It is the Annual General Meeting of the Southern Football League today, at which the ratification of the constitution of the league for next season will take place. One of the teams that is supposed to be starting the new season, however, Rushden & Diamonds, is now almost certainly not going be starting the new season at the end of a week that seems likely to change the face of football in Northamptonshire forever. This time last week, Rushden were expelled by the Football Conference. As big a blow as this might have been to the club, that was nothing in comparison with the High Court hearing during the week that was brought by one of the club’s (numerous) creditors. The result of that hearing – a twenty-one day adjournment – could be regarded as a no-score draw. It is understood that a take-over deal upon which the club’s survival was hanging was dependent on them being in the Blue Square Premier next season. With that now gone, the likelihood of someone stepping in and saving their club now seems remote, to extent that a supporters group set up to try and save the club has now switched its attention to founding aa new one instead.
The club had appealed the Football Conference’s decision, but the chances of this appeal being upheld seem similarly unlikely. The league imposes tough financial criteria upon clubs which said clubs implicitly agree to by being members of the league in the first place. For any appeal to be successful, the Football Conference would have to find that it had applied its rules incorrectly or unfairly. An appeal made based on the argument that the rules are not fair would not be likely to succeed. By Thursday, though, much of this speculation already seemed to be out of date. The website SaveRDFC had been founded earlier in the year by supporters trying to keep the club alive, but a report in the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph on Thursday confirmed that Rushden & Diamonds Football Club can no longer be saved, and that their efforts will now go into creating a new club to start again from the bottom of the pyramid from the start of the 2012/13 season, because it is now too late to start one from the start of next season.
A private meeting held on Thursday night by former chairman – and still the owner of Nene Park – Keith Cousins seemed to hammer the final nail into the coffin of Rushden & Diamonds Football Club. It has been reported that a show of hands demonstrated that a significant proportion of Rushden supporters would be prepared to watch Kettering Town play their home matches at Nene Park. Local rivals Kettering Town have had difficulties of their own over the last few years, and the failure of that club to secure a long-term lease on its Rockingham Road home has left it in the search for somewhere else to play. With the increasing feeling that Rushden & Diamonds cannot be saved, Kettering’s owner Imraan Ladak has been making louder and louder noises about moving to Nene Park for some time now, and at a meeting last night, their supporters voted in favour of a move there. Of course, one could wonder why these show of hands meetings have suddenly proved to be so popular, but as things stand Kettering Town will be playing next season at Nene Park, and with the likelihood of anyone now wanting to save Rushden & Diamonds now seeming particularly remote, it now seems unlikely that the club that calls Nene Park home today will still exist in a couple of weeks’ time.
Indeed, these shows of hands could be interpreted as an attempt on the parts of Cousins and Ladak to give impression that this Brave New World in Northamptonshire is what the supporters of both clubs want. What is striking about the status quo of how things seem likely to end up, however, is how conveniently it benefits Cousins and Ladak themselves. Cousins gets Blue Square Premier football back at Nene Park, whilst Ladak gets the keys to a piece of property that he has long-coveted. Of course, there are regulatory hoops for them to have to jump through, and those that own Kettering Town may not wish to keep hold of the name of the town that they purport to represent for very long if they play in nine miles away in Irthlingborough and have no plans to return to the town. And whilst Kettering supporters have voted in favour of a move there, it seems difficult to believe that such a decision won’t end in a name change to something a little more neutral – in other words, a merger in all but name, and perhaps the question to ask at this point is that of whether this is what some vested interests wanted all along.
Rushden supporters seem to have accepted their fate. Some may well end up continuing to go to Nene Park to support the team that was their local rivals, but whether these are the sort of supporters that any new Rushden club would actually want to get involved with a new club is questionable, to say the least. Meanwhile, the plans to start a new club will give them a focus for the new season, and it is to be hoped that they can start afresh for the 2012/13 season. Meanwhile, the future of Kettering Town doesn’t seem any more resolved the events of the last few days. The majority of their supporters may make the trip over the Irthlingborough next season, but what proportion of them will make that journey indefinitely for home matches, and what proportion will stay with it should the club change its name. It doesn’t feel very much as if there is much will for Kettering supporters to let their club go and reform at the present time, but this may change over time.
All of which leads us to two final, concluding questions. What exactly is a football club, and what does supporting it mean? It was noted by a couple of Rushden supporters at their meeting on Thursday that some of their supporters seemed to have a greater allegiance to Nene Park than to Rushden & Diamonds FC. At the other end of the scale, the prevailing wind coming from Kettering Town seems to indicate that keeping the name is all important if the club is to continue to get their support. How a non-league club playing nine miles from its home town will continue to attract support over the coming years is a question that has seldom been happily answered before, though. Rushden’s supporters will have their new club in a year or so, but Kettering’s, whilst they will keep hold of their name, will have little more than that and the memories of their club’s history as Cousins and Ladak seek a new future for the club. It seems a deeply flawed solution for the supporters of both clubs.
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