Kettering Town: Poppies At The Gates Of A New Dawn
There are some familiar faces at the top of the Southern League Premier Division this season, all of whom have had their brushes with extinction in recent years. Leading the way at the moment are Slough Town, with King’s Lynn Town, Weymouth, Kettering Town and Hereford currently occupying the play-off positions. Two of these five clubs – King’s Lynn Town and Hereford – are phoenix clubs formed from the smoking ashes of predecessors that crashed and burned. A further two – Kettering Town and Slough Town – lost their grounds are still seeking a home of their own and a return to previous glories. The other, Weymouth, seemed to act as a clearing house for the very worst that non-league football had to offer in terms of owners who only seemed interested in the value of land upon which the club’s ground stood. Weymouth are still standing, but only just.
This is turning out to be a bittersweet season for Kettering Town. The club has had a strong start to the season, reaching the Fourth Qualifying Round of the FA Cup before bowing out after a replay to against Nantwich Town and sitting in fourth place in the league table with at least one game in hand on all three of the clubs currently above them in the league table. There is, however, a bittersweet feeling to the start to this season, with the news that the demolition of the club’s historic Rockingham Road ground may be set to finally be demolished emerging in September.
Kettering Town moved into their ground in 1897 but left in the summer of 2011 for Nene Park, the former home of Rushden & Diamonds, who folded that summer. The club was paying £150,000 a year in rent to use a stadium nine miles from its home town, and by January of the following year the club was in serious financial difficulty. The arrival of former Weymouth chairman George Rolls at Nene Park only seemed to exacerbate the club’s problems, still further the following summer when Rolls was banned from any involvement in football for five years over more than 3,000 betting offences and a deal for him to take over ownership of the club from Ladak consequently collapsed. .
With all of this happening at the same time that the club was entering into a pre-pack administration over debts of £1.2m, it felt as though the future of Kettering Town was bleak, to say the least. Demoted two divisions from the National League, the club was already stranded at the bottom of the Southern League Premier Division when it left Nene Park to share Corby Town’s Steel Park in October of that year. They ended the season relegated to Division One Central of the Southern League, having acquired just twenty-two points all season, with other low points including being unable to field a team for matches and a winding up order being issued for failing to meet the terms of the CVA that had got the club demoted in the first place. In the summer of 2013, the Ladak finally sold the club to Ritchie Jeune. That summer, Kettering Town left Steel Park to share Latimer Park, the home of Kettering-based United Counties League club Burton Park Wanderers.
The final departure of Ladak from the club finally put an end to its nose-dive, and since then Kettering Town have undergone something of a revival. The club’s first season in Division One Central of the Southern League saw it finish in third place in a tight league table which saw just four points separate the top four clubs in the division. A crowd of over 1,400 people saw the Poppies beat Daventry Town in the semi-final of the play-offs before losing to Slough Town in the final. The following season, however, the revival continued and the club won the league title by eleven points, and since returning to the Premier Division of the Southern League Kettering have finished in sixth and ninth place in the table respectively.
Still, though, the confirmation in September that Rockingham Road has been sold to developers will have come to a disappointment to supporters who had twice had applications to get the ground listed as an asset of community value turned down. In its current condition, it has to be said that the ground would have required considerable work just to have been brought back up to scratch. Derelict for the last six years, the concrete of the terraces has crumbled and the pitch is long overgrown. On a door in the main stand has been painted the plaintive plea “KTFC Will Never Die”, a cri de couer against all those who seemed to wander through this football club more concerned with lining their own pockets and their own egos than in the civic matter of successfully overseeing the local football club for the benefit of the local community.
Perhaps, though, Kettering Town’s existence in semi-exile could be coming to an end. It was reported in the Northants Telegraph a couple of weeks ago that the club believes that it has identified a site for a new ground in the town and that it has now approached the council with a view to obtaining commercial details for the new site. A statement issued by the club said that:
As discussions are still at a delicate stage we have been requested not to declare the location but we are confident that it will ‘tick the boxes’ for the majority of our followers. If we can make this happen the club will move to a purpose-built stadium, with on-site parking and suitable clubhouse facilities. This would not however see the end of our relationship with Latimer Park, which would continue to be used as a training base, match day facility for our academy as well as a community venue.
These are, of course, very early days, but after so much went wrong at this particular football club it feels only right that the light at the end of the tunnel should finally be starting to become visible. And if the club is looking for some degree of cause for optimism, then one of their current promotion rivals offers it. Slough Town were forced to leave their Wexham Park home in 2003, but they returned to a home of their own in August 2016 at Arbour Park after many years of agitating for a new home. Earlier this year, Arbour Park was named as the best new non-league ground of 2016 by Groundtastic magazine. It is to be hoped that it doesn’t end up having taken thirteen years for Kettering Town to find a home of their own as well.