Jim Conde

Jim Conde

Kettering Town manager from February 1982 to March 1983.

Jim CondeA supporters’ favourite as a Poppies striker, Jim Conde was the assistant to Kettering Town manager Colin Clarke, when in February 1982, Clarke surprisingly quit Rockingham Road in an accrimonious departure to take over as boss of near-neighbours Corby Town. Conde was appointed to the vacant manager’s post and inherited a fairly formidable task due to the financial situation at the club.

It had been five Alliance Premier League defeats in-a-row when Kettering managed a 4-4 draw at home to Dartford on February 20th 1982 with goals courtesy of David Hofbauer and Greg Shelton, added to a brace from prolific striker Stuart Atkins. Kettering were fighting to avoid relegation and new Boss Jim Conde had scant resources to try and boost the squad he had inherited from Clarke.

A 3-1 win away to fellow strugglers Gravesend & Northfleet and an emphatic 5-2 victory over Barnet at Rockingham Road gave the anxious Poppies supporters some cause for optimism. However, it was short-lived as a solitary point from a 1-1 draw at Stafford Rangers was all Kettering managed from their next six league matches, which culminated in a 7-2 hammering at Barrow in early April.

A mini-revival saw Kettering win 3-1 at home to Dagenham, draw 1-1 at Worcester City and then gain another precious 3pts courtesy of a David Hofbauer strike at Trowbridge, before the Poppies went into their final four league matches firmly entrenched in a relegation quagmire.

With AP Leamington already relegated, it was down to the remaining two relegation spots and there were five teams, namely Kettering Town, Barnet, Dartford, Gravesend & Northfleet and Maidstone Utd that were battling it out to avoid the ignominity of joining Leamington in the drop. Two matches later and Maidstone Utd were safe, Barnet and Kettering were level on 40pts, Gravesend close behind on 39pts and Dartford were slightly deeper in trouble with 36pts.

Gravesend managed to draw level with Kettering and Barnet after picking up a point at home to Worcester City and then two days later Worcester City beat Barnet 3-1 and Kettering lost 2-0 at Northwich Victoria to compound the Poppies supporters’ fears of a possible nightmare end to the season. With one match remaining for Kettering, Barnet and Gravesend and two matches left for Dartford it was all going down to the wire.

A dispirited Kettering again lost 2-0, this time away to Maidstone Utd and Barnet’s 0-0 draw at home to Boston Utd edged them a point above the Poppies to safety, but Gravesend went down 3-1 at Barrow, leaving them on the same points as Kettering but having a poorer goal difference. Dartford’s 4-3 victory on the final Saturday of the season saw them now on 39pts, which meant they were just a single point behind both Kettering and Gravesend and strangely they still had one more game to play to complete their league fixtures.

Gravesend couldn’t escape joining already relegated AP Leamington, but the final relegation place rested squarely in Dartford’s own hands. Just 24 hours later Dartford ran out onto the pitch at Runcorn to play their final league match needing nothing short of a win to avoid the drop and in the process send Kettering Town crashing out of the Alliance Premier League.

A draw would have meant that Kettering’s superior goal difference would save them, in the end it was Runcorn who ran out 4-2 winners, poor Dartford were down and Poppies boss Jim Conde and Kettering Town supporters everywhere breathed a huge sigh of relief after a very close shave. Kettering Town had gone from within 3pts of winning the championship the previous season, to escaping relegation by mere goal difference the very next.

The following season again started badly for Kettering Town and the resource-strapped manager Jim Conde. Early league defeats coupled with a 6-1 hammering by Bangor City in the APL Cup indicated another season of battling to avoid relegation lay ahead for the struggling Poppies.

With the distracting backdrop of financial dealings to try and secure the club’s immediate future undoubtedly being a cause for concern, Kettering’s next match saw them hammered 4-1 at home to Northwich Victoria. Despite the odd result going in their favour, it was not until mid October with the confirmation of John Murphy’s takeover of the club hitting the local sportspages that Conde’s team managed to string together two matches without a defeat.

Following on from embarrassing 6-0 and 3-0 hammerings at Runcorn and Scarborough respectively, Kettering showed they still had some fight left with a 4-1 victory at home to Worcester City as David Hofbauer and Derek Duggan added to substitute Jeff Banton’s brace for the Poppies. Banton scored again, accompanied by a Frankie Murphy double in the Poppies 3-2 home win over Altrincham and a strange twist saw Murphy score and this time Banton get two goals as Kettering won through the 4th Qualifying Round of the FA Cup against AP Leamington.

However, Conde and Kettering’s fortunes dipped again and they won just three matches out of their next 19 league fixtures, went out the FA Trophy after going down 4-2 at Dulwich Hamlet and crashed out of the FA Cup in the 1st Round at Fellows Park as Walsall won comfortably 3-0. The final defeat of that disastrous 19 league match period saw Kettering go down 2-1 at home to Dagenham. It also saw the last of Jim Conde as manager of Kettering Town, duly sacked by the Poppies board.

The affable Conde was as much a victim of timing as anything else when he stepped into the breach following Clarke’s accrimonious departure to the Steelmen. Denied the resources to strengthen an ailing Kettering squad, he tried desperately to bolster the team while having to rely on a mix of the players he inherited and the Poppies Youth side, but ultimately was relieved of the burden with Kettering not-unexpectedly in the same position as when he had taken over 12 months earlier.

At the end of the season it was another anxious finish for Kettering Town supporters, once again clinging to survival in 19th position and escaping relegation by a combination of goal-difference and only two teams being relgated, in an almost deja-vu-like flashback from the previous season’s nail-biting climax. The transition to the Poppies’ incoming boss, ex-Scottish international Don Masson, was another baptism of fire in the Poppies managerial hot-seat.