POPPIES V DIAMONDS - The wait is almost over
Sports reporter Jon Dunham, who has been following the fortunes of both Kettering Town and AFC Rushden & Diamonds over the past few years, shares his views as the two clubs prepare to do battle in the league for the first time this afternoon (Tuesday).
The wait is almost over. As a new year dawns, Kettering Town and AFC Rushden & Diamonds are on a collision course.
Today, on New Year’s Day, the local rivals will do battle for the first time in a league fixture.
It’s been a long journey to get to this point after matches between the Poppies and Rushden & Diamonds had been commonplace back in the late 1990s when both clubs were in the top tier of non-League football.
Since then, of course, football in Northamptonshire has suffered more than most with Rushden & Diamonds going out of business while Kettering so nearly followed but dropped down the levels as they survived extinction by the skin of their teeth.
AFC Rushden & Diamonds was created by fans of the former club back in 2011 while the Poppies, albeit the same club, had to undergo a similar rebuild.
Diamonds have moved up the leagues while Kettering have now put themselves on a more sound footing in the surroundings of Latimer Park where that first league meeting between the two clubs will take place.
Their paths have already crossed but competitions like the NFA Hillier Senior Cup and the Southern League Challenge Cup are one thing, this will be a different kettle of fish.
And, as if the game needed any more building, it is set to be a crucial clash for both teams’ prospects this season.
The Poppies have, as many expected, established themselves as title contenders in the Evo-Stik League South Premier Division Central.
So far, they and Stourbridge have made the running and threatened to turn it into a two-horse race, although you can expect at least one team to emerge from the chasing pack in the second half of the campaign.
And Diamonds could, potentially, be that team.
There were those of us who confidently predicted that Andy Peaks’ side would be just fine at Step 3 following their third promotion since their formation last season.
But, despite my own confidence in them, I have to say that their performance in the league so far has been a pleasant surprise.
They have put themselves firmly in the hunt for a play-off place with some highly impressive results and, on the back of that, they will certainly fancy their chances of putting one over the Poppies this afternoon.
Ultimately though, this is about the bragging rights.
There will have already been plenty of exchanges between fans on social media but once the clock hits 3pm this afternoon, it will be down to 22 players to decide who, if anyone, is celebrating at the end of the day.
For neutrals such as myself, who have been following the two clubs’ exploits over a few troubling years, this will be a moment to enjoy.
For the fans of both clubs, it will be a nerve-jangling afternoon and one that will be repeated at Hayden Road on Easter Monday.
And for the players, it will be a chance to write their names into their club’s folklore.
Those who made a difference in matches between Kettering and Rushden & Diamonds live forever, just ask the likes of Iyseden Christie, Duane Darby, Brett McNamara and Lee Tomlin.
Who will be the hero this time? Who will be the villain this time? We haven’t got long to wait to find out…