Jon Dunham - Diamonds making the most of their clean break

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 is hard not to be impressed with what has been achieved thus far over at AFC Rushden & Diamonds.

And, before we really get into it, let’s be clear that they aren’t the only local success story in the United Counties League this season.

Rushden & Higham United have made it into the final of the NFA Junior Cup – a fine achievement. Desborough Town have enjoyed a superb season in the Premier Division given where they were a year ago. And the likes of Wellingborough Town and Stewarts & Lloyds are doing all they can to avoid the drop from the top flight.

But Diamonds’ debut season as a senior side in Division One continues to catch the eye.

Just this week, they inflicted only a second league defeat on leaders Sileby Rangers on their own ground to ensure their bid for promotion in their first-ever season continues to gather pace – that was their eighth successive league victory.

However, it is more the general feel-good atmosphere that continues to impress me.

Here we have a club that was born out of the ashes after Rushden & Diamonds met their sticky end.

Make no mistake about it, those who followed the Rushden & Diamonds throughout their rise during the 1990s and early 2000s had it all thrown at them.

Backed by Max Griggs’ millions, which undoubtedly brought success, the people who got on board with their support were described by many locally and nationally as ‘plastic fans’.

But those ‘plastic’ supporters have shown they are made of nothing else apart from solid steel over the past couple of years.

They were fortunate, in a way, that there was a clean break. One minute Rushden & Diamonds existed, the next they didn’t. It was quick but extremely painful.

But what that clean break did was give a section of support an opportunity – one they have grabbed with both hands.

They started as an under-18 team in the Northants Senior Youth League, they got someone they were comfortable with in the form of Mark Starmer to run things on the pitch while, off the field, a commitment to do things ‘the right way’ after seeing the madness of football unfold before their eyes was made.

A deal was struck with Wellingborough to ground share at the Dog & Duck – an agreement that, on the face of it, seems to have benefited everyone.

And now, here they are, on the brink of claiming elevation at the first attempt.

Has a bit of money been spent on putting together a squad capable of promotion? Probably. But, unlike a number of sides throughout the UCL, they can justify it with the crowds they are getting in.

Yes, those fans who started this whole thing have stuck with it. But they have got others on board. Is there any other club at that level that has an average home attendance of around the 450-500 mark and has been involved in a game that saw over 1,100 in attendance (at Hayden Road against Rushden & Higham)?

There is a lesson to be learned here. And that is that fans CAN make the difference. But they have to be united and pulling in the same direction, not bickering amongst themselves and feeling sorry for themselves about what someone may or may not have done to their club in the past.

It is fair to say that the original Rushden & Diamonds were not particularly liked. There was jealousy from pretty much all areas about the way they spent their way into the Football League.

But these people also saw the hard times and when the worst happened, they didn’t sulk. No, they got together and did something about it.

They may or may not get promoted this season but you get the feeling that, in a way, it doesn’t really matter because a group of fans who lost what they did on Saturday afternoon now have it back. Surely that is all that matters?

But don’t be too surprised if AFC Rushden & Diamonds continue to flourish in the seasons to come and don’t be surprised if a rise into the Southern League comes sooner rather than later.

And if it does, it would have been done through nothing more than love for the club and game that these ‘plastic’ fans believe in. I take my hat off to them.