Kettering Town 4 Aylesbury United 3 match report: Steve Kinniburgh makes sure Kettering go down fighting
The Calvin Report: Non-League Day sees thriller down in eighth tier but winners may not survive the week
Sunday 08 September 2013
If this was the end, after 141 years, Kettering Town obeyed theatrical tradition and left them wanting more. Victory, surreal, uplifting and entirely appropriate, was sealed by captain Steve Kinniburgh two minutes from the end of what the High Court may decree is their final fixture.
"Let's hope it is the first of many more wins," said an optimistic soul over the public address system as part-time players, a collection of strangers assembled in the shadow of adversity, fell into each other's arms. "Keep the faith."
They will be forced to seek a new club if Kettering fail to overturn the winding-up order issued due to a disputed debt of £58,000 owed, with savage irony, to a shell company representing an extinct club, Rushden & Diamonds.
Calor League Division One Central, the eighth tier of English football, has never seemed so alluring. Kettering's recent history might have been a catalogue of mismanagement, alienation and false hope, but the collection buckets were full to the brim with banknotes.
Ken Samuel is 61 this month and was first taken to watch Kettering by his father at the age of two. He was initially mollified by a steady stream of sweets, but as he grew up, football, and Saturdays spent in the old wooden stand at Rockingham Road became one of the pillars of his life.
He saw Tommy Lawton's team win the Southern League in 1957. Ron Atkinson, all barrel-chest and bravado, did the same in 1973, when the development of his managerial alter-ego began to accelerate. Derek Dougan, entrepreneurial, aggressive and articulate, defied the FA in 1976, when they became the first British club to play with a sponsor's name on their shirts.
By that time, Samuel had progressed from the Junior Supporters' Club, to play on the wing for the reserves. He has since painted the ground, mended the fences, and made the teas. He has overseen the catering, edited the match programme and worked as an unofficial scout.
He's now a director, without the airs and graces that title implies. "I do anything and everything I can to keep the club going. This club has given me some good times and some sad times."
Every home game involves a round trip of 160 miles. "I always want to go back. It is a form a love, I suppose. It gets into your blood. I've lived away for 37 years now, and if the club goes the town will die a little.
"Why fight to save it? There is a sense of identification. People care. They rally around in times of distress. We've had people from all over the world donating over the last three days. A fiver, here, a tenner there. It all adds up."
The spasm of sympathy even involved Graham Reid, chairman of yesterday's opponents Aylesbury United. He offered his services, as an insolvency expert, for free. Dunstable Town donated a proportion of gate receipts from their midweek home game against Kettering.
Dean Thomas, Kettering's sixth manager in three seasons, reported for a four-hour shift in his day job, as a timber salesman, in Wolverhampton at 7am yesterday. He drives 60,000 miles a year and is wary of spending too much time on football.
He has only two contracted players. The rest are essentially free agents, who could walk away on a whim. None earn more than £100 a week, a sum which tends to be swallowed up in petrol. He recruited four new players for yesterday's win.
"There's an old saying in non league, 'come for a fiver, go for a fiver'," he said. "Players at this level have to trust the manager. It has obviously been a traumatic week, and all I can do is be honest with them. They know I will be straight with them. I'm not going to fabricate anything.
"It is difficult to get them here, because other managers and players are telling them 'why bother? They'll be out of business soon'. All I can hope is they see the potential of the place, and the size of the fanbase. I still believe."
If Non-League Day was supposed to offer a stark perspective it succeeded on every possible level. There are two separate rights of way across the Latimer Park pitch and notices warn dog owners to "scoop your poop".
Aylesbury goalkeeper Jack Sillitoe, who can charitably be described as rotund, was inevitably informed he had eaten all the pies by fans in a marquee behind his goal. He was beaten twice in the opening 10 minutes, by Rob Foster's near-post header and a crisp shot on the turn by Ashley Fuller, but Aylesbury led 3-2 on the hour, through goals by Steve Hatch, Jack Wood and Keith Williams.
Substitute Lewis Wilson equalised before Kinniburgh, who missed a penalty, "released so many conflicting emotions" by scoring the winner from close range. Samuel, like the rest of the 743 crowd, was drained.
"I've brought my son and daughter here, just as my dad took me," he said. "My wife hosts the boardroom. I met her through the club. It has been a family experience, in more ways than one. If we go out of business, it will tear a massive hole in our lives. If the worst happens, at least we've gone out with a win."
Kettering Town (4-4-2): Horton; A Deeney, Logan (Newman, 85), Piercewright, Fox; Hamilton, D Deeney, Kinniburgh, Fuller (Muzvimbiri, 63); Thorpe, Foster (Wilson, 63)
Aylesbury United (4-4-2): Sillitoe; Reynolds, Hatch (Allen, 89), Wood, K Williams; Baines, Armstrong, G Williams (Grace, 46), Smyth; Blackett, Acheampong (Field, 73).
Referee Graham Kinnear.
Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes
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