Wednesday, 20 July 2011

The Rise and Fall of Rushden & Diamonds


In recent times there has been a worrying trend of Semi Professional and Non-League clubs entering administration and the death knoll of a club that is Liquidation. AFC Aldershot  and Accrington Stanley have recovered from such perils whilst at the other end of the spectrum Bradford Park Avenue have been unable to claw their way back to the hallowed land of the Football League. Over the past few months Rushden & Diamonds, a lower league staple, have been wound up by the powers that be and administration was confirmed on the 7th of July.   
On April 21st 1992 Max Griggs, president of the R Griggs Group and owner of Doc Martens, forayed into the footballing universe with his purchase of Rushden Town and Irthlingborough Diamonds. Through a merger of the two clubs Rushden and Diamonds FC was born. In their formative years the club enjoyed a meteoric rise that even the Mighty Ducks would be envious of. 2 promotions in 4 years had led the Northamptonshire outfit to the highest echelon of Non-League football. The 5 years Rushden spent in the Conference are deceptive. There was no consolidation as you would expect, just the will and desire of a collective of the board, staff, players and fans to make Diamonds something special. In the first season in top tier of they came 12th, respectable you might say, a “disappointment” said the board! The following campaigns saw them finish 4th twice before ultimately gaining promotion to the hallowed land of the Football League with a 2nd place finish in the 2000/2001 season.
The Diamonds were still not done. This amazing team reached the Division 3 play-off final in their first season in the 4th tier of league football losing 3-1 to Cheltenham Town at the Millennium Stadium. Second time around did appear lucky though as RDFC won Division 3. However, promotion turned out to be a poison chalice for the Nene Park outfit. Though the season started well, manager of seven years Brian Talbot left halfway through the season and star players left for pastures new. Soon after came a downward spiral. Relegation back to Division 3 was inevitable. The Diamonds stayed in the football league by the skin of their teeth in the 04/05 season. In the summer Griggs handed control of the club over to the Supporter’s Trust for £1 to try and solve the club’s troubles. But they could not repeat the feat a second time around in the newly named Coca Cola League 2. Despite Billy Sharp’s goals 9 goals in 16 games, Rushden were relegated back to the Conference for the first time in 5 years. In the 5 years that have passes since there has only ever been one chance to reclaim promotion but a play-off semi defeat to Oxford in 2009 proved fruitless. Sadly a tragedy then hit the club. Goalkeeper Dale Roberts committed suicide hours before a match against Eastwood Town.  
And it got worse…Chairman Keith Cousins and Vice Chairman Helen Thompson resigned from their positions. Gary Calder and Liam Beasant came in to steady the ship, but Calder left after 3 months. And there’s more, the club were put under a transfer embargo due to unpaid wages and then Leon Knight had a rant at the club on Twitter for not paying his wage and not allowing him to play for another club in England. The club were expelled from the Blue Square Premier on the 11th June 2011 because of poor finances meaning they would not be able to complete all fixtures next season. 2 days later HMRC came calling with a winding order because of debts of debts £750,000. The Irthlingborough club were then denied the chance to play in the Evo-Stik Southern League Premier Division next season as they could not meet League requirements after being kicked out of their spiritual home of Nene Park. The final nail in the coffin was administration.
Yet there is news of a ‘phoenix’ team being set up by fans, an AFC Rushden & Diamonds rising from the ashes. Fans decided on entering a team in to the Northants Senior Youth League in 2011/12 and build a senior team for the start of the 12/13 Season. If the AFC club can emulate what their predecessors did, then they won’t be in the 11th tier of English football for long.

The club is dead, long live the club!

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