By Jeremy Casey
Northampton Town versus Bradford City isn’t normally the kind of fixture you would associate with creating a bit of a family split.
Everton versus Liverpool, yes.
Manchester United versus Manchester City, possibly.
Sheffield United versus Sheffield Wednesday, probably.
Celtic versus Rangers, less likely.
But Northampton v Bradford? The Cobblers v The Bantams?
Surely that won’t be the subject of inter-family rivalry and banter?
Well, however unlikely it may seem, it is a reality.
I am a Northampton Town fan.
I was born in Northampton, and have been watching the team since my dad Jerry took me to the ramshackle (but sorely missed) old County Ground for the first time in the mid-1970s.
At that time, and for many years later, Bradford City weren’t a club on my radar, and indeed, on any member of my family’s radar.
But that was soon to change, when my uncle Ken Wilson and Auntie Joan moved to West Yorkshire, settling in Cullingworth, where they raised my three cousins Greg, Graeme and Iain.
Now, there was a Yorkshire connection, a Yorkshire branch to the family clan – and they all ended up supporting Bradford City.
I even went to watch games when I was staying with the Wilsons.
I was lucky enough to witness an epic FA Cup win at Preston North End, and also a 2-1 league win at Huddersfield Town.
Bradford had become a bit of a second team for me.
And the ties didn’t stop there.
My sister Catherine, a fellow child of Northamptonshire (although she was born in Corby) and Cobblers fan, went to university in Leeds in her teens.
Following graduation, she ended up working for my uncle’s company in Keighley, and also settling in Yorkshire in the village of Addingham.
Now, as a football fan, Catherine also decided to go and watch Bradford with the Wilsons, all at the time when it was really exciting to be a Bantams fan.
The club was a progressive one and was on the up, and was promoted to the Premier League under the management of Paul Jewell.
The Bradford bug had well and truly bitten my auntie, uncle and cousins, as well as my sister.
They became season-ticket holders, and it was all about City for the Wilsons, while what could really go wrong for my sister?
She was and always will always be a Cobblers fan, but where was the harm in watching and following Bradford?
How could there ever be a clash?
At the time, Bradford and the Cobblers were poles apart.
City were hosting Manchester United and Liverpool (I twice saw Bradford take on the Reds, including that famous last-day triumph), while the Cobblers were battling away, as they have done for most of their existence, in the lower divisions.
Nobody could have predicted Bradford’s slide down the divisions following their relegation from the top flight, and in recent years, the Cobblers against the Bantams has become a regular fixture.
My annual visit to Valley Parade – where I have now made friends – now sees me watch Bradford take on Northampton, with the home side, annoyingly, having the upper hand in the past few years.
It’s a reverse story at Sixfields, where the Cobblers have claimed a couple of wins and rarely lost to Bradford in recent times.
But this season has seen the teams meet on four occasions, and the Cobblers have yet to win one!
Both league games were lost 1-0, while two FA Cup ties ended in draws, with Bradford progressing after winning a penalty shoot-out.
I am obviously hoping it will be fifth time lucky for the Cobblers at Wembley next weekend!
And that brings us on to the national stadium, and next week’s play off final.
I am really looking forward to it, but it is also going to be an emotional day for me, and my family.
I had always said I wouldn’t go to the new Wembley Stadium until the Cobblers played there.
But then fate played a hand.
My uncle Ken sadly and suddenly passed away in January of this year.
When Bradford reached the final of the Capital One Cup in February, I was asked by my sister and auntie Joan if I would go to the game.
It was the sort of occasion Ken would have revelled in, and it was an honour to be asked to be part of the day.
Now I am heading to Wembley again, and this time to watch my beloved Cobblers.
But again, fate has played its part, with Bradford City the opposition.
I’ll be backing the claret and whites, as will my sister – surely the only Bradford City season ticket holder to be sitting in the Cobblers section! – while my auntie and cousins will all once again be among the travelling army from Bradford.
So it is going to be a strange day for me in some ways.
I would never say my loyalties are split, because they aren’t.
I am a Cobblers man, and I want the Cobblers to win.
But if they don’t, and it’s Bradford who triumph, I will at least be happy for my cousins, and I’ll be happy for my auntie Joan.
And win or lose, I will definitely be raising a glass in memory of my uncle Ken, who I know will be looking down from above, and dishing out stick to the Cobblers players, as he always did when I went to Valley Parade!
I just wish he was still here to enjoy the day with the rest of us.
Anyway, with both clubs set to take plenty of supporters, it is going to be a fantastic occasion, and may the best team win.
As long as it’s the Cobblers!
Jeremy Casey is the sports editor of the Northampton Chronicle & Echo
Play off final: Width of a Post build-up