The Future’s bright, the future’s Claret.

Aidy Boothroyd has rightly taken a lot of credit for the job he has done at Northampton since taking over the role of Manager in December 2011. Our transformation from perennial relegation candidates to play-off contenders in one season has been nothing short of miraculous. In the 18 months he has been here he has given us back something that Gary Johnson seemed to try his hardest to destroy, namely having pride in our team and our Club.

Now, I don’t believe Gary Johnson is a bad manager, his achievement this year at Yeovil has been incredible however he just wasn’t a good fit for us. I get the impression that maybe his heart wasn’t completely in it and that his failure here may have given him the incentive to work that much harder at Yeovil. Anyway, although I could probably write an essay about his tenure here I will leave it at that and move on to much more positive things.

Plenty has already been written and said about how Aidy Boothroyd has turned our fortunes around but not much has been said about another huge accomplishment the Club has achieved in the last year and a half and that is what my second blog is going to be about.

On the 12th of December 2012, Northampton Town broke a club record. For the first time in the Clubs 115 year history it had reached the fourth round of the FA Youth Cup. Goals from David Moyo and Callum Powell helped defeat Canvey Island (a name that evokes terror in the minds of most Northampton fans) 2-1 on a cold winters night at Sixfields. Although the team were to be knocked out in the next round to a Hull City team who eventually would lose to Liverpool in the quarter finals. The achievements of Craig Hinton’s young side this year were a testament to the hard work the Club and especially Trevor Gould (and before him Geoff Harrop) have put into the youth structure over the last 5 years or so.

Almost a month previous to that Canvey Island game another Club record was broken when 16 year Ivan Toney became our youngest ever first team debutant when he came on as a substitute in an FA Cup first round replay at Bradford. Although he wasn’t to feature in another First team game this season it did prove that Aidy Boothroyd certainly had belief in the jobs Hinton and Gould where doing and was not afraid to use the young players if he deemed it necessary.

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Ivan Toney…. Record Breaker.

In fact, 4 members of that FA youth cup side that played Canvey Island where to play at some stage for the First Team last season. Toney, who I have already mentioned was joined by David Moyo who performed so impressively at promoted Port Vale, Claudio Dias who came on as a substitute against Barnet and Dean Snedker who looked more than comfortable between the sticks in the early cup games this season.

Indeed, Dean Snedker also had the honour of representing England in an under 19 game against Denmark in February of this year. A rare honour for a player from a League 2 side.

Dean+Snedker+Northampton+Town+v+Tottenham+Hyd9fY686EZlOur next Premiership Goalkeeper?

Since that game, David Moyo and Claudio Dias have joined Snedker and one other to graduate from our academy with a professional contract.

The other player who I mentioned above was legible to play in the FA Youth Cup last season, but didn’t feature in the Canvey Island tie due to first team commitments, was Lewis Hornby.

It is easy to forget how young Lewis Hornby is. He only turned 18 on the 25th of April this year meaning that all but 1 of his 22 league starts this season came at the age of 17. It is also incredible to think that he is still younger than Michael Jacobs was when he made his league debut away to Torquay in the opening fixture of the 2010-2011 season and although the two are very different players it does show the potential that the Club believe Hornby has.

With that in mind it should come as no surprise that he is being scouted by a host of big clubs, and if rumours are to be believed some very big clubs (I overhead in the Players Lounge after the Barnet game that both Manchester clubs had cast their eye over him). A 17 year old to have played in as many games as he has, especially in the battlefield that is a League 2 central midfield would not have gone unnoticed to these teams with their massive scouting networks and their armies of scouts.

As a player, Hornby has impressed me. He possesses a solid all round game with an eye for a pass, but perhaps more impressively, he has not ducked any challenges and hasn’t looked the slightest bit light weight for a 17 year old playing in central midfield. In a league where there is absolutely no time whatsoever on the ball and playing for a team that tactically isn’t set up to suit his strengths he has not looked out of place in any game I have seen him.

If he kicks on next season, and progresses like I believe he could be capable of, he will be a big part of our team next year.

00329017 - 250x375Lewis Hornby, apparently his little bro is pretty handy as well…

This brings me nicely on to the next subject, progression. Aidy Boothroyd has said in an interview that getting their first professional contract was the easy bit of their career, now it’s time for the hard work. He is of course right, we have seen plenty of other players recently who have turned professional not quite be able to make it to that next step with us. Recent examples have been Greg Kaziboni, Alex Konstantinou and Paul Walker. However something seems different about this new batch that has come through.

Perhaps circumstances have helped their hand and that they have been given a taste of first team football earlier due to the Club not finding itself in a relegation dog fight or maybe we have a manager who believes a lot more in youth than his predecessors. Either way, this season will be in many cases make or break for these players as far as a career at Northampton Town goes.

It is obvious Boothroyd has faith in these youngsters, as I believe part of the reason both Lewis Wilson and Louis Moult were released was to make room for these players in the squad.

One of the most ridiculous decisions the football league has made recently was to cut the number of substitutions down from 7 to 5. If ever a decision was made to hurt the progress of academy players that was it. Fortunately common sense has prevailed and the experiment was a short lived one. However with 7 substitutes I can see no reason why 1 if not 2 of these youngsters can’t always appear on our bench to be brought on whenever the opportunity presents itself.

I have also read with interest an article from Jefferson Lake on the Chronicle and Echo website about the possibility of sending a couple of these youngsters abroad to play some football over the summer months. Personally, I’m not so keen on this idea. I would have thought it would have been much better for them to have a full preseason with us to learn off the seasoned professionals in our squad (Although admittedly, this might not be a good thing) and then appear in as many friendlies as possible.

That way, a couple could be sent off on loan towards the start of the season to teams in the Conference or just below to experience a similar type, if not level of football that they would play here. This has proved successful in the past for us with both Hornby and Mark Bunn spending time at Kettering and Michael Jacobs at Nuneaton.

One person I think this type of loan would benefit in particular would be Dean Snedker. I think he is at a stage where first team football is essential for his progression, he will learn next to nothing sitting on the bench each week especially if the heavily anticipated signing of Matt Duke comes to fruition. One of these youth style loans would be ideal for him, imagine training with Matt Duke and Tim Flowers during the week before going off to play for a conference side on the Saturday, what a great education for a young goalkeeper.

Lastly, finance. We have been fortunate that for the last 3 seasons the Club has had an unexpected income from a one off event. In 2010-11 it was the Liverpool game, 2011-12 the sale of Michael Jacobs and last season the play-off final. These events whether they are the occasional cup tie or a transfer are essential for a Club at our level to break even and help balance the budget.

We have been lucky, in that we have been drawn to play both Manchester United and Liverpool in the last 9 years, however those types of Cup draws are very few and far between. It is much more feasible for a Club to try and develop its own young talent and then sell them on for a nice profit. It is in the Club’s own hands and they have an element of control rather than hoping that the right numbered ball gets drawn out of a hat.

The biggest example of a Club doing this well over the last 10-15 years has been Crewe Alexandra. Recently Ashley Westwood and Nick Powell have both joined Premiership clubs for fees in their millions. Now, as good as these players are (I think Nick Powell in particular has a shot of being a full international) I do believe that their transfer fees were inflated due to what I call the “Crewe effect”. The Club has given itself such a good reputation for creating and nurturing young talent over the years that I’m sure they can get extra income for selling players because of it.

00165294 - 430x284Ashley Westwood, not that one…..

Crewe have to be our role model and who is to say that in the next couple of years, that we can’t follow up on the sales of Mark Bunn and Michael Jacobs with increased offers for this year’s intake of academy graduates.

The success story doesn’t end there. Only this last season the Club sold Glenn Middleton, a 13 year old, to Norwich for a undisclosed fee and as well as that players like Callum Powell and Ivan Toney are highly tipped to be offered a professional deal when they come of age this upcoming season.

I for one, as interested as I am in who our new signings will be this summer, am equally excited about how these players will perform next year. So I’d like to say a big well done to the Club, and to Trevor Gould and his team, keep up the good work.

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What is it about Football?

So here it is my first foray into the world of blogging. Something I said I would never do. Indeed, in the past I have said some rather unkind things about people who blog and their motivations for doing it and for that I apologise. However, having started to read a few recently and with a summer lacking in a major international tournament I thought why not? How else am I going to fill the void that the close season leaves me with?

You see, Football and Northampton Town are my main past time away from work and my absolutely delightful family. I love everything about match day, meeting friends for a drink, the anticipation, discussing the team line up, the match itself and then the analysis after the game.

I wanted this first blog to be an introduction. An introduction to myself and my relationship with my team. So bear with me, as I’m sure there are plenty of people who feel the same but I just wanted to get these feelings on the website and out of the way.

So here goes….

What is it about Football?

Here I am, a thirty-something year old man with a wife and child, yet I still feel the exact same mixture of nerves and excitement that I did over 25 years ago when I first started watching the Cobblers.

Other feelings of excitement and nerves from those days have long since dispersed. Christmas isn’t what it was, ditto birthdays but there are still those same feelings every match day that take me back to being that 9 year old on the Hotel End.

No matter how my life has changed, the Cobblers and how they affect me has never altered. The players and management may be different but whether it has been cheering on Tony Adcock, Martin Aldridge, John Gayle, Jamie Forrester, Scott McGleish or Bayo Akinfenwa it has all been done with the same feelings towards the Club they have been representing at the time.

1771854_forrester3001My all time favourite… Mr Forrester.

Sure, I’ve had my favourites and shall we say my least favourites but then, who hasn’t? I was absolutely gutted when we sold Ray Warburton to the Diamonds, when Bobby Barnes left for Peterborough or when we released Kevin Thornton. Likewise the day we announced the signings of Marco Gabbiadini and Jamie Forrester filled me with hope and excitement like no other.

imagesktPlease come back Super Kev

Football and Northampton Town have that power over me, the power to make my weekend a good one or a bad one. I can’t describe how angry I felt after Shrewsbury beat us 7-2 at Sixfields in 2011 only to say I had to take a long detour on my way home after the game to try and calm down (I think I ended up near Rugby somewhere).

Likewise, the pride and happiness I felt after that night at Anfield or after John Frain’s free kick at Wembley is hard to describe. The collecting of the match reports and the copies of the Chronicle and Echo’s that I still have from those moments, like a proud parent keeping their child’s trophies and certificates.

It’s funny but looking back through my life, with the obvious exceptions of the major life changing events such as my wedding day or the birth of my daughter, it’s fair to say the vast majority of all my happiest memories whether they be day outs, occasions or just feelings in general have revolved around football and in most cases the Cobblers.

I cherish the memories I have from Wembley in 97 and Anfield in 2010, those are days and trips that will live with me forever. Even the trips to Wembley in 98 and this year I will remember for rest of my days, despite the result not going our way. Maybe the Cobblers are just an excuse for my friends and I to still go out, drink and pretend we are 18 again I don’t know. What I do know though, is without the Teyn these day outs would be a lot fewer and very far between. If that is the case then it is no wonder that I feel this way about the Cobblers, they are like another friend, another member of our close knit group.

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Carlisle 2009, 1-1 but a great weekend.

What I also find strange is that although I was born and bred in Northampton, the place itself no longer holds much appeal to me. The place has been so mismanaged by consecutive councils (no matter it seems what Party holds power) that I no longer visit the Town Centre to shop and I’ve long grown too old to go mixing it down Bridge Street on a Saturday night. My occasional jaunts into Town now seem to involve St James’s Retail Park and on a very rare night out the Welly Road.

However, despite that, and the genuine sadness I have about those feelings the Cobblers have remained at the top of my affections. They are the link between my life I have now and my connection to my home town. They are the glue that have kept my circle of friends together since our school days.

For all these reasons, they will always be close to my heart. Whether we are taken over in the future by a mad rich Russian or crumble down to the Blue Square Premiership (although that will always be the Vauxhall Conference in my eyes..!) they will always be my team, a part of my life and a part of what makes me, me.

Well, I think I’ve rambled on long enough and if anybody out there has managed to read this jumble of thoughts, I thank you. I know it’s a fairly self-indulgent first blog and for that I apologise. However, I do have one last thought.

Does anyone else think that the most annoying thing anyone else can ever say to you is “never mind, it’s only a game”?

Of course it’s only a game and a fans feelings aren’t rational, we know that. We know there is no logic to the moods we feel after we lose a match, or the euphoria we feel after a last minute winner but hey, that is how we feel and personally, I pity anyone who doesn’t share those feelings. I can’t imagine not liking Football (or any sport for that matter) and if it’s wrong to immediately form a deep suspicion of somebody I’ve just met because they don’t like the game and share these feelings then quite frankly, I don’t want to be right.

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