Things seem to be escalating out of control very rapidly at Blue Square Premier club Kettering Town, where pre-season hopes of a fresh start at a new home have already evaporated, to be replaced by a sense of foreboding over so little as the short term security of the club. During the summer, Kettering’s move from its traditional Rockingham Road home to Nene Park, the former home of the club’s former rivals Rushden & Diamonds, eight miles from their home town, had provoked more than a few raised eyebrows. That Kettering are in financial trouble themselves just months after moving in there themselves will likely raise more still.
Since the last time that we wrote on this subject, the club’s position has deteriorated still further. Owner Imraan Ladak has now stated that he will “listen to offers” for the club – although the question of who is going to be interested in buying a non-league football club that is losing money hand over fist and has just signed a twenty-five year lease in a new ground miles from its home town is not one that is easily answered – whilst the playing staff looks likely to be diminished by the departure of what has been suggested as up to eight to ten players and manager Mark Stimson has been unable to arrest the team’s slide on the pitch.
The club’s financial position may be centred around match day income. Kettering sold a lot – around 1,000, which is a vast number for a club of its size – of season tickets during the summer. This, while it provides a useful lump sum of cash to the club, has an effect of its own. Season tickets sold means less pay on the gate revenue, and for clubs the size of Kettering Town, match day income often acts as the lubricant to keep the club ticking over during the winter. Season ticket holders aren’t, of course, going to pay on the gate again, so we can only surmise that the club has had this money and spent it. We know for certain that Kettering spent reasonably heavy under previous manager Morrell Maison, who left Nene Park last month, but the question of how the clubs financial planning has fallen to tatters is a very valid one.
It is believed that the club is nowhere near the break-even crowd level that it needed this season in order to become a sustainable business this season. Quite where the figure came from – excepting the reflex response of “the back of a cigarette packet” – is uncertain, but it seemed optimistic, to say the least. The idea of Rushden & Diamonds supporters continuing to flock to Nene Park in vast numbers to watch their former rivals there feels like a fanciful one, and the fact that Kettering Town were moving away from their home town always seemed likely to limit the number of people that would continue to maintain their interest in the club. After all, how many people might feel strongly enough to watch the team playing eight miles away, through thick and thin? How many clubs of any colour or shade could reasonably expect that?
The additional pressure has been compounded by today’s loan deadline day. Stimson told BBC Radio Northamptonshire that “If ten [players] go, it does put us under extreme pressure to fill the side on Saturday” and with two already having left and Stimson having admitted that only four players turned up to training earlier this week because they couldn’t afford to travel on account of not having been in full by the club, we can only draw the conclusion that it seems likely that more will leave and that Kettering Town will be unlikely to be the destination of choice for players coming in, either. With the team that had been in place already in a precarious enough position just above the relegation places in the Blue Square Premier, it is difficult to see how a patched-up team of replacements could, with the best will in the world, do anything other than continue to struggle.
There are many aspects of Kettering’s current woes that seem intractable, the most notable of which is probably Nene Park itself. If the costs of renting and operating it are as high as have been suggested, then downsizing, which would appear the obvious option for a club in their position, is less than attractive. Relegation to the Blue Square North would cut revenue and turnover, whilst operating costs may not be similarly reduced. Imraan Ladak’s recent interviews have given the impression of a man seeking to absolve himself of blame for the club’s current predicament, but the question must be asked of who else could conceivably considered culpable for this mess. If he does walk away from the club in the near future, then the money that he has put into it becomes an irrelevance. All that will matter will be the shell of a club that he has left behind.
Now is surely the time for the clubs supporters trust to start taking action. The trust board was conflicted by the decision to move to Nene Park, but the organisation is still active and should take the lead in bringing the supporters of the club together. What form this takes is a matter for them to resolve – it may involve, if it is feasible to do so, looking at whether they are capable of running the club, or perhaps stepping up a campaign to return the club to Kettering itself. Such considerations aren’t necessarily for the immediate future, though. In the first place, the supporters of the club, those with the most to lose – both literally and metaphorically – from the club going to the wall – must be brought together with a view to doing what they can to save their club. If the club’s supporters do not make their voices heard now, they may lose it forever and such a loss would be a tragedy for the town and for the wider world of non-league football. Supporters of the club have the option of sitting back and hoping that white knight on a charger turns up and makes everything better. Any such person will need deep pockets to do so, though, and deep pickets are thin on the ground these days. Alternatively, they can stand and fight to keep the spirit and shared culture of their club alive. The latter of these two options surely has to be worth a go.
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