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

AFC Rushden & Diamonds

AFC Rushden & Diamonds FC are a phoenix fan owned football club formed to replace the former Rushden & Diamonds FC who were based in Irthlingborough, near to Kettering in Northamptonshire. Their story is a true tale of boom and bust.

The original club were formed on the 21st April 1992 when two traditional old clubs and local rivals, Rushden Town and Irthlingborough Diamonds were merged on an idea by local businessman Max Griggs.

Rushden Town had been formed in 1889 playing their games at Hayden Road with the nickname of 'The Russians'. They were originally called Rushden FC and played in the Midland League, a few local counties league and then the United Counties League from the mid fifties. In 1983 they reached the heights of the Southern League and had a spell in their premier division, but were given enforced demotion as Hayden Road wasn't up to the required standard. After they entered the merger in 1992, their ground was taken over by Rushden Rangers FC of the Northamptonshire Combination. In 2007 they merged with Higham United of the United Counties League to become Rushden & Higham United, remaining at Hayden Road.

Irthlingborough Diamonds FC were formed in 1946 and after a spell in local league football, they entered the United Counties League in 1964 at their Nene Park (pronounced Nenn) home. The club reached the semi finals of the FA Vase in 1981 and 1984.

After the merger the new club took Town's place in the Southern League Midland Division. Griggs was the owner of the Dr Martens footwear company based nearby and he was determined to spend lots of his money on the new club. Nene Park was upgraded at a steady pace as the team won both the Midland Division and Premier Division titles of the Southern League within four years ending in promotion to the Football Conference.

The next five seasons were spent trying to win promotion to the Football League as money was given to boss Brian Talbot to try and achieve their aims. Fans of other more traditional clubs were scathing in their criticisms of the big spending new boys. During this period the club twice reached the FA Cup Third Round. On the first occasion Leeds United escaped with a goalless draw at Nene Park before winning the replay. On the second Diamonds drew at Bramall Lane against Sheffield United, before the Blades went through in the replay after a penalty shoot out.

In 2001 promotion to the Football League was finally achieved. In their first season Diamonds nearly won promotion, but lost in the play off finals. However, in 2003 they won the championship winning another promotion, this time to the League's third tier. In March 2004 Talbot left the club as the team struggled badly. Players left as they were eventually relegated.

Diamonds just about staved off another relegation the next season and in the summer of 2005 Griggs sold the club to the Supporters Trust for just £1 as he took the Dr Martens factory to China to save money on wages. Despite this kind offer, the inexperienced Trust struggled to pay for everything they had inherited such as wages and the upkeep of Nene Park.

Manager Barry Hunter had a restricted budget and the club were relegated back to the Conference the next season. In 2006 local businessman Keith Cousins bought the club from the Trust as the club went through a series of managers over the following five seasons without really putting in a challenge for league honours.

In November 2010 Cousins sold the club, but not Nene Park to businessmen Liam Beasant and Gary Calder meaning the club had to pay rent to play at their home ground. The new pair unvieled grand plans for Diamonds but within a few weeks Beasant had left. Fans were sceptical of where all the money was going and claimed Calder was assett stripping the club.

Tragedy hit the club on the 14th December 2010 when Diamonds player of the year and England C International goalkeeper Dale Roberts committed suicide.Meanwhile Calder claimed that circumstances and the authorities were against him and the club before he resigned in March 2011.

Many respected people at the club left during the season and it was obvious that there were big problems at Nene Park. A transfer embargo was enforced and a game only went ahead against Mansfield Town after the PFA stepped in to make sure the players received some overdue wages.

Cousins returned to try and find a buyer for the club. Diamonds were expelled from the Conference on the 11th June 2011 as the league had no guarantees that the club had finances in place to complete the following season. The club faced a winding up petition on behalf of HMRC in the week commencing 13 June 2011, with reported debts of £750,000. Diamonds applied for a place in the Southern League, but that turned away potential investors who expected Conference football.

The club entered administration on 7 July 2011 and were liquidated a few days later. A new phoenix club, AFC Rushden & Diamonds were set up by supporters. They couldn't get  place in senior football so they started as a youth side for the 2011-12 season in the Northants Senior Youth League and playing matches at Kiln Park, the home of neighbours Raunds Town.

Meanwhile Cousins let Nene Park to Imraan Ladak and Kettering Town so they could use the stadium for their home matches. It really couldn't have got much worse for Diamonds fans!

After a successful beginning as a youth side in terms of interest and performance, AFC R&D were admitted into the United Counties League for the 2012-13 season. Mark Starmer continued as manager as a deal was signed with Wellingborough Town FC to share their Dog & Duck ground.

The new club enjoyed instant success as they finished runners up and clinched promotion from Division One of the United Counties League.

AFC Rushden & Diamonds will compete in the United Counties League Premier Division in the 2013-14 season.

My visit

Rushden & Diamonds 0 Scarborough 0 (Saturday 29th April 2000) Football Conference (att: 2,641)

I had a last weekend off before summer kicked in and my job at Lord's Cricket Ground took priority, so I was determined to take full advantage. I went through on the bus to Oxford to meet up with my good friends Steve and Sarah on the Friday evening for a few drinks and a meal.

The following morning Sarah drove us the hour or so past Silverstone, past Northampton and to Irthlingborough. We were nice and early and parked behind the impressive Air Wave Stand as it was called at the time before going for a walk. We had been tipped off about the Dr Martens factory shop at the ground with cheap prices. We all stocked up on some new footwear at very agreeable prices.

We entered the away stand, which had very modern facilities at the time with a good food stand with their legendary Diamond Burgers, a bar and TVs showing coverage from elsewhere. We then went upstairs into the stand where a reasonable following of Seadogs were given half the stand, with the other half being left empty.

The Air Wave Stand had a distinctive shaped roof and a large single tier of seats. The North and South Stands faced each other and looked very similar with a sall single tier of seats. The North Stand had the Diamonds Centre behind it, which was used for conferences, functions and Premier League snooker for some time on Sky TV. The final end, The Peter De Banke Terrace, which was named after a popular figure at the two previous clubs before the merger, was also covered. It was a very impressive ground, especially at non league level.

Diamonds promotion hopes were virtually up and they needed a win from the game and other results from elsewhere to go their way. Boro were just playing for pride as it was before the days of the play offs. They'd had a good season and certainly gave Diamonds a tough game.

To be honest, a scoreless draw was just about the right result with both teams cancelling each other out. The Boro fans enjoyed themselves offering feedback about how much money the home club were wasting and pointing out the fact that we'd be back the following season.

One happy man was Mr Steve Walker, my travelling companion who'd had a fiver on the game ending scoreless at pretty skinny odds, it must be said. We returned to Oxford ready to go out for an evening in that fine city.

AFC Rushden & Diamonds 1 Luton Town 3 (Friday 3rd August 2012) Pre Season Friendly (att: 346)

I had finished a busy week at work assisting the extra crowds attracted to our wonderful Olympic Games, so after a bit of pre planning I headed out for my own long day of sport.

My first destination on a pleasant morning was Northampton. I took in a good walk after leaving the train out to Sixfields, the home of Northampton Town to get some photos for my blog. I also popped into the impressive home of Northampton Saints Rugby Club on the way, and once my task was completed I caught a couple of buses to watch Yorkshire in action against Northants in the County Championship. It always feels strange watching cricket there and the memories come flooding back from standing in the away end at the same ground cheering on Scarborough FC.

Flooding is quite an apt description, as the heavens opened a few minutes before lunch. After a quick “hello” to Scarborough based umpire Jeff Evans I sought sanctuary in a couple of pubs cheering on Team GB. I also went on another long walk waiting for play to restart to visit United Counties League club Northampton Spencer. I headed back to Wantage Road ninety minutes of low key cricket and then caught a bus to Wellingborough for the second part of the day’s entertainment.

I got talking to a couple of fans throughout the evening as they saw my Boro shirt, and they seemed optimistic of their future, even if there were no concrete plans to return back home. 
The new Diamonds plight reminded me of Scarborough Athletic’s first few steps into the world of football. Willing volunteers set out the club shop, the clubhouse was busy and everyone was upbeat. It was encouraging to see fans of all ages in attendance.

Luton had sent out a similar youth side to the one I’d seen lose to Dunstable Town a week or so earlier. They could certainly play good football, although Diamonds made up for the lack of quality with pure effort as Kettering boss John Beck looked on from the crowd.

At half time I nipped next door to another UCL club; Wellingborough Whitworth, whose ground was just behind The Dog & Duck. There was no shortage of local rivalry with their near neighbours!

The Hatters had gone in one up at the break through Dan Walker, although plenty of us missed this while cheering on Rebecca Adlington as she tried to defend her Olympic title.  After the break Walker added his second, before Deven Ellwood pulled one back. Diamonds continued to pour forward in search of an equaliser, but Walker had other ideas as he completed a fine hat trick close to the final whistle.

The scoreline didn’t appear to dampen the fans’ enthusiasm. I wished them luck in their future progress. I had a fine day out and then seen a decent game in welcoming surroundings. I certainly didn’t need any rocking to sleep when I eventually got home, especially after having a couple of last nightcaps at The Crown on the way to the station.

For details of the Dog and Duck and more pictures, please go to the Wellingborough Town page at:

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