Kettering without its football club is ‘like fish without chips’

Richard Burton with pictures of him playing on the Rockingham Road pitch in the 1960s. NNL-170910-152252005 NNL-170910-152252005
Richard Burton with pictures of him playing on the Rockingham Road pitch in the 1960s. NNL-170910-152252005 NNL-170910-152252005

Richard Burton was just seven when he watched his first Poppies match at Rockingham Road in 1935.

He didn’t pay to get in after sneaking through a hedge and can’t remember who Kettering Town faced that afternoon.

Richard Burton with a signed shirt given to him by the club after 80 years of following the Poppies. NNL-170910-152303005 NNL-170910-152303005

Richard Burton with a signed shirt given to him by the club after 80 years of following the Poppies. NNL-170910-152303005 NNL-170910-152303005

But one thing he does remember is the roar of the crowd.

That roar hasn’t been heard in the town since the club left Rockingham Road in 2011 and, with the stadium’s demolition set to start in weeks, it might be some time until it’s heard again - despite yesterday’s progress on a new purpose-built stadium.

But Mr Burton, who turned 89 last week, says he dreams of the club returning to the town.

He said: “I would love it if we could.

Rockingham Road stadium, which is set to be demolished. Credit: Sarah Frankham. NNL-170910-152241005 NNL-170910-152241005

Rockingham Road stadium, which is set to be demolished. Credit: Sarah Frankham. NNL-170910-152241005 NNL-170910-152241005

“A town is known for its football club.

“If you’ve not got a football club there it’s like having fish without chips or the seaside without a pier.

“The chairman and directors are doing a wonderful job at the club and at least we are in the borough.

“But returning to Kettering itself would be special.”

An Evening Telegraph article about 'superfan' Richard Burton from the 1980s. NNL-170910-152231005 NNL-170910-152231005

An Evening Telegraph article about 'superfan' Richard Burton from the 1980s. NNL-170910-152231005 NNL-170910-152231005

Mr Burton has been following the Poppies for more than 80 years, watching ‘more games than he could even begin to count’.

Having been born 200 yards from the stadium in Neale Avenue and having lived in Rockingham Road for 32 years, he’d be forgiven for having a tear in his eye when he heard of the planned demolition to make way for housing.

But, despite a fans’ petition and attempts to negotiate a return to the stadium, he says any thoughts of a move back have never been likely to pay off.

He said: “I spent years and years there and it was part of my life.

“In the 1980s it nearly broke my marriage up because I spent so much time at the club.

“But returning there has always been a pipe dream.

“The ground was falling apart in the 1990s.

“The cost is colossal, even to demolish it, and the car parking is a problem.

“It’s sad but we have to face facts.”

Mr Burton hasn’t been able to watch a Poppies game for more than 20 years due to ill health.

He had a brief spell as a director in 1991 and spent many years helping out at the club, selling merchandise from the back of his van and running a £1 donation scheme when the club was in financial difficulties.

He has already arranged for his ashes to be scattered on the site when he dies.

Recalling some of his favourite memories, he said: “I’ve seen some fantastic things in my time at Rockingham Road and following the Poppies.

“I’ve seen managers come and go but the most memorable was the fantastic Tommy Lawton. He could head a ball further than most could kick it.

“In 1976 I was there when Derek Dougan walked out with Kettering Tyres on the front of the shirt, which of course began the role of sponsorship in football.

“There’s been some great days, at Rockingham Road and away from home, like Bristol Rovers, Halifax, Charlton, Blackburn, Fulham and Leeds.

“I even played at Rockingham Road once in an all-stars match in the 1960s.”

Mr Burton talked fondly of derby day encounters with Corby Town and, later, Rushden & Diamonds.

He said: “Over the years I’ve seen many derby matches and against Corby with us being so close to each other they were always a fierce encounter.

“There was a big rivalry between the fans which always cost more to police but in the end it was them who saved us.

“Had they not let us play at their ground it would have been curtains for us and I want to thank them for that.”

Mr Burton’s fundraising efforts were also acknowledged in a match programme during the club’s dark era at Nene Park, when he donated £500 to cover the players’ travelling expenses.

He admits he’s unlikely to see another game because of his health but will ‘always be a fan’.

He said: “I might not be able to see the games but I have always followed in spirit and I keep in touch with the many friends I made there.

“When I go for the blood test I say to the doctor “that’s Poppies blood”.

“I will always be a fan.

“Once I got involved, that was it. I was hooked.”