The Trend Setters….

A little birdy tells me that sometime in the next month Manchester United will announce the world most lucrative shirt sponsorship deal in the history of football.  Since AIG announced they would not be renewing their deal in January 2009, the list of companies wanting to be associated with the world’s biggest football club has been a mystery that Scooby Doo would have been hard pushed to solve.  Some say T-Mobile had thrown in their hat, others say that Bwin are very keen on adding the Red Devils into their band of superbrands with AC Milan and Real Madrid.  This season alone the six major leagues in Europe earnt over £350m in shirt sponsorship yet these clubs would be nowhere if it wasn’t for a small club in the middle of Northamptonshire.

The superstars of modern football who earn some of their megabucks from these huge deals should every year send a magnum of champagne to Kettering Town, for it was them under the guidance of Derek Dougan who brokered the first ever shirt sponsorship deal back in 1976.  During the seventies football revenue came solely from the central pool, with a little bit of perimeter boards.

The shirt that started the billion pound ball rolling

The shirt that started the billion pound ball rolling

Dougan was a forward thinker and saw an opportunity to bring some more money in for the club.  He did a deal with local company Kettering Tyres, and for their Southern League game against Bath City the team ran onto the pitch sporting the words “Kettering Tyres” (See left) on their chests.  The stuffy old FA went mad and ordered the club to remove the blatent advertising.  Dougan simply removed the world Tyres but left a large “T”, claiming it stood for Town.  The FA still insisted this was illegal and threatened the club with a £1,000 fine and they relented.  However, just over a year later the Football Association changed the rules and opened the door to shirt sponsorship as we know it today.

The club’s formative years were spent in the leagues around the Midlands and Southern Leagues, and they actually came lose to being elected into the Football League in 1974 under the guidance of Ron Atkinson.  Due to their high profile in the regional leagues they were asked to become a founder member of the Alliance Premier League in 1979, and were runners up at this level 1981.  After a couple of brief spells back in the Southern Leagues they were promoted in 2002 back to the Conference, albeit into the newly formed Northern division.  In 2005 the club were taken over by Imraan Ladak who promptly appointed a frail Paul Gascoigne as manager.  The England legend lasted just over a month before he left in uncertain circumstances with the club.  Under a series of new managers the club began to climb the table and 12 months after losing a play off to Farsley Celtic they were promoted at the end of 2008 as Conference North champions.

This season under Mark Cooper the club have made huge steps forward, benefiting from some of the changes made whilst in the lower divisions (such as going full time).  They have spent most of the season in the top ten although they have constantly had games in hand on their rivals.  In fact coming into this game they were in 9th place in the league but had six games in hand on second place Cambridge United and trailing them by just thirteen points.  Whilst many pundits would always say it is better to have points in the bag, the games in hand are being used as a rallying call by the club to try and move up the league and to get into the play offs.  Two consecutive promotions at this level is almost unheard of, but as they have proved in the past, Kettering Town are no stranger to breaking with tradition.  As a final footnote to the rise of the club and coming in a full circle, they signed their most recent sponsorship deal in 2007 with Palestine Aid, the aid organisation that tries to raise awareness of the humanitarian issues the Palestinians face.  It was rumoured that the club’s adoption of this charity cost them TV revenue when ITV opted to show the FA Cup 4th round game between Hartlepool United and West Ham instead of the Kettering Town versus Fulham one for fear of offending some viewers.

The visitors, Eastbourne Borough had also moved up a division this season and sat very comfortably in 13th place, safe from relegation but too far away from a play off spot.  I had seen them a few weeks ago (see I Do like to be beside the seaside post) and was impressed with the way they played.  This was going to be a real test for them as their away form had been excellent of late, especially as they had recently taken West Ham youngster Jack Jeffrey on loan for the rest of the season.

Lolly and I headed off straight after swimming lessons (her not me I should add) and parked up outside the ground in a less more than 90 minutes later.  One of the easier stadiums to find, just off the A43 and by getting there an hour before kick off we had managed to bag one of the few free on street parking spaces next to the ground.  As we had skipped lunch we headed into the Wimpey, next to the main stand, to relive some dark days of my young by consuming a Big Bender – come on you all remember them!

Back into the 21st century we headed into the ground, taking a seat in the strange Main Stand that only ran for two thirds of the length of the ground.  The rest of the stadium was standard non-league fayre with two low terraces and a cover “cowshed” terrace on the opposite side to us which was where the more vocal Kettering fans were located.  Bolted onto the top of this stand was a small open box, branded McDonalds making it in our view the smallest branch in the world.

Kettering Town 0 Eastbourne Borough 1 – The A-Line Insurance Arena – Saturday 14th March 2009

Summer's here

Summer's here

Two names stood out on the Kettering teamsheet.  Firstly, the man with the huge throw ins (see Game of the Day for more details), Exodus Geohaghon was back in the centre of defence meaning an aerial bombardment was on the cards for the Eastbourne defenders, and secondly a certain Jason Lee was on the subs bench.  Surely not THE Jason Lee, the one man joke that propelled Baddiel and Skinner through a whole series of Fantasy Football in the mid 1990’s due to his comical hair – yep one and the same.  He certainly looked quite mean and in remarkably good shape.  What a perfect foil he would be for these throw ins if Kettering were training at any point……

Normally I talk at length about the game, picking up on the talking points of the game and analysing them in depth.  However, I can quite honestly say that during the first seventy five minutes of the game there was nothing to mention.  It wasn’t that it was dull, it was simply that the strong wind made any football very difficult.  In the first half there was no one single chance on goal.  The 100 or so Eastbourne fans took refuge in the snack bar at the back of the terrace, taking solace in their chips with mushy peas.  The only real taking point was the number of balls that were sailing over the perimeter walls of the ground, causing the rather large steward a few trips to shed a calorie or two.

Despite having the throw on weapon, Kettering kept it under wraps throughout the whole game.  The one turning point came in the 77th minute when Eastbourne threw on subsitute Nathan Crabb, brother of Matt Crabb who had been the most industrious player on show.  The two brothers cannot weigh more than twenty stone between them and it was amazing that they managed to stand with the strong wind blowing in their faces.  However it was Matt Crabb’s surging run that unlocked the defence and he threaded the bal through to his brother, who after getting a lucky deflection off the defender, put the ball into the net for the only goal of the game.

The game ended much as it had taken place with more huffing and puffing.  Kettering’s promotion push had come off the rails temporarily.  This was their fourth home game in eleven games, and with two more in the next sisx days it is understandable that tiredness was starting to affect the team.  On another day with more clement weather it may have been a different story, but for today it would have to be a case of the Big Bender – best forgotten.

About the A-Line Arena
A proper football ground whose traditional looking floodlights can be seen for miles around. A fairly open ground that has open terracing at either end. Both are small terraces, however the home terrace the Cowper Street End is larger than the Rockingham Road End Terrace, which is allocated to away supporters. A number of houses can be seen behind the home end (some of which get a free view of the game), whilst the away end has a number of trees situated behind it.

On one side is the large Main Stand. It is a large cantilever stand that is covered and all seated. This stand extends for just over half the pitch in length. Unusually, rather than the stand straddling the half way line, it is located towards the Rockingham Road End of the ground. To the other side of the stand is the Club House and in the corner with the Cowper Street End, there are the two storey club offices that overlook the ground. Opposite the Main Stand is the partly covered (to the rear) Britannia Road Terrace. Again this is a small terrace, that has a small TV gantry perched on the front of its roof and a fair number of supporting pillars. The ground has some interesting looking floodlights, that at one time must have been arranged as the letter ‘K” – again another first in Britain.

Thanks to Duncan Adam’s excellent website – for the above information.

How to get to the A-Line Arena
If you are driving to Rockingham Road then the easiest way to get there is to leave the A14 at Junction 7 and take the A43 signposted Corby/Kettering. At the first roundabout turn right onto the A6003 towards Kettering and the ground is located down this road on the left. There is limited parking at the ground, but plenty of street parking is to be found.

If you are coming by train then Kettering is served on a regular basis on trains from St Pancreas and Nottingham via Leicester. To get to the ground from the station you can either get a taxi which will be around £5 or you can walk. Carry on up the hill from the station and simply keep following this road past Morrison’s and the Co-Op. It should take you no more than 20 minutes.

How to get a ticket for the A-Line Arena
Apart from the odd FA Cup game such as the tie against Fulham this season, sell outs are unheard of.  Whilst tickets can be purchased in advance, there is no issue in turning up on the day and paying on the door.  For most games a ticket for the main stand is £15 (£16 for “local” games versus Rushden, Cambridge, Stevenage and Oxford) and £4 for concessions, where as a terrace place is £13 and £4 respectively.

The Game of the Day

With Fulham deciding to charge us poor (well we will be once we have paid £30m or so to Sheffield United, and God knows how much to those distressed Blades fans who are now suing us!) West Ham fans £48 for a seat in the temporary stand at Craven Cottage, and the Little Fullers off for a day of parties, I scanned the fixtures for a suitable game.  The usual criteria applied:-

1. A ground that I had not been to for more than 5 years;

2. Less than an hour’s drive away

3. Ticket price less than £20

So that immediately ruled out every league club in London and the South East of England.  The one possible exception was QPR who were at home to Derby County, but the only available tickets were a whopping £40 so that was knocked on the head.  So I cast the net a bit wider and went into the Blue Square Premier League and game across a little gem that hit all 3 criteria – Crawley Town versus Kettering Town.

As luck would have it this was also the biggest game of the season so far in the Blue Square, as it was first versus second.  Crawley Town had had a nightmare last few seasons, going into Administration on two separate occasions plus being fined and had points docked at the start of last season due to bringing the game into disrepute.

With a lack of players available for the start of last season the future looked very bleak for the club.  However, they managed to survive the season, finishing in 15th place.  This season a huge breath of fresh air has blown through the club and they had started in fantastic fashion.  Seven wins out of their first eleven games, and top scorers too boot saw a huge reversal of fortune for the club and they came into the game in top spot.

The visitors Kettering Town had also had a turbulent recent past, including a stint in charge by Paul Gascoigne.  Last season they were promoted from the Blue Square Northern division.  But five wins and five draws from their first eleven games saw them come into the game on a real high.

Crawley’s problems in the late 1990’s can be seen to stem back to the move to the new stadium, Broadfield, located on the edge of the town and close to the M23.  It is a typical new build stadium with a capacity of around 4,000.  It was certainly easy to find, just a mile from junction 11 of the motorway and only just over 30 minutes from home.

Crawley Town 1 Kettering Town 0 – Saturday 27th September 2008


Another attack of imagination

Another attack of imagination

The Broadfield Stadium could hardly be described as having much character.  In fact Crawley could hardly be called a town with any character, although it appears to be very neat and tidy, which quite nicely sums up the stadium too.  For £2 I got a parking space just outside the south stand, although you have to drive through the beer “garden” of the club bar much to the disgust of the drinkers – “Oi mate, your Zafira spilt my pint!”.  The Crawley chairman had urged fans to get to the stadium early to avoid congestion, and pulling up at an empty car park at 2.45pm I thought it may have been a little bit of a hollow statement.

At least the admission price was sensible.  £13 for a terrace place was good value, and despite being just one level below the Football League they had not tried to price the fans out, as some nameless teams had (Ok, Aldershot Town).  The stadium is 4/5ths terracing which one large covered stand that runs from penalty box to penalty box.  Behind each goal the terracing is covered, allowing both sets of fans to create a noise.  Along the other side of the pitch is a 3 step open terrace, which if required can be made bigger and roofed should league football come at the end of the season without much fuss or disruption.

One thing I did love was the sign for “Home Cooked Food”.  I queued up and for £6.50 got a Bacon Cheeseburger, chips and a cup of tea.  All cooked in front of my eyes.  So unless the two ladies actually lived in this small kitchen I would seriously doubt that this statement was actually true!

The form of the two teams coming into the game was certainly impressive.  Kettering’s only defeat had come 6 days earlier away at Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion, and Crawley were on the back of a 8 game unbeaten run.  You would have expected the Blue Square Conference to be dominated, even at an early stage by the relegated teams, who this year were Mansfield Town and Wrexham but it never works like this.  It is actually rare for a relegated team to bounce straight back up into the leagues.  Hereford United, now in League One had taken over eight seasons to make the journey back, and last season both Aldershot Town and Exeter City returned to the league after big gaps away.  This season, apart from the two teams on show here, the top of the table included other unfashionable names such as Histon and Salisbury City proving the competitiveness of this league and further strengthening calls to actually make it part of the Football League structure.

I had high expectations of the game, and the crowd.  However, I was disappointed on both counts.  Looking at the programme for previous attendances I was very surprised to see their five games so far produce a total of just over 6,500 at an average of 1,300.  I am sure that league football would bring the locals out in force but clubs like Crawley need the support on a weekly basis now.  It was also interesting to see on such a sunny day the huge variety in replica shirts on display.  I counted 8 different Premier League ones, a couple of Championship ones, one from Division One (Leeds United) as well as five or six international ones.  Plus one from Glentoran in Northern Ireland!  Many of the locals were sporting Crawley ones though so at least there was some passion there.

The game itself was poor.  I was expecting so much more and I left very disappointed.  The ball spent so much time in the air which explained why the pitch was in such condition.  I appreciate it was a warm afternoon but even so with so little skill on display by both teams it makes you wonder how they would survive at a higher level.  The only goal of the game came on the 11th minute mark when Crawley’s centre forward Jon-Paul Pittman finished well from close range after a free kick had not been cleared.  Kettering’s main weapon was the huge throw-ins from their centre back with a fantastic name, Exodus Geohaghan.  Towards the end of the first half one of the rockets actually ended up with the ball, goalkeeper and defender in the net but unsurprisingly the referee called the friendly shoulder charge illegal.

Exodus’s last contribution in the game was a second clumsy challenge on the Crawley forward in the 60th minute and he made like his name seeing a red card.  These combined incidents, coupled with a penalty not being awarded incensed the away fans, and two of them decided to invade the pitch to try and get to the referee.  Unfortunately they made such a hash of negotiating firstly a crush barrier (trying to climb it instead of going under it) and then the advertising hoardings (requiring a “hand” from another support to get his leg over) that the officials had time to call the police, drive to the stadium, park, enter the ground and casually walk over to the stand to intercept them before they got onto the pitch.

So with two minutes to go I made my retreat, walking a total of 17 steps from terrace to car door.  Now who said that this was Mickey Mouse football!

About the Broadfield Stadium – Capacity: 4,996
The Broadfield is typical of a number of new stadiums built at a non-league level.  It is functional, neat and not really ambitious but does allow the club to expand as the team progresses through the leagues.  It opened on a new greenfield site to the south of the town centre in 1997.  It has one large single tier covered stand that has seating for around 1,000 fans that unusually runs from penalty box to penalty box.  Supporters enter either side of the main stand for all parts.  Opposite this stand is a shallow 3 step uncovered terrace, which could be made bigger (and roofed) if the club gain promotion to the Football League structure, although based on the current facilities the stadium would meet the entry criteria.  Behind each goal (and around the corners to meet the Main Stand) are covered terraces with 6 steps.  The home fans congregate behind the south goal.

The stadium has a large bar, called Reds, which is part of the south stand and allows fans the opportunity to meet and have a beer before and after the game.

How To Get To The Broadfield Stadium
If you are driving to the stadium then it is one of the easiest to find in English football.  Exit the M23 at junction eleven and take the exit on the roundabout signposted Crawley A23.  The stadium is a mile down this road on your left.  You can either park on the grass verge as you approach the stadium, or in the leisure centre car park on the opposite carriageway.  Alternatively for £2 you can have one of the 600 spaces at the ground, although it may take a time to leave at the final whistle.  If you are coming by train, get off at Gatwick and follow signs for local buses where you can get a Fastway 10 or 20 bus direct to the stadium for £1.50.  The former also calls at Crawley station (journey time 5 minutes) whilst the latter calls at Three Bridges station (journey time 10 minutes).

How To Get A Ticket For The Broadfield Stadium
Unless the club draw a big team in the FA Cup you will always be able to pay on the turnstiles to get it.  A terrace place costs £13 for Adults and £4 for Children, and a place in the Main Stand is £16 and £6.  You can also pay £30 for a seat in the Executive area which includes a hot meal beforehand and all the trappings of non-league luxury.  You can book tickets for this area by calling the club on 01293 410000.