We are only three months into the new season, but already it feels as if history is beginning to repeat itself. In July, the county of Northamptonshire lost Rushden & Diamonds after a season of spectacular mismanagement – a new club, AFC Rushden & Diamonds, has already started a youth team and is expected to begin again from the start of next season – and this time around there is now a sizeable body evidence which indicates that the club that took over their Nene Park home during the summer, Kettering Town, could well be set to follow them into serious difficulties. Kettering were due to be entering brave new world territory with their move to a ground eight miles from their home town, but the team has been struggling on the pitch and rumours are now beginning to grow of serious difficulties off the pitch as well.
It wasn’t, of course, supposed to be like this. With 1,000 season tickets sold, supporters of the club had reason to believe that growth and success off the pitch would be the compensation for leaving its traditional Rockingham Road ground and into the home of their former rivals, under a twenty-five year lease. Rumours started to grow over the weekend that the club’s players had only been paid a percentage of their month’s wages and, with several of the club’s players expressing their dissatisfaction over this state of affairs, manager Mark Stimson, who only took the job over after the removal of Morrell Maison, who himself was bafflingly appointed during the summer.
It only took twenty-four hours from Stimson’s confirmation of this state of affairs before Kettering’s situation took another turn for the worse, with an official announcement on the club’s website confirming that the club’s entire playing squad was being put up for sale, a statement which was mostly eyebrow-raising for how short and terse it was. How radical this is, considering that eleven players were put up for sale or loan in September, is debatable, but none of those players having been picked up by another club, and we may well question how much interest there is going to be in players from a squad that has had such an unprepossessing start to the season, and what such statements say about the club’s financial decision that they are having to take such drastic action so early in the season.
Things didn’t go too well for the club on the pitch last weekend, either. A trip to Surrey to play Sutton United of the Blue Square South was a tricky, but winnable tie in the First Round Proper of the FA Cup. The Kettering players, however, were not up to the job and Sutton won by a single goal. Their reward for this win, somewhat ironically, was a lucrative home match in the Second Round of the competition against League One club Notts County, which will be screened live on the television. It was money that Kettering, on the basis of the last few days or so, needed quite badly. It is not known whether the events of yesterday and today were related to Saturday’s loss.
Chairman Imraan Ladak, of course, had somebody to blame and, perhaps unsurprisingly, he wasn’t blaming himself. “We have an issue with a sponsor which owes us a substantial amount of money and it has been ongoing for some time”, he told the local press earlier today, whilst also taking a little time to heap further criticism upon his players. How helpful comments such as, ““As far as I am concerned the whole squad is available for loan or transfer and their agents who told us how great they are need to work their magic on other clubs” are is open to debate, but it doesn’t seem unreasonable to turn the spotlight back onto his stewardship of the club. After all, what sort of business runs itself with a dependence on money from one sponsor to the extent that it is unable to pay its staff’s wages in full and then has to put the entire squad on the transfer list?
On the pitch, the question of what now happens to Kettering Town in the Blue Square Premier is a valid one. After all, the squad that played the first three months of this season could hardly be described as having set the division alight. This team may have had its internal problems (the much-reported fight between two players at the end of their match against Hayes & Yeading United last month hinted at a lack of harmony within the squad), but the idea of radically changing the first team squad and an owner that criticises his players publicly when they are not playing well, and all of this on a reduced budget wouldn’t seem conducive towards a more successful team than the one that they have now. Perhaps, on the other hand, Mark Stimson is an alchemist.
We do not know what the future holds for Kettering Town Football Club at the moment. Some supporters of the club are of the opinion that Ladak, along with Nene Park’s owner Keith Cousins, wishes to kill the club and set up a completely new one playing at the ground. There is little concrete to support this theory, but there is a definite feeling of fatalism coming from the club’s support at the moment and there can be little doubt that this was not in the script for the start of their season. If this club is not to join Rushden & Diamonds in having to start again from the bottom up, then some action has to be taken in order to prevent the rot that has become all too apparent already this season from growing until it it can no longer be reined in.
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