Go Away: Northampton Town

A view of Northampton Town's Sixfields ground

Years ago I arrived at Northampton for a Rovers match unsure how to get to the ground. Spotting a bloke in a claret and white scarf leaving the station ahead of me I chose to follow him. All was well and good for about 25 minutes, until he then suddenly turned left, went through a gate, up a path, took out his keys and went into his house. To ensure this same fate doesn’t befall you, here’s our guide to Northampton Town.

Built in 1084 Northampton Castle became an occasional royal residence in the 12th century. The first monarch to stay here was King Henry I who did so until 1135. It’s not known whether he paid for a late checkout or they just let him off as he was king. In 1164 the castle was the setting for the trial of Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Becket, before he fled for France dressed as a monk, managing to make his escape whilst the King’s guards were forced to exit through the gift shop.

Northampton Town joined the Football League just over a century ago and have spent every season except for four, when they rose from Division Four to Division One and back down again in the 1960s, in the third or fourth tier. And you thought we were success starved. Their nickname of ‘Cobblers’ however is not a summary of their on-pitch fortunes, but a reference to the town’s status as the country’s shoemaking centre.

It’s reported that in the early years of the 19th Century a third of the town’s adult males were shoemakers. And yet, not one sock manufacturer. Makes you think. Anyway, the dominance of cobbling in the town declined in the 1900s, partly owing to people finding traipsing all the way to Northampton every time they needed some new footwear a bit of an inconvenience, and also as the town’s ill-advised marketing slogan of ‘visit Northampton for a good shoeing’ tended to dissuade visitors rather than attract them.

Though most of Northampton’s shoe factories have long closed, the town’s Museum and Art Gallery hosts the world’s largest collection of historical footwear, boasting over 13,000 shoes. Bet they still haven’t got the ones I want in an eleven though. Beyond the town itself Northamptonshire is seen as the breadbasket of England, with the county producing over 687 million loaves of bread a year, a figure which seems, at best, somewhat wasteful.

What’s it famous for?

Beyond footwear, Northampton is home to the largest landlocked lighthouse in the world. At over 125 metres tall the concrete construction towers over the town, warning approaching ships that they’re 75 miles inland. Its construction in the early 1980s was controversial, but it has since proved its worth as there hasn’t been a single shipwreck in Northampton since it opened in 1982.

Comedian Alan Carr is one of the town’s most famous sons, having grown up here whilst his dad Graham Carr was manager of Northampton Town from 1985 to 1990. Another entertainer with links to Town is Des O’Connor who was evacuated to Northampton during the Second World War and actually played a few reserve games for The Cobblers after the conflict. O’Connor quit football to become a travelling shoe salesman, and despite these selling much better than stationary shoes, he soon left that career for the stage. 

Northampton has also given the world a surprising number of musicians, including Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke, former Communard Richard Coles, rapper Slowthai and Steps’ Faye Tozer. Sadly they are yet to come together as the supergroup we want and need. Other Northampton-born celebrities include Whispering Bob Harris, Graeme Swann and, presumably, Michael Schumacher.

How to blend in

Arrive barefoot and demand to be taken to the nearest cobbler, or failing that, the Museum. Leave cradling more loaves of bread than you could possibly ever hope to eat.

What’s the stadium like?

Good news for those of you for whom the perfect pre-match involves a visit to a TGI Fridays. Sixfields is a classic of the lower league new build genre and ticks most boxes; four separate stands, ballache to get to from the train station, bang in the middle of a retail park. Is this really progress from an open terrace you’ll ask yourself whilst being encouraged to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to eight-year-old Amelia on the next table.

The East Stand at Sixfields is the subject of an ongoing episode of television show Grand Designs. Kevin McCloud hates it, and has described it as looking unfinished, but the football club say that the negative space between seats and roof are crucial to their architectural vision of bringing the surrounding landscape into the design and they won’t compromise on their vision. Despite a host of setbacks it is hoped the stand will still be completed in time for Christmas, but then that was before the football club got pregnant. 

The ground’s position in a natural bowl means folk often congregate on the top of the slope behind the home goal which offers a view of half the pitch. That watching 50% of a Cobblers match draws a crowd, really doesn’t speak volumes for the town’s other Saturday afternoon entertainment offerings.

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