Alan Buckley

Alan Buckley

Kettering Town manager from November 1986 to June 1988.

Alan BuckleyAlan Buckley had been the youngest player/manager in the Football League when he took over Walsall in 1979, following his playing stints at Nottingham Forest, Walsall and Birmingham City, eventually being released by the Saddlers’ seven seasons later. During those seven seasons he was in and out of the hot seat at Fellows Park several times, before finding his way to Rockingham Road via brief assistant stints at Stourbridge and Tamworth.

When Buckley took over the Poppies in November 1986 following the resignation of Dave Needham a few weeks earlier, the club was still struggling to escape the aftermath of the previous season. The previous owner-chairman John Murphy had been forced to sell the ground to cover mounting debts and the club had only kept it’s place in the Alliance Premier League due to the actions of a rescue group who had paid the registration fee shortly before the deadline.

While the club had escaped disaster off the field, the on-field situation was hardly reflecting the same optimism amongst the club’s long-suffering supporters. Dave Needham’s exit was the culmination of a stormy period on the field, with the final embarrassment of an 8-0 humiliation at the hands of Sutton Utd sealing his fate. Buckley’s immediate task was to avoid relegation and at the same time kick-start the team’s rebuilding process.

Buckley did at least inherit some valuable assets to work with, namely Mark Smith, Dougie Keast, Billy Kellock (all in their second spells at the Poppies), Arthur Mann, Paul Richardson and Ian Crawley among others. As it turned out, Buckley’s first season at Rockingham Road was not exactly a roaring success in league position terms, with the club finishing the 1986-87 season in a lowly 16th place.

Despite the struggle to avoid relegation, the early signs of progress showed through in the Cup matches, with Kettering Town reaching the 1st Round Proper of the FA Cup before succumbing 3-0 at home to Gillingham and the successful League Cup campaign.

GMAC Cup winnersFormer Wolves and Man City midfielder Steve Daley scored one of the two goals in the club’s 2-0 GMAC Cup Semi-Final victory away to Aylesbury Utd and stalwarts Billy Kellock, Dougie Keast and Mark Smith sealed a 3-1 victory over Hendon in the Final.

Victory celebrations were cut short however when the news came through that Poppies midfielder Phil Cavener, who had joined Kettering just prior to Buckley’s appointment, was seriuosly injured on the way home from the game and it transpired that the former Burnley, Peterborough Utd and Northampton Town midfielder never played for the Poppies again.

The 1986-87 season got off to a shaky start for Kettering, despite an opening day 2-1 win at home to Enfield with goals courtesy of Smith and the returning prodigal son, Frankie Murphy, brought back to Rockingham Road by the shrewd Buckley. Two away defeats at Weymouth and Stafford Rangers quickly brought any ideas of an easy ride for the Poppies players back down to earth.

Buckley continued to shape his team and just two league defeats in 13 matches going into November saw Kettering looking genuine contenders for the title. However, a poor run up to the festive season saw just 3 wins in eight matches putting a serious dent in the Poppies’ championship hopes and a good second-half to the season was badly needed to regain their title challenging status.

The new year started well, with a 3-2 home victory over Macclesfield Town, the goals coming courtesy of Poppies’ towering defender Russell Lewis, Dougie Keast and the irrepressible Frankie Murphy. The next four games all ended in draws and it appeared the early momentum had somewhat stalled. Then came an impressive winning run of six successive league victories, the highlight being a 5-0 away hammering of Dagenham, with Andy Tillson, Frankie Murphy, Paul Richardson and Mark Smith (scoring two) providing the goals.

Four matches later, Kettering’s unbeaten run had been further extended to 15 league matches and the 2-0 home victory over main challengers Lincoln City in front of a 4,135 vocal crowd had left the club’s supporters not surprisingly with high expectations of celebrating at the end of the season with the GM Vauxhall Championship and promotion to the Football League.

Sadly, the chants of ‘Easy, Easy’ were cruelly silenced when Kettering lost their remaining three league matches without even scoring a single goal in reply, beaten home (0-3) and away (0-1) by Runcorn, sandwiching a 2-0 away defeat at Enfield, and the Poppies slipped to 3rd place, 7pts behind champions Lincoln City and 5pts behind runners-up Barnet.

Bitter disappointment for the club’s supporters had at least been offset somewhat by the successful on-field rebuilding job carried out by manager Alan Buckley, but they were then dealt a further blow when the Poppies boss quit Rockingham Road in the summer of 1988 to take over as manager of Grimsby Town.

Buckley not unexpectedly, took several key players with him to Blundell Park, Arthur Mann, goalkeeper Paul Reece and Andy Tillson, but in his short tenure at Rockingham Road, Buckley had not only managed to turn around the club’s playing fortunes with their highest league finish for seven seasons, but also had boosted the Trophy cabinet with the Northants Senior Cup, the Maunsell Cup and the GMAC Cup.