8 October 2012

Kettering: Now THAT's a crisis

Kettering Town's caretaker boss Alan Doyle has an impossible job.

If you thought Portsmouth fans were going through hard times, spare a thought for those souls in Northamptonshire that follow Kettering Town.

The Poppies' financial troubles really came home to roost on Saturday, where they played their entire Southern League Premier Division match against Bashley with just 10 players. Their goalkeeper Ben Gathercole did not show up, although their situation was so bad that if he had, he would have featured at left-back.

Afterwards, caretaker manager Alan Doyle revealed that Gathercole had refused to play because he and several other players were owed wages by Kettering. It wasn't until Doyle pledged to give him some money out of his pocket that Gathercole considered turning up - but he never did.

Unsurprisingly, Bashley exploited the home team's one-man deficit by thrashing them 7-0.

So far, Kettering are rock bottom of the Southern League Premier with no wins from nine games and -5 points to their names. They had ten points deducted for financial irregularities, which begs the question: How did they get into a financial quagmire?

You have to go back to 2005, when a consortium led by businessman Imraan Ladak bought Kettering. One of Ladak's first big decisions was to hire Paul Gascoigne as manager. As you would expect from someone who was a loyal servent to Burnley, Boston United and Gansu Tianma, Gascoigne left the club after just 39 days.

Ladak's chairmanship would be a very eventful one, which saw him go through several managers, and he even hired Ron Atkinson as director of football for a few months. To find out more on the 'enigmatic' Ladak, have a read of this interesting article from 2010.

In 2009, the Poppies got all the way to Round 4 of the FA Cup. They even took the lead twice against Premier League Fulham before bravely falling 4-2. The following season, they finished 6th in the Conference Premier, and it looked like the seeds were sewn for Kettering's charge into the Football League.

In 2011/2012, Kettering left their ground of 114 years - Rockingham Road - to move into the more modern Nene Park stadium vacated by the defunct Rushden & Diamonds. One of the ground's first Kettering home games saw team-mates Moses Ashikodi and Jean-Paul Marna come to blows. Ashikodi was placed on an 11-man transfer list later in September. That was pretty bad, but then in November, the whole of the Poppies's squad was put up for sale.

By now, the club was in such severe financial difficulties that they couldn't pay their players full wages. Ladak denied that the club itself was up for sale, but admitted that there was a dispute over sponsorship money. Kettering were reportedly owed over £400,000!

In February, Ladak was replaced at the helm of Kettering by new chairman George Rolls. Relegation to the Conference North/South followed in April, but a month later, Rolls told a fans forum that debts had topped £1million. The club entered into a Company Voluntary Arrangement that would see them relegated a further division, into the Southern League Premier.

But Rolls wasn't a good egg - in June, the FA banned him from football for five years for breaches of betting rules. He was replaced as chairman by Ritchie Jeune, who resigned after a few days, paving the way for Ladak - who still owned Kettering but had taken a back seat - to come back to prominence.

Now, though, to say the situation at Kettering Town is dire would be to play it down. Kettering still have a transfer embargo in place, so cannot sign any players, and more of their current staff are walking out over unpaid wages. The prospects of the Poppies ever being able to field a full team again aren't looking great.

Another non-league club who are trying to get out of the quicksand is Truro City, the Cornish club who famously won the 2007 FA Vase before shooting up the leagues. After arriving in the Conference South, the liquidation of chairman Kevin Heaney's housing company hit home for Truro, and a club that spent big even by the standards of some FL teams was now around £700,000 in debt, and battling for its very future.

Last month, Truro went into administration, and as a result slumped to the bottom of the division. A proposed takeover by a former manager has collapsed, and unless something drastic happens, Cornwall could lose its biggest football club within months.

More and more football clubs, particularly at non-league level, are struggling to keep their heads above water. But some Kettering and Truro supporters fear that it's not a case of if they drown, but when they drown.

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