This weekend saw the Cobblers Men’s team go through the next stage of their pressure cooker end of season campaign and, a day later, there was no less tension down the road at Harpole Playing Fields as the Cobblers Women fought to a battling victory over Mansfield Town that sees them on the brink of a historic moment of their own.
The piece of history that would come with promotion to the fourth tier of the Women’s game in England wouldn’t just be significant for the status of this team – heartily led by joint managers Lou Barry and Josh Oldfield through Covid and season cancellations – but for the fact that it means so much to so many people.
I’d only ever been to see the Women’s team play at Sixfields in the past and, on the podcast, I’ve advocated for a greater use of the stadium to build up the profile of this incredible squad. And as I approached this usually quiet corner of town on an overcast afternoon it was easy to feel that the likes of Leah Cudone, Alex Dicks and Charlie Cooper – leading a vibrant front line that have fired an impressive haul of goals this season – were out of place in what’s essentially a park pitch on first viewing.
But as soon as you take a step into the surroundings you feel immediately why this place has become home for this team. Families of players surround the areas near the benches and around the pitch, banter is shared over the barriers despite the importance of league positions and younger members of the crowd scream endless encouragement to their local heroines.
There’s a sense of community and occasion around the game, aided by the opening of the club house serving tea, coffee and bacon sandwiches. There’s another local game on the next pitch that almost has an effect of highlighting the greater importance of what’s happening on ours. And then there’s the closeness to the pitch and the players and the view it gives you of the intricacies of the side.
This is grass roots style football at its best – with players that are levels above that.
Within minutes of kick off I got a sense of why this team is so successful and being so close to the action is key to understanding that. Every questionable refereeing decision is heartily contested, every frustrated cry out from a pass that goes slightly too long showing the desire in these players’ hearts to get over the line and every chance taken in gaps for injuries for the players to gather as one to talk through the next steps.
This is a team full of stars but also built on togetherness and it’s not until you see it in person that you really feel and see it. Mansfield, to compare, came into this one just two places below the Cobblers but it’s noticeable how much further on we are in terms of the complete package. It’s maybe cliché to say that everyone plays their part but it’s so clear how much team spirit there is in this group.
The team has been built on goals and the attacking players that have produced huge wins have rightfully been given the plaudits. But watching in person you see every little thing that goes on behind the attack to make them tick.
Jo Daniel is a goalkeeper who gives you complete confidence and the defensive unit should be equally praised – as things stand, they’ve conceded just seven goals all season in the league – a remarkable achievement. In the middle of the park, the outstanding Rachael Mumford is the absolute heartbeat of the side and gave another Player of the Match performance here.
Across the park there’s heart and there’s a will to win. There’s pride in the shirt. And there’s somehow room for just as much camaraderie as there is for striving for that win that would take us to within touching distance of top spot.
The win came late but, crucially, it came.
Mansfield were a physical and battling opponent and to play them twice in a week was a difficult proposition at this stage of a season that’s seen the team reach cup finals and go as far as they’ve ever gone in the FA Cup.
It could easily have been one where we settled for a point, particularly after a nasty looking injury deprived Mansfield of their first-choice goalkeeper for the closing stages and created a delay that took the Cobblers out of their stride.
But this team isn’t built to accept draws and the goals finally, joyfully, came.
The first owed a lot to Mumford, who put in a challenge of the highest order in the middle of the park before a Rachael St John Mosse through ball was finished off by Dicks past the replacement keeper. There was barely time to enjoy the relief of that as Cudone raced through just seconds later and produced the calmest of finishes to seal the points.
The six points gathered from these two games against Mansfield could be huge in the final reckoning. Top club Chesterfield can now only reach a maximum of 42 points. The Cobblers, then, need five more points to seal the title and promotion and given that two of their remaining games come against the bottom two sides in the league it’s looking more and more likely that promotion will be sealed.
For this group, it’s no less than they deserve. Built before a national lockdown, sustained through uncertainty and shining when the big games come, Northampton Town Women are on the brink of glory and we should all be going along with them.
NTFC Women are next in action against Rise Park Ladies on Thursday, 5 May at Studland Road (Spencer Community Trust FC) rather than the usual Harpole venue with a 7:45pm kick off.
A Cobblers fan all his life, Danny is the most down to earth football supporter from Northampton.
While at university in Southampton, Danny kept up to date with all things NTFC from afar, sharing his thoughts on his ‘A Load Of Cobblers’ online blog.