LEICESTER CITY’S remarkable Premier League triumph rightly took the plaudits last season.
Overcoming odds of 5,000-1 – ten times those offered for confirmation that the Loch Ness Monster exists – is just not supposed to happen. And certainly not in a competition where there has been a direct correlation between money and league position for so long.
Northampton Town’s own League Two title success seems small beer in comparison, even allowing for their eventual 13-point winning margin. Speak to anyone in the town famous for its boot-making industry, however, and the magnitude of the Cobblers’ success becomes clear.
Not only did the club spend the opening few months of 2015-16 facing financial oblivion amid winding-up orders and the players having to be paid by their union, but the chaos behind the scenes as staff – including manager Chris Wilder and his backroom team – went nine weeks without wages meant football could have become almost an after-thought.
Wilder, now back in his home city after succeeding Nigel Adkins at Sheffield United, is rightly proud of that achievement as he targets a second successive promotion.
“This is a massively different challenge to Northampton last season,” he said when speaking to The Yorkshire Post.
“But it is still a challenge. That’s the thing with this job, it can throw all sorts at you.”
Wilder’s CV certainly backs up that notion.
His six years at Halifax Town were dogged by off-field financial problems.
At Oxford United, he ended years of decline by leading the club back into the Football League, while last season’s footballing miracle at Sixfields was only made possible by Wilder having saved Northampton from what had looked like almost certain relegation the previous term after having only taken over in late January.
“You overcome whatever challenges are put in front of you,” added the 48-year-old. “The first job I had (at Alfreton), I was well backed and we coped with being favourites. That was within the first six months of retiring as a player.
“I then went full-time at Halifax and things were out of our control due to historical debts. But I see my time at Halifax as priceless. I had to rebuild from scratch (in 2002 following Town’s relegation from the Football League). It was tough at the time but I got my hands dirty at the coalface.
“Sometimes, I see ex-players from the Premier League go straight into jobs and that isn’t always a great idea. Okay, they had different experiences to me as a player. But I know all the ins and outs that go into a football club.
“You can go on all the coaching courses in the world but experience is key. I’d say what I went through at Halifax was worth 1,000 coaching courses.”
Wilder, a lifelong Blade, is now looking to end Bramall Lane’s wait for a return to the Championship. To do so, he wants United to learn the lessons of not only his Northampton side last year but also Leicester and several other unfancied success stories.
“Look at Leicester,” he said. “They are an unbelievably good example for everyone. When they won the Premier League, the biggest competition in the world, they were all round one of the lads’ houses.
“There were no superstars there. No pop stars. They weren’t out in some fancy nightclub, drinking champagne. Instead, they all got together as mates and watched the result come in. Brilliant.
“That, to me, is a proper team. And why they did so well. It wasn’t just Leicester, either. Look at other divisional winners last year. Burnley in the Championship, Northampton in League Two. Burton also went up automatically in League One. All were successful because of the team ethic and bond they had.
“Every one of those teams was packed full of proper people and proper men. These are the virtues that I have to instil into this club.”
Wilder has been quick to overhaul a squad that badly under-achieved in 2015-16. “There is a buzz about the place and a buzz about the city,” added Wilder. “They believe this can be our year to finally escape the clutches of League One. There will be a few bumps in the road. But there is no curse hanging over the place.”