Jon Dunham – Will Poppies get the help their rivals have received?

Northamptonshire Telegraph's sports writers Jon Dunham, Jim Lyon and Alec Swann.
Northamptonshire Telegraph's sports writers Jon Dunham, Jim Lyon and Alec Swann.

It’s enough to make the blood boil.

Those of you who saw the back page of this week’s Northamptonshire Telegraph would have hopefully spotted the irony.

On the one hand, over in Northampton, the town’s football club have been given an incredible boost by their council in the form of a £12m loan to push on with the re-development of Sixfields.

A 10-year battle for the Cobblers is over, they have the green light to re-establish their stadium as they look to push further up the Football League ladder. It is great news.

But the other story on our back page was a familiar old tale.

In short, it featured new Kettering Town majority shareholder Ritchie Jeune describing his hopes for the next five years as the Poppies set up camp in Burton Latimer for what, at the moment, is a temporary five-year stay.

And one of the three targets for him is to find a new permanent home for the club in Kettering – not just the borough, although everyone associated with the Poppies will surely be glad to see them edge that bit closer back to their home town.

But what a contrast as far as two councils are concerned.

Jeune, as he pointed out in the interview he gave to the paper, hopes to talk to Kettering Council to see what can be done in the future – a community-based facility to be used by a number of clubs, not just the Poppies, is at the forefront of his thinking.

He is about to embark on a mission that many in charge of the Poppies have attempted and ultimately failed. So I make no apologies for not holding my breath on this one.

Make no mistake, it wasn’t Kettering Council who made the decision to move the football club to Nene Park. Nor was it them whose mistakes sent the club into financial meltdown and to the brink of collapse.

But the simple fact is that just eight months ago, the town almost lost their football club and if that had happened then the council would have been many (aside from the obvious) who could have been held accountable.

I am not going to sit here and demand the council throw money at the club, it’s unrealistic and isn’t the way it works.

But perhaps some sort of help wouldn’t go amiss.

The constant arguments I have heard against the council getting involved in REALLY helping the football club are two-fold.

One – why should the tax payer help fund something that, in reality, is only used by a very small minority of its population?

And two – the council can’t treat one ‘private business’ any differently than any other.

Both are very worthy arguments and both have been used time and time again.

But let’s look at them for a moment.

Historically (and maybe it will happen again given time), the Poppies have proved they can attract well over 1,000 people through the doors every other Saturday afternoon. Aside from the town centre or Wicksteed Park, is there anywhere else in Kettering that does that?

Corby Town have a council-owned stadium and their attendances are hardly boosted by the support of the whole population of the town. To a certain extent, the same could be said of the Cobblers given their average attendances and the size of the whole of Northampton.

And as far as the ‘private business’ argument is concerned. Well, I (remember this is opinion only) find it laughable. For any council to describe their town’s football club as a ‘private business’ to ensure it doesn’t have to help them is nothing more than a convenient excuse.

I could go into further details but that would be breaking private conversations I have been privy to in the past.

But there is no doubt in my mind that a lack of support from the local council played a part in bringing down Imraan Ladak.

Clearly, the former Poppies owner made huge mistakes, you won’t find me or anyone else denying that.

But I recall the moment he thought he had finally solved the Poppies’ stadium problem after seemingly cutting a deal with Asda, which would have seen the supermarket giant help with the cost of a new stadium while also building a new store on the outskirts of Kettering.

It wasn’t some crazy idea that Ladak came up with overnight. A lot of thought and research went into it before he decided to go public.

But no sooner had he done that, so the story goes, cold water was poured on it. Protection of the town centre was one of the arguments at the time if I recall correctly. That Asda supermarket down on Northfield Avenue, a mile outside of the centre of the town, sure is splendid isn’t it?

Believe me when I say that single moment totally knocked the stuffing out of Ladak. That was the point at which he should have walked away.

Ladak wasn’t the only one who fought battles with the council, Peter Mallinger did as well. Ask those who were around him at the time, they will tell you. Could it have been a bad relationship? Well, he certainly had no problems in giving the Corby fans what they needed in the form of Steel Park.

I am sure councillors and executives galore could give me thousands of minutes of political waffle to make me understand why it seems they refuse to help the club.

And by help, I really don’t mean helping to organise a victory parade if the club achieves something – that’s what is known as ‘jumping on the bandwagon’.

Northampton Borough Council have finally shown their hand and given the Cobblers the support they have been looking for. The club will only flourish for it and, in turn, make a lot of local people very, very happy.

Could this significant move inspire Kettering Council to do everything in their power to help Jeune when he comes calling? I doubt it but hey, I am probably just an old cynic. Nothing would delight me more if I am proved wrong.