Dave Needham

Dave Needham

Kettering Town manager from October 1983 to October 1986.

Dave Needham took over as Poppies manager following the departure of Don Masson and a brief period when he shared the temporary post with Peter Denyer. Needham had arrived at Rockingham Road at the start of the 1983-84 season and made his APL playing debut for Kettering in their opening day 3-2 home defeat at the hands of Scarborough.

Needham took over with only a third of the season gone, but already things were looking bleak in the league front for Kettering and despite their 3 wins in-a-row at the start of October helping points-wise, they oon settled back into the rut and continued to struggle, especially in the goal scoring department.

The FA Cup provided no respite for the struggling Poppies, the visit of Swindon to Rockingham Road in November in the 1st Round ended in complete slaughter as the Wiltshire outfit ran out 7-0 winners. In the league, Kettering went 11 matches without a win and the situation once again looked gloomy as the season went into it’s final third with Kettering entrenched in the relegation quagmire.

February 1984 saw much improvement in their league form and going into March Kettering were gaining valuable wins courtesy of goals from Frank Murphy and David Hofbauer, but player-manager Needham’s side still hadn’t pulled clear of the bottom section of the table. The Poppies’ away form was especially poor, the traveling support having witnessed just two wins all season going into April.

Ironically a 3-0 away win over Barnet at Underhill and a win by the same margin over Worcester City at St George’s Lane on the final day of the season turned out to be Kettering’s only two wins in their last 11 league matches. A 2-0 defeat away to Yeovil in their penultimate league fixture saw them level on points with the Glovers and only two teams below them in the table, but with their final day win they finished 2pts above the Somerset outfit and as it happened only two teams were relegated. Bangor City and Trowbridge Town being the unfortunate pair, while Kettering had finished in 19th place for the third season running.

Although there was relief at having survived another relegation dogfight at the end of the season for Kettering Town supporters, they were still reeling from the departure of their terrace hero, Frankie Murphy. Needham had decided that Murphy didn’t fit into his plans for the side and received heavy criticism from the supporters for letting Murphy join Nuneaton Borough, let alone before Kettering were nowhere near safe from the end of season drop.

Needham’s explanation did little to assage the supporters’ anger, stating that although Murphy was a proven finisher and crowd pleaser, “his ability to fit into a successful team plan leaves a lot to be desired”. Fortunately for Poppies fans, fate conspired to allow them another dose of the ‘Murphy Magic’ when rejoined the Poppies several seasons later.

Dick Dawson had been brought in by Needham as Murphy’s replacement up front and joined at the start of the 1984-85 season by defenders Tim Thacker, Nigel Thrower, Greg Fee and Dave Wharton, midfielder Billy Jeffrey and strikers Keith Alexander and Dennis Jenas. A couple of months into the season and defender Ian Bolton and strikers Mark Smith and Terry Shrieves were added to Needham’s much-changed squad.

The new faces took time to settle in and gel at Rockingham Road, with the club recording just one victory in their first eight league matches in the newly renamed Gola League. Their second victory was a 3-0 home win over Runcorn with two goals from striker Dennis Jenas, but a 4-2 defeat at Barnet quickly followed to dampen the celebrations. However, Kettering finally began to string together some better results and going into November put together a run that saw them unbeaten in the league through the festive period, highlighted by a 6-1 thrashing of Bath City at Twerton Park. Shrieves and Alexander scoring twice each, with Smith and Jeffrey rounding off the rout.

Billy Jeffrey was also making his mark in the FA Cup, scoring three times in the four matches played, although both the 4th Qualifying and 1st rounds went to replays, before Kettering crashed out, narrowly defeated 3-2 by AFC Bournemouth at Rockingham Road after bringing the Cherries back from a scoreless first match at Dean Court. It was certainly no disgrace to lose to the 3rd Division outfit who, under the managership of Harry Redknap, went on to dump Manchester Utd out in the 3rd Round.

A 5-3 defeat at Enfield and a 3-1 reversal at local rivals Boston Utd spurred Kettering into action as they went on to win their next four league games, including a 4-0 thrashing of Barnet at Rockingham Road. The latter part of the season saw the Poppies stumble again and they only managed two wins from their final eleven matches, a 3-0 win over bottom club (and eventually relegated) Yeovil Town and a 5-0 hammering of Frickley Athletic, but by then the supporters had already become disillusioned with Kettering’s season and only 760 were at Rockingham Road to witness it.

In the Poppies final league match of the season, they lost 1-0 to Wealdstone, already crowned champions despite a gallant effort to catch them that saw runner’s up Nuneaton Borough unbeaten in their final 14 fixtures including 11 wins and 3 draws. Ironically Wealdstone lost their final fixture 7-0 away to Barnet, but by then the result was all but academic.

On paper, the 1984-85 season had been quite an improvement for Dave Needham’s side with twelfth place in the Goal League and a narrow defeat in the FA Cup by 3rd Divsion AFC Bournemouth (back then there was still a Fourth Division) after a replay and team captain and midfielder Billy Jeffrey topped the club’s scoring charts with 20 goals.

Off the field however, with Kettering Town Football Club’s owner-chairman John Murphy in financial dire straits, he was looking to sell the club to a consortium of local supporters. However, the deal fell through and at the last minute local farmer Ben Pickering stepped in to pay-off the clubs debts, buy the Rockingham Road ground (reportedly for a fee of £70,000) and then leased it back to the club for a ‘nominal rent’.

Looking back with obvious hindsight, the summer of 1985 was undoubtably one of Kettering Town Football Club’s darkest hours. Kettering were only spared being kicked out of the Gola League by a ‘rescue group’, who not only paid the club’s registration fee but actually took it right upto the doorstep of League Chairman Jim Thompson just hours before the deadline. The lack of owning their own ground has undoubtably held Kettering back in terms of collateral in recent years when it comes to talk of moving to a new ground, however at the time it probably seemed like the only way out for desperate chairman-owner Murphy.

With the club’s off-field drama slowly fading behind them and the strange sight of an empty lot behind the Rockingham Road End where the old Tin Hat social club had been demolished half-way through the previous season, Dave Needham’s side kicked-off the 1985-86 season with a seven match unbeaten run in the Gola League. Boosted by new £2,000 signing Ian Crawley from nearby VS Rugby, fellow striker Jim Kabia and FA Cup winning defender Dave Watson, after the ex-Sunderland, Derby County, Manchester City and England (amongst a host of well-known teams) centre-half had come out of retirement to help out at Rockingham Road.

Unfortunately for Needham the defence wasn’t as solid as it appeared and 16 goals in a ten-match winless streak including a 5-1 hammering away to Cheltenham Town in mid-October cut-short the supporters hopes of challenging for the title at the end of the season. Three home wins looked to have put Kettering back on track with a goal scored in each victory by midfielder Greg Fee, but as the festive season approached the Poppies stumbled again and received a 4-1 thumping away to local rivals Boston Utd on Boxing Day.

A measure of revenge was eventually gained in the derby return at Rockingham Road on New Year’s Day as Ian Crawley’s hat-trick saw Kettering run out 3-1 winners over the Pilgrims. Cup competitions brought a mixed bag for Poppies supporters and although an early exit in the 4th Qualifying Round of the FA Cup by a single goal margin at the hands of Chelmsford City hardly brought much joy, Kettering started out on a long FA Trophy run which eventually saw them narrowly miss out on another Wembley Final, after going down 2-0 at home to Runcorn (after a scoreless first leg at Canal Street) witnessed by 4,032 fans.

Kettering’s league season petered out with just one victory in their final eight league matches and they eventually finished in a fairly respectable 9th position, Enfield finished champions and Barrow, Dartford and Wycombe Wanderers were the unlucky three clubs relegated. Although it was another step in the right direction as far as improvement in league positions for Dave Needham’s side, the Poppies supporters were not enamoured with the team’s play and poor attendances reflected their displeasure.

The summer of 1986 saw the arrival of towering defender Russell Lewis, ex-Notts Forest defender Paul Richardson, Andy Tilson, Steve Ward, striker Dominic Genovese and the return of a Poppies legend and ex-club captain, Billy Kellock. The former Poppies favourite scored in Kettering’s first home match of the 1986-87 season, a 2-0 victory over Bath City, but a meagre crowd of 802 signalled a difficult season ahead for Kettering and the 11th place league position was destined to be their highest achieved all season.

Kettering managed just two more wins in their next 13 league games and it was the culmination of that dismal run that resulted in the resignation of Dave Needham and his assistant Jon Nixon, the final straw being an 8-0 humiliation at the hands of Sutton Utd at Gander Green Lane. The Poppies’ abysmal performance that day was mercifully only witnessed by a small minority of Kettering’s faithful following, however I’m sure it will probably be remembered fairly clearly by one poor soul, namely Paul York, unfortunately making his Poppies debut, coming on as a substitute.