a young Ian Holloway in his first top job as a player-manager. The first leg at the Memorial Stadium saw the Cobblers fall 3-0 behind thanks to a Peter Beadle penalty followed by goals from Frankie Bennett and Barry Hayles. It all looked lost even a quarter of the way through the tie but suddenly a long boot up field saw Big John race onto the ball and loop it over the head of Rovers keeper Lee Jones. The effect of that solitary strike that even then looked like a mere consolation was stunning.
By the time this second leg came around, Northampton was fired up. As Town supporters were leaving the Memorial Stadium at the end of the first leg, the Rovers PA announcer started singing about how his club were going to Wembley and that’s all the Cobblers fans needed as motivation. At 3-1, the tie was still not over and boy did we let the Gas Heads know that.
There were reports that Gayle had wound up the Rovers players no end in the tunnel just before kick-off and the intimidation factor continued as the sides came out. With a second Wembley appearance in successive seasons on the line, the Sixfields roar was sucking the life out of the visitors before a ball was even kicked.
The place was rocking even with Town two goals from levelling the tie and I still don’t think I’ve seen or heard anything like it inside the walls of Sixfields since. We have one of those stadiums where noise can get lost on occasions but not on this night. On this night, everything was to go our way in perhaps the most iconic evenings in the history of the arena we call home.
Carl Heggs, defeated by the Cobblers at Wembley the previous May, was coming off the end of an excellent and mercurial maiden season after swapping The Vetch Field for Sixfields shortly after the Playoff Final. He opened the scoring after a tension filled opening half an hour, getting on the end of a corner to edge us in front on the night and the Cobblers never looked back.
It took fifteen minutes of the second half to get back on terms on aggregate. If anyone had any money on potential goal scorers then Ian Clarkson’s name would have been a long way from their minds, but there he was on the hour mark to power in the second. It was Clarkson’s only ever goal for the club and in many ways his final hurrah as he would severely break his leg in August of that year in a game against Lincoln City, limiting his final few appearances.
This was the first time that the Cobblers were in front in the tie with away goals counting in those days and the momentum continued for a fantastic third goal, headed in by Ray Warburton with thirteen minutes to go to complete the turn around and send Sixfields absolutely potty.
A Rovers goal would have taken the game to extra time so there were some immensely nervy final few minutes but the Cobblers held out for an extraordinary victory and a night that Sixfields will never, ever forget.
The obligatory pitch invasion followed and rather than try and do a lap of honour, the Town players instead came around the back of the West Stand, up through the gates and into the stands to celebrate with the fans in a moment of unity that will never leave me, and I’m sure thousands of others.
It almost took the breath out of us enough to mean that defeat in the final against Grimsby Town wasn’t as powerful to our hearts as it could have been. The pride that night after the semi-final was amazing and though promotion to the second tier of English Football was agonising to miss out on, I think the glory and sheer brilliance of this night made it that bit more bearable!
Rovers will now forever be greeted with the infamous “3-1 and you f*cked it up” chant whenever they visit. I blame that tannoy announcer for getting the ball rolling on one of the greatest moments this football club has ever seen.