FEATURE: The cup tie that had it all as Diamonds announced their arrival

Alfie Taylor was met by then AFC Rushden & Diamonds manager Mark Starmer as they celebrated the striker's stoppage-time winner in the memorable 3-2 success over Cambridge City in the FA Cup in 2013Alfie Taylor was met by then AFC Rushden & Diamonds manager Mark Starmer as they celebrated the striker's stoppage-time winner in the memorable 3-2 success over Cambridge City in the FA Cup in 2013
Alfie Taylor was met by then AFC Rushden & Diamonds manager Mark Starmer as they celebrated the striker's stoppage-time winner in the memorable 3-2 success over Cambridge City in the FA Cup in 2013 | jpimedia
Every football club, old or new, has that one day.

The day when it arrives, the day the club announces itself to those further afield.

For AFC Rushden & Diamonds, it could be argued that day for them was on September 28, 2013.

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The club formed from the ashes of Rushden & Diamonds was into its second season of senior football having won promotion to the United Counties League Premier Division in their debut campaign as they finished runners-up in Division One behind Sileby Rangers.

Alfie Taylor was the hero of the hour on the day Diamonds defeated higher-ranked oppositionAlfie Taylor was the hero of the hour on the day Diamonds defeated higher-ranked opposition
Alfie Taylor was the hero of the hour on the day Diamonds defeated higher-ranked opposition | jpimedia

But, as so often happens, it was the FA Cup that gave Diamonds one of their finest moments that still stands up today.

Under then-manager Mark Starmer, with current boss Andy Peaks part of the coaching staff, Diamonds had seen off Northwood, London Colney and Cockfosters - the latter with an 8-0 drubbing in a replay in which Russell Dunkley scored five goals - in their first three matches of the competition.

With teams from higher levels entering in the second qualifying round, Diamonds were handed an intriguing home tie against Southern League Premier Division outfit Cambridge City.

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And it would prove to be a famous afternoon at Wellingborough Town’s Dog & Duck ground, which Diamonds were sharing at the time.

The stage was set. The weather was glorious and a crowd of 815 were on hand to see Alfie Taylor, scorer of the club’s first-ever senior goal just over a year earlier, give Diamonds an early lead before the higher-ranked visitors battled back to lead at the break courtesy of a Jamal Clarke own-goal and a Josh Dawkin penalty.

Diamonds’ hopes were hanging by a thread when Dawkin was presented with another penalty early in the second period but a crucial slip and a save from goalkeeper Tom Cross proved to be an undoubted turning point.

Aaron King levelled with a magnificent 25-yard strike before Taylor stole the headlines when he fired home a Dunkley cross in the second minute of added on time.

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It was a moment that sparked wild scenes of celebration on the pitch and terraces with Starmer running half the length of the pitch to embrace the goalscorer.

Taylor can still be found firing the goals in for Irchester United these days but his time at Diamonds was appreciated both by him and the supporters to this day.

Indeed, an overall record of 50 goals in 77 appearances is bound to make you popular.

But that winning goal is, understandably, the one that sticks in the memory.

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“It’s one of the games that will live long in my memory and not just because of the goals I scored but because of the occasion,” Taylor said as he recalled that afternoon.

“There was a big crowd, the weather was lovely and I think I had five or six members of my family there that day.

“It was a game that summed up the FA Cup because anyone can beat anyone on their day.

“When we got drawn with Cambridge City at home we were buzzing with it.

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“We were pumped up, everyone turned up and it had everything you’d want in a cup tie.

“Their penalty miss was the turning point of the game. If that had gone in it would have been different. But the miss really sparked us back into life.

“Scoring a goal in any game is the best feeling ever but to score in the 90th plus whatever to win a cup tie was a whole different feeling. It was just unbelievable.

“I remember I had Starms (Starmer) running towards me and I had my family behind the goal I scored in and I didn’t know which way to run!

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“But when I saw Starms flying towards me I didn’t have much choice!

“I will never forget that moment. To score the goal and put us through was fantastic.

“I remember the chairman Ralph (Burditt) coming up to me at the end and kissing me on the head and him telling me he loved me! That’s what football does, it’s magical at times.”

Taylor’s time at Diamonds came to an end later in that season after Peaks had taken over the reins from Starmer.

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And, even now, the striker has regrets about the way things ended.

“If I am honest, it was my own mistake for leaving,” he said.

“Starms left and it was Peaksy’s first game and he dropped me and I shouldn’t have spat my dummy but I did.

“I went on loan to Burton Park Wanderers and it spiralled from there.

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“It’s a regret I have because I think I’d still be there now if I had just got on with things but I did spit my dummy and it was no-one else’s fault apart from mine.

“I love the club to bits and I am proud I was part of it from the start. I just wish I had been part of it for a few more years.

“It’s a club I’d walk back into tomorrow if I was given the chance because I feel like there is unfinished business.”

Captaining Diamonds that afternoon was Arron Parkinson.

One of the best-known faces in the Northamptonshire non-League scene, Parkinson had arrived to play a part in the second half of Diamonds’ Division One promotion-winning campaign.

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However, he suffered a recurrence of a heart problem that had forced him to drop down a couple of levels in the first place.

Having had the appropriate procedure carried out and six months on the sidelines, Parkinson made his return on that afternoon and was thrust straight into the cauldron of an FA Cup tie.

And while he gave away the first penalty, he went on to turn in a display that earned him the man-of-the-match award - something he couldn’t believe!

These days, Parkinson is the manager of Daventry Town and still plays on the county veterans scene (trust me, I’ve played against him and he’s still got it!).

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But he, like Taylor, recalls that day with nothing but good memories and he admitted the shift in momentum and the feeling of it being Diamonds’ day was something that could be felt on the pitch.

“It was my first game for about six or seven months,” Parkinson said.

“I’d had a procedure on my heart and I dropped down from the Southern League to play for Diamonds because I couldn’t cope, medically, with playing at that level anymore.

“I had played for Diamonds at the end of their UCL Division One season but it went again and I had the procedure but hadn’t played for six of seven months.

“I turned up that day and they threw it on me to play.

“And the whole day was very memorable.

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“There was a big crowd there and they missed a penalty at 2-1 and they were in the ascendancy at that point. I think they would have beaten us if that had gone in.

““The belief came back and when you’re playing football, you can sometimes feel that it’s going to be your day and single moments can just change things so quickly.

“The whole momentum of the game changed and Aaron King banged one in from 25 yards, which is something he still does for me now at Daventry.

“And then we hit them with the last kick of the game.

“I don’t know how I was man-of-the-match because Russell Dunkley was absolutely unplayable.

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“He smashed their two centre-halves all over the place. He got his fair share of goals but he was an unselfish player and Alfie scored a lot of goals thanks to him that season.

“But the atmosphere that day was great. Even when we were behind the crowd were behind us and it just erupted with that goal at the end.

“I think it was one of the first really big days Diamonds had.”

Diamonds’ run in the competition came to an end in the next round as they were beaten 3-1 at Dover Athletic with Taylor on target again.

There have been some good days and nights since but it’s fair to say that afternoon in late September nearly seven years ago is one that won’t be forgotten for a long, long time.

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