Kettering is a reminder of non-league’s limitations

Kettering – from Rockingham Road to Rocky Road

Sad as it may be for Kettering’s fans, their anticipated demise should come as no great surprise to those that have followed the club’s fortunes over the years. It’s not the first time the Poppies have been in trouble and certainly not the last time they have hogged the limelight.

Reading the reports on what has been going on at Nene Park, it looks like delusions of grandeur. For example, in the summer,  clubs were contacted by Kettering and asked for the price of an advertisement in their programme. Kettering wanted to take out an ad outlining their facilities for when their opponents play at Nene Park, hoping that visiting fans would take up the offer and book themselves in for a sumptuous lunch. Was this progressive or merely naïve? The latter, I would argue.

Similarly, the club’s previous administration wanted to keep Kettering full-time – in the Southern Premier! Looking back, the attempts at “launching” the club with the acquisition of a big-name manager, Gazza, for example, have proved to be short-term attention-seeking moves. In short, Kettering truly believed they were a big club waiting to happen. Big non-league club, yes, but in the old money when they were often listed as Football League club in waiting. With the arrival of a new order of non-league clubs like Stevenage, Kettering’s place in the game became far less important. The writing may have been on the wall when the club moved from Rockingham Road to Nene Park, the home of the now defunct  Rushden & Diamonds.

Kettering’s plight is not an isolated incident, either. There are undoubtedly scores of clubs who are teetering on the brink of oblivion. In the aircraft hanger that is football, many have wings made of the finest tallow.

Who do you blame for this? Sadly, there is a high degree of mismanagement in non-league football. If Football League balance sheets make interesting reading, non-league clubs probably have even more of their income flowing out of the door.  There is always someone willing to stoke up the fires of “ambition” (and I use that word loosely) in a dormant club and scribble a five-year plan to get Hickory Dickory Dock Rovers into the Football League. And usually, the fans buy it.

Football fans don’t seem to care too much how a club becomes successful. If an arms dealer from Latin America turned up in the car park, promised jam today – not tomorrow like everyone else – and wanted to throw thousands of pounds into a club, for every fan that says, “ooooh, a bit dodgy”, there will be another who says, “go for it”. They usually trust that the people running the club know what they’re doing and at the final whistle, the buck will stop with them. They rarely think about the consequences when a quick-fix goes wrong, which is, after all, the usual outcome.

Unfortunately, there are people in the game who move from club to club, scorching the earth and ruining another ambitious, but misguided, institution into the ground. Get rich quick is a scheme that’s been running for years in football and it is time it stopped. As it is, people in Northants will drive past Nene Park and say, “That used to be football club there”. Actually they would be wrong – there used to be two football clubs there – broken dreams times two!

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