In the long lost days of election into the Football League, Kettering Town were regular unsuccessful applicants. Between 1900 and 1979, they applied for a place amongst the elite ninety-two on eighteen occasions and missed the cut on every single occasion. Since the introduction of automatic promotion and relegation in 1987, however, their chances to reach their holy grail have been few and far between. They knocked on the door of the Football Conference championship several times during the early 1990s and again in 1999, but have fallen upon more barren times over the last decade or so.
Promotion from the Blue Square North last season seems to dramatically revitalised the Northamptonshire club. They had a run to the Fourth Round of the FA Cup and ran Fulham very close indeed before bowing out. In the Blue Square Premier, they are the highest placed of last years promoted teams and are doing better than either of last seasons relegated teams, Mansfield Town or Wrexham. At the time of writing, they are in eight place in the table, with games on hand on the teams immediately above them, and just five points behind fifth placed Kidderminster Harriers.
So far, then, so good. The excitement of a tight run in for a play-off place awaits and, even if they fail to get promoted this season, they have a solid foundation upon which to build for next season. In non-league football, however, these things seldom seem to run smoothly, and Kettering found themselves in danger not only just of missing out on the play-offs but of being demoted from the league altogether. The problem was the tenancy of their Rockingham Road stadium. The BSP and Football League insist upon clubs having a minimum period of tenancy for all member clubs, and there had been ongoing issues over their lease there.
This week, however, the BSP confirmed that Kettering wouldn’t be demoted from the league for this. There remains an ongoing doubt over whether they could be admitted to the Football League should they get promoted through the play-offs, but the BSP has (either sensibly or expediently, depending on which way you look at it) confirmed that they will defer to the decision of the Football League, who are still reviewing all of the applications for a place next season. As things stand, however, they are permitted to play in the play-offs, which is good news for those of us that prefer these matters to be taken care of on the pitch.
The Blue Square Premier – for all the complaining from supporters of clubs that have had points deducted for various misdemeanours – remains arguably the best run football league in England. Such common sense is unsurprising for a league that often seems to be the only football league in the country to consider sound financial management, excellent administration and sustainability to be critical in the rules that they implement. Whether the Football League will take the common sense attitude and allow this year’s play-offs to be decided on the pitch is, of course, another question altogether.