140 years of pride, passion and despair

Tommy Lawton signs for Kettering Town in 1956 in front of the BBC cameras. From left, Frank Summerley (Kettering Town secretary), Reg Tailby (Kettering vice-chairman), Tommy Lawton , David Coleman (presenter)
Tommy Lawton signs for Kettering Town in 1956 in front of the BBC cameras. From left, Frank Summerley (Kettering Town secretary), Reg Tailby (Kettering vice-chairman), Tommy Lawton , David Coleman (presenter)

Kettering Town Football Club has had its fair share of highs and lows and the Poppies are currently in crisis just one month short of their 140th anniversary, but the club certainly has a proud story to tell and is one of the most successful clubs in non-league football ever.

In 1872 the Poppies were officially formed and finally turned professional in 1891, starting a journey for the club and the people of the town which has lasted almost a century-and-a-half and one that many will never forget.

Poppies fan Darren Abraham during the October 1991 Poppies v Stafford game

Poppies fan Darren Abraham during the October 1991 Poppies v Stafford game

The club has broken a number of records since its creation – they are the first ever team to have shirt sponsorship, they are the all-time top goalscorers in the FA Cup, hitting 774 goals scored in 347 appearances, and were also the first ever British club to have their initials on the stadium’s floodlights.

But one particular period of history fascinates author and club historian Ian Addis, who wrote the book Tommy Lawton and the Poppies.

Lawton joined Kettering Town in February 1956 as player-manager following a transfer from Arsenal and Mr Addis believes the signing of the former England international was a sign of just how ambitious the club was. He said: “At the time he was playing for Arsenal and earning £17 per week because of the player’s salary cap.

“But when he joined Kettering he was earning £1,500 a year, plus expenses and 10 per cent of gate receipts when attendances reached 3,000 or more.

“He may have joined the club because he could earn more money but his signing showed just how ambitious the Poppies were.”

Lawton’s honeymoon with the town was short but successful – spending 18 months at the club and leading them to the Southern League Championship in 1957 before re-joining his former club in the football league, Notts County. Mr Addis said: “During his time at the club attendances rose on average by 1,600 and club membership by 4,000 adding to an already big number of club members.”

Over the years the club has won numerous non-league trophies including winning the Southern League Championship in 1973 under “Big” Ron Atkinson. Atkinson is one of the most famous faces to be part of Poppies, but none can be more famous than Paul Gascoigne who spent time in charge of the club in 2005.

The club made several unsuccessful promotion attempts and failed to be voted into league football, but Mr Addis added: “They could probably be remembered for being one for the most successful clubs never to play in the football league.”

Mel Hopkins, author of When Football Came to Kettering, added: “To be where we are now after being successful, packing out Wembley numerous times and having huge names at the club is really sad. The football club put the town on the map.”