These are tough times at Rockingham Road. Kettering Town of the Blue Square Premier have less than three years to go on the lease at the ground that has been their home since 1897, and they have nowhere else to go. Relations with the local council are strained, with the club claiming that the council are doing nothing to help them to find a site for a new stadium. The Kettering chairman, Imraan Ladak, has said that there are now six weeks left to save the club, but why exactly should this be? If Kettering Town are in financial difficulties so serious that they only have a few weeks left to live then a new ground would be, frankly, the least of their problems at the moment. Is this the truth, though, or is it merely a highly emotive argument being used to force the council to find them a new site?
Ladak has the club’s supporters on his side and a red card protest against the council has been organised as the teams take to the pitch. Something about what Ladak is saying doesn’t quite seem to add up, though. The issue of a new stadium is one that has to go through appropriate planning stages, and policy on such matters is taken at a national level. Policy currently contains clauses designed to protect town centres from the excessive building of facilities in out-of-town areas. When Bishop Auckland’s new stadium was approved by the local council it was done after being referred to central government, who confirmed that the application fell within national policy.
Under Simon Grayson, Leeds United have been imperious at the top of League One so far this season. They haven’t always looked conpletely convincing – last Tuesday, for example, they needed a winning goal two minutes from time to see off struggling Leyton Orient – but they are at least consistent. They’ve only lost once in seventeen league matches so far this season and are grinding out results at such a rate that they seem likely to promoted no matter what sanctions the Football League may apply if they get to the bottom of the shenanigans surrounding who the current owners of the club are, and who they were when ownership of Leeds United either did or didn’t change hands in 2007.
On a cold and blustery afternoon in Northamptonshire, though, Leeds face one of their toughest challenges of the season. Kettering start brightly, and within two minutes Richie Partridge’s shot brings a save from the Leeds goalkeeper Casper Ankergren. Leeds, however, soon take control of the game and are unfortunate not to be in front by half-time. In the space of thirty seconds after twenty-five minutes, Jermaine Beckford hits the underside of the crossbar and Robert Snodgrass hits the outside of the post with a header. The half-time whistle can’t really come quickly enough for them.
The second half, however, belongs to the Kettering player-manager and goalkeeper Lee Harper. Harper was brought in as manager two weeks ago after nearby Peterborough United poached Mark Cooper to replace Darren Ferguson. Imraan Ladak has already claimed that it was the lack of a new ground rather than the opportunity to manage a club in the Championship, and the departure of Cooper has brought about a minor exodus of players, including Exodus Geohagan, who has gone to Peterborough with his old boss. Harper, however, leads by example on the pitch during the second half with a string of outstanding saves to keep Kettering in the lead. On the break, they take the lead just after the hour when Richie Partridge’s free-kick is headed in by defender Ian Roper with the Leeds goalkeeper Ankergren having come for a cross that he was never going to make.
With Kettering in front, however, Leeds pour forward in search of an equaliser. Harper saves brilliantly from Howson, Doyle and Beckford. Just as it starts to feel as if perhaps this isn’t quite going to be Leeds’ day, however, the visitors find a route back into the match. Snodgrass drives the ball across the face of the goal and Jermaine Beckford, showing the speed of thought and technique to be able to touch the ball in from point blank range. From then on, it becomes a matter of whether Kettering will be able to hold on for a draw. Leeds continue to pressurise, but the lack of immediate need for a goal seems to have blunted them slightly and at full-time a draw means that it will be all back to Elland Road the week after next for a replay.
Just how important hanging on for a replay will be for both sides becomes apparent when they are the final two balls to be pulled out of the hat in the draw or the Third Round. The opposition will be Manchester United at Old Trafford, a match that would be significant for either of the two sides. The payday for a Third Round match against Manchester United would bring hundreds of thousands of pounds into Kettering Town. When Exeter City (also, at the time, of the Football Conference) drew United at Old Trafford, it saved a club in administration For Leeds themselves, it is the opportunity to reacquaint an old rivalry that hasn’t had much of an opportunity to manifest itself since Leeds were relegated from the Premier League. The draw itself will probably attract more people to Elland Road for the replay, and this in itself can only benefit Kettering Town.