The Early Years
The Early Years
The History of Kettering Town Football Club is a work in progress as this club has already been in existence for well over 130 years. What follows is the start of what I hope will become a much more detailed history than it is now, and with your help I will continue to build up as complete a history as possible. If anyone wants to contribute facts, articles and any pictures they have about the club’s past, they’d be most welcome and much appreciated. In the meantime, here’s the story so far ..
The formation and the club’s early years
Kettering were originally formed in 1872, turning professional in 1891. They joined the Midland league for the start of the 1892-93 season, finishing a respectable mid-table 7th out of 13 clubs, and just three seasons later they captured their first Midland League Championship, during the 1895-96 season, finishing top out of 15 clubs in the league.
The following season the club also played in the United League where they were one of the eight founding members. In 1897 Kettering moved their home from North Park to the present site in Rockingham Road. The unusual two-league season continued for the next three years, until Kettering dropped out of the United League to concentrate on the Midland League, which paid immediate dividends as they ended the 1899-90 season as Midland League Champions for the second time.
The next season the club joined the Southern League, at the start of what turned out to be a very unsettled period for Kettering, and the next 50 years saw the club move in and out of the Southern League on several occasions.
Entry into the FA Cup, 1895-96 season
On their first foray into the FA Cup during the 1895-96 season, Kettering entered at the 4th Qualifying Round stage and gained a creditable 2-1 away victory over Leicester Fosse, but were then drawn away again in the 1st Round to Newton Heath, where they went out by a narrow 2-1 margin.
The following season saw almost a carbon copy of their previous season’s FA Cup games, this time gaining a 2-1 home victory over Leicester Fosse in the 5th Qualifying Round before being hammered 5-1 away by Newton Heath in the 1st Round.
Despite a hat-trick of wins over Leicester Fosse in three successive cup entries, this time around after a replay, the 1898-99 season saw Kettering exit the FA Cup after a 2-0 away defeat at Notts County. Meanwhile, their conquerors of previous seasons, Newton Heath, were going through severe financial difficulties, but survived and changed their names in the summer of 1902 to Manchester United.
The 1900-01 season not only saw the club switch to the Southern League for the first time, but also saw their best FA Cup run to date, defeating Burton Swifts, Crewe Alexandra and Chesterfield to reach the 2nd Round stage, before being hammered 5-0 away at Middlesborough. Kettering Town centre-half Bill Jones went on to play for West Ham Utd and International honours representing Wales.
Kettering add ‘Town’ and first Southern League Championship
The start of the 1923-24 season saw Kettering back in the Southern League Eastern section but it was hardly a distinguished return, with the club finishing 15th out of 16 teams. A change in fortunes the following season coincided with a change in name, as in 1924 the club added ‘Town’ to their name, and they finished Southern League Eastern section Runners-up.
Two seasons of finishing 4th were followed by the club’s first Southern League Championship in the 1927-28 season. After ending the season as Southern League Eastern Section Champions they defeated the Western Section Champions Bristol City Reserves 5-0 in a play-off. Despite ending the following season as Eastern Section Champions again, they couldn’t repeat the previous season’s triumph and lost the play-off with Western Section Champions Plymouth Argyle Reserves 4-2.
Hapgood’s brief stay at the Poppies on way to becoming a legend
Prior to the 1927 season’s start an ex-Milkman from Bristol, who had made just one solitary appearance for Bristol Rovers, joined Kettering’s campaign, his name was Eddie Hapgood. But here was a man destined for football greatness and by October of that year, Hapgood was already on his way out of Rockingham Road, transferred to Arsenal for just £950, surely a real bargain snapped-up by the Gunners’ astute manager at the time, Herbert Chapman.
The rise to legendary footballer status of Eddie Hapgood was nothing short of meteoric, and surely not unconnectedly in parallel with the reputation of the Gunners’ famed manager Herbert Chapman and certainly coinciding with the emergence of Arsenal as an all-conquering side during the 1930’s. Hapgood went on to captain both club and country, winning five championship medals and two FA Cup medals at Highbury in 393 appearances, as the London club dominated the decade. He played in 30 full international matches for England and was captain of the national side 21 times.
The following 20 year period saw another self-imposed exile for Kettering Town from the Southern League, but included winning the 1947-48 Birmingham & District League Championship, and shortly afterwards in the 1950-51 season, the club returned to the fold, albeit again another undistinguished return, finishing 19th out of 23 clubs. An improvement in fortunes saw Kettering finishing in 7th, then 4th place in 1951-52 and 1952-53 respectively and also a minor FA Cup run that ended with a 3-0 away defeat by Bristol Rovers in the 1st Round proper during the 1951-52 season.
Lawton guides Kettering to second Southern League Championship
For the next three seasons Kettering finished mainly in mid-table mediocrity, but in the 1956-57 season, another famous chapter in the history of the club unfolded, following the arrival on 1st February 1956 of another footballing legend, and arguably England’s greatest centre-forward, Tommy Lawton.
Towards the end of a glorious playing career with Everton, Chelsea, Arsenal and especially Notts County, Lawton had been one of the biggest crowd pullers in his time at Meadow Lane and of course had played alongside a host of England’s greatest players including Stanley Matthews, Tom Finney, Wilf Mannion and Stan Mortensen, surely the finest forward line that England has ever fielded.
Almost inevitably, Lawton’s arrival at Rockingham Road lifted the club to a new level and at the end of the 1956-57 season, Kettering Town were crowned Southern League Champions for only the second time in their history, surely well worth the £1,000 transfer fee. Unfortunately, and probably just as inevitably, Tommy Lawton took up an offer to manage his former club Notts County in May 1957 and the glorious beginning came just as swiftly to an abrupt end.
In the 1958-59 season, Kettering managed a creditable end to the campaign as Southern League North Western zone runners-up, but then in 1960 they were once again back on the rollercoaster ride and at the decade’s end finished rock-bottom of the Southern Premier League and so, just three season after winning the Championship, were once again relegated to Division One.