If you’re an avid watcher of Sky Sports News or a reader of the BBC Website then you might have noticed the slow and messy demise of KetteringTown (finally) getting some national exposure. Some very worthy journalists are scratching their heads and wondering how a club so well-supported as ours can be this close to closure after 140 years of history.
Amazingly, none of the media outlets covering the story have got to the heart of the reason, namely the greed of chairman Imraan Ladak, who has lied, lied, told untruths, and then lied some more simply to prolong the agony for us long-suffering Kettering Town fans. The details of how we got here are, perhaps, a little too raw for me to do justice, but I’d recommend heading over to TwoHundredPercent for their excellent chronology of our troubles (in the “Clubs in Crisis” section).
But for all the difficulties and each “last game ever” that we play, I’m actually pretty conflicted. Don’t get me wrong, I still consider myself a KetteringTown fan; we’ve been through too much together. My parents met as a result of the football club – my dad was the reporter for the local paper, my mum a supporters club committee member – and I went to games home and away as an embryo and a baby.
I can remember the first season that I began to take an interest like it was yesterday; that epic 1988/89 season where we knocked out league teams Bristol Rovers and Halifax on our way to the FA Cup 4th round as well as a second place finish in the league, and me being mascot for my 7th birthday. A couple more decent seasons followed before we moved away to Bath.
Living away from the town of my birth just made my love for the team grow stronger, egged on by a rivalry with Yeovil-supporting school friend. For every other attraction that a primary school child may face, including playing rugby instead of football, nothing gave me greater pleasure than going to see my boys in red.
After moving to Norfolk, my love remained and the Poppies once again found themselves on the way to Wembley, giving more special memories; I was stood behind the goal when Gary Setchell headed the winning goal that clinched our place in the final; I was singing my heart out among 15,000 other Kettering fans at the home of football.
Whilst the years that followed saw a relegation (or two), the first excursion outside of Conference football was also really enjoyable as the Poppies romped to Southern League victory. I can still see that goal Craig Norman scored from the Co-Op Car Park *, and Stevie Lenagh volleying home against Weymouth and Tiverton.
More recently, in the first year’s of Ladak’s “reign”, there was the appointment of Paul Gascoigne as manager for 38 days (I was there for his first game), holding our own against international-laden Premier League Fulham, and taking Leeds United to extra-time in a replay with a game at Man United on the line.
But that Leeds game was the beginning of the end. Within an hour of the final whistle, Imraan Ladak had sacked assistant manager John Deehan in a fit of anger, and has seemed to be in a state of mental breakdown ever since leading to the events last June when he led the club to leave it’s home of over a century to jump into the still-warm bed of deceased rivals Rushden & Diamonds (without stopping to wonder what killed them in the first place).
I am a Kettering boy, and proud of being so. It may be a godforsaken, chav-ridden, hell hole of a town now, but it is the place of my birth, and the place that I first fell in love with football. The one common thread running through all my happy Poppies memories, is that they took place with the club playing at Rockingham Road.
When the 2011/12 season started, I dutifully made my pilgrimage all the way from Weston-super-Mare to Northamptonshire to cheer my team on; but something had changed. NenePark didn’t feel right, and even when I had the opportunity to go see other home games I simply didn’t feel the inclination any more. Why should I? It would mean driving more than two hours to a ground that wasn’t home.
Whether I was conscious of it at the time or not, and my outpouring on Twitter on the night of the Wicksteed Park meeting suggests I may have been (subconsciously), but in my mind the club died when Ladak dragged the club out of the town it bears the name of.
At least Peter Winkelman admitted his motives and eventually renamed the club when moving Wimbledon to Milton Keynes (ironically, Ladak’s home town). Now, after a prolonged and drawn out death where fans have all chosen different points to call it quits, the support is possibly too fragmented to bring the club back to life.
One faction, who made their mind up the day that the move away from Kettering was announced, set up the phoenix club before the parent passed away. The all-new Kettering Football Club (rather unfortunately known as KFC, for short) began play as an under-18 team this year with a view to joining the United Counties League next season (where KTFC may be by then anyway).
For now, KFC are playing (temporarily) outside the town, which damages public perception of their motives, but they are fan-owned, fan-managed, and it is in their raison d’être to move back to Kettering at the earliest possible opportunity (while the parent club still have at least 24 years left out of town).
So, I’m left with an awful dilemma. Ultimately, I have four choices, none of which feel overly palatable to me right now:
1. “KTFC” for ever
Keep supporting KetteringTown in name until they finally close down, all the time feeling more and more distant from them than I once did. I’m not overly bothered by checking fixtures, and hope that one day they move “home”.
2. Move to KFC
I’ve got no real affiliation with the “new” team, other than the fact that they’re made up of ex-Poppies fans. But they do represent those fans, they’re aiming to be back in Kettering soon, and are ultimately going to be the phoenix club within a year or two.
3. Watch local football
Once KTFC go bust, start following a team local to where I live – most likely Weston-super-Mare or BristolCity. At least it’d be somewhere I could take any future kids, but I don’t really go that often now anyway.
4. Give up on football altogether
Which, sadly, feels like the most logical option, and is closest to my current position. I can’t stand the Premier League, the England players make me sick, and the thought of following another team feels a bit… dirty.
Whatever I decide to do, I’m not that sure that I’ll shed a tear when the current incarnation of Kettering Town Football Club passes away. The one I fell in love with died last June.
A ThorpesSportingThoughts original
* – may be an exaggeration.