Welcome to volume two of my blog paying homage to the football clubs I've visited all over the world and the wonderful people responsible for keeping them going and looking after the stadiums, and in some cases basic grounds.

Since I was a little lad I've been fascinated in football and more so where games are played. With my love of travel and curiosity of the game I wanted to visit as many grounds and see games wherever possible. I was lucky that my Dad also loved the game and spent so much of his spare time taking me to matches. As I got older the boundaries widened owing to my location and increased wages to Europe and indeed the world. The sight of a stand or a floodlight pylon in the distance immediately hightens my senses and eagerness for a closer look.

I hope this site gives you the chance to share in my pleasure and experiences and maybe one day set you on the road to adventure. If you get half as much out of the hobby as I've done I can guarantee some great memories, good friends and stories to pass on to future generations.

Give your local club a go today. They'll be pleased to see you!

Everlasting thanks primarily to my late and very much missed and dearly loved parents; my Dad Bob Bernard and my Mum; Ann, who put up with endless years of football chat and my brothers Nick and Paul who gave me the chance and encouragement to do what I have. Thanks to all my friends who offer encouragement and Sally and Stan who inspire and give me great pride. Young Stan is showing a keen interest in my hobby!

Please feel free to post any comments (please use sensible language - I want everyone to be able to enjoy reading) or ask any questions relating to visiting grounds or events. If you want to see any ground reviewed please let me know. It will take quite some time for everywhere to appear, but make sure you keep having a look as the site is continually updated.

If you click on a lot of the pictures you will get a larger version on your screen.

I have also added links to video clips on youtube where appropriate for those of you who are bored of reading or are filling in time at work. I haven't always gone for the most obvious choices, but items that will be in some cases unusual but always historically interesting.

Click to see volume one of HAOTW.

Rob Bernard


September 2015

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Kettering Town

Kettering Town FC are a non league club who come from the market town in Northamptonshire, around eighty three miles north of London. The club were originally formed as Kettering FC in 1872 playing in local leagues and competitions.

They turned semi professional in 1891 before joining the Midland League the following season. By 1900 Kettering had lifted two league titles, at which point they left to join the Southern League. The left that league on a couple of occasions, later rejoining and in 1924 they took on the title of Kettering Town FC.

In 1928 they won the Southern League title, but in 1930 Town joined the Birmingham & District League, where they took the place of their reserve team. After twenty years 'The Poppies' rejoined the Southern League and in 1957 they lifted their second league title. Over the next fifteen years they had spells in the regional division as well as the top flight, adding honours. A third championship was added in 1973. The club also had many good runs in the FA Cup reaching the second round on several occassions. In 1968 they went all the way to a third round replay with Bristol Rovers before going down two one at Rockingham Road.

Ron Atkinson had a spell as manager and then in 1976 with Derek Dougan as club chief executive and manager the club received great publicity when it became the first British club to display a sponsors name on their playing shirts. Kettering Tyres had to have their advert removed and despite Dougan shortening it to Kettering T in the claim that the T stood for Town, the FA threatened the club with a £1,000 fine. 

The Poppies reached Wembley in 1979 in the FA Trophy Final, but were beaten by Stafford Rangers. At the end of that season they became founder members of the Alliance Premier League (later the Football Conference). The club finished runners up of the league on three occasions well before the days of automatic promotion and play offs.

In 1989 Town reached the fourth round of the FA Cup where Charlton Athletic ended their fine run at Selhurst Park. In 1992 they reached the third round, this time losing four one away to Blackburn Rovers. Many earlier round games brought the club into the spotlight as their games were covered on live TV.

In 2000 Kettering returned to Wembley for the FA Trophy Final, this time losing three two against Kingstonian. Just a year later they were relegated from non league's top flight to the Southern League. Under the popular managership of Carl Shutt, promotion was achieved with a title win at the first attempt. However the good run ended abruptly with another relegation, this time to the Isthmian League. A ninth place finish was enough to see Town become founder members of Conference North in 2004.

In October 2005 long serving and much respected Chairman Peter Mallinger sold the club to a consortium headed by Imraan Ladak. Also involved was Paul Gascoigne. He was named manager, but only lasted thirty nine days as his demons affected him in his quest. Kevin Wilson was given his managers job back!

Morell Maison and then briefly Graham Westley had a go as manager before Mark Cooper was appointed. His side lifted the Conference North title in 2008 meaning a return to non leagues' elite. Ladak made plenty of noise and a few enemies along the way as The Poppies reached the FA Cup Fourth Round the next season. Fulham won a stormy tie four two at Rockingham Road.

More managers came and went before Maison was re-appointed at a very controversial time in the clubs' history at the end of the 2010-11 season. The lease for Rockingham Road only had a few years to run and Ladak told fans that the owner was not willing to sign a new deal. Near neighbours and deadly rivals Rushden & Diamonds went bust that summer meaning their Nene Park home was unoccupied. 

The ground was situated six miles from Kettering in the village of Irthlingborough. Fans of both clubs were up in arms, but Ladak told them that this was the only option for Kettering Town moving forward. He signed a deal with landlord and former Diamonds chairman Keith Cousins for a twenty five year lease on the stadium, sounding alarm bells amongst the Poppies loyal fans that their club would never return to their home town.

Mark Stimson took over as manager after a few games at Nene Park as rumours of financial worries circulated, not for the first time, about the club. Stimpson was replaced by Mark Cooper and then Ashley Westwood. Sure enough The Poppies were locked out of their new 'home' just over a season later. This was after the controversial former Weymouth owner George Rolls had taken over. However, he was suspended from the game for five years in June 2012 and fined £10,000 for previous offences leaving Ladak back in charge, as Kettering were relegated to the Conference North..

John Beck was left with the job of trying to put a team out. On one occasion the side took the field with ten men as unpaid players departed. After a spell of not fulfilling fixtures, Kettering moved to play their home games at the home of Corby Town. The team were relegated to the Southern League for the 2012-13 season, with a ten point deduction to start the new campaign. 

Eventually, after several years of misery for Poppies fans, local businessman Richie Jeune bought the club and plans were made to upgrade Latimer Park to share with local side Burton Latimer FC as Kettering looked to rebuild following yet another relegation to the Division One Central.

Dean Thomas was put in charge of the team as the club looked to stabilise. The team reached the play-offs where they defeated Daventry Town in the semi-final. The reward was a promotion decider against Slough Town in front of a full house at Latimer Park. Despite leading 2-0, the Poppies eventually lost 3-2.

Thomas departed to be replaced by new Joint Managers, Thomas Baillie and Scott Machin. The duo led the team to the Division One Central title and promotion to the Premier Division, before they stepped aside for Marcus Law to take over in charge of team affairs.

Kettering Town will play in the Southern League Premier Division for the 2015-16 season. 

My visits

Kettering Town 3 Scarborough 0 (Saturday 24th February 1979) FA Trophy Round Two (att: 2,112)

This FA Trophy encounter had been put back several times owing to the snow at that time of year. It had been re-arranged for a Saturday, which was quite unusual. My Dad took me and my brothers Paul and Nick on one of the supporters coaches. This was a big game for Boro as it was only two seasons since their last Wembley triumph, although there were signs that the team was past their best, with one or two moving on.

I was most impressed on arriving at Rockingham Road. The floodlights were four huge corner pylons and the lamps were shaped so they read K. We decided to sit in what seemed a massive Main Stand to us. It went along two thirds of the pitch in a raised seating deck. The Rockingham Road End was mainly open shale banking with a cover in the centre. The far Britannia Road Side had two separate covers with open standing at either end and finally the Cowper Street End was open banking and terrace. In the corner was an old pavilion building which had a refreshments kiosk and club shop downstairs and offices above. A section of open terrace with the clubhouse behind stood next to the Main Stand to complete the picture.

A man who I presumed to be a town crier or something came out before the teams ringing his bell. My comment of the time was, "blimey, it's the Pope in wellies". The first half of the game was very even and we were pretty confident going into the break. It was cold with snow on parts of the open terrace and around the pitch edge, as Boro keeper Ian McKechnie found out when he ran out in the second half to be greeted by numerous snowballs. Despite requests to stop, it didn't do much good.

Poor old 'Keckers' was facing another onslaught as the home team side took control. They were a very good outfit and they simply blew Boro aside. This was not helped when manager Colin Appleton made a strange decision, which my Dad went crazy at. It must have been a tough day for him looking after three lads amongst a partisan home crowd with things going wrong by the minute on the pitch. I'd definitely seen him in better moods.

We made our way out down the front of the stand from our front row seats and out to the coaches behind the Rockingham Road End after the police had moved on some gloating young home fans.

Kettering went onto the final that year, and we were not totally shocked.

Kettering Town 3 Scarborough 1 (Saturday 16th September 2006) Conference North (att: 1,235)

I had been to an end of season party with my colleagues at Lord's Cricket Ground on the Friday evening, so I was ever so slightly dehidrated the next morning! It had been an interesting evening near Goodge Street involving a meal and plate throwing in a Greek Taverna. I was ready for a pint to settle myself down.

I took the train on a very pleasant morning from St Pancras, arriving around half past twelve. Rather than stopping off at a pub in the town centre, I headed for the ground which was around a mile and a half away. I figured that there must have been a pub up there? I was wrong of course, so it looked like the clubhouse or nothing.

While behind the Main Stand I was introduced to former Boro legendary goalkeeper Ted Smethurst who lived in Kettering by a home fan. He was heading to the hospitality area while I headed for beer with the common man! The clubhouse was decent enough although I was glad of some company when some other Seadogs arrived.

We went into the ground through the turnstiles by the clubhouse and soon realised that the rest of the away support were at the far end of the ground, so we made our way around. Rockingham Road had changed slightly since my last visit. More terracing had been added at the Cowper Street End. The Britannia Road side now had just one longer cover and the roof had been removed from the Rockingham Road end.

Kettering were flying high in the league, whereas Boro were still on a negative points total and chasing their first win of the season following a points deduction for financial malpractices. Town weren't a bad side, but Boro equalled them for spells.

Just before half time the steward by the gate at the segregation fence let a few of us through so we could head round for some further libation. We had a bit of good humoured banter with the home fans on the terrace on our way round, whereas some in the clubhouse were a bit frosty.

The Poppies went on to win the game, but Boro's performance was very decent. Indeed with a bit more clinical finishing they may have won a point, although that would have been a trifle unfair on the hosts.

I headed off back into town in good form. I went into a superb pub with good ale and music on the juke box and made a spontaneous decision to stay for the night! I went next door where rooms were advertised and booked in. I freshened up and went for a few more beers. The town wasn't as enticing as I first thought as it was going to be. I got something to eat and had an early night.

A Boro fan spotted on the boundary at Wantage Road, Northampton!
One of the reasons that tempted me to stay in Kettering for the evening was that Middlesex were playing in an important Sunday League game at Northampton the following day. After a good breakfast, I caught a bus opposite the hotel to Northampton. I took a punt and managed to alight near to the cricket ground, where I had another lovely day out and got a ride back to London with my pals!

For images and a description of Nene Park, please go to the Rushden & Diamonds page.

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