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Interviews

THE SAMPSON YEARS: PART TWO

Former captain talks us through his ten-year playing spell

5 May 2020

Following on from part one of our interview with Ian Sampson, in this latest instalment he talks us through the ten years he spent at the club as a player...

"When I was initially on loan, we were still playing at the County Ground, which I think is fair to say was a very individual stadium." He said.

"But I'm sure a lot of the fans still have fond memories of watching games there over many years. It had great character and appeal to it, but the lure of playing in the new stadium was also big for me and we were all excited to get started at Sixfields.

"It didn't happen straight away though, we were supposed to start that season in the new stadium but it wasn't quite ready so we played another 4-5 games at the County Ground. Our first game at Sixfields was in-front of a sell-out crowd against Barnet which was a great experience and it was certainly one of the best stadiums in the division."

Sampson was a key and consistent component to the Cobblers team over the next ten years, playing under managers such as Ian Atkins, Kevin Wilson, Kevan Broadhurst and Colin Calderwood, and Sampson looks back on his time with fond memories.

"Anybody that played in that 1996-97 team will say winning at Wembley would be one of their career highlights, it was a special day. Unfortunately the following year wasn't so great because we suffered defeat at Wembley. It's not the best place to go and lose a game of football but it was still a successful season up to that point, and we'd come a long way.

"Grimsby were the better team on the day and probably deserved the win, and it was a shame we couldn't quite match what we'd done the previous year. But at the start of that season when we'd just been promoted into the division, everyone was writing us off thinking we were going to go straight back down.

"But we had such a togetherness and we were very disciplined in the way we played and it brought us success along the way. We proved all of the doubters wrong that year by having a good season and getting to the play-off final, we were one game away from the Championship as it's known now so it was a great feat considering where we were at the start of the previous campaign.

"We then went on to achieve another promotion a few years down the line after winning our last six games. We finished in the top three and went up automatically which was fantastic and that end to the season was really exciting. Getting promoted with any team is a great feat but we had a special team with a great team spirit and we all pulled together.

"I also remember beating West Ham in the cup over two legs, that was another highlight. And then when Colin took over we managed to go on a great run in the second half of that season to get into the play-off places again, but unfortunately we were beaten by Keith Curle's Mansfield Town team at the time.

"That Mansfield game turned out to be my last game for Northampton, and it was a bit of a kick in the teeth to end on that note and lose on penalties after ten great years, but looking back on my time I had a fantastic and enjoyable decade overall."

Promotions, cup scalps against higher placed opposition and playing at Wembley were just some of Sammo's highlights whilst in claret and white, but there's also one individual moment which he looks back on with a smile...

"I'd like to refer to it as a guided volley!" he said, when asked about his late winner at Peterborough United in December 2000.

"It was a great moment to score that goal, particularly as it was so late in the game against our arch rivals. A finish that would put any striker to shame. Obviously we're in different divisions to each other now but the rivalry has always been long-standing and it's a game the fans always look forward to when it comes around. To score in front of the packed out away end that day was special and it was great to share that moment with them, it will be something I'll always remember."

During his spell at Sixfields, Sampson formed a solid partnership with fellow 1994 arrival, Ray Warburton. The pair were key players during their time with the club, and are still held in high regard by the supporters for their contributions to the team over the years.

"He was an inspirational captain, he always led by example. I wouldn't say he was the most vocal captain, but in terms of being able to follow someone's example there was no-one better that I played with. He's probably one of the best headers of the ball I've seen for some time, similar to the way current team captain Charlie Goode is now.

"Ray was head and shoulders above anyone else I played with, in terms of heading the ball. His general demeanor was spot on as a captain and we were disapointed to lose him when he moved on to Rushden & Diamonds."

In 2004, the time came for Sampson to hang up his boots at the age of 35 following a 14-year professional spell in the game. He recalls the moment where he felt it was time to move on from playing...

"At the end of my last season, I was offered the chance to stay on for another year but with a pay cut, but I was also offered a two-year contract to become the youth team coach. I was 35 at the time and my knees had probably reached their limit in terms of carrying on playing as I was struggling to train at some points, and I was on anti-inflammatory tablets to get me through sessions.

"So it was a no-brainer to move into coaching from there and I'm very grateful to the club and Colin Calderwood for offering me that chance at the time. 

"When I look back to my Goole Town days and playing for them, to go on and forge a professional playing career is something I'm very proud of. To still be playing football at a good level at the age of 35 is something most people dream about, and I was no different. As a kid you look up to all of the superstars on the television and you want to follow their path, whether it's playing in the Premier League or in League Two, so I'm very grateful to have had the career I've had."

Stay tuned to ntfc.co.uk for our final part of The Sampson Years over the coming days where Ian discusses his time as youth team coach, first-team manager and returning to the club as the current Academy Manager.


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