Kettering's fate in the balance
The Southern League have announced that tomorrow's game between Kettering Town and Bideford Town is off given that the electricity has been cut off at Nene Park. Meanwhile, Leamington chairman Jim Scott is claiming that they could lose thousands if the Poppies go under. Their match with Kettering was called off on Tuesday.
How have things come to this pass? Kettering Town are one of the country's oldest clubs: they were founded in 1872 and turned professional in 1891. In 1976 they became the first club to wear a sponsored shirt for Kettering Tyres, but the fuddy duddy Football Association ordered that they be removed four days later. The slogan was changed to 'Kettering T'. They came to within five votes of being elected to the Football League in the 1970s.
Imraan Ladak took over the club in 2005, bringing in Paul Gascoigne as manager for 39 days. Ladak was not always popular with the football authorities, enjoying a reputation as something of a loud mouth. He was charged with bringing the game into disrepute, a charge not often brought against a chairman.
Last year the club was told that they couldn't stay at their Rockingham Road ground. The owner had sold it to a private developer who wouldn't give them the ten year lease they needed to qualify to join the Football League. Arguably, they should have settled for staying in the Conference.
With the collapse of Rushden & Diamonds, their Nene Park ground at Irthlingborough became available. It has been called the Old Trafford of non-league football and a mecanno set dumped in the Northants countryside. In any event Max Griggs could no longer afford to subsidise it and it was unable to survive as a community club.
Needless to say, Rushden and Kettering had been great rivals with the politest thing said about the Poppies in Rushden fanzines was to call their ground Rockinghorse Road. The problem is that the state of the art stadium, which has a capacity of 6,441 and once hosted teams like QPR in League 1, costs a lot to maintain. Utility bills amount to £1,000 a week and the ground's owner, Keith Cousins, charges £12,500 a month in rent (quite what he will do with it if Kettering go under is an interesting question).
Things started to go badly wrong when the club's sponsor, DRC Locums pulled out, owing the club a disputed £422,000. Ladak used to own the company, but he claims that two other board members signed off the sponsorship,. A negotiated settlement for a smaller sum might still be possible.
By the summer of this year, Kettering's debts amounted to £1.2m. Ladak brought in another controversial figure, George Rolls, formerly involved with Weymouth and Cambridge United. The club had to eneter a company voluntary arrangement and accept relegation to the third tier of the non-league system.
Rolls said he would keep the club full time which is unknown at that level. In any event within weeks he was banned from football for five years, for breaching FA rules on betting.
Inevitably, the players were paid only in part or not at all, leaving them with serious financial problems. A number of them understandably walked out, leaving the club unable to field a team at Leamington on Tuesday, after a ruse to de-register youth team players was stopped by the Southern League.
Ladak says he is negotiation with three potential investors, but it's a bit late in the day, even if they are serious. One can only feel sorry for Kettering's fans. From having one Football League club and one Conference club, that (eastern) part of Northamptonshire will end up with none.