Where to start… where to bloody start?
It’s not often that the goings-on at Northampton Town Football Club leave me completely baffled. I’ve seen it all supporting my beloved club and nothing massively surprises me anymore. I can stomach the countless home defeats to sub-standard opposition; I can accept the peculiar decisions made by whichever clueless buffoon is occupying the Sixfields hotseat; unlike many of our expectant loyals, I can usually even avoid becoming infuriated at the ineptitude of some of the trash we‘ve signed over the years when we are supposedly ‘too big for League Two‘. The opening month of this season however, has left me utterly mystified.
You frequently find people comparing supporting one’s football club to following a soap opera but even the most innovative writers would have had a struggle writing our script and we’re only five league games in. Despite promises of a promotion challenge and a relatively upbeat pre-season, we have already had rumours spreading like wildfire of a half-time sacking for Gary Johnson; this supposedly ‘solid’ defence putting up less of a fight than Audley Harrison; our shining footballing talents finding themselves out of favour for no obvious reasons; three abject, gutless and appalling (insert all applicable critical adjectives here) home performances and perhaps worst of all we have somehow gone from salivating at the prospect of a frontline consisting of Bayo Akinfenwa, Shaun Harrad and Jake Robinson terrorising our divisional rivals to witnessing the enigma that is the moon-walking (not that we’ve seen it), gangly and mostly useless Bas Savage marauding around the pitch in the mighty claret and white as our lone striker.
Achieving a paltry four points from our first five games and occupying such a lowly position even at this early stage was not what the doctor had ordered as a remedy to our shocking displays last term. We’ve not even entered September and supporters are already feeling short-changed and guilty at allowing themselves to being suckered into believing that things were going to change. We’re quite frankly somehow still going backwards at an alarming rate.
I could rant and rave about the evident problems with our team all day long (Michael Jacobs being relegated to the bench when it’s obvious those starting have the creative nous of a bathroom flannel is enough to keep me awake at night) but what seems to have caused most Northamptonians the biggest headache is the situation regarding Shaun Harrad. Having signed from Burton Albion in January for around £35,000 and a reported £2,500 a week, he was expected to have been a vital cog in our side this season. Harrad’s positive attitude and willingness to work for the team during our relegation scrap endeared him to our supporters and we were looking forward to seeing how a partnership with Bayo would develop.
To absolutely nobody’s understanding though, Harrad has found himself surplus to requirements and Bradford City have had a bid of £40,000 accepted. Gary Johnson confirmed after Saturday’s reverse against Morecambe that Harrad would be seeking ‘pastures new’. The reaction has been one of noted disbelief and perceived anger. I was perhaps the only one of our supporters to feel some grim satisfaction from the news. Forgive the following anecdote but I should explain.
During pre-season, myself and several others made the relatively short trip to Oxford City for one of our scheduled friendlies. The game itself was mildly interesting (at best) for what was essentially a bit of a summer knockabout bar the odd rash tackle from one of the home players. At half-time, we took the opportunity to stretch our legs and explore the quaint Court Place Farm ground. During our wander, we happened to chance across Darlington manager Mark Cooper standing all on his lonesome seemingly caught in his own thoughts. The Quakers had been frequently linked with a loan deal for our Tadhg Purcell so it wasn‘t a massive surprise to find him taking an opportunity to see him in action.
We introduced ourselves and promptly spent the next 45 minutes talking football with a very welcoming, intellectual fellow indeed. He confirmed he was present to view Purcell, he fully expected Darlington to be ‘challenging’ this season and gave us a few other insights you really could only get by stalking Blue Square Premier managers in a random field in Oxfordshire. One thing that shocked us more than anything though was Cooper confirming to us that Darlington had received notification that Shaun Harrad was available for transfer. I promptly posted details of our conversation on my Twitter feed and within minutes, fans on our most popular messageboard The Hotel End were discussing the validity of my information. As predicted, most of our supporters thought the idea that we’d be willing to let one of our key players leave was preposterous to the extent I was ridiculed and accused of fabricating the whole rumour. Quite what I would have had to gain from lying I am unsure.
However, my claim wasn’t helped any further as the conversation made it’s way into our local newspaper and Gary Johnson scoffed at any suggestion that Harrad would be on his way. To be honest with you, I was left looking like a right mug. However, just 39 days later and Gary Johnson confirms that Harrad is free to leave. Mr. Cooper, if you ever happen to find yourself visiting We Are Going Up and you come across this blog, I would like to take this very public opportunity to apologise for ever doubting you. You weren’t lying to us. Although that loan deal for Newcastle United’s Michael Richardson never did come to fruition despite Alan Pardew ringing you from their pre-season tour of America, eh?
The media and supporters of other clubs keep reminding me that the season is not even a month old yet the word ‘crisis‘ has already whispered in some circles. Ok, this isn’t quite a ‘crisis‘ of Arsenal proportions but the situation at Sixfields is still rather unsettling. Johnson has asked to be judged after ten games and was convinced we’d be comfortably sitting in the top seven. There is obviously still bags of time to kick start our season but the likelihood of this happening is looking increasingly slim and if the trend isn’t reversed Johnson will soon find himself following our leading marksman out of Sixfields. If you were to ask me which one I’d rather see leave, it sure as hell wouldn’t be our shaven-headed dynamic number nine. I just can’t get my noggin around the decision. In fact, it physically pains me… christ, what a load of bleeding Cobblers this season is already turning out to be.
Written by Ben Trasler, We Are Going Up’s Northampton Town Blogger
Ben tweets at @benjohntrasler