Fermynwoods Friday 50 – The Twelfth Player

The Twelfth Player was a 2017 immersive tour of Northampton Town Football Club created by Seven Sisters Group, blending video, live performance and mobile app technology, to take audiences on a journey through Sixfields Stadium. For this week’s Fermynwoods Friday, Educational Consultant, long-suffering football fan, and our former Development Manager Michael Supple looks back at the action.

“Thou art a cobbler, art thou?”
Julius Caesar Act 1 Sc.1

“Nor time, nor place Did then adhere and yet you would make both.”
Macbeth Act 1 Sc.7

The 2015/16 season was arguably the most dramatic and euphoric season in the Cobblers’ long and colourful history. And perhaps given the circumstances the club found itself in, neither the time nor the place for Fermynwoods to make so bold a suggestion as a collaboration.

In the dark days of November, the Club was deep in trouble. Staff and players were not getting paid, and administration was a very real possibility. But through the dedication of their extraordinary fans – the team’s twelfth player – they made an amazing recovery, welcoming a remarkable takeover, bouncing back into League 1 and winning the Club’s first League title for 29 years.

So how could a football club go beyond the usual football programme thank you to celebrate and acknowledge such dedication to the football club? And what, at its heart, is a football club? These were two of the questions that were kicked around between Fermynwoods Contemporary Art, Royal & Derngate and Northampton Town Football Club – the collaborative partners.

The 2015/16 season, with its takeover, proved that a club was more than its current owners. But who truly owns a football club?

Fermynwoods commissioned artists Sophie Jump and Susanne Thomas (Seven Sisters Group) to address such questions. They researched the histories and stories associated with the fans and supporters of Northampton Town Football Club. They met many fans and heard many stories including the life story of Tommy Fowler, who was shot in the trenches in the Second World War before joining the Club; Ashley Kitesmark, a season ticket holder who became their mascot for four seasons; and James Averill, a lifelong fan and now the Supporters’ Club’s Press Officer.

What Sophie and Susanne created, in collaboration with script writer Richard Hurford and composer Craig Vear was The Twelfth Player. An audio-visual performance at Sixfields Stadium – taking place in the real world and on screen – blending site-specific performance and handheld video technology, to move audiences seamlessly between brilliantly observed characters and placing them right in the heart of the action.

Throughout the summer, audiences had a special opportunity to go behind the scenes on a 45-minute walking tour around Sixfields Stadium itself and through the past 70 years of the Club’s history, viewing the passionate world of football through the eyes of three generations of Cobblers supporters. Their stories were not just captured but previous eras of the Club’s history were re-enacted, reminding us all that none of us own a football club we are just its custodians for the next generation.

Michael Supple

The Twelfth Player was a unique collaboration between Fermynwoods Contemporary Art, Royal & Derngate and Northampton Town Football Club, devised by Seven Sisters Group and funded by Arts Council England and Northamptonshire Community Foundation. You can read Guardian writer and broadcaster Mark Lawson’s review of The Twelfth Player here.

Catch up with our Fermynwoods Friday posts each week looking back on some of our favourite projects over the past 20 years of Fermynwoods Contemporary Art.