Home of England’s rugby union champions in 2014 and arguably the oldest club in cricket’s County Championship, close to the current British Grand Prix circuit of Silverstone, Northampton does not lack for national and international status as far as sport is concerned.
In football, though, Northampton is best known for dramatic failure. Representing a historic market town, Northampton Town had been bumbling along in the lower rung of the Football League for decade after decade, sharing the cricket ground since their formation in 1897.
All of a sudden, promotion in alternate seasons saw The Cobblers zoom from Fourth to First Divisions in five years – then back down again in four. This record rise and fall ran from 1960-61 to 1969-70, rounded off by George Best scoring six goals for Manchester United at the County Ground in an 8-2 cup whitewash that has lived long in the memory.
A return to regular underachievement in a crumbling, three-sided shared stadium then saw Northampton accumulate a large build-up of debt, not backed with the property collateral other clubs had. Disgruntled Cobblers fans met to discuss their gripes – followed by a public meeting in 1992.
The outcome was the Northampton Town Supporters’ Trust, the first of its kind in the country, which served as a template for so many others as football became ever more corporate and clubs owned by distant profiteers. NTST founder, Town fan Brian Lomax, not only went on to serve on his club’s board for seven years, he inspired a movement that has led to 200-plus similar trusts being set up in the UK.
The death of Brian Lomax in November 2015 gave pause for reflection. Two years after the 1992 meeting, Northampton moved out of their three-sided shared ground to a new club-owned stadium in the west of town. Since then, Sixfields has witnessed four promotion-winning campaigns – but it hasn’t all been plain sailing.
The most recent came in 2015-16 but only after the club came close to liquidation, endless delays in the rebuilding of the East Stand exposing unpaid taxes and failed repayments on a loan received from Northampton Borough Council for stadium redevelopment.
In the subsequent scandal, chairman/director David Cardoza sold a controlling stake in the club before being arrested in January 2016.
In April 2016, the new East Stand was unveiled and a record attendance of 7,664 set when Northampton beat Luton Town 2-0. The Cobblers hadn’t lost a league game all year.
The defeat-free streak continued into League One as Northampton prepared for another visit by Manchester United, in the League Cup, nearly 50 years after George Best’s famous six-goal demolition.
Birmingham International is 77km (48 miles) away. A frequent direct train runs to Northampton (50min, £13.50). From Manchester, the train to Northampton (2hrs, £16 online) requires a change at Milton Keynes. From London, a regular service from Euston takes 50min-1hr (£7.50 online).
Northampton train station is on the south-west, stadium side of the town centre. The coach station is across town, on the north-east side. Both are a short walk to the centre.
The main interchange for local buses, North Gate, is right in town. Several companies serve Northampton – timetable and route information can be found here.
Amber Cars (01604 232 666) are based in town, with taxi services to and from Luton and Birmingham airports (£50-£60).
There are no hotels near the stadium but you’ll find most major chains in the town centre.
Nearest the train station, the ibis Northampton Centre and, close by, the Travelodge Northampton Central are both handy budget options. Often even cheaper, the Premier Inn Northampton Town Centre is right by the Museum & Art Gallery.
In a higher bracket, the Park Inn by Radisson Northampton has its own bar and grill, and health club with a pool, sauna and jacuzzi.
A welcome independent choice is the three-star Plough Hotel, set in an old coaching inn, with 37 comfortable bedrooms and a lounge bar.
Pubs and bars dot the streets around Northampton’s main Market Square. One of the best places in town to catch the game on a wide screen is the Wig & Pen, a cosy, CAMRA-award winning pub with plenty of rare whiskies, quality food and its own garden.
Nearby, the Fox & Quill is a busy, pre-club spot, with drink and food offers and football action a major attraction. The Old Bank also offers TV sport under the high ceilings of a former counting house. Late opening at weekends. Also by the Guildhall, the G&T (‘Gin&Temple’) is Northampton’s first gin lounge, a new venture in a historic building – drinks expertly mixed and poured three evenings a week, Thursday through Saturday.
Right on Market Square, The Auctioneers is a Marston’s pub with decent food to match the sought-after ales. Just further round the square, O’Neill’s does what O’Neill’s do, provide big-screen sport in a party-like atmosphere. Just along from there, The Moon On The Square is a standard Wetherspoons – The Cordwainer is the other one in town, with a little more character. Its name relates to the town’s shoe-making tradition.
Back near the Market Square, the Rifle Drum is a tiny spot with just enough room for TV sport.
For rare ales, Belgian brews, and hot and cold bar snacks, the Malt Shovel Tavern has bags of character, though favours the oval-ball game as far as TV sport is concerned. Live music is a midweek fixture. The Bear at 11 Sheep Street, renovated in 2015, also attracts ale aficionados.
Near the station, the Old Black Lion is a party-first pub that doesn’t stint on live sport.