For my final game of the season there was no choice but to set out on the train from Sheffield to travel to Barrow in Furnace to see them play Northampton Town. Barrow had already secured their survival from returning to the National League by being mathematically secure despite sitting one place above the relegation zone. Northampton by contrast were in third place and in line for automatic promotion to League 1 should they win and Bristol Rovers win but score less than five more than Northampton on the day.
It was not the fascinating position of the game that led me to this game but more importantly it would be my daughters 92nd current League ground and as I had been with her in 1986 to see her first I wanted to be at her last. Her first game was on Boxing Day 1986 when she saw Watford beat Luton Town 2 nil at Kenilworth Road in a hotly contested derby. Since then as a Northampton Town fan she has followed them away up and down the Leagues and at cup matches. Some grounds in the Premiership she has had to make special journeys often to see cup matches that their fans did not see as attractive against lower clubs that gave ticket opportunities and lower prices. For anyone to achieve this feat is amazing and I was proud to go there to give her a hug.
The day though did not start well with the Northern Line train running 26 minutes late into Manchester Piccadilly and I missed my connection. Train information told me that there was no train for two hours and I would arrive into barrow 5 minutes after kick off. After disappointment I consulted Google to find that if I was to take other trains via Preston I could reach Lancaster and the local train to Barrow with 4 minutes to spare. I would still be in time for the match. Thank you google, perhaps Manchester train information should consult you in the future.
Its great that most of the football community are really helpful. When I arrived at the station I set off a few yards in the direction I thought the stadium was but after consulting a local he turned me round and we walked to the ground together. The young man, in his twenties, told me he was from Preston having moved here in the last year switching his allegiances to Barrow. He was in catering and his chef let him have time off to go to the match due to good work. He walked all the way to reception with me where I met my daughter who did not know I was coming and I received my hug, amazing.
Her mother had arranged hospitality and mention over the tannoy of her achievement, her brother and me had organised commemorative artwork. Mine was by the well known local artist in Derbyshire and Sheffield Matt Cockayne who also works under the name Goo.
Barrow in Furnace AFC 1 Norhampton Town 3
The day was warm with blue skies which were being edged out by quickening grey clouds that gave that muggy feeling. The pitch was in great condition striped and lush green. The crowd in the stand around me were very friendly a mixture of all ages and sexes.
A crowd of 4605 had turned up with over 500 from Northampton and they were rewarded as their team were off to a storming start scoring within 5 minutes. Barrow had foolishly stopped for a perceived foul which left Sam Hoskins able to stroke the ball from outside the goal area to the right hand corner of the net.
Nine minutes later the barrow defence stood still at a corner and left an easy task for Fraser Horsfall to head the ball in for an unopposed two goal lead. barrow seemed shell shocked and an innocuous pass was intercepted, passed to Hoskins who repeated his earlier feat to make it 3 nil. Northampton now dominated the game but with 10 minutes before the break they started physically to look tired and Barrow pulled one back on the stroke of half time as Josh Kay neatly headed home from a corner.
Barrow came into the game in the second half and they even hit the bar through a Josh Gordon strike. Northampton though nearly made it 4 near the end when the Barrow keeper Farman made a great save from the ever lively Hoskins who thought he had scored. Back at the other end on 90 minutes the Northampton goalkeeper Liam Roberts handled out of his area to stop two on rushing Barrow players reaching the ball and was sent off. Little did he know that this would mean him missing play off games. With all substitutes used the diminutive outfield substitute Rose saw out the last few minutes in goal.
The drama was just unfolding as the game ended as news came through that although Northampton had achieved the win and three points they needed their two goal margin was unlikely to be enough as Bristol Rovers in fourth place were leading by 7 goals to nil and their game had been help due to a pitch inspection so if that game stayed the same when restarted it would be Bristol who would be automatically promoted with points and goal difference equal their higher number of goals scored would be enough. The Northampton players and fans looked deflated and dejected in such an incredible situation. There had been an indication that something unusual was happening in Bristol as the Barrow fans kept cheering at random times which was infact each time a Bristol goal went in.
On the train back to Lancaster with many Northampton fans I listened with interest to their comments. they were gutted with the outcome and had only venomous words for the Scunthorpe manager who had put out a team that consisted with an average age around 20 including a 17 year old goalkeeper.one of their players, Oliver Lobley who was 18 made his debut in the Saturday game only to find that by Tuesday he was released by the club. The fans also mentioned that Scunthorpe sold Ryan Loft to Bristol Rovers in January with a clause that they would receive more money from the transfer if Bristol Rovers were promoted. The fans were also annoyed that due to the delay due to the crowd invasion Rovers knew exactly what they needed to do after Northampton had finished. They were also upset that the other teams in the play offs with the Cobblers had all won and had momentum on their side. Northampton in contrast although winners had the disappointment of what had happened. It will show true character if Northampton come back from this, starting with an away game against Mansfield.
Fans though were happy with Northampton’s achievement for the season on one of the lowest budgets in the league.
Northampton have lodged a complaint to the EFL and their adjudication is awaited.
So what seemed like the end of the season for Northampton became the start of a play off struggle and for Alison at the end of her 92 club journey there are many more fascinating games and grounds to conquer.
Unfortunately there were no chips again but I bought a meat and potato pie with peas and gravy from the fan zone. The pie was deep and with a lot of tasty filling but was let down by the tepid temperature, luckily the peas and gravy were very hot.