A rugby club is celebrating 50 years as its ground with a special dinner for former players this weekend.
And although all the tickets for the event at Waverley Road, home of Kettering RFC, have been snapped up, the club is encouraging people to mark the anniversary by turning out to support the club’s first team in their league fixture against Huntingdon, which kicks off at 2.15pm on Saturday.
The game follows a fixture between the mini-junior sides of each club, which begins at 1.30pm.
The Blues, who can today boast hundreds of senior and junior members, were formally founded in 1875.
They moved to the ground, off Piper’s Hill Road, in September 1963, three years after a club committee was formed to search for a permanent home.
What became their ground had been a brickyard, which the council was happy to lease to the club.
It also took advantage of the building of the new Kettering Grammar School – now Tresham College – to commandeer topsoil and attempt to make the former yard suitable for sport.
But after years of effort clearing stones and rubble from the ground, it took until 1964, when additional topsoil was brought in from a Peterborough sugar beet factory, before the pitches were brought up to scratch.
The clubhouse and grounds had been opened on September 5, 1963, by RFU president AG Butler, who told the club: “I hope you have many, many successes here.”
The official opening included an exhibition game between Kettering and a select XV, who counted Kettering-born prop Nick Drake-Lee, who had made his international debut against Wales earlier in the year, among their number.
The Blues lost 28-5, with the Evening Telegraph reporting “spectators were particularly thrilled by the speed and skill” of the visitors.
“It’s 50 years since this clubhouse was built,” said director of rugby Doug Bridgeman.
“At the time it was pretty revolutionary in terms of rugby clubs, with a two-storey building. Over the years it has certainly aged, but the club has made dramatic improvements over the past four or five years with the kitchen and the balcony.
“When you consider how it was, the problems they had when the ground was first acquired, the pitch is now the envy of most of the clubs we play.
“I think the banks around the main pitch give it an amphitheatre feel, but the pitch itself is in great condition. The groundsman, David Bream, does a great job.
“They used to play down at Northampton Road, but they wanted somewhere of their own, more space and which they didn’t have to share.
“It was in a pretty bad state when the club took it over.”
Rugby was first played in Kettering four years before the club joined the Rugby Football Union in 1875 when the sport was introduced to the town by the rector of Barton Seagrave.
Among other highlights at Waverley Road over the past half century were the centenary celebrations in September 1975, including a friendly against French club Elbeuf.
Later that season, Kettering hosted Coventry in the John Player Cup, falling just short of a famous win against a star-studded opposition who had won the cup in successive seasons that decade.
But perhaps the most memorable day in Kettering RFC’s recent history took place away from Waverley Road, when the Blues won away at Leeds in the Pilkington Club, almost exactly 20 years ago.
“I think probably when we beat Leeds away in the cup, that has to be the best day out the club has had,” Bridgeman said.
“We took several hundred supporters up there. That was fantastic.”