Boot camps

Rushden & Diamonds are the first recently merged club to join the League since Torquay in 1927. But, as Mark Pacan explains, that hasn't pleased everybody in Irthlingborough 

Unlikely as it may seem, Northampton Town have benefited from the rise of the region’s new League club by picking up former fans of Irthlingborough Diam­onds, unhappy at the absorption of their club by Rush­den. I am one of those people.

There is plenty of parochial rivalry between the identikit boot and shoe towns strung along either side the A6 in Northamptonshire. In the early Seventies there were some epic games between the Diamonds and nearby Rothwell Town, including a United Counties League title decider in 1971 which attracted an attendance of over 2,000 – from a com­bined pop­ulation of about 10,000.

In the 1970s, fairs and discos were the venues for trouble between the bikers of Irthlingborough and the skinheads of Rushden, though the violence rarely spilled over into matches between the two clubs. Irthlingborough (pop: 6,500) is a smaller version of Rushden (pop: 24,000) which in turn is a much smaller version of Northampton (pop: 198,000). This part of Northants is a low-wage working class area but, as there have generally been plenty of jobs, it’s not exactly deprived.

Helped by their unusual name, Irthlingborough Diamonds always seemed to get more publicity than Rushden Town. They twice reached the semi-finals of the FA Vase in the 1980s and had great facilities for a club at their level, being the first in the United Counties to install flood­lights. I had supported North­amp­ton Town on and off throughout this period, depending on my finances, but saw no contradiction in this as the clubs weren’t ever likely to meet.

At the time of the merger talks, however, Northampton were facing a winding-up order and relegation to the Conference. Judging by Max Griggs’s plans, it seemed that soon­er or later a merged club would be rivals to the Cobblers, so I had to choose. I felt Northampton would need my support more, but the decision to christen the new club Rushden & Diam­onds helped to make my mind up too. There was no way I could support a team based in Irthlingborough which did not have the town’s name in its title.

I know quite a few Irthlingborough fans who were once regulars at Nene Park since the merger, but who have stopped going because they can’t stand Rushden getting all the glory. Obviously R&D have built up a large following beyond the initial few hundred, though, so not too many followed that example. However, most Cobblers fans in east Northants have stayed loyal to Northampton, whose support seems to be is hardening in the face of the growth of Diamonds.

There is reasonable cause for resentment. When regional TV covered last season’s FA Cup encounters between R&D and Leeds, they managed to do so with­out so much as mentioning Irthlingborough, and got lots of complaints as a result. But when you hear advertisements on local radio extolling the virtues of “the Conference Centre, Nene Park, Rush­den”, it make you wonder if the club want any association with Irth­lingborough at all.

All I hear now is how much money R&D have and how they will soon overtake Northampton. That may be true, but they will never be the senior side. What­ever happens in the next few seasons, though, football in Northamptonshire is going to be very interesting. And that’s not something you read too often. 

From WSC 174 August 2001. What was happening this month