It's more than just a game: The plight of a cash-strapped League Two club
It’s a phrase that’s been trending across the county, across the United Kingdom and even across the world for the last month, reaching football fan after football fan no matter what club they support.
Northampton Town are, in essence, your typical football league side; juggling between promotion to League One and relegation to the footballing wilderness of non-league year after year. A few cup giant killings here and a few last day relegation escapes there aside, there has not really been any spectacular headline hitting moments to distinguish the Cobblers from any other stalwart League Two outfit.
This has all changed of late though, and unless your head has been firmly under the sand for the last four weeks then you would have heard about the mountain of issues that Northampton Town are facing. To put it bluntly, extinction of one of the Football League’s oldest clubs is on the cards.
The painstaking facts of the situation (for a Northampton fan at least) are that the club is in desperate amounts of debt. They owe the local council a total sum of £10.25 million for a loan that was granted to the club for a stadium development. This development then stalled before it had really begun, leaving Sixfields Stadium with three functioning stands and what can only be described as one ‘stand’ of scaffolding and unfinished building works.
Added to this, HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) has issued a winding-up petition worth over £166,000 of unpaid taxes, which has until tomorrow (Monday 16th November) to be paid back before the club goes to court. Putting the club even further into the mire, the club’s bank account was frozen a fortnight ago and none of the players or staff were paid for the month of October, with the Professional Footballer’s Association (PFA) having to step in to ensure the players received their wages.
To completely finish things off, chairman of Northampton Town David Cardoza, the man culpable for all these problems, has gone into complete silence since the announcement of debt.
It was at this point, when things were looking at their most desperate, that the Northampton Town fans began getting involved, and the “save the cobblers” campaign picked up momentum.
A core group of Northampton Town fans, initially part of a supporter’s trust, set up a fundraising page and encouraged other fans to donate any money possible with the aim of accumulating £100,000 to help the club going into liquidation. After around a week there was steady progress, with Cobblers fans being the main source of income, until two weeks ago the whole thing completely blew up and went viral.
Fans from clubs all over the country got involved and pledged to the Cobblers survival, with many of these fans sympathising as their respective clubs have been in a similar situation in the past. This then raised publicity, culminating in respected broadcasters like Talk Sport getting involved and spreading word about the fundraising. The campaign then went worldwide, with donations and words of hope being sent from the likes of small teams in France, football fans in Germany, people sympathising from New Zealand, seven-year-olds asking their parents to donate the fiver in their piggy bank; the list is an endless and heart-warming one for football.
Northampton Town boss Chris Wilder summed the whole situation and fan morale up excellently in an interview last week, when he said: “Football is secondary. It’s about the survival of the football club and everybody has shown how much they care in abundance.”
“I’ve got a hell of a lot of respect for supporters of teams who are not glamour clubs. It’s quite easy for people in Northampton to support Chelsea or Manchester United but this is proper football – people care about their club and the welfare and the ups and downs and the roller-coaster ride and that’s certainly what it’s been since I’ve been at the club.”
One day remains until the deadline for the winding-up petition. The only question left is: will it be enough to save the club from liquidation?
Hopes are rife that an eleventh hour takeover deal by Kelvin Thomas, the ex-Oxford United chairman, can save the club; but this was due to happen last week, so at present this is still in the balance as negotiations between his party and the club continue.
The Cobblers aren’t the first club to have this problem and, unfortunately, will almost undoubtedly not be the last. Portsmouth, Bristol City and more recently Bournemouth have all survived extinction by the skin of their teeth in the past, but teams like Hereford and Stockport know all too well what can happen after both have encountered freefall through the leagues after going into administration.
Yet the global response to a tiny League Two club’s issues is, to put it simply, astonishing. It goes to show that regardless of a person’s allegiance to a particular club, the footballing community has a way of coming together to make sure that football comes out on top. If anything, it goes to show that nothing can get in the way of passionate fans that truly care about their club, and that fans can in fact make the all importance difference.
So let’s hope, for football’s sake, that Northampton Town can survive this mess.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Jason 87030