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Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Destiny Calling

With Northampton Town struggling at the wrong end of League Two, Nobes looks at the concept of fate and destiny in football - and whether it's about to catch up with the Cobblers.

Northampton boss Gary Johnson is aiming to keep his side in League Two

Albert Einstein once remarked that: "Everything is determined, the beginning as well as the end, by forces over which we have no control."

It's what we refer to as fate, a pre-determined destiny that, no matter what we do, we cannot prevent. It is inevitable, unstoppable, and is simply a question of 'when' and not 'if.'

Commentators often refer to the "Footballing Gods" which, depending on the luck a side gets, are either smiling on a team, or not. Not even the beautiful game, it seems, can escape the inescapable.

It is, perhaps, the fear that should be permeating through every Northampton Town fan right now. The Cobblers are currently on a run of 13 games without a win, and are struggling to gain any momentum under new boss Gary Johnson.

After Barnet's surprise win at fellow strugglers Burton at the weekend, Town sit just four points above the League Two drop zone, anxiously looking over their shoulder as they get sucked into a scrap for survival.

Tonight they travel to Burton themselves in a crunch game which, if lost, will have Northampton fans of a certain age casting their minds back ago to 1994 when their side finished bottom of the entire Football League.

However, they were granted a reprieve because the ground of Conference champions Kidderminster Harriers wasn't deemed good enough to gain entry to the 92 club.

Ever since, Cobblers have established themselves a yo-yo side between the third and fourth tiers, either battling the drop in League One or making a push for promotion from League Two.

However, this term, despite upsetting Liverpool at Anfield in the League Cup, Town have endured a tough campaign. It saw playing legend Ian Sampson removed as manager last month, with the experienced Gary Johnson brought in to replace him.

The former Bristol City and Peterborough boss, who won the basement division with Yeovil in 2005, has struggled to turn around fortunes at Sixfields though. Relegation cannot be ruled out.

Enter fate to play its part in a surprisingly intriguing fight against relegation into the Non Leagues. History does not make pretty reading for the Northamptonshire outfit.

Northampton were one of five sides in the '90s who, because of other clubs going bust or Conference Champions denied promotion, despite finishing bottom of the Football League weren't relegated.

In 1991, the demise of Aldershot spared Wrexham the drop. Twelve months later and bottom placed Carlisle were thankful for Maidstone's financial woes causing them to have to exit the League instead.

Then Torquay and Exeter, like Cobblers, were saved from the drop because Stevenage and Macclesfield's respective grounds weren't considered up to Football League standards.

After a lucky escape in 1995, Exeter were relegated from League Two in 2003

Come the Noughties, and fate caught up with all four though. Exeter were the first when, in 2003, they became the first side to be relegated in 23rd after the introduction of two-up-two down between the Football and Non Leagues.

Carlisle, so often the experts at the great escape, finally fell through the trapdoor in 2004, having given themselves one too many a mountain to climb.

In 2007, it was Torquay who slumped to a miserable relegation and a year on Wrexham took the plunge in the Conference - where they remain to this day. Is fate now about to catch up with Northampton too?

It may sound slightly surreal, does fate really play a part in football? However, sport, like life, has a funny way of evening things out.

Having been denied promotion, Macclesfield, Kidderminster, and Stevenage all eventually made it to the Football League. They weren't to be denied the second time they won each won the Conference title.

Indeed, there are many superstitions surrounding the transition between the Football and Non Leagues in recent years.

Kidderminster's spell in the Football League lasted exactly five seasons, between 2000 and 2005. The side that succeeded them as Conference Champions, Rushden & Diamonds, also lasted just five years before relegation in 2006.

My own club, Boston United, also spent five years in the Football League, between 2002 and 2007. Chester City likewise with five years between 2004 and 2009.

Even forgetting the "five year curse" as it became known, there was a feeling when my club were on the brink of relegation that the Footballing Gods were exacting some karma into proceedings.

The irony wasn't lost on us that our place in the 92 was taken by the club we so controversially pipped to the Conference title, Dagenham & Redbridge. They had to take our place, it was written in the stars.

As it had been 12 months previously when Oxford United were relegated to the Conference. When they had joined the Football League in 1962 it had been because of the demise of debt-ridden Accrington Stanley.

Forty-four years later, and the phoenix club from the Lancashire town were on hand to swap places with Oxford again. You can't write scripts like that.

The first ever year of two-down from League Two saw Exeter and Shrewsbury drop down. The two had faced one another on the opening day.

The following season it was Carlisle and York who were facing up to life in the Non Leagues. They had begun the campaign against one another too.

Cobblers can at least console themselves with the fact they lined up on the opening day against Torquay rather than face the seemingly doomed Stockport.

However, when they take to the field on the final day at Morecambe, they will hope in the resort of the notorious quicksands to not experience a sinking feeling of their own. Time to prove Einstein wrong.

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