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Interviews

THE SAMPSON YEARS: PART THREE

Former boss talks us through his spell in coaching and management

6 May 2020

In the final instalment of our interview with Ian Sampson, our former defender talks us through his transition into coaching, his role as first-team manager and returning to the club in his latest capacity...

Having retired from professional football in 2004 at the age of 35, Sampson took his first step into coaching as he accepted the offer of managing the under 18's. 

"I'd been starting my coaching badges a couple of years prior to retiring, so it was always something I was keen to persue and coaching had always interested me," he said.

"Looking at the other side of the game, working on tactics, learning to play different ways and winning football matches was something I was keen to develop. As a player, the more experienced you get the more you take on board, and I was no different. I'd say from my early thirties is when that started coming into fruition."

Despite being eager to his coaching career up and running, Sampson also admits he was still envious of the first-team squad having only just left them to take up his new role...

"I was keen to get cracking with the coaching because it's been something I was keen to get started on, but I remember at the time we were starting pre-season alongside the first-team. At the start you'd sometimes look over and wish you were still involved from a playing point of view, but the reality was that time had passed and I just wanted to help develop the young players I was coaching.

"We had some really good young players in the youth team at the time so it was good to work with them and use my experience to help them develop. One or two went on to play professionally and I quickly snapped out of still wanting to be a player and concentrated solely on being a coach."

First-team manager at the time, Colin Calderwood, departed Sixfields for Nottingham Forest in 2006 following a successful two and three quarter years with the Cobblers, and his departure opened up another opportunity for Sampson to develop his coaching skills.

"Colin left for Nottingham Forest and John Gorman was appointed as the new manager. He was looking for a first-team coach to work alongside him, and he had a couple of people in mind. By that point I was interested in coaching and developing players at a first-team level, so I told him I was interested and thankfully he gave me that opportunity.

"It was a great experience being back in the first-team environment, albeit for a short time under John. He later resigned which was a shame because he was a smashing bloke and we all wanted things to work out."

Gorman's departure opened the door for Sampson to register his interest in the vacancy, a chance which he was keen to take.

"When John left, I was given the opportunity to be caretaker manager for three games. In that short period I don't think we did too well results wise, to be honest but I was keen to take the job on full-time. Looking back now it was probably to early to do so, and the club made the right decision by appointing Stuart Gray as manager.

"During those three games I got a taste of first-team football management and I was keen to have that opportunity again should the chance arise. Working under Stuart also gave me valuable time to learn from him and gain more experience."

In 2009, Gray left the club and Samspon was appointed first-team manager on a permanent basis, an opporunity which he was keen to take having already experienced the role a couple of years prior.

"As I mentioned earlier I was keen to take the opportunity should it ever come up again, and I was given the job. I remember we went on a really good run after Christmas, unbeaten in 12 games and in with a shout of the play-offs at one point. I was thinking to myself at the time that we were in with a great shout of sneaking in.

"We had some great players at the time, Bayo was a key member of the team and the focal point. It was probably his injury over Easter which cost us a chance of continuing our run towards the play-offs. Once he got injured we dropped down towards mid-table. It was a missed opportunity but one we felt we could build on the following season."

With the role being Sampson's first full-time job in first-team management, he says the time he spent in charge opened his eyes to the number of responsibilities a first-team boss has to contend with.

"I had good help from my assistant at the time, Malcolm Crosby. I could call upon his experience and he'd been in the same role at some good clubs. When I joined I was keen to get some experience in to help me, and he did just that. At the time we'd just had a cut in budget which was difficult because the expectation was still to push for the play-offs or promotion.

"Despite that, and possibly naively, I was still confident we could achieve those ambitions. Looking back now I possibly should've demanded a little bit more in terms of budget, but you learn from these things."

"We tried our best that season and we still did have some really big highlights. The cup run we had in 2010 was brilliant, and it's frightening that it was ten years ago! The run was phenomenal. We had a team of players that were put together on a small wage budget, and firstly we beat Brighton & Hove Albion who were riding high in their division at the time.

"Then we beat Reading who were doing well in their league, before heading to Liverpool. You're delighted when the draw comes out at the time, but there's also a little bit of you saying 'Oh no, we could get battered here!'

"But the occasion was fantastic, we said whatever happens we'll go there and enjoy it. We had a good pre-match leading up to it and everyone was nice and relaxed, and there was a real excitement building amongst the supporters. We were as prepared as we could be and thankfully it wasn't Liverpool's strongest team, but still one full of internationals and a side you'd expect on paper to beat us.

"But on the night the lads were superb. They played well above their level and I think it's fair to say we deservedly won the game. It was horrible weather but we were still backed by 6,000 Cobblers fans which was a brilliant effort and it turned out to be well worth the journey.

"After Liverpool took the lead, they almost thought the game might become a little bit too easy and took their foot off the gas slightly. I could see our lads weren't demoralised after their goal and we raised our game off the back of it. When we went 2-1 up in extra time I thought we had it in the bag, but they scored late on to take it to penalties.

"But our lads came up trumps. Seeing Abdul Osman running down that touchline towards the Northampton fans is something I'll never forget on what was a special night for the town."

Sampson's tenure in charge of the first-team came to an end in March 2011, and although it was a disapointment for him to leave, it was an opportunity which he remains thankful for before returning to the club nine years later in a different role.

"It was a great experience to be involved and I'm always thankful for any opportunity that you get in football. We had some good times and some bad times but that's the way football is and you look back and think we did OK with what we had at the time.

"First and foremost it's great to be back at the club, I've never left the area of Northampton since I signed as a player so to be given the chance to come back here and work with the academy is something I didn't think twice about doing.

"The academy is very much different to when I was involved the last time in 2004, you've got EPPP, a lot more specialised staff for certain roles, sports science, analysis, the list goes on which is great for the players. 

"The opportunity is there for the players to go and progress. I said to the parents when I came in that if I could take one of the under 9's all the way through the ranks to the first-team during my time as academy manager then that would be a success. We'll have challenges along the way but all of the players are in a good place at Northampton are we're keen to kick-on further once we're back up and running." 


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