Mon Dieu! The Kettering football fans in love with a French team

The fans in Dunkirk. Credit: USLD Kettering Town. NNL-180904-164526005
The fans in Dunkirk. Credit: USLD Kettering Town. NNL-180904-164526005

There can be some pretty lengthy away days in football.

Take the Cobblers’ 230-mile each way trip to Plymouth in League One for example.

Some of the fans watching USL Dunkerque. Credit: USLD Kettering Town NNL-180904-164536005

Some of the fans watching USL Dunkerque. Credit: USLD Kettering Town NNL-180904-164536005

But in Kettering there’s a group of football fans who travel the same distance across the Channel just to watch their ‘second’ team play at home.

The USLD Kettering branch, an army of 16 or 17 mainly middle-aged fans, watch USL Dunkerque in France’s third tier.

Group leader Andy Lamont, 48, said: “We all used to go and watch the Poppies sometimes and one day we were in the pub and talked about supporting someone abroad.

“We did a bit of research and looked at different places.

The fans on the ferry on the way to Dunkirk. Credit: USLD Kettering Town NNL-180904-164516005

The fans on the ferry on the way to Dunkirk. Credit: USLD Kettering Town NNL-180904-164516005

“It was always going to be either Holland or the north of France and we settled on Dunkirk.”

The group’s first game was against Concarneau, from near Brittany, on September 29 last year.

With the game heading for a stalemate Dunkerque scored two late goals - one from near the halfway line - to ensure the Kettering fans’ first match was a successful one.

Their last game on March 30, a drab 0-0 draw against local rivals Boulogne, wasn’t quite as exciting on the pitch.

The fans at a bar in Dunkirk. Credit: USLD Kettering Town NNL-180904-164505005

The fans at a bar in Dunkirk. Credit: USLD Kettering Town NNL-180904-164505005

But off it, the Kettering boys had a whale of a time.

Car salesman Andy said: “We got talking to some of the lads there and we ended up in the stand with the ultras.

“They don’t half make some noise and it was an amazing atmosphere, it reminded me of Poppies against the Diamonds.

“There were only about 60 or 70 away fans but there was probably 150 to 200 riot police.”

Jumping in a car, watching the football and having a beer all sounds so easy.

But Andy says there were a few hiccups on the way.

One fan forgot his passport, meaning they had to turn around to get it.

Another, a nervous driver who had never driven on the right-hand side of the road before, was promised the hotel was just a quarter of a mile from the docks when it turned out to be 22km away.

And the group were almost stranded without fuel after deciding to fill up when they got to France ‘because it would be cheaper’ - only to find when they did get to a French petrol station, it was more expensive.

It sounds like a re-run of the Jolly Boys’ Outing episode of Only Fools and Horses, but Andy said it was more like a scene from The Hangover.

Asked what he’d say to people who think they’re mad, Andy said: “They are probably right!

“The French have said we’re mad.

“They didn’t believe we were actually coming until we actually made it on to their soil.

“They call us ‘the crazy English’ and we probably are a bit bonkers, but we’re having a fun jolly and enjoying the game we love.”

Dunkerque are currently eighth in the 17-team league but their season could go either way.

They are just eight points from promotion in second place, but just two points clear of the drop zone.

Their Kettering fans hope to watch Dunkerque two or three times a season and some fans are making the trip over to support their French side in their last home game of the season, against Cholet.

Leeds fan Andy said: “Our English teams will always be our club but we all have a soft spot for Dunkirk.”

USL Dunkerque’s general secretary Edwin Pindi said: “As far as we remember, it’s the first time that a group from a foreign country has become our fans.

“We’d like to thank them because they were so cheerful and so passionate during the game.

“We hope they’ll get some new fans [in the group] and that they’ll keep supporting us in the future.

“They are now famous all over Dunkirk.”