Non League Football....
Good old Scunny & Tranny, playing the Pool on a Friday night has meant a barren Saturday afternoon for some fans this season.
However when not at a Pool game I always take the opportunity to butter up Mrs Xiles (no2) dad by tagging along with him to watch the love of his life -Kettering Town.
I am pleased to report that he has returned the favour on numerous occasions by coming to watch the Pool, indeed I even got him to a home game this season, and he has been pleasantly surprised by the progress he has seen over the last couple of seasons by us.
Back the subject Kettering Town.
Kettering Town were formed in 1872, they turned professional in 1891, only 4 yrs later than us, and they were the first football team to have a sponsor on their shirts.
Kettering have been Runners Up in the Conference 4 times between 81-99, these days that would have meant an automatic promotion to the football leagues. Trophy runners up as recently as 2000, The Poppies have a proud and reasonably successful past, and indeed there future looks bright for Kettering Town.
They play at Rockingham Road, a stadium definitely of non-league standards, but as non-league grounds go certainly one of the better ones.
Consisting of one large seated stand, a third of which has been deemed as unsafe, and has remained unused for the last couple of seasons, the remainder of the ground is terracing, of which behind both goals is open to the elements.
Indeed our love of putting the away fans in a Gene Kelly stand is not alone.
From what I can gather Kettering Football Club don`t own their own ground. Indeed most of the gate receipts go to their landlord, a local person, and talk has increased over the last couple of years that a new stadium is in the offing. As recently as a couple of weeks ago the development of a site in Burton Latimer, a place famous as the home of Weetabix, was mentioned and this despite being a move out of the town looks the most promising one to come to fruitition.
Imraan Ladak took over last season as chairman, and one of his first moves was to replace the popular Kevin Wilson as manager with Paul Gascoigne. This brought a world wide media attention to the club, and with Wilson declining the offer to take up a Director of Football role Gazza mania set in and just over 5 weeks later had ended. Various reasons were cited, mostly around Gazza`s love of ale, and Ladaak has recently gone on record as saying that perhaps he didn`t give Gazza enough time. Enough time however to blow the Poppies chances of promotion last season.
Gazza inherited a team that had lost the season before in the Conference North Playoff final to the eventual promotion winners Altrincham. An own goal in the last minute of extra time a cruel fate, and despite Kevin Wilson`s` return as manager Gazza had brought in too many players on too bigger contracts. It was no longer Wilson`s team and his return was a short lived one.
In stepped the current manager Morrel Maison. Kettering ended the season with a fantastic run, but finished one place shy of the playoff positions and another season in the Conference North has begun.
Now as non-league teams at this level go Kettering should have an upper hand as they have a squad of full time professionals. Ladaak wants promotion and to his credit he`s put his money where his mouth is, and so have the fans. Entrance to the ground is £10.50.
Kettering have had 4 of the top 5 attendances in the league this season, they regularly get gates in excess of over a 1000 and on Saturday with 81 Stafford fans in attendance the normal crowd of 1200+ was again achieved.
Kettering currently lie in 5th place in the league, 3points off the top, but with a game in hand. With a lot of games coming over a short period of time Kettering`s squad should be fit enough to overtake the teams above them, and I for one will be surprised if they don`t start pulling away in the near future and eventually win the league.
Saturday`s game saw them overcome Conference opponents in Stafford Rangers. Ironically Stafford remain the only Conference team that aren`t full time. For long periods of the game Kettering couldn`t get hold of the ball and looked unlikely to score. However Maison has certainly built a team that are prepared to graft (remind us of anyone??) and for the second time this season they overcame Conference opposition without conceding a goal. Kettering seem to raise their game when playing teams of a higher standard. They certainly didn`t disgrace themselves when taking on Owdham in the cup losing out eventually to a last minute goal in a seven goal thriller.
The standard of football in the Conference North varies from week in week out. The good are good and the bad are damn right awful, and as a Lancaster lad born and bred it breaks my heart to see the plight that the Dolly Blues are in. To put it in perspective, if Kettering were Chelsea, Lancaster City would be the Watford equivalent.
Kettering have a player that most Pool fans will recognise in Darren Caskey. At 32 he has played at Spurs, Notts County and Reading. I wouldn`t say he`s the fans` favourite but in situations like Kettering are going to be in a wise head is often what is required.
Andy Hall is in his second season with Kettering, released by Coventry this young midfielder shows some good skill on the ball, and could still possibly make the break back in to the lower reaches of the football league.
Anthony Elding graced the forward line and was released and is now scoring for Boston in the league and last month another player Pool fans may have heard of Zema Abbey was released following a 3 month period. The ex Norwich + Cambridge striker was apparently the only Poppies player not on a contract.
The one player who Pool fans won`t have heard of however is Rene Howe. A 19yr old striker this lad reminds me of Nathan Tyson. Despite not having Tyson`s physical build Howe displays a fantastic first touch and control, can score with power from his feet and is more than capable in the air. What I like about him is that he isn`t afraid to get the ball and run at defenders. He certainly has pace and this lad can only get better. He sustained an injury whilst on trial with Villa and reportedly before signing for Kettering, MK Dons, Northampton and Luton Town were all tracking the striker. To be honest I`m not surprised. He has shown enough potential for a league club to take a good look at and I think despite Kettering`s promising future I think they will find it hard to retain this lad if he continues the way he has started.
Nothing replaces the buzz of watching Blackpool, that sheer rush I get when we score a goal and despite the frustration of the last 28years I`ll watch them till my dying days. However whilst resident in Northants and when there isn`t a Pool game to take in I`ll keep popping along to watch the Poppies. Not only does it keep me high up in the will list of the father in law to be, it is also similar to the Pool in more ways than one.
Onwards + Upwards