Northampton Town v Bradford City, 1.30pm
18 May ~ Northampton Town's League Two play-off final fixture today has sparked something of a week-long nostalgia trip across the town. It was 1997 the last time Cobblers went up via the play-offs, courtesy of an extra-time free-kick from left-back John Frain that secured a famous 1-0 win over Swansea City and saw the team promoted to what was then Division Two after a seven-year absence. Since booking the trip to Wembley, after a morale-boosting 1-0 second-leg win away to Cheltenham, comparisons have been made with the team of 1997.
This has particularly focused on the club's relative emergence from the doldrums, with ex-managers and players such as Ian Atkins, Ian Sampson and Frain lining up to reminisce about their play-off win, and to heap praise on the current team. Local band Warehouse have even re-recorded their 1997 tribute Sixfield Boys for the class of 2013. (Available to listen to on YouTube for those curious – sample lyric: "We're going to Wemb-er-ley, and getting out of division three".)
Realists will tell you that there's still the matter of at least 90 minutes to go before any celebrations can start. And in Bradford, Northampton face a side that have beaten them home and away already this season – both cagey 1-0 encounters, but a cagey 1-0 at Wembley would be the difference between League One and Two football.
The pair also produced two draws in the FA Cup earlier this year. The Cobblers took the lead in extra time in the replay but a 120th-minute equaliser from Carl McHugh made it 3-3 before Bradford triumphed on penalties.
Concerns over previous form have been put to bed by Cobblers manager Aidy Boothroyd, who, like the club, has drawn parallels to his own past play-off achievements. Boothroyd's name was made when he took Watford up to the Premier League through the play-offs in 2006 – and he's been quick to point out that it was by defeating a Leeds side in the final that had already beaten his Watford team earlier that season.
Irrespective of a win today, Boothroyd deserves the praise coming his way. Steering the club from a 20th-place finish last season (or bottom of the league when he first arrived in November that year) to the play-off finals in one year is a huge turnaround. For that the town is right to celebrate.
The Cheltenham win two weeks ago has provided a huge surge of confidence around the Northampton camp heading into the final, with questions over the team's dodgy away record (the worst of any club all season save for relegated Barnet) being kicked to one side in the process. Then there were the heart-stopping moments of Lee Nicholls's penalty save and Luke Guttridge's 20-yard wonder-strike which, if we're honest, all felt a bit Frain-esque. Could it be 1997 all over again? Tom Shepherd