Kettering Town Football Club have taken a giant step towards a return to the town after they confirmed they have reached an agreement to purchase an area of land for the development of a ‘new stadium complex’.
The Poppies last played in the town in 2011 when they left Rockingham Road for an ill-fated move to Nene Park in Irthlingborough before a spell of playing at Steel Park in Corby was followed by a move to Latimer Park in Burton Latimer, where they still play now.
But, at a fans forum ahead of today’s (Saturday) FA Cup game against AFC Mansfield, the club revealed that they have “reached agreement, subject to contract, for the purchase of land”.
The land in question is off Scott Road and was identified some months ago with the club working with Kettering Borough Council to review the option and to reach a commercial agreement.
Final agreement was reached this week and the club will now begin the process of working with adjacent landowners and developing their planning application to meet all requirements before the construction phase begins.
In their statement, the club said: “Fans need to understand that the stadium is some years away and there will be more hurdles to negotiate but the most important thing is that our journey back to Kettering has started.”
Club owner Ritchie Jeune and chairman David Mahoney were on hand to deliver the news to fans at Latimer Park today.
Mr Jeune said: “The demise of Rockingham Road highlights how, without its own land, the club is not 100 per cent in control of its destiny.
“We must all ensure that the lessons from the past have been learnt and that we continue to progress at a rate which is sustainable and protects the long-term future of the club.”
Mr Mahoney added: “Today is the day we have long looked forward to.
“The board will now enter into the next phase of discussions and we will provide further updates when the time is right.”
On behalf of Kettering Borough Council, Cllr Lloyd Bunday said: “We are pleased that we have been able to find a way forward for the football club to achieve its ambitions of returning to Kettering.
“We wish the football club well in its delivery of its future plans.”
Ever since the Poppies left Rockingham Road in 2011, their battle to return to Kettering has been met with hurdles.
They spent an ill-fated 12 months at Nene Park, left vacant after the demise of arch-rivals Rushden and Diamonds.
A short spell at Corby Town followed before they moved to Latimer Park, where they still play.
Rockingham Road fell into ruin and, amid talk that then-owner Ben Pickering Ltd was looking to offload it, fans clubbed together to try and list it as an Asset of Community Value.
The move would have given fans the opportunity to match any offers from bidders.
But, despite a march through town to deliver a 4,000-strong petition, Kettering Council twice rejected the bid citing no evidence of the ground being in recent use and a lack of community support on the first bid.
Independent councillor and Poppies fan Cllr Michael Brown, who was present for today’s fans forum, called for council leader Russell Roberts to resign over the decision, discussed at several fiery council meetings.
In between the first and second rejected bids from fans, the Poppies unveiled plans to re-develop Latimer Park into a 6,500-capacity stadium.
But many fans still harboured dreams of returning to Kettering itself instead of being in Burton Latimer.
Those those dreams took a turn for the worse when Rockingham Road was bought by a developer in September 2017.
In November, the ground was demolished and, in July this year, plans were submitted for more than 40 homes on the flattened stadium site. A decision on those plans is expected to be made next month.
However, the dreams have now been reignited of a move back into the town following today’s announcement.