While Darlington have grabbed most of the recent headlines in the race to the financial bottom that the bottom of the Blue Square Premier seems to consist of this season, Kettering Town remains in a critical condition itself.
On Saturday, their home match against Forest Green Rovers was called off at lunchtime, which is unlikely to have done the stricken clubs bank account a great deal of good, and this morning the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph, a local newspaper which has been criticised by some supporters as being too ready in the past to toe the Ladak party line, also stepped off the fence to deliver its viewpoint of the recent difficulties that the club has faced.
The article, entitled “Time Is Almost Up So Do The Right Thing And Move Aside”, is unlikely to make comfortable reading for Imraan Ladak, the increasingly discredited and embattled owner of the club. It asks the question of, “why would Ladak want to remain in a mess that so many are blaming him for?”, and states that, “Imraan Ladak’s time would appear to be up”, drawing particular attention to the £3,000 that the club still owes to Essex Senior League club Southend Manor for gate receipts from their FA Cup match at Nene Park at the end of October. There can be no questioning the importance that this amount of money would have for a club the size of Southend Manor, even though we are used to reading about vastly greater amounts of money than this when discussing football finances.
It is also notable that the Telegraph made specific reference to the postponement of the Forest Green Rovers match, especially in noting that “No frost sheets were placed on the pitch overnight and it’s not unfair to say that had everything been rosy in the garden, they would have been.” Such events hint at a state of chaos within the club, in which even the simplest tasks cannot be guaranteed to be seen through. It could hardly be argued that the match on Saturday wasn’t critical in bringing money into the club, so we can only ask the question of how, considering that it was widely publicised that there would be inclement conditions across much of the country last Friday night, this was not done. The only conclusion that we can draw from such situations is that this is a club that isn’t being run by anybody at the moment.
More troubling still is the fact the the mismanagement of this football club is now starting to affect other clubs as well. On Saturday lunchtime, the Forest Green Rovers team coach had already arrived at Nene Park by the time that the match was called off, with a coach load of supporters not far behind. The journey from Gloucestershire to Northamptonshire is not an inconsiderable one, and this postponement will have left Forest Green Rovers and its supporters out of pocket, as well as having wasted a whole day for nothing. This, perhaps, is the point at which the Football Conference or the Football Association need to step in and take some sort of action. The point at which other clubs are being adversely affected by the goings-on at Nene Park is a line in the sand that Kettering Town should not be allowed to cross.
If there is one thread of optimism for the supporters of the club to continue to cling to, then this must be the continued involvement caretaker-manager Mark Cooper. Cooper is understood to have returned to the club on a promise of fresh investment, but was reported after just one match as reconsidering his position and his comments today to the local paper – “I don’t know where we are. I don’t know where the investment stands and to be honest, I don’t know how we go forward. You are probably asking the wrong person.” – are unlikely to fill anyone connected with the club with much confidence. Kettering have to travel to Wrexham for a league match on Saturday, and on Monday evening it feels difficult to say with any certainty whether the club will be able to fulfil this fixture. The club remains out of administration for the time being, but even this may not be the case in a couple if weeks time – and this is only the short term. Should Cooper depart this week, however, it will start to feel as if, for Kettering Town, the fat lady has finished her warm-up exercises.
Even if this particular set of crises are overcome, the question of where Kettering Town goes from here remains valid. The idea of “fresh investment” is a critical one, but if this isn’t to become the start of a cycle of money coming into the club and running out, then a solid business plan has to be put in place. The obvious thing to add at this point would be to say that Kettering Town must be reinvented as a community club, with its supporters trust at the heart of its running, but such reinvention will be difficult with the club playing miles from the town itself and the locks at Rockingham Road having been changed. It remains to be seen whether there is a way of making Nene Park viable for the club. There has, however, been little evidence so far to indicate that it can.
As at Darlington, the supporters of Kettering Town are, at the time of writing, praying for a white knight on a charger to rescue their club. It is an all too familiar tale, yet there are lessons to be learnt from the events of the last few months at this club, the most important of which is that organisation on the part of supporters is critical at all times. By the time that news of the like that we have seen coming from Nene Park over recent weeks becomes public knowledge, time is usually too short for even the most organised of supporters groups to act in a meaningful fashion. At Kettering, those entrusted with the custodianship of the football club gave failed dismally, hoodwinked into leaving home for pastures new by an owner with – we can only assume – a hopelessly inadequate business plan. The authorities should also bear some weight for what has happened at this club. The Football Conference is tough on financial problems at clubs, but there has been little official comment from anywhere as this club has sunk further and further into the mire in which it now finds itself. Further regulation is surely required if the events of the last couple of months at both Kettering and Darlington are not to be repeated again in the near future. Every time that any club finds itself in this position, the default reaction of everybody should be to pause and think, “it doesn’t have to be like this.” Whether the events of the last couple of weeks in the Blue Square Premier will have any effect on the governance of the game at lower levels in this country remains to be seen. If they prove anything, it must surely be that the time for hand-wringing is over, and that the time for action has begun.
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