The 1970’s : Big Ron, the Doog and a trip to Wembley
At the end of the 1970-71 season, Kettering Town Football Club once again suffered the ignominy of relegation from the Southern League Premier into the Northern One section. However, their fortunes were once again about to change, and a successful new era began at Rockingham Road with the appointment of a new manager, an ex-Football League player making his first entry into management, a certain Mr Ron Atkinson.
After making over 500 appearances as a player, Atkinson left Oxford Utd and took over as player-manager at Kettering Town in 1971, and despite the appointment being his first foray into club management, his success was immediate, winning the Southern League North One section and with it promotion back into the Southern League.
Atkinson then quickly repeated his initial management success by leading the club to their third Southern League Championship the following season (1972-73) and the switch from player to manager had quickly established the start of a promising new career for the experienced Oxford Utd veteran.
It was only a matter of time before a Football League club came knocking on the door for the services of ‘Big Ron’ and in December 1974, Atkinson left Rockingham Road and made the short trip to Cambridge to become Utd’s new manager. Since those humble but very successful beginnings at Kettering Town, Ron Atkinson has gone on to manage Cambridge Utd, West Bromwich Albion, Manchester United, Atletico Madrid, Sheffield Wednesday, Aston Villa and Coventry City.
Incidentally, 1974 was also the last time that any significant improvements were made to the (now rented) Rockingham Road ground, when the present and still fairly imposing main stand was erected. For the Poppies, life after Atkinson soon picked up again with the much heralded arrival in the winter of 1975 of another footballing legend, ex-Wolves and Northern Ireland International striker, Derek Dougan.
Dougan and the infamous ‘Kettering Tyres’ shirts
Supposedly retiring from his illustrious playing career, Dougan took over the post of chief executive at Rockingham Road and within a month of his appointment, he had brokered a “four-figure” deal with local firm Kettering Tyres, the Northamptonshire club was about to make history. On 24th January 1976, at the start of a Southern League Premiership fixture against Bath City, Kettering Town ran out onto the pitch with their new sponsor’s name boldly emblazoned across their shirts, and ran straight into a storm of controversy. Just four days later, the FA predictably ordered the club to remove the new slogan, and despite Dougan’s claim that the ruling body’s 1972 ban on sponsorship had not been put down in writing, the groundbreaking new strip never got a second showing.
But the saga wasn’t over just yet as Dougan refused to be beaten, and he cheekily changed the slogan on the shirts to read ‘Kettering T’, claiming the ‘T’ stood for ‘Town’ not ‘Tyres’ and for the next couple of months Kettering Town got away with it as the FA scratched their heads, but in April the club was ordered before the governing body who ordered them to “remove the words Kettering T from their strip”. The FA’s threat of a £1,000 fine was too heavy a price for Kettering and the words were reluctantly removed from their shirts.
Dougan still refused to be beaten, casting an envious eye at clubs on the continent like Bayern Munich who had been enjoying the lucrative revenue of shirt sponsorship for years, and the ex-Wolves veteran got together with Derby County and Bolton Wanderers to put forward a proposal to the FA regarding shirt sponsorship. Surprisingly the proposal was accepted by the FA on 3rd June 1977, but ironically, Kettering couldn’t find a sponsor for the upcoming season and whilst Derby County’s players began that season running around in Saab shirts (and most likely Saab cars), the Poppies were left with the harsh realities of Non-League football.
During Dougan’s time at the helm of the club, the team were nowhere near as controversial ON the field, although they did gain another notable League club’s scalp in an FA Cup 1st Round replay, beating Oxford Utd 1-0 at The Manor, courtesy of a very close-range ‘strike’ from Derek Dougan who later described himself as ‘deadly from one yard’. Kettering went on to reach the 3rd Round stage of the FA Cup but were narrowly defeated 3-2 at Rockingham Road by Colchester Utd.
Controversy surrounded Kettering in the FA Cup the following season (1977-78), when they were ordered to replay a 1st Round tie away to Tilbury (after winning the first match 1-0), for fielding an eligible player. They drew the (ordered) replay 2-2 but then surprisingly went down 3-2 at Rockingham Road in the ‘second’ replay.
Mick Jones and Wembley ’79
As the club’s ‘somewhat colourful’ period in the ’70’s came to a close, the decade ended on a relatively high note, with then manager Mick Jones taking the club to Wembley for the 1979 FA Trophy Final against Stafford Rangers. Kettering had finished Runner’s-up in the Southern League Premiership scoring 109 League goals, mainly thanks to the striking contributions of the Poppies’ deadly trio of Roy Clayton, Peter Phipps and (captain) Billy Kellock and the stage was set for an epic Wembley showdown.
Sadly it was not to end in triumph for Kettering and many supporters thought the players didn’t do themselves justice (especially after such a free-scoring season) as Alf Woods struck twice for Stafford to ensure the majority of the 32,000 attendance went home ‘gutted’. But of course the supporters still welcomed the team home in large numbers and thousands lined the route to Rockingham Road to thank Mick Jones and the players for a great day out at Wembley.