We’d all love to support a football club that plays the game in an attractive style whilst simultaneously picking up results and being successful. That would be the dream for most of us as football supporters.
Failing that, we all just want our sides to be victorious, no matter how the results are achieved or whether the show on offer is aesthetically pleasing. At the end of the day, football is a results-based business and success can only be measured when looking at the league table.
Or can it? At Northampton Town, there is a team of players who continue to win games with an unerring regularity and yet, despite sitting in the League Two play-off places, a fairly large section of grumbling supporters who feel the entertainment being served up is not quite what it should be.
Northampton’s game plan consists mainly of launching long throws and free-kicks into the opposing penalty area and feeding off whatever happens to fall their way in the aftermath. Not exactly tika-taka but when there are games to be won, is anyone really bothered? Apparently they are.
Since Aidy Boothroyd’s appointment as manager sixteen months ago, the Cobblers have adopted this rather ‘direct’ way of playing and, whilst it is proving extremely effective, it is not an approach that has the fans flocking through the turnstiles to watch this promotion-chasing outfit.
Indeed, the attendance for a recent midweek game against Bristol Rovers was just over 4,000 which would be considered to be a good 1,000 down on the expected attendance for a team chasing League One football with just five home matches left to play.
So where are the missing thousand supporters and why are they staying away from Sixfields? One quick scan of the Northampton forums gave an unequivocal answer. Many fans had chosen to keep their £20 in their pockets because they felt previous home performances had not given them ‘value for money’.
In times where money is particularly tight, a section of the Cobblers support had decided that it was more worthwhile to listen to their team on the radio than it was to head along to the ground. A potentially fickle decision from some but in days of a recession and with priorities to get in hand, it is hard to blame them.
The low attendance at the Bristol Rovers game was highly noticeable and the flat atmosphere inside Sixfields spoke volumes as the fans voted with their feet. It also led to chairman David Cardoza being questioned in the media this week as to whether he was worried about the situation.
Cardoza predictably played the questions with a straight bat and said that it has been the economic conditions which have had an impact on attendances rather than Boothroyd’s footballing methods. Potentially so, but the deafening screams of silence from the Sixfields stands last week must be worrying Cardoza as his team continues to mount a charge towards promotion.
Yet for all the criticism of Boothroyd’s approach to football in League Two, both from inside and outside of Northampton, it is becoming increasingly difficult to argue with his tactics when the end results are so impressive.
Since October, the Cobblers have won 10 out of 11 games at Sixfields with a defeat to Cheltenham as the only blot on their copybook, a game in which they blew a two-goal lead. Their home record currently stands as the second-best in the division and it is their relentlessness on their own patch which is keeping their promotion dream alive.
Plenty of sides (Fleetwood, Exeter, Rochdale and Port Vale to name a few) have been dispatched with relative ease at Sixfields but the results still don’t appear to be impressing the Northampton public who feel that the fare on offer is not worthy of the entrance fee.
It is important to remember that there is more than one way to skin a cat and that the Barcelona-style of football is not always possible in the rough-and-ready world of fourth division English football. Northampton have found an effective way of beating their opponents and they appear to be sticking to it, even if it means losing a few supporters on the way.
Boothroyd was charged with the task of getting the Cobblers out of League Two as quickly as possible and he might just have found a way of doing that. Unfortunately for Northampton’s supporters, it happens to be a very direct and aerial technique which won’t be winning any awards any time soon.
If that style can deliver promotion from League Two then it is unlikely that you will hear any Cobblers fans complaining and maybe, should League One football return to Sixfields, some of those missing supporters might come back with it.
Written by Ashley Lambell, We Are Going Up’s Northampton Town Blogger
Ashley tweets at @ashlambell