This weekend sees the coming of this year’s Non-League Day, so over the course of the next five days we’ll be taking a look at the state of the non-league game at the start of this season. We start with a bad news story from the Southern League which involves a somewhat familiar name. You can find out more about Non-League Day by clicking here.
It is, of course, mere coincidence that the winding up of Kettering Town Football Club of the Southern League should have occurred on the most obscene day of the entire football calendar, transfer deadline day, but the fact remains that the closure of a club with a history of more than 140 years of history over the matter of a £58,000 debt on a day that the biggest clubs in our field of view are throwing money around like confetti does say something quite profound about the state of the game in the twenty-first century.
The Poppies had been in a state of financial distress for some considerable time, following the ruinous decision to relocate the club to Nene Park, the former home of Rushden and Diamonds FC, in 2011. Having signed a rental deal there which was always going to be crippling without significant amounts of money being made from off the field activities, continuing struggle, relegation from the Conference National to the Southern League, was always likely, although a new ground-share deal agreed during the summer did at least return the club to the borough of Kettering for the start of this season.
The 2011/12 season saw the club finish at the bottom of the Football Conference, but the CVA agreed by the club in order to try and keep itself afloat by then-owner George Rolls saw it demoted two divisions to the Premier Division of the Southern League. Shortly after this, Rolls was suspended from football for five years and fined £10,000 after breaches of Football Association betting laws were proven. A two division relegation, however, was not enough to halt the club’s vertiginous slump, and relegation followed again at the end of last season, with the club having left Nene Park for Steel Park in Corby because they were unable to continue to service the costs of playing in Irthlingborough.
This season began with some degree of hope that, somehow or other, this fall from grace might have been arrested, and with the club now playing its home matches at back in the borough at Latimer Park there was some optimism that a corner may have been turned when almost 800 people turned out to the club’s first league match at its fourth home in two years against Barton Rovers last month. Barton, however, spoiled that particular party by winning by three goals to nil and the club’s next home match was also marked by a heavy defeat, this time at the hands of Slough Town and last weekend, with just one win registered from the club’s first four matches of the season, the club was knocked out of the FA Cup by Gresley.
Today’s news, however, has little to do with whatever difficulties the team may have been having on the pitch so far this season. The matter of the winding up order presented against the club was concerning a £58,000 debt that was run up by previous owner Imraan Ladak while the club was playing at Nene Park. In June, the club’s owners saw off a winding up petition brought against it by HMRC, only to find itself facing a similar claim from Rushden & Diamonds (2008) Ltd – the company which remained after the closure of Kettering’s former local rivals in 2011 and not to be confused with AFC Rushden & Diamonds, the club that formed from the ashes of that particular debacle – and, after several adjournments, lawyers acting for R&D FC Ltd successfully argued that repeated deferrals in the past had not resulted in anything productive, from their standpoint.
The club has confirmed this evening that it will appeal the decision and it has seven days in order to do so, but what the outcome of this might be is just about anybody’s guess and with matches against Dunstable Town and Aylesbury United due to be played tomorrow night and on Saturday afternoon, questions now have to be asked concerning the ongoing viability of the club if this outstanding amount has to be paid in full and relatively immediately, whilst it must be especially galling for those now running the club to find it in this situation considering the cast amount of work that was required to be carried out over the course of the summer to bring Latimer Park up to scratch and the reaction of the local public, who, it seems from attendance figures, will be likely to return to the club, especially if it can start winning matches again. At the time of writing, there has been no comment made yet from the Southern Football League itself on the matter, although one is expected soon.
So, with another appeal likely to be heard, it remains a possibility that Kettering Town may yet pull through this latest financial catastrophe. It would certainly seem foolish to be writing the club’s obituary this soon. There remains, however, a striking truth about the rottenness at the core of the game in this country that should be made when we consider the amount of money being thrown around to mark the end of the summer transfer window. The amount of money to save Kettering Town – indeed, the amounts of money required to keep all non-league football clubs, regardless of circumstances, afloat – exists within the game of football. With just a tiny increase to the proportion of the Premier League’s lavish television revenues to find its way to the likes of the Southern League Division One Central, the future of the game its lower levels could be safeguarded to a considerably greater extent than they currently are.
The concentration of power at the top of the game is now so great that a couple of days’ wages for a Premier League player might well be all that it takes to send a club, a culture, a tradition and a history to the wall, but these amounts of money won’t find their way to them from above. There are no trickle-down economics in football. There is only a polarisation of wealth and the cry of “Market forces!” when smaller clubs finds themselves in difficulty, and what we can say with a degree of certainty is that, whilst Kettering Town Football Club may somehow yet pull through this mess, others will follow, and that after a few hours of oh-dearism, the unfortunates, whoever they may be, will be quickly forgotten again. And it is this, perhaps above anything else, which should remind of why this weekend’s Non League Day is so important.
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