EDITORIALS WILL RETURN FOR THE 2000-2001 SEASON =:-) ...hey, that preview wasn't too bad was it?! INTERESTING would be one way to describe the first month of the Cobblers' season. Controversial might be better. And then again Going-All-Out-To-Scupper-Your-Own-Chances might be better still.
The high hopes of the summer seemed to evaporate when the referee blew his whistle to start the opening game at Macclesfield and the boo-boys were soon baying for Ian Atkins' head (or any other part of him they could get at).
Then came the farcical scenes of the Peterborough match, which saw some horrific abuse directed at the manager despite the side only going down to a wonder goal from a £3million Manchester United target. Fair enough, that is not the whole story but to anyone unaware of the emotional baggage carried over from last season, it would have seemed both extreme and spiteful.
Whatever fans think of Atkins' favoured 532hoof tactics, they did once get us out of Division Three and to Wembley for a second time in the Division Two play-offs. Back in the hurly-burly Division Three, he clearly wanted to see if it would work again. Whether Atkins' hand was forced in the change to 4-4-2 is not known but he has made the change and should get some respect for doing so.
The Carlisle match shows some fine tuning is still needed. It may now be 4-4-2 but if the ball is still being whacked over the heads of the midfielders all we are succeeding in doing is taking another of our own players out of the game and denying Dave Savage and Duncan Spedding the chance to demonstrate their creativity.
But the one issue that has blown up to dominate everything else is the Tony Clarke row. Many fans have stood solidly behind Mr Clarke for standing up and saying what many (but certainly not all) were thinking and indeed writing on the net etc.
However, it cannot be denied that Mr Clarke's actions in informing fans that he intended to vote for Atkins to go were naive at best. It wouldn't have taken a lot of thinking through for him to realise the furore his revelation would cause,and consequently how much harder this would make Atkins' task, how much nastier it would make the atmosphere at the club, how this would affect the players' performance on the pitch.
The Chronicle and Echo article on the matter hardly helped either, seeming to accuse Mr Clarke of trying to make political gain by his comments. The fact that this story was a) ghost written and b) published two weeks after Mr Clarke's comments again, did not make the situation any better.
Throw in the club having a pop at the paper, the fans having a go at just about everyone and, bizarrely, the chairman labelling all internet fans 'nerds', and you have, in short, a first-class cock-up.
If the Cobblers do indeed want to win the league this season then everyone has got to bury the hatchet and get on the same side. I am aware this does make me sound like a "peace and love, man" hippy but people have to be grown-up enough to do this.
The amazing this is that despite all this sniping, the side have conceded just two goals in six league games and are just four points off the top of the table - just imagine if everyone (anyone?) had a positive attitude to the task in hand.
So the Planet Cobblers charter for the next few weeks must be:
Fans: Get off the manager's (if you can) and the players' (especially) backs
Mr Atkins: Let the players play
Mr Clarke: Please try to keep quiet or at least be more professional
Mr Stonhill: Learn to love the Internet - or you won't be selling many houses in the years to come.
Right, well I'm sure that's upset a few people...
Up The Cobblers.
Phil Agius, Planet Cobblers, September 5
Tickets sales have gone well, the new kit is a vast improvement on last season's and there is a confident spirit among the fans. Some may warn that this should not turn into over-confidence, but a close examination of the evidence shows plenty to be hopeful about.
For any fan, the summer changes of most importance are the players that come and go. Regardless of any boardroom tinkering, it's the guys in the claret shirts that matter.
Starting at the back, there has been a complete change of the goalkeeping staff. And, in my opinion, for the better.
We ended last season with Billy Turley - the keeper rated by the club as "a better long-term prospect" than Andy Woodman - and journeyman Steve Francis. Now, given that Turley was elevated into the first team at the expense of a top keeper like Woodman, and trumpeted as a key figure in our plans, it seems strange to say the least that we would sell him off to rivals Rushden (for 100-130K depending on who you believe) within weeks of the season ending.For his part, and on limited evidence, Francis looked a fair enough back-up last season.
But they have both gone and, on balance, they have been replaced cheaply by better quality performers. New number one Keith Welch was even being touted as an England possible earlier in his career, and only dispensed with by then First Division Bristol City as a result of their bizarre decision to appoint foreign coach Benny Lennartson, who brought in his own keeper. Welch was City's first choice when they pushed Watford all the way for the Division Two title in 1997-98 and therefore looks a very sound bet to look the part in Division Three.
New reserve stopper Alex O'Reilly also has bucketloads of potential. Named Eire's player-of-the-tournament at the World Youth Championships, his progress at West Ham was limited by lack of opportunities rather than lack of talent. If his loan signing is made permanent, he could become a very valuable asset.
So one-up to Mr Atkins in the goalkeeping stakes.
In defence, we seem well set whether or not the controversial 5-3-2 system is maintained or dispensed with.
The thing to remember here is that in Division Three any team with a half organised defence is going to be to the forefront. Man that defence with solid professionals and plenty of experience, as we have, and you should be on a winner.
Colin Hill may have gone but Lee Howey and Ian Sampson, flanked by John Frain and Ians Clarkson and Hendon would not be the chosen opponents of many Div Three strikers. Back them up with the Tony Dobson, the promise of Richard Hope, youngster Garry Hughes, plus the option of playing Duncan Spedding to inject pace on the left and defence is hardly a major concern. And I don't want to bring back horrible memories, but remember that this time last year we had Charlie Bishop - the man who couldn't trap a paralysed mouse - in the heart of defence.
Midfielders are thinner on the ground but with the returns from injury of lynchpin Roy Hunter and Damian Matthew give a major increase in this department's skill level (aided somewhat by the departure of workhorse Dean Peer). If Dave Savage is allowed the freedom he won at the end of last season, he should plunder a lot of goals at this level.
Sean Parrish was undeniably disappointing last season, looking a shadow of his pre-injury self and James Hunt should perhaps be ahead of him in the pecking order.
The enigmatic Ali Gibb may find that his best position is on the bench, which should not be taken as a slight, merely that he can be seen to best advantage running at tired legs late in the game. Steve McGavin looks another shrewd signing, bringing experience and another likely source of goals.
It's all-change up front, where the big worry concerns Carlo Corazzin. Firstly, will he recover completely and swiftly from his knee surgery? And secondly, will he want to stay at the club if he does? The ideal scenario is that the rest of the squad take us to the top while Carlo gets back to fitness and he decides to stay a) for the promotion ride and b) while he proves his recovery to potential buyers.
Target man Steve Howard has grabbed a couple of welcome goals in the friendlies so far and it's also nice to see young Andy Morrow being given his chance in pre-season. Hopefully the management will not repeat past mistakes (Michael Warner) and strangle young talent without giving it a chance. Chris Lee's future seems uncertain, although I for one, would be a lot more confident about him at this level than in Division Two.
When assessing our chances in 1999-2000, the first thing to ask is whether any other side has as much experience and talent at their disposal. Trying my hardest to be objective, it is hard to see anyone better placed.
True, Darlington have the finances behind them and indications are they are buying quality. Even so an upheaval as big as theirs will take time to bed in.
Peterborough, for all we try to ignore it, have a clutch of talented youngsters, but will hopefully remain as unpredictable as any of Fry's sides.
Other than that it's hard to know where to look for dangers. Brighton will improve under Micky Adams but have a lot of ground to make up, and relegated sides York, Macclesfield and Lincoln, should not threaten (except perhaps physically in Lincoln's case).
Anyone accusing this article of fatal 'over-confidence' should remember that last season's two major problems were a desperate lack of confidence and unrest within the squad. We are assured that Sixfields is brimming over with happy campers now and confidence among the squad, seemingly, could not be higher.
With everyone on the same side, we're too good for this division.
The only proviso on that statement is that last season I couldn't see us finishing outside the top six!
Here's looking forward to a great season.
Up the Cobblers.
Phil Agius, Planet Cobblers, July 22