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Do we need the little clubs? Does anyone care about their local side?

The club that changed football

Coming soon: The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal FC

Making the Arsenal

By Tony Attwood

This weekend Ian, Ian’s two young sons, and I, will travel the three miles from my house to the ground of Corby Town of the Conference North.

We’ll park in the free carpark, pay our £10 each, (£2 for the boys), have a pint inside the ground (technically just out of sight of the pitch, but actually you can see it from the drinking zone – shhhh don’t tell the authorities), and sit in the  stand, just along from the half way line.

Behind one goal are the hard core Corby fans with their drum and chants – and along from them the away fans.  The other two sides are flat – a few people stand a few feet from the pitch.  Total crowd is anything between 300 and 600.

I have to admit I don’t actually know who we (by which I mean Corby Town) are playing, although Ian and I are fairly sure the match is at home.  And I know we are no longer bottom of the Conference North.  We’ve also just made it into the third qualifying round of the FA Cup.  Four more victories and it’s Arsenal at home in the third round proper.

So why do we do it when I can’t even tell you who the club is playing?

Because it is an afternoon out.  Because it gives Ian and I a chance to catch up.  Because watching a team where a defeat is a shame, but not as heart-stopping as an Arsenal defeat, is refreshing.  Because it is local.  Because it is football.

And because football in my locality has turned from a joyous celebration into a disaster.

Northamptonshire (you go through it as you belt up the M1, around junction 15 and 16), was on the rise until a little while ago.  Northampton Town are normally a League 1 or League 2 club (remember Herbert Chapman was their first ever manager, so we have a strong link), and they have a fine ground built about 10 years ago on the southern outskirts of town.  They also have one of their stands named after an Arsenal player – one of only two such in the country.

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For a while they were rivalled by Rushden and Diamonds – an amalgamation of two local teams with a fabulous stadium.  I used to watch them and take my daughters, and also my mum occasionally as they made their way up from nowhere to 3rd tier of English football, before falling back and going bust.

Between Rushden and Corby is Kettering Town – who have long and historic links with Arsenal.  Regularly in the 5th tier, they played in a run down ground, had Gasgoigne as their manager for three weeks, and suddenly decided to take over Rushden’s ground when Rushden and Diamonds went bust.  Not surprisingly the locals were not impressed.  (It would be a bit like Arsenal going bust, so Tottenham moving into the Emirates.  Better ground, yes, but enemy territory).

Now Kettering are on the edge – they have been in administration, got relegated to the Southern League, haven’t paid their players this season, played one match with 10 men only, and get crowds smaller than Corby Town.

Their last match was postponed as they only had six players left.  That will mean another points penalty – at this rate they will become the first club to finish the season with a minus number of points – if they finish the season.  The electricity at Nene Park was cut off the other day owing to the non-payment of the bill.

According to Imraan Ladak, the owner, none of this is his fault but is the fault of the sponsors, who have not paid their sponsorship money.  Previous sponsors are also in dispute with the club. He also said 3 consortia are vying to buy the club – but wish to be anonymous.   Buying the club wouldn’t get the ground – that is owned separately, but would mean honouring a long term contract to play at the ground.  Most likely in a few years time the best ground outside the football league will come down and a retail park or factories will emerge.

Meanwhile along the road a reborn Rushden and Diamonds is competing in a new league (somewhere around the 9th tier), and playing at Wellingborough’s ground.

So from a county in which we have had two league teams, and two clubs in the Conference looking as if they could rise up, with a fair wind and some investment, we have one league team, one team in Conference North, and a walking corpse.

It is a disaster – but we still do have Corby Town and Ian and I, plus the two young lads, will go along and support our local team.  We do it for fun, of course, but if we didn’t, if no one ever cared about their local little club, where would football be?  Could we exist with just the Premier League and the Championship?

Maybe, but life would be a lot less interesting.



4 comments to Do we need the little clubs? Does anyone care about their local side?

  • ian

    I alwalys loved the fact that many years ago Kettering Town had our very own Brain Talbot as Player/Chairman.

    I recall watching Arsenal in a Pre Season friendly against Northampton Town, it was Paul Mersons first game after starting the process of sorting himself with his addiction to alcohol, drugs and gambling. The game was sponsored by Carlsberg, Merson was awarded man of the match and they rather insensitively presented him with a case of beer.

    In terms of Arsenals links with Corby Town, i believe Eddie McGoldrick started his playing career their before moving to Kettering, then Northampton and Crystal Palace before coming to Arsenal.

  • Gouresh

    Interesting article. I live in West London and the local team is Rayners Lane FC who play in the Hellenic League Division 1 (East) and [used to practice with them] Harrow Borough football club who are in the Ryman Football League – Premier Division.
    I played for 20 yrs for a club called Shivajians FC in Pune [India] and we used to always play the right way [Arsenal way]. I remember, if the ball was lifted above the knee hight, our seniors gave us a good earfull. But watching / playing with these boys used to make my blood boil as all they do is kick and run but the funny thing is that at practice its always 3 touch pass gauge, but come match day, the formation is 4-4-2 but its all kick and hope for the best. I gave up watching and playing with them. No one wants to hold the ball and pass, its crazy…!

  • There is kick and rush in the lower leagues, and some of the tackles are awful to watch – but you also see some extraordinary skill – it really is interesting.

    I started out by watching Wood Green Town – who played in White Hart Lane, which is more than Tottenham have ever done!

  • nicky

    Reading through your post, Tony, with my usual meticulous care (in case you pose a few questions at the end), I suddenly came across the name of a football club I had previously expunged from my memory. A name about which nightmares are formed.
    January 4th 1958, a date which will live in infamy.
    All adult Gooners alive on that date (or, like me, barely alive after imbibing too much “falling down water” over New Year’s) will recall Northampton Town 3 Arsenal 1 in the FA Cup.
    We sure didn’t need a little club THAT year.