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When The Poppies Played Big Names – Kettering Town’s Fall From Fame

By Jensen Coleman

Clubs from the National League are somewhat known to keep a low profile most of the time. The names included in this cohort consist of teams such as Boreham Wood, Barnet, Boston United and countless others, but some have had a taste of what it’s like to face names such as Everton, Crystal Palace & Manchester City.

One club that had this particular experience is Kettering Town, albeit not against those excellent teams. From the FA Cup to even pre-season friendlies, the National League North side know how it feels to clash with the big boys, albeit with little success to shout about. But then again, the names that are mentioned in this piece are not exactly teams any Kettering fan will have particularly fond memories of playing against!


By Jensen Coleman

A Vauxhall Conference game against now-League One side Wycombe Wanderers in March 1993 saw the Poppies fighting through financial troubles and naming a whopping 48 players in their side over the course of the season. To the surprise of the home crowd, Graham Carr’s team ran out 2-1 winners. In the process, they ended Wycombe’s 10-match unbeaten run at home. Not so bad for a team on the verge of going extinct at that point in time.

Interest in Carr soon followed from former club Northampton Town, with the pressure mounting on their manager Phil Chard. For a while, it did look like it was going to dent what was already a mixed domestic campaign for the club, but it was left in the dust as Carr remained with the Poppies and led them to that comfortable mid-table finish.

Sixteen years later, albeit across two seasons, Mark Cooper’s new look Kettering Town FC came up against the likes of Leeds United and Fulham in the FA Cup, and from both ties came mixed emotions. In the January of 2009, the Poppies were resilient against Roy Hodgson’s Craven Cottage side, but were dumped out following a 4-2 defeat at Rockingham Road.

Ten months later, in the November of 2009, Simon Grayson’s Leeds United were the visitors to Northamptonshire in the Cup, but would the Poppies prevail against the men from Yorkshire? The answer is not quite, as the game at Rockingham Road ended all square following a late Jermaine Beckford equaliser after Ian Roper had opening the scoring for Kettering Town. At Elland Road in the replay, the Poppies were given a footballing lesson as Leeds raced to a 5-1 victory and deservedly progressed to the next round.

The proper shock name that no one expected the Poppies to have played is Manchester United, as the men from Rockingham Road faced a select XI from Sir Alex Ferguson’s title-hauling Red Devils. This was a pre-season clash that took place just before the 2006-07 season stepped into the fray.

United raced into a two-goal lead inside 14 minutes, with EFL stalwart Fraizer Campbell scoring the second for Ferguson’s men. But two wonderful strikes from Andre Boucaud and Andy Hall made sure, in a game that everyone in Kettering would remember, that the score-line was level when the referee blew his whistle for the end of the game.

Northampton Town, despite being only a couple of leagues higher in the English Footballing Pyramid, seem to have many connections with the Poppies. One of the most obvious connections being that both clubs originate from Northamptonshire, and are 20 minutes apart as the car drives.

Incredibly, in the pre-season before the 2017-18 campaign got underway, Marcus Law’s Kettering Town side were victorious against the late Justin Edinburgh’s team via a penalty shootout, with the scoreline at 1-1 when the 90 minutes was over.

During the off-season, following the Poppies’ devastating failure to clinch a play-off place at the end of the 21-22 National League North campaign, rumours had been spread amongst Kettering supporters that the club were in talks with League One promotion hopefuls Bolton Wanderers over a potential pre-season friendly.

However, discussions allegedly fell through following a last-minute change to Ian Evatt’s pre-season plans. If rumours were to be proven correct, it would have been fantastic to see a big name at Latimer Park once again, but it just wasn’t to be, as the Poppies went on to play National League side Southend United in a pre-season draw which finished 2-2, and was jokingly referred to as ‘The Callum Powell Derby’, as the winger had joined the Shrimpers from then-manager Paul Cox’s side in December 2021.

Believe it or not, facing a giant when you’re a speck of a club is the magic of football, and the Poppies sure have experience of that! These clashes are etched into the club’s history and it’s the history the supporters want to treasure. Hopefully, for the sake of the Poppies fanbase, there will soon be days like that again under the stewardship of former Nottingham Forest striker Lee Glover, but with the way the club have started this season, don’t bet on fans being on Cloud Nine again just yet, but there’s always luck waiting in the wings to make an impact.

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