Diamonds are a fan's best friend

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The Independent Online
There is something rather endearing about the determination of Rushden & Diamonds FC to emulate the finest teams in the game of football. They have a beautiful new stadium that matches in style, if not in scale, the finest Premiership palaces. They have banqueting facilities, a gym, and an all-action scoreboard bought from Millwall. They celebrated promotion to the Vauxhall Conference this season by breaking the non-league transfer record to acquire Carl Alford from Kettering for pounds 85,000. But there was something else they needed to complete that big-club profile. Manchester United have their own radio station: now Rushden & Diamonds do too.

Manchester United radio lives in a lavishly appointed studio deep within a grandstand at Old Trafford. Radio Diamonds is also grandstand-related, in that it is located in a Portakabin with a fine view of what will be a lovely grandstand when the builders have finished with it.

But the comparisons with the Premiership club are not all derogatory. Max Griggs, the Dr Martens boot manufacturer whose millions have propelled the club to the top of the non-league ladder, doesn't do things by halves, and the little hut behind Nene Park is expensively fitted out with state- of-the-art broadcasting kit. It is also - less expensively - furnished with mad-keen staff.

The linchpin is Wally Valentine, self-described as Irthlingborough's answer to Desmond Lynam. Wally works for a security company by day, but in his spare time he anchors all of Radio Diamonds' broadcasts from a studio in which you couldn't swing a kitten.

But Wally doesn't need space to be expansive. "I couldn't be happier," he admitted during a break from previewing Tuesday night's match against Macclesfield. "I've always loved football and radio, and to be able to combine the two - well, it's just bliss."

Radio Diamonds' crowded schedule, broadcast to 15,000 listeners in a 15-mile radius around the ground on match days, encompasses reports on other local sports teams, features on the history of the club, interviews with players and officials from the home and visiting teams, and phone- in competitions.

Wally quizzed the winner of Tuesday night's contest, a youngster named Paul. "Paul, you've won this evening's competition. Are you excited about that?" "Yeah." "Have you won a competition before?" "No." "Which team do you support?" "Manchester United." "Do you think that they'll do the double again this year?" "Dunno." "You've won pounds 10 to spend at Multimedia of the High Street, Rushden. Do you know where that is?" "Yeah." In desperation, Wally decided to interview the man from the Independent on Sunday instead.

But before he could learn anything of interest from that source it was time to switch to the stadium, where the tunnel reporter, Phil Harris- Ward, grilled the visiting manager, Sammy McIlroy. Then Wally linked to the match commentators, Barrie Chambers, Mick Dean and Ian Addis, in the grandstand.

Addis kicked off on an optimistic note. "Let's hope that this evening we see a game to live up to the setting, Barrie." But sadly it was not to be. Rushden & Diamonds have run out of puff in the rarefied atmosphere of the Conference, and before Tuesday night's game they propped up the table without a win. When Macclesfield went ahead after eleven and a half minutes, another heavy defeat looked on the cards.

"They're just not used to this sort of thing, varying the approach," Addis opined, and that was the way it looked - rough for the Diamonds. But the 2,000 fans in the ground, and many more pinned to their trannies in the nearby towns and villages, never gave up hope, and two minutes before the end Carl Alford paid a little of the interest on his transfer fee with the equaliser.

It was an absolutely dreadful game of football. As Mick Dean put it: "We've lost the good play that Macclesfield started with, and Diamonds have gone off the boil as well." Radio Diamonds, telling it like it is.