Commemorating Cobbler’s famous first Wembley win…25 years later!

The Cobblers players celebrate their victory against Swansea City in the Nationwide Division Three Play-Off Final on May 24, 1997 at Wembley Stadium

25 years ago today, the Cobblers made a dream debut at Wembley Stadium, the home of football.

The club celebrated their 100th anniversary and had booked the first trip to the Twin Towers in their long history thanks to a superb two-legged play-off semi-final win over Cardiff City.

Swansea City, managed by former Liverpool and Denmark midfielder Jan Molby, lay in wait under the hot London sun – 32,000 Cobblers supporters had traveled south to cheer on their heroes.

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John Frain (left) and skipper Ray Warburton with the play-off winner’s trophy

The Swans had beaten the Cobblers twice that season in Nationwide League Division Three but Ian Atkins and his team lucked out on the third time as they wrote their names in club folklore.

Far from being a classic, the game looked set to go into overtime as the clock ticked at 90 minutes and the teams were still tied at 0-0.

But forward Christian Lee was fouled on the edge of the box to give the Cobblers one last shot – or two, as it turned out!

John Frain took the first free-kick but he was brought down by Swansea’s Jonathan Coates, who broke away from the wall.

John Gayle fights for possession of the ball at Wembley Stadium

Referee Terry Helibron ordered a replay, dropped the ball – in a slightly different spot – and the rest is history.

A perfect swing from Frain’s left pin sent the ball towards the left corner, goalkeeper Roger Freestone couldn’t get there and the game was over.

Kick off a massive hour-long party for the players, staff and army of fans at the tunnel end of the old Wembley Stadium.

Of the chron Archives, here are the reminiscences of some of the key figures of that famous day, starting with who else but Torstar Frain…

Ray Warburton flips the coin

Free-kick hero John Frain

“The game itself was a pretty stable game from a spectacle perspective.

“When you play in it you don’t really think about whether it’s a good game or not because it’s such a tense moment and you’re caught up in it.

“When we got to 90 minutes, I was preparing for extra time.

John Frain’s free kick hits the back of the Wembley net

“We got a free-kick on the edge of the box and I can’t remember what happened or who was fouled.

“It was on the right side of the box and I was on set pieces at the time so I had a tear.

“It was so late in the game and there was a pretty good chance of scoring, but by the time I hit it, one of their players had burst out of the wall and was less than five yards from me.

“Fair play to the referee, he ordered a replay and I think the ball was moved slightly so it was more central.

“It wasn’t a huge difference, but it opened both sides of the gate.

“The first time I could only score to the left of the goalkeeper, but the movement changed that.

“I just focused on hitting the target and hitting it well.

“It was like slow motion from there. You know immediately if you have a good shot on the ball.

“The way I hit it felt good and it seemed to be in slow motion until it hit the back of the net.

“It was an unbelievable feeling that I have never experienced in football.

“There was a whole range of emotions.

“It cost me everything and I was just glad there wasn’t extra time because it was difficult to get back into focus and focus on the game.

“The whistle blew 30 seconds later and that was another incredible feeling.

“People come out with all the old clichés, but they’re all true.

“You trained in the back garden for years as a kid and then doing it at Wembley, where you played football back then, was very special.

“It’s a dream come true to score the winning goal in the last minute of a cup final at Wembley.” However, full-backs rarely get the chance for that to happen and I was really privileged to have that happen to me .”

“The game was actually pretty dreary and I mostly remember the setup.

“We had a great week. A band that had made a record for the occasion came down and did a video and photoshoot there, it was quite an exciting time.

“We had Marks & Spencer suits and Church’s shows, all the perks that come with coming to Wembley.

“Whoever had these contacts at the club made us proud because it was like preparing for a cup final.

“I was fortunate to be part of the Sunderland squad when they reached the FA Cup final in 1992 and it was very similar.

“To win at a place like Wembley, especially if you’ve had bad times in the past, maybe make it a little more special.

“It was a great performance for the club back then, especially given what they had been through before with money problems and bottom of the table.

“We had a good group of players and we knew exactly how to play every time we were out there.”

“Playing with Northampton at Wembley was probably the highlight of my career.

“I also got there with Gillingham but I wasn’t playing then so I experienced both sides of it.

“I have two main memories of the game and the first was being told I was going to play that morning.

“The other is Frainy’s goal and the final whistle right after that, that’s it.

“That’s pretty much all I can remember from the match, it wasn’t a classic!

“I didn’t think we would have much of a chance after the free-kick when I was fouled because I had seen Frainy’s free-kicks all season!

“I thought it was going into overtime but he pulled one out of his pocket.

“It was a great goal and of course one I’ll never forget, but I didn’t expect it and I don’t think it was anyone else!”

“The goal and the celebration afterwards are the things that stick in your mind the most. The game came and went so quickly.

“After that, walking through the grounds and being with all the fans was very special.

“To be honest we could have stayed out all night.

“The game probably wasn’t the greatest spectacle, but to end it with Frainy showing up with the winner and the timing for it, it couldn’t have been better.”

“We only got 5,000 at home this season and then we took 32,000 to Wembley!

“Some of these people had never seen us play before.

“The city has always been known for rugby but that day put Northampton on the football map.

“I was lucky enough to win a championship medal at Everton and after that we did the open top bus tour of Liverpool.

“But the city had seen it all before and it was spasmodic all around. At Northampton it was amazing.

“The whole thing was just a fantastic two weeks and I will never forget that and will always cherish it.”

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