Colin Clarke

Colin Clarke

Kettering Town manager from June 1979 to February 1982.

The memory of a visit to Wembley, May 1979, was still fresh in most Poppies supporters’ minds as the new season got underway in a newly formed league (Alliance Premier League), with a new manager at the helm, ex-Oxford Utd veteran Colin Clarke. Ironically the first match of the new season saw Kettering up against their old foes and Wembley conquerors, but this time honours ended even as the Poppies managed a 0-0 draw against Stafford Rangers at Marston Road.

Colin ClarkeClarke made his playing debut for the Poppies in the club’s Alliance Premier League (APL) debut, in fact he was the only new face in the Poppies line-up facing Rangers: Goalkeeper Frank Lane, Roger Ashby, Lyndon Hughes, Freddie Easthall, Sean Suddards, Colin Clarke, Graham Felton, Nicky Evans, Peter Phipps, Roy Clayton, John Flanagan. The scoreless match was the first of a run of eight league matches without defeat at the start of the 1979-80 season, however only three were victories.

Three losses followed and all at Rockingham Road, as Clarke’s squad was depleted by injuries and suspensions, the latter of the three home defeats was particularly hard to take, a 6-3 hammering at the hands of rivals Stafford Rangers. The Poppies boss steadied the ship somewhat with a 1-1 draw at Yeovil Town followed by a 2-1 home win over Redditch Utd, but consistency was sadly lacking as Kettering’s results see-sawed through the festive period and into the New Year.

This inconsistency was dramatically underlined as the Poppies were first hammered 4-0 at Rockingham Road by Barrow and then beat local rivals Boston Utd 3-1 on Boxing Day and then in the reverse fixtures, won 2-1 at Barrow and lost 1-0 at Boston Utd. Things began to improve for Colin Clarke at the end of January as his team finally managed to put together a string of eight unbeaten matches, highlighted by a 4-1 hammering of Worcester City at St George’s Lane and a 5-3 victory over Yeovil Town at Rockingham Road.

The 4-0 hammering by Barrow on December 8th 1979, is of particular note for the fact that Barrow striker Colin Copperthwaite scored after just 3.55 seconds of the kick-off and then proceeded to claim all four of the visitor’s goals. The poor keeper on the receiving end was 16 year-old Peter Ryan, making his Poppies debut.

Poppies striker Peter Phipps, nick-named the Green Flash after sporting a pair of green boots, scored two goals in each game and was joined by Poppies Youth player Steve McIlroy scoring twice against Worcester and John Jones, scoring twice against Yeovil as Kettering improved their league standing into a respectable top-ten position. As the rest of the season played out, Kettering lost only twice more in their final seven games and finished the 1979-80 season in 7th place in the newly formed Alliance Premier League in Colin Clarke’s first season in charge.

It was of course still only 2pts for a win back then and Kettering’s 13 draws from their 38 games perhaps contributed more to their league position than they would have had it been 3pts for a victory as it is these days. Kettering’s first two goals in the APL were scored by Roy Clayton, who eventually finished the club’s top scorer for the season with 12 goals and the Poppies’ fans favourite departed to Barnet at the start of the 1980-81 season.

Overall it had been a quiet transitional period for new boss Colin Clarke and Kettering Town, especially following the previous season’s Wembley trip. Merthyr Tydfil had made sure there would be no repeat run in the FA Trophy with an emphatic 3-0 victory over the Poppies at Penydarren Park and despite yet another brace from winger Peter Phipps, Kettering went out the FA Cup First Round 4-2 at Reading in front of just under 6,000.

In the summer of 1980 the rebuilding process continued for Kettering under Clarke, as veteran Poppies players Roger Ashby and Roy Clayton were among those that departed Rockingham Road. Ashby took over as manager of Irthlingborough Diamonds and Clayton joined Barnet, as several fresh faces were brought in to boost the Poppies squad for their second season in the newly formed Alliance Premier League.

Goalkeeper Peter Walters, defenders Dave Pownall, Bob Curtis and striker Guy Clint arrived at Rockingham Road and they were joined by an old favourite, Dennis Martin, who had enjoyed a successful Football League career with West Bromich Albion among others.

The narrow opening day defeat, 2-1 away to Worcester City, only served to spur on Colin Clarke’s men and 4 wins followed by two draws saw Kettering looking likely challengers as the early stages of the season progressed. A single goal defeat at Gravesend & Northfleet spurned another 6 match unbeaten run with two of the 4 wins being a 4-0 thrashing of Yeovil Town and a 6-1 demolition of Frickley Athletic. Veteran Dennis Martin and youngster David Hofbauer added to Nicky Evans brace against the Glovers and goals by Martin, Evans and Easthall took second-billing to Hofbauer’s hat-trick against Frickley, Kettering’s first in the APL.

Kettering’s title challenge started to falter through the festive period and into the start of the New Year with only two wins in their next 9 league matches. An embarrassing early FA Trophy exit at Rockingham Road at the hands of Mossley and eventual defeat despite an epic three-match encounter with Maidstone Utd in the FA Cup left boss Colin Clarke and the Poppies supporters looking towards the league for redemption.

A stirring unbeaten run with 10 wins from their next 11 league games saw Kettering battling it out with Altrincham at the top of the APL table going into their final two matches. A disastrous 1-0 defeat at the hands of (soon to be relegated) Wealdstone in their final home game coupled with Altrincham’s 0-0 draw away to Worcester City gave the Robins the upperhand. In their final match of the 1980-81 season, Kettering went down 3-1 away to their old rivals Stafford Rangers and Altrincham made sure they were crowned champions with a 2-1 home victory over Yeovil Town.

Despite the valiant efforts of the stalwart Sean Suddards, his fellow defenders and 21 league goals (29 in total) from Poppies top scorer Nicky Evans, Kettering had been found wanting at the finish and to add further insult to Kettering’s late burn out, the Poppies lost the two-legged Alliance Premier League Cup Final to the all-conquering Robins, going down 3-2 on aggregate.

Frank MurphyThe summer of 1981 saw the arrival at Rockingham Road of a player who was destined to become one of the Poppies’ all-time terrace favourites, Frank Murphy. Kettering paid £2,000 to bring Murphy the short distance from Desborough Town and the Glaswegian-born striker made his APL debut for the Poppies on the opening day of the 1981-82 season in the 2-2 draw at Rockingham Road with Maidstone Utd.

Both Kettering’s goals were scored by Nicky Evans, but despite Murphy getting on the scoresheet in the next match, Kettering went down 4-2 at Boston Utd, two games later and Murhpy scored a hat-trick in Kettering’s 4-0 hammering of Trowbridge at Rockingham Road. Unfortunately, that was to be the Poppies only win in their first eight matches and last season’s runner’s up spot was already fading into distant memory.

Poppies boss Clarke had lost the services of veterans Freddie Easthall, John Flanagan and Dennis Martin, bringing in defender Iori Jenkins and goalkeeper Kevin Fox was signed on a free transfer from Lincoln City to replace Peter Walters, but was soon replaced between the posts himself by Phil Tingay.

Kettering’s second win of the season was a 5-4 thriller at Rockingham Road over rivals Altrincham, but only one victory in their next 8 league matches underlined the struggle ahead for boss Colin Clarke’s side. Back-to-back wins in mid-November gave the supporters some hope and progress in the FA Cup saw Kettering reach the 2nd Round, but a 3-0 defeat in front of 4,439 at Rockingham Road by Blackpool ended any dreams of cup glory and another early FA Trophy exit, again at the hands of Mossley and at Rockingham Road, only added to their league woes.

The festive period was particularly bleak for Colin Clarke and Kettering, 5 defeats in-a-row during an 8 match winless streak put the club firmly in the throes of a relegation battle. With the club once again in dire financial trouble, Clarke decided he’d had enough and duly resigned the managerial post at Kettering Town in an accrimonious split with the club and shortly afterwards he took over as boss at neighbouring Corby Town, leaving Poppies’ assitant manager Jim Conde to move into the Poppies’ hot seat.