There is something awry in Northamptonshire. The start of the new season was supposed to be the start of a new era for Kettering Town. Having moved from Rockingham Road to Nene Park, the former home of the late Rushden & Diamonds, perhaps the least that Kettering supporters might have expected would have been for the aura of soap opera that has hung over the club for the last few years to begin to dissipate, but Tuesday night’s home defeat in the Blue Square Premeier at the hands of Hayes & Yeading United saw the team, which has now shipped five goals at home this season twice already, end its evening in disgrace with two of its players contriving to get themselves sent off for fighting each other.
It was a dismal end to a disheartening evening for the club’s supporters. Hayes & Yeading were amongst the pre-season favourites to be relegated this season, and Kettering had perhaps applied something of a sticking plaster to their evening by managing to close the gap to just two goals. In stoppage-time and with the game already more or less lost, Kettering were awarded a penalty which the Hayes goalkeeper Delroy Preddie saved. Kettering scored from the resulting corner, but before the game could be restarted two of Kettering’s players, Jean-Paul Marna and Moses Ashikodi were trading blows with each other in the centre circle. Both players were sent off and a dismal evening for the home side had been completed.
This story shines something of a light on how, somehow or other, the very modern bastardisation of what it means to be a footballer. In the case of Kettering Town, neither the manager Mark Stimson or owner Imraan Ladak – who is usually as far from being a wallflower as it is possible to be – were available for comment after the match. We can only hazard wild guesses as to what the motives of the pair involved might have been. A misplaced sense of pride or the ridiculous culture of “respect” which seems to have infected so many areas of modern discourse, perhaps? Bonuses for goalscoring, maybe? The match was deep into injury time and effectively lost when the incident occurred and was effectively lost anyway, and there has been no official statement from Kettering Town FC at the time of writing, so we can only guess at the motives for such a breakdown of discipline.
All of this marks a new low in a season which is already starting to take the shape of one which isn’t going according to plan for Kettering Town. The move to Nene Park was supposed to be a fresh beginning, but after an encouraging start to the season in the form of a 3-2 win against Newport County on the opening day, reasons to be cheerful have been hard to come by. That win has proved to be their only league win at Nene Park so far and, whilst there have been a couple of bright spots away from home in the form of away wins against fellow strugglers Lincoln City and Bath City, the club’s plummet down the table since then has seen it facing the real possibility of spending this winter fighting against relegation.
In addition to this, crowds have fallen with the slump in form. Just how many supporters would follow the club to Irthlingborough on a week-in-week-out basis was always open to question, but after encouraging crowds for their earlier matches at Nene Park, there were just 1,119 present for last night’s match. Kettering sold a lot of season tickets – around 1,000 – at the start of the season on the basis of an attractive early bird rate, but they have already had to cut the price of admission from £18 to £12 and, while there is no suggestion whatsoever that the club is or will be in any financial difficulty any time soon (if there is one thing that Nene Park does have, it is the capability of providing non-match day income and it has been said that the club’s commercial income, thanks to Nene Park, now renders match-day income considerably less important than it would be most clubs at this level), a difficult start to the season surely wasn’t in anybody’s plans for the coming season.
Matters at the club weren’t helped along by a managerial appointment which had the word ‘disaster’ written all over it from the very start. Morrell Maison’s appointment at the club during the summer always had the air of being an appointment that came about because of Maison’s relationship to Ladak, and he lasted just seven matches into the new season. His replacement, Mark Stimson, looks like a cannier acquisition. Stimson proved himself during his time in charge at Grays Athletic (although his Grays team was plumpened by the benevolence of Mick Woodward) and also had spells at Stevenage, Gillingham and Barnet. If the fighting seen on Tuesday night was anything to go by, though, both discipline and morale may prove to be the most significant of the immediate challenges that he faces.
In addition to this, the excellent Kettering online fanzine Poppies At The Gates Or Dawn reported earlier this week that the club’s supporters trust may have hit a crossroads, which may cause us to wonder what sort of contingency plans might be available to the club’s support should anything within its organisation and stability significantly change, and also of note in the article linked above is the florid description used when describing the club’s move to Nene Park. That another club blog is entitled This Isn’t Kettering also hints, possibly, at a degree of discomfort over the move that may exist on the part of some. Of course, some – perhaps many – Kettering supporters may have rationalised the move to Irthlingborough as a reasonable trade-off if what they received in return was greater success. Whether the club will be more successful with this move is, of course, not known at this stage, but the capacity for old grievances to raise their heads should things continue to go wrong should be apparent to most.
There is plenty of time for Stimson to turn things around at Kettering, of course – we are only one quarter of the way through the Blue Square Premier season – but events since the start of the season have hinted that old habits die hard in this particular corner of Northamptonshire. The town itself is demonstrably big enough to support a club of the scale of Kettering Town, as attendances in previous years proved beyond doubt. For the foreseeable future, though, Kettering will continue to fall quiet at three o’clock on Saturday afternoons while the football action takes place elsewhere. Even if it didn’t for Imraan Ladak, this move carried an element of gamble for the supporters of the club, and it wouldn’t be surprising to see their focus fall back upon Ladak if it under-achieves on the pitch this season.
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