Terry Fenwick's reign has ended almost before it has started, leaving the Cobblers in dire straits. Rob Marshall reviews his tenure
“The team are disjointed and it’s definitely the case of the sum of the whole being LESS than all of the individuals. The embarrassing tendency to play the offside trap looks outdated and liable to fail at any time. The inevitable defeats are met with increasingly arcane management excuses.” A letter received by Northampton Town fanzine What A Load Of Cobblers after the Bristol City defeat? It could have been, but in fact it was a letter in a Pompey fanzine some years ago when former England defender Terry Fenwick was in charge there.
The sacking of Fenwick after just seven weeks was the culmination of a torrid spell for the Cobblers. At the end of November, the club was taken over by a consortium headed by Andrew Ellis, a property-developing former director of QPR (although now he seems to have been merely a figurehead). Ellis had no previous connections with NTFC but saw some prime real estate around Sixfields ready for developing. Prior to Ellis joining, he had praised our then manager Kevan Broadhurst as one of “the finest young managers around”.
However, after heavy defeats at Stockport and home to Tranmere the sight of John Hollins in the stands started the rumour mill. Three days after Christmas the Cobblers drew 0-0 at Peterborough; Fenwick was watching, but Ellis gave Broadhurst a “genuine” vote of confidence. We then travelled to Barnsley on New Year’s Day and won 2-1. Three days later, though, we were hammered 5-0 at home by Wycombe. Fenwick was in the stands again – and Broadhurst was “relieved of his managerial duties”. Message boards were full of Portsmouth fans sympathising.
It was difficult for the fans to get behind Fenwick immediately because of how he was appointed. However, if he had produced results they would presumably have come round. Unfortunately, what works in the Trinidad & Tobago national league (where Fenwick had been managing CL Financial San Juan Jabloteh to their first national title) does not work in the Second Division. He had an outdated offside trap, a 4-5-1 formation that he had clearly been using since having Terry Venables’ assistance at Pompey, and a side down on confidence.
Public comments on players inadequacies did little to reassure fans that he knew how to bring about an improvement: “The lads have a tendency to drop their trousers for five minutes and have their bottoms spanked,” he advised. It was alleged that in the week leading up to his sacking he could be found at a local health club spending time in the sauna/hot-tub. It is also believed that prior to the Luton game he had had a dossier prepared on Steve Howard – all the fans knew that ex-Cobbler Howard was suspended. Perhaps Fenwick felt that he didn’t need too much preparation – “This division is very poor,” he told us.
Meanwhile, Ellis stood down as chairman, citing outside “business pressures”. On February 22, Sixfields witnessed one of the most abject first-half “performances” since the ground opened nine years ago, and it was clear that we were heading towards the Third Division at a great rate of knots. Two days later Fenwick was sacked. It was the shortest managerial reign at Northampton since the ill-fated appointment of former Man Utd star Pat Crerand in 1976, at the start of a season that also ended in relegation to the bottom division. On arriving at Northampton, Fenwick had declared that he saw his appointment as a “stepping stone to the Premier League”. We had no idea that he mean't the Dr Martens.
From WSC 194 April 2003. What was happening this month