Their brave new world wasn’t meant to turn out like this. When Kettering Town moved out of their Rockingham Road ground to the then recently vacated Nene Park, the former home of near rivals Rushden & Diamonds, the aim was surely for a place in the Football League. Last night, however, the club played its first home match of the season in the Premier Division of the Southern League in front of a little under 600 supporters and was beaten by two goals to one by Hemel Hempstead Town. Relegated at the end of last season and subsequently demoted, following a goalless draw at Weymouth at the weekend, Kettering Town now sit at the foot of the league table with nine points of their ten point deduction for entering into administration during the summer still to make up, and judging by anecdotal reports of last nights match that doesn’t look like happening any time soon.
As has become commonplace at this club over much of the last year or so, politicking has continued to be the main source of the interest within the club over the last couple of weeks. The involvement of former Weymouth and Cambridge United owner George Rolls came to an abrupt end earlier this summer when Rolls was banned from any involvement in football for five years over multiple of breaches of Football Association rules on betting. The question of what sort of make-up the new board of directors of the club would take seemed to have been more or less answered when Ritchie Jeune was appointed as the clubs chairman, having been in the role in an interim capacity since Rolls’ ban, but at the end of last week the club announced that, “The club can confirm that at this time Ritchie Jeune remains a volunteer and is not in any capacity an official of Kettering Town FC along with the Supporters Trust, whilst George Rolls is at this time prohibited from any involvement in football matters at Kettering Town.” Back to square one, then.
All of this put the Kettering Town Supporters Trust in a difficult position. The trust had been offered a 24% share-holding in the club as part of the Rolls take-over, but this now seems to be being reneged upon by the clubs still widely-despised majority shareholder Imraan Ladak. The trusts response to these events came earlier this week, and it stated that, “With the announcement that the Trust and Ritchie are not authorised to act on behalf of the club, it would be prudent for the Trust to no longer manage club funds through its account and allow the shareholders to run the club as they see fit.” With no convincing explanation for this volte-face having yet been offered by the club, deadlock has been reached yet again in the battle for the future of Kettering Town FC, and bearing all of this in mind it might be argued that last nights result against Hemel Hempstead Town had an element of pathetic fallacy about it, and it feels as if the gloves are about to come off in the battle for the future of Kettering Town Football Club.
Why, though, won’t these people walk away from Kettering Town FC? This, after all, would appear to be the intuitive thing for a group of businessmen associated with a non-league football club that has been losing money hand over fist over the last couple of years to do. As with so much that has gone wrong at this club over the last twelve months, all roads may lead back to Nene Park. Original Rushden & Diamonds benefactor Max Griggs is understood to have put a covenant in place which restricts use of the land to football until 2015, after which point the land upon which it stands can be used for other matters. It has been suggested that those concerned are in a no-lose situation. If the club goes to the wall, a derelict Nene Park would likely swiftly become an eyesore which may well attract buyers for demolition. If it doesn’t, the grounds owners have a steady stream of income for the foreseeable future thanks to the lengthy lease that Ladak signed just a year ago.
This, however, is mere speculation and of considerably greater importance is the matter of how Kettering Town can rescue itself from a situation that is starting take on a distinctly and ominous feel to it. According to the clubs official statement last week, George Rolls’ Poppies Events is in control of all non-football commercial activities at Nene Park. This can really only mean one of two things – either Rolls is still in some way involved in the running of Kettering Town FC (whether this would be a breach of the FAs ban is a question that only they could answer), or the one solid reason for moving to Nene Park – the possibility of raising revenue through the use of the grounds facilities – at least to some extent going to Rolls’ company rather than the club. The third possibility, that everybody involved in the senior management of this club is doing it out of the goodness of their hearts, isn’t something that appears to hold a great deal of traction amongst its supporters at the moment. Moreover, even if the club started the new season debt-free following its CVA, if revenue is limited then the prospect of money drying up and fresh debts starting to accumulate becomes more real than it would otherwise have been.
On the pitch, a sluggish start to the new season can be turned around. A ten point deduction can be as well. As at so many other clubs that feature on our pages, though, Kettering Town FC stopped feeling as if it was about the football some time ago. We don’t know what the motives of those that have overseen this shambolic twelve months are, but we can say with a degree of confidence that the patience of supporters is at breaking point and that the prospect of the situation at the club improving seems as remote as it has at any point since it started to be kicked from pillar to post. And the punchline to all of this is that this year is Kettering Towns one hundred and fortieth anniversary. This has become a club that is from Kettering now in name only, with no prospect of returning to its home town, with visions of ambition having been replaced with a precipitous fall through the divisions and crowds having fallen through the floor. Small wonder, perhaps, that this anniversary doesn’t feel much like one worth celebrating.
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