'It's something we have all missed and we are buzzing to get the fans back'
Northants head coach David Ripley says it will be ‘absolutely fantastic’ to have supporters back in the ground for this week’s Championship clash with Lancashire at the County Ground.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, sport has been played behind closed doors in the UK since last March. meaning the last time fans saw the County in the flesh was back in September, 2019.
With the latest easing of Government restrictions, fans are allowed to return from this week (see main story, left) and Ripley can’t wait to see his team perform in front of an audience again.
“It will be absolutely fantastic to have the supporters back in,” he said.
“That little ripple of applause you get when the ball hits the boundary, or we get a wicket.
“It’s great that we are at home as well, but I think if we were playing anywhere cricket crowds, especially in the four-day game, they really understand the game and will always appreciate what is going on.
“It will be really nice and I am looking forward to that, I can’t wait.”
As somebody who has been fortunate enough to be allowed into ground to watch live sport over the past 14 months, I have been very impressed at the professionalism of the players, how they have adapted to the situation, and also how they have maintained their intensity.
Ripley insists that is no surprise, and said: “Having played cricket myself, to start with it wasn’t about playing for the crowd, you play for yourself, for your pride, and you want to make a contribution.
“There is also the competitive nature that, as a sportsman, we know is there. It was also about your team-mates, and not letting them down, so the crowd is always pretty much in third place.”
But Ripley knows crowds at cricket have been sorely missed, mainly for the sense of occasion, and the atmosphere, they bring.
“It is more when you are not doing your bit, and when you are watching, and certainly as a coach when you can’t do much about some of the stuff, being able to sample a bit of the atmosphere and get involved is great,” he said.
“We have a very small band of supporters at Northampton, but you only need to see a few people and you know how much it means to them.
“You don’t need many in, you don’t need thousands of people, if have got a few hundred in you kind of know them.
“That is the benefit of our smaller, family type club, that we know what it means to our supporters, because we know them.”
Northants opener Ricardo Vasconcelos echoed Ripley’s thoughts on the players having maintained focus despite playing in front of empty stands - but also admits the County squad is ‘buzzing’ for their supporters’ return, and that seeing people at the games will be a ‘massive boost’.
“Everybody playing the game has their own fire that pushes them to be competitive,” said Vasconcelos, who has hit two centuries to an empty County Ground this season.
“In that sense, out in the middle it is not going to be too much different, it is just the whole atmosphere.
“When there is a crowd in, it does get you going in those times when things perhaps aren’t going your way and you will hear the odd shout of ‘get on with it!’.
“Or you might hear a little something else and you enjoy that, it gets you going again.
“It is something we have all missed and we are buzzing to get the fans back.
“We should be pretty full in terms of the crowd we are allowed to have in.
“It has been completely different playing here without a the supporters in, and it will give us a massive boost to see them.”
Northants have already played three home games in the LV= Insurance County Championship Group 3 this season, winning two of them including a dramatic run chase on the final day to beat Glamorgan.
There have been plenty of personal highs for players too, with Vasconcelos and Rob Keogh both scoring two centuries, Saif Zaib hitting his first ton for the club, and Ben Sanderson and Gareth Berg taking 19 wickets between them in a match.
They have all been achieved in front of thousands of empty seats, and although that is a bit of a frustration for all involved, Vasconcelos is confident they will now give them something else to cheer about.
“It will be nice to get applause again,” said the 23-year-old.
“The performances we have put in here this season it would have been nice to have people in to see them, and I think in particular the Glamorgan game it would have buzzing on that last day and how it all went down.
“That would have been a great atmosphere to be a part of, and hopefully we can now pull out a few more victories and give the fans something to enjoy.”