Sixfields - Northampton Town FC
Saturday 11th September 2010
Vs Southend United, League Two, 3pm
By Tim Sansom

1. Why were you looking forward to going to the ground?

Visiting the Sixfields stadium in Northampton had been on my personal agenda for the while. Having recently moved to the town, I wanted to really feel that heart beat of the place that I am calling my home for the foreseeable future. Football and rugby battle for the attention of the town's folk and it is not that far from the Sixfields stadium to Franklin’s Gardens where the Northampton Saints play.
To a large extent, I sensed that Northampton is far more a rugby town than football town in a similar fashion to Bath or Gloucester. However, Northampton Town Football Club does attract a fair amount of attention in the local media and the club does try to make itself to be more than a passing interest to the football loving public. For a long period over the summer, the club had adverts across the town to encourage people to forget about what was happening at Old Trafford or Anfield and watch their football closer to home. It was a brave advert in these strange football times.

As well as wanting to visit to get more of a feeling about Northampton as a town, I also wanted to check out a lower league match and that is something which I shamefully fail to do as much as I like. It is natural to become more focused on the soap opera of your own team, and in my case, and at the time of writing, my team was doing surprisingly well in the Championship. You can also be extensively diverted to the Premiership with a particular focus on the top teams in the league. You can forget that there are lower league teams and a whole galaxy of clubs below the Premiership that are trying to make sense of the game that we call football.

I hoped that this particular game would be a decent match. Although I knew that Northampton had been struggling to get their first win of the campaign, and that Southend United had been equally fighting to avoid financial oblivion for most of the past summer, I did not walk into Sixfields with an intimate knowledge of every player’s strengths and weaknesses. I could take my seat as a true neutral and hope to be entertained by some exciting football on an impressively warm and sunny Saturday afternoon. I had a steely determination to enjoy this game come what may, to justify to a friend that paying to watch lower league football was money worth spent.  

2. How easy was your journey/ finding the ground/ car parking?

The British road system is famously unpredictable but it is fair to say that the journey to Sixfields is fairly easy from any direction. I took an impressively direct bus to the ground from the horrific bus station that is probably the worst bus terminus that I have ever visited in the UK or the world. It is everything that you would expect a bus station built around 1976 to be full of stained concrete, bus exhaust fumes, dying hanging baskets and dark wood panelling straight off a seventies game show.

This town of shoes and brewing does have a very bustling feeling about it and you can easily kill some time in the town before your afternoon game. The buses to the stadium also stop to the west of the town centre. At the time of writing, there was going to be a revision of the buses that went to Sixfields but it was just down to a change of operator. Daventry bound buses go pass the railway station, and stop at a bus shelter on top of a hill that overlooks the stadium. St Giles Park buses also stop near to Sixfields.

Sixfields is not a stadium that is penned in by a mass of dreary warehouses and carpet showrooms. After passing a small range of chain pubs, burger bars and restaurants that want you to eat masses for only £5:95, you will come to the top of a hill and Sixfields is in the valley below.

It is fair to say that the stadium would not win many architectural awards but this ground does look smart. Car parking is nearby in a number of car parks that are within walking distance of the stadium. I visited the stadium on a pleasant Saturday afternoon in the warm half of September. You get a decent view of Northampton including the large chimney looking tower used to test lifts. However I have been to Sixfields in dramatically difficult conditions. When there is wind and rain in the air, the whole area is particularly bleak and choosing the wrong seat in the stands means that you could be buffeted by wind for a solid ninety minutes. However, I guess that is what some people describe as atmosphere. 

3. What did you think when seeing the ground/ first impressions of away end then other sides of the ground?

Some people would argue that by the time that I got to the ground, I was rather over excited for a Northampton versus Southend game. I was excitingly texting anyone who would listen that I was at this league two game. One friend seemed particularly bemused and mentioned that he was watching Everton versus Manchester United and that was where the action was taking place. In hindsight, he was watching an exciting game. However, I was determined to enjoy my League Two action, enthusiastically brought the ticket and sat in the Main Stand towards the end where the Essex fans were sitting. Inside the ground, there continues to be a very neat look to the stadium with perfectly shaped stadiums coloured in maroon rather than a mass of iron, steel and garishly  coloured seats.

I spoke to two local people who gave conflicting reports about whether there was any atmosphere in Sixfields. Apart from a fairly loud vocal element in the away end, the Main Stand seemed to be where the atmosphere was most evident with singing that lasted virtually throughout the game. A large amount of the songs came from the younger element of the home support which was surprising comforting. Despite the dreadful football from kick off to half time, people still kept on singing and we can all think of those grounds that turn into a library when the football collapsed from being even slightly exciting. 

4. Comment on the game itself, atmosphere, stewards, pies and toilets

The football was truly awful throughout the first 45 minutes. I was not especially upset about the action in front of me. It was a sunny Saturday afternoon. There was some atmosphere in the ground and I spent most of the first half noting how many tackles and fouls went unpunished when similar incidents would have been certainly punished in the Premiership. Although it was a close run thing, Southend edged the action in the opening half, and you began to sense a feeling of uneasiness and frustration amongst the home fans. It was Saturday 11th September, and at 3:45pm, Northampton Town Football Club had yet to win their first game of the 2010/2011 season.
If you are a neutral at the game, the best way to find out about the mood of the crowd is to visit the toilets at half time. If the team is playing well, there is a carnival atmosphere (if there ever can be a carnival at the urinals,) but if the match is awful or the team are playing badly, the toilets are a morgue with everyone going about their business without looking at each other. You feel as if you are on the London Underground where the slightest brush of an arm will get evil killer looks. This was the atmosphere in the Sixfields toilets at half time and if by some remote chance you are interested in toilets at football stadiums, I can report that there was nothing different in Northampton compared to other stadiums across the UK. There are concrete walls and adverts for betting and ticket deals. It is soulless and functional. Nothing more can be said.

Food seemed to be fairly expensive in price but was very popular with the locals. The half time entertainment seemed to consist of local school kids kicking balls into a net, whilst most people stood transfixed in front of the concourse televisions looking for the latest afternoon scores. There was no opportunity to kick balls into the back of Fiestas or Minis, which seemed to be the fashion in the seventies and have a brief renaissance in the last couple of years.

The second half of the game was much better. Both teams seemed to want to score goals and win the game. The frustration of the home fans seemed to be lifted when Northampton scored two goals that won the match. Once goals began to be scored, the home team seemed to relax and play some flowing football that was dramatically absent throughout the first 45 minutes. The final whistle was blown and there was a happy celebration in a very British sort of way. Within a couple of weeks, Northampton would be playing Liverpool at Anfield in the League Cup, and there were many announcements and mass excitement in advance of the trip to Merseyside. 

5. Comment on getting away from the ground

Getting away from many grounds can be a nightmare that can ruin the day out as well as the match regardless whether the action had been exciting. Delayed and unhealthily packed trains, a lack of buses, closed underground stations due to ‘overcrowding’ have all become a sad feature of travelling to watch football in the UK at the weekend.
Travelling away from Sixfields was not a problem. On a sunny day and if your team has done well, it is not that far to walk into the town centre of Northampton as well as the railway station. This particular match had not been watched by a full house so there were enough seats on the bus back into Northampton. The road system around Sixfields is fairly advanced so car drivers will find it easy to start their journeys home. I can not promise that you will avoid any traffic jam but getting away from this particular ground is fairly easy. I certainly did not experience any problems.  

6. Summary of overall thoughts of the day out  

I enjoyed the match and my visit to the home of Northampton Town Football Club. I was made to feel welcome at Sixfields and enjoyed the atmosphere during a game that will go down as Northampton Town’s first home league win of the season. When you visit lower league clubs, you do feel more part of the club and closer to the action. I felt extremely close to the pitch and was waiting for the moment when the ball would be kicked towards me, and I would make a spectacular catch that would be shown on national television. I do not have any regrets in going. Although the intensive specific details of the football action may not live that long in the memory,  I can now swap some anecdotes about the local football club and Sixfields stadium in the local community. Having discovered one of the sporting hearts of Northampton, that is a result for me. 

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