Thursday, 9 June 2016

My all-time Poppies XI

As football supporters we all have our favorite players past and present from the clubs we support. It could make interesting debate to sit in a pub with fellow fans and argue why your favorites should be in your clubs best XI. Well I'm not in the pub, it's just me and i have sat and put together a team of my favorites from my 27 years of being a Kettering Town supporter.

I have not gone for a best eleven selected on just natural ability although i think all XI in the side all had different high levels of footballing ability. Some have made it into my team by their pure hard work and what they gave to the club in their time with KTFC. I gave gone for a modern 4-2-3-1 formation and i am sure some will like my team whilst others will disagree and think other players deserve a play. That's the beauty of it all and shows how football can be a great source of debate.

So here it is for you all to chew over.



GOALKEEPER: Lee Harper - Lee Harper was signed by Mark Cooper in August 2007 after he had left MK Dons at the end of the previous season. Harper had the lot a booming kick, a superb organizer and a top draw shot stopper. He played a major part in the 07/08 Blue Square North title winning side and performed equality as well in the clubs return to the Conference. One of his best KTFC games came live on ITV in the home FA Cup game against Leeds United. Not just a great keeper but a fantastic person to. Lee Also had a spell as player/manager after Mark Cooper left for Peterborough United.

RIGHT-BACK: John Dempster - Signed from Oxford United in January 2007 John Dempster was not only a quality defender but a player who always gave 100% whenever he pulled on a Kettering Town shirt. He was a local lad who knew what Kettering Town FC meant to the supporters and not only did he play for the club he played for his team mates and the fans. Dempster played over 180 games for the club and i think you could count on one hand the poor games he had in that time. He left in January 2011 to join Crawley Town and returned the following season for a brief loan spell.

CENTRE-BACK: Guy Branston - Guy Branston joined The Poppies in February 2008 and could have easily been classed as a journeyman defender after spell at a number of football league clubs. I know he was not every Poppies fans cup of tea but i loved the way he played the game. He had a will to win, he would run through a brick wall to get three points and he was that much of a unit not many strikers got the better off him. He was without doubt my kind of defender. Branno left the club in July 2009 and joined Burton Albion.

CENTRE-BACK: Steven Holden - Steve Holden was signed by Graham Carr from Carlisle United and for me was one of the best footballing centre-backs i have seen play for Kettering. He could read the game so well and built up a superb partnership with Darren Oxbrow at the heart of the Poppies defence and earned the terrace chant of "You'll never beat Steve Holden" for good reason. Good in the air and loved a tackle Steve was released by Gary Johnson in January 1996 and signed for local rivals Rushden & Diamonds on a free transfer.

 LEFT-BACK: James Jennings - "JJ" only spent one season with The Poppies but despite that for me he's the best all round Left-Back i have seen play for Kettering just pipping Tommy Jaszczun to that spot. He was as good attacking as he was defending and could read the game well and had a good turn of pace. Brought to the club by Mark Cooper in 2009 it's a shame he was not at the club for a longer spell than the year he was. He moved on to Cambridge United in 2010 and has gone on to become one of the best left-backs outside of the football league. Has just recently joined 2015/16 Conference Premier champions Cheltenham Town.

 RIGHT MIDFIELD: Craig Westcarr - Craig Westcarr was signed by Morell Maison in the summer of 2006 and for his first two seasons he played mainly as an out and out striker. But it was when Mark Cooper switched him to more of a wider role that Craig really began to shine. A player with a fantastic dead ball delivery Craig chalked up a number of assists for The Poppies and still chipped in with goals to his most notable being his brace against Premier League Fulham in the FA Cup.

CENTRAL MIDFIELD: Richard Butcher - "Butch" was a Carl Shutt signing in October 2001 following his release from Rushden & Diamonds. He was a real box to box midfield player who added real energy and class to the Poppies midfield. He played a major part in bringing the Dr Martens Premier League title to Rockingham Road in the 01/02 season. Richard made the step up to Conference Premier football with ease and was the stand out player in a struggling Kettering side. He moved to Lincoln City in November 2002. Sadly Richard passed away in January 2011 aged only 29 from a rare heart condition.

 CENTRAL MIDFIELD: Brett Solkhon - Brett joined The Poppies in March 2003 when Carl Shutt snapped him up from Rushden & Diamonds. Brett quite simply is Mr Kettering Town and in three separate spells has made over 400 appearances in a Poppies shirt. Brett has a superb will to win attitude and is simply one of the fans playing for the team. He loves the club and gives everything in every game he plays. Also scores important goals and weighed in with double figures in the Blue Square North and Southern League Division One title winning sides.

LEFT MIDFIELD: Jamie Paterson - "Patto" was signed from Barrow by Kevin Wilson in October 2004 and at the time for me it was one of those "I can't believe we have signed him" signings. Had seen Jamie rip Kettering apart many a time for both Halifax Town and Doncaster Rovers so i knew what a class act he was. Despite his small size he loved a tackle but his skill and passing ability always shone through. He scored one of the best Kettering goals I've seen with a half-way line lob against Hinckley on New Years Day 2005. Quite simply a class player.

ATTACKING MIDFIELD: Phil Brown - Brownie was first brought to the club in the Summer of 1990 by Peter Morris who signed him from Lincoln City. Another small and smart player he scored a number of goals for The Poppies in two spells including being the clubs top scorer in the 92/93 season. A player who always gave his all and who in the troubled 92/93 season when not being paid by the club could have walked away but he stuck with the club and will always be a big favorite with the Poppies fans.

STRIKER: Carl Alford - Carl was signed by Graham Carr in July 1994 for a club record £25,000. He was simply an out and out goalscorer who scored 54 goals in just 94 games. Carl scored all sorts of goals, headers, tap-ins, free-kicks, penalty's and a few long range screamers and in his time with Kettering became the best striker outside of the football league. Bids were rejected from league sides for Carl but on transfer deadline day 1996 the club accepted an £85,000 offer from Rushden & Diamonds and Carl moved on meaning the most natural goalscorer i have seen in a Poppies shirt was moving to pastures new.

Monday, 6 June 2016

The year we nearly beat Fulham...

The FA Cup for me is quite simply the greatest knock out cup competition in the World. Yes the top flight clubs may not view it with the importance they once did but football supporters still love it and when like me you follow a Non League team you know your side are not going to win the competition but you know you could end up getting some amazing memories as well as your club being in the national spot light.

Kettering Town have had some amazing FA Cup matches, some that have given me my best times as a Poppies fan. And the club itself has an important part in the FA Cup as they hold the record for the most goals scored by a club in the history of the competition. That is a record to be proud of being able to say the team your support are the Top Scorers in the FA Cup.

My first ever FA Cup match as a Kettering Town supporter was in the First Round of the 1989/90 seasons competition and a home game against county rivals Northampton Town. We lost that day but it was my first taste of what the FA Cup is all about and what it means to players and supporters. In my time as a Poppies fan i have seen us knock out a few league sides with victories over Maidstone United, Hull City, Lincoln City, Notts County and Hartlepool United bringing some great memories. But i have also seen us be beaten by the underdogs with defeats to lower league sides such as Chelmsford City, Bedworth United, Hinckley United, Taunton Town and a painful 5-0 hammering at home to Hastings United still very much fresh in the mind.

But of all my FA Cup campaigns as a Poppies supporter the 2008/09 seasons FA Cup was the best for me by a long way.
A run to the 4th round proper before going down 4-2 at home to Premier League side Fulham managed by the now England Manager Roy Hodgson. The run started in the 4th Qualifying Round and a comfortable 3-0 home win over Burton Albion. That set up a home game in the 1st Round against Third Division Lincoln City and despite taking the lead through Exoudus Geohaghon it was back to Sincil Bank for a replay after The Imps came back to snatch a 1-1 draw.

The first match had more drama off the pitch than on it after the Lincoln City manager Peter Jackson made allegations that his assistant manager Iffy Onuora had been racially abused by a Kettering fan in the main stand at Rockingham Road. Imraan Ladak the then Kettering chairman added some fuel to the fire by claiming Lincoln fans had not behaved themselves before, during and after the match and that maybe Jackson should have dealt with his allegations a bit better rather than declare it to the national media. It certainly became headline news and made the atmosphere for the reply very high charged.

The away support at Lincoln 
The replay is up there as one of my favorite all time Kettering Town games. The atmosphere the Poppies fans made that night still gives me goosebumps now thinking about it. The phrase "Being the 12th man" was created for nights like that at Lincoln. There was 800 Kettering fans in the ground that night but the noise created sounded five times that number. Every away fan in that ground got behind the team vocally and you could clearly see the lift it gave the players as to a man they were superb. Coming from 1-0 down to record a fully deserved 2-1 victory given to us by a last minute back post header from Iyesden Christie. The result meant so much and helped stick two fingers up to the Lincoln camp that had publicly painted Kettering Town in such a bad light. The fan accused of the racial abuse was later found not guilty of the accusations in court, Lincoln City never apologized but no one ever really expected them to.

The second Round brought a trip to League Two side Notts County. I had a great weekend as a few of us went up to Nottingham on the Saturday morning, took in the Nottingham Forest v Barnsley game on the Saturday afternoon, had a night out in Nottingham at night and then on to Meadow Lane for a 1pm kick-off on the Sunday. Over 1800 Poppies fans were there to witness another superb team performance and despite taking the lead thanks to a Brett Solkhon goal we all left rather disappointed to only draw the game 1-1 as for long spells we were much the better side.

The players celebrate Seddon's winner
The replay at Rockingham Road was screened live on Setanta Sports and yet again a very large and vocal Poppies support got behind the players. If you never knew the two sides and viewed the game you would have though Kettering were the league side. Unfortunate to go in at half-time a goal behind in the second half we dominated throughout and two goals in a minute from Brett Solkhon and Gareth Seddon saw Kettering move into the third round. We knew our opponents and it was Eastwood Town from The Northern Premier League at home. But the lads had done us proud again and there was even a token pitch invasion at the end of the game.

Kettering attack the Eastwood goal
The third round tie against Eastwood had a different feel to it. In the previous two rounds we had been the underdogs but this time it was us that were expected to win the game and Eastwood were the ones with nothing to lose. There was a sharp over night frost before the game but thankfully the pitch had been covered so it was very much game on. Over 5000 packed into Rockingham Road to watch the game, even the Britannia Road drummer made a return. The game was an edgy affair but nerves were settled when late in the first half Craig Westcarr gave the Poppies the lead. Early in the second half it was 2-0 with a fine finish from Gareth Seddon. To their credit Eastwood never gave up and pulled a goal back before penning the Poppies back for the final ten minutes with a real aerial bombardment but The defence marshaled by Guy Branston held firm.

The draw for the 4th round was made live on Sunday afternoon live on TV. Fans gathered around TV's and the Social club at Rockingham Road was packed out. Everyone hoping to draw a Manchester United or an Arsenal. We got neither but still landed a home draw against Premier League opposition with Roy Hodgson's Fulham to be the visitors to Rockingham Road.

The day of the game brought a lot of excitement. The town and the club had been the focus of the national media in the days leading up to the game and a sell out crowd including some temporary terracing on the Britannia Road terracing only added to the excitement. Fulham's squad was packed full of international stars and premier league house hold names such as Danny Murphy, Bobby Zamora, Andy Johnson and Clint Dempsey and personally i just hoped we would do ourselves proud and not suffer a heavy defeat.

What was served up by Kettering was a superb performance. We more than matched Fulham for most of the game and in the end we were only three minutes away from a replay at Craven Cottage. When Simon Davies gave Fulham an early lead it was easy to expect a long and tough afternoon for The Poppies. But the early set back seemed to spark Kettering into life and and just before half-time Craig Westcarr's deflected free-kick made the score 1-1. Celebrating the goal was a strange experience because not only was there joy but also a sense of "Is this real, have we just equalized against a premier league side" but in truth the goal was more than deserved.

Westcarr's free-kick hits the Fulham net
The second half is probably one of the best 45 minutes of football I have seen from a Kettering side. We were the better side, we were creating but unfortunately missing a lot of chances and it was clear Fulham were rattled. Fulham made us pay for missed chances when England International Danny Murphy put them in front with the aid of a massive deflection but Kettering heads never dropped and with eight minutes left it was 2-2 when Brede Hangeland pulled down Craig Westcarr in the area for a penalty. Given Westcarr was about to shoot and Hangeland was the last man just a yellow card for the Fulham man seemed very lucky for them. But Westcarr held his nerve, stepped up and fired the penalty low into the corner to bring the loudest Rockingham Road roar i think I've ever heard.

But football is a cruel game at times and with just two minutes left on the clock Fulham went back in front when Andy Johnson turned in a Bobby Zamora knock down from close range before a minute later Zamora fired home from the edge of the area to give the final score a very flattering look of 4-2. I remember feeling pride in my team but also being gutted at the way we had lost. We deserved at the very least a replay but you could not be to down as we had more than matched our premier league opponents. The cup run was over and whilst it ended in bitter disappointment it created some wonderful memories. 

But that cup run of 08/09 will stay with me forever and holds memories i still treasure.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

It all started on April Fools Day...........No Joke!!

Rockingham Road how i first Remember It 
Being a Kettering Town Fan has been a time full off highs and lows like at all football clubs worldwide. But Kettering Town Football Club have had some major dramas more than once or twice in the years i have followed them. After 27 years of following The Poppies i thought i would start a blog looking back at some of the stories and dramas in that time as well as a look at some of my favorite games and players of the past 25+ years.

It's all rather fitting really that my love affair with Kettering Town started on April Fools Day. April 1st 1989 to be precise a home game at Rockingham Road in the GM Vauxhall Conference against Welling United.  The 88/89 season had been a good one for the club and the Town after spending most of the season in a battle with Maidstone United for promotion to the Football League as well as a superb run to the 4th Round of the FA Cup that ended with a narrow 2-1 defeat away at top flight club Charlton Athletic.

I had not been to any games prior to that game against Welling. I remember at that time my Dad use to work most Saturdays as a ground keeper at various council ran leisure facilities and i would spend most my Saturday's going along with him, nine times out of ten kicking a ball around because i was football mad. I was at the time a Liverpool fan, use to have the full kit and my hero was Ian Rush. But i can remember the buzz around Kettering at the time regards The Poppies and their FA Cup exploits and remember the Town and the Club being on the TV a lot in that time but i never really understood how big it was.

Then one day in late March my Dad came home from work and said on Saturday he was going along to the Kettering game with a guy from work, asked if i wanted to go along to and i said yes. Even now i can still remember how excited i was with the thought of going to a live Football match. So much so i can remember everything about the day even now 27 years on.

We left home and  dad drove to the house of his workmate we were going to the match with. He lived on a side street off Rockingham Road and we parked outside his house before walking to the ground. I can still remember that walked up Rockingham Road and remember the first sight i saw of the ground was one of the massive floodlights that stuck out above the trees. As we reached the ground we entered the Rockingham Road end turnstile. After coming through there was a flight of stairs and after the climb there it was, Rockingham Road and i was impressed i loved it.

We stood at the center of the Britannia Road side of the ground and i can remember how busy it was and how hot it was in the sun that afternoon. Over 4000 people were in the ground and the atmosphere was something i had never witnessed before, to say i was hooked from that moment was an understatement.

Kettering won the match 2-1, after going 1-0 down thanks to two goals from Lil Fuccillo the second being a last minute penalty and the noise when that spot kick went in was almost deafening. I went away from Rockingham Road that afternoon no longer a Liverpool fan but a Kettering Town fan but unaware of the ups and down that lay ahead being a fan of KTFC.