A couple of acts of quiet heroism are occurring in League Two at present, says Tom Simmonds.
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Two of the current occupants of the play-off places – fourth-placed Accrington Stanley and fifth-placed Northampton Town – have achieved their current positions against backdrops of financial uncertainty.
The teams’ playing records may hint at serenity behind the scenes, as both have collected 28 points from 16 games and have identical records of eight wins, four draws and four defeats. However, the reality is somewhat scarier for the denizens of the Crown Ground and Sixfields, who have seen the on-pitch exploits as welcome antidotes to fearing for the existence of their clubs.
Stanley were given hope that their travails would be resolved last week, with the news that local businessman Andy Holt was to assume control of the club and clear their £1.2 million worth of debt. And while the Football League are yet to ratify Holt’s takeover, he does not sound concerned about being turned down. His talk is sunny, of making holistic improvements and playing up the philanthropic aspect of the takeover. Manager John Coleman has echoed this optimism, saying: “We’ve always been swimming against the tide and maybe now we’re just jumping into a boat.”
Things remain up in the air for Cobblers fans. A winding-up order from HMRC over an unpaid tax bill of £166,000, which comes to court in a fortnight, is the crocodile nearest Northampton’s boat. Looming even more menacingly is a demand from Northampton Borough Council to repay a £10.25million loan originally earmarked for a rebuild of the East Stand at Sixfields.
With work on the stand long since stopped, and with the builders and the council claiming Northampton have failed to meet scheduled payments, it gives an idea of the frightening predicament the club is in. The Northampton Town Supporter’s Trust said on Monday that they were braced for the scenario of forming a “phoenix club” a la AFC Wimbledon and Hereford if a buyer or route through administration is not found.
All of this makes the jobs that Coleman and Chris Wilder have done, in galvanising their playing squads and pushing them to the heights they have hit so far, all the more remarkable. Both are highly experienced lower division hands who are used to working in the culture of perpetual hand-to-mouth living that is the reality for most clubs in League Two.
Adversity being a unifying factor is a common trope within football. From Jose Mourinho’s grandstanding attempts to create siege mentalities at any club he manages through to that old truism about it being more difficult to play against a team reduced to 10 players because it makes the afflicted team work harder, we see this played out weekly in matches at every level.
This concept is something that Wilder is clearly trying to wring every last drop out of to motivate his players.
It was revealed before their game with Newport on Saturday that all club employees had not been paid. Wilder’s claim that this had brought all concerned “much closer together” might look like bluff to the cynic, but it is essential that his players are kept in a bubble in which they are primarily focussed on football if they are to maintain their impressive start. However, the amount of mileage this strategy has left, particularly with Christmas approaching, is anybody’s guess.
Of course, the big issue for Northampton fans right now is focussing on what they can do to ensure their club continues to exist in its present form, and it may well be that administration and a points deduction could be a way forward for them, subject to negotiations with creditors. While the circumstances are not ones you would wish to see befall any club, Cobblers fans can at least take some solace from results on the pitch, as they clearly demonstrate that they have a squad and a coaching staff made of stern stuff.
Has your club responded well to a period of adversity? Northampton fans: what is your prognosis for your club’s immediate future?
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