Kettering, 1888-89. From left to right, back row: H.T. Favell, Tommy Maycock (umpire), H.D. Foster, Fred Palmer, Fessor Lilley, Arthur Jenkins, George Wright, George Tunnicliffe, Billy Coltman (secretary); front row: Charlie Piggott, Charlie Dixon, George Bates, Jack Langford, George Wilson, Jack Hutchen (treasurer). Names in bold are nine of the eleven who played in the club’s first Cup-tie, versus Newark (not pictured, M. Brewer and Hugh Roughton complete the team). Piggott scored Kettering’s first ever goal in the competition, Jenkins the second and Wilson the third. Although the club’s first victory in the Cup would have to wait until 1892, the late Victorian period was a time of great progress for Kettering. In 1895, Loughborough and Leicester Fosse became the first two Football League clubs to fall to the Reds (indeed, Leicester would be humbled thrice in four years). In January 1899, when Kettering played Notts County on the Trent Bridge cricket ground, the First Division high-fliers were - and remain - the highest placed club Kettering have ever faced in the competition. Then, as the Victorian era passed into the Edwardian, the 1900-01 campaign found the club one game away from the quarter-finals. Although the run was destined to end at Middlesbrough, the trophy would nevertheless make its way to Kettering when, three days after winning the replayed final, Tottenham Hotspur added a splash of glamour to the last Southern League fixture of the season by bringing the silverware with them to Rockingham Road, where it was displayed before an admiring crowd.
Football League opponents during the period: Loughborough, Leicester Fosse, Newton Heath, Notts County, Burton Swifts, Chesterfield Town, Middlesbrough.
After disposing of Gedling Grove, Coalville Town, Loughborough and Leicester Fosse (the latter two Second Division clubs) in the qualifying rounds, Kettering, for the first time, had a place in the first round proper; one of only 32 clubs left in the competition - the equivalent of reaching the modern era’s fourth round.
Again the Ketts were paired with a Second Division side, this time the relatively unknown (at least in Northamptonshire circles) Newton Heath - far better known today, of course, as Manchester United. It meant a long journey to the industrial Northwest - to Cottonopolis - on the first day of February 1896.
Writing in the Football Telegraph more than four decades later, Mr A.J. Tompkins, a reporter, recalled his impressions of the place:
More vividly still, I think, can I remember the ground at Newton Heath, which was the blackest looking football ground I ever did see. About a score of tall factory chimneys were quite close to the ground, and all the approaches thereto were black cinder paths. I wore a Trilby hat, and may have stood a fair chance of being mobbed in consequence, because so far as I could see there was not another one on the ground - all the men wore caps and the ladies had shawls over their heads and clogs on their feet.
There was no telephone on hand at the Bank Lane ground, nor near it, and Mr Tompkins had to arrange for a lad from the local telegraph office to collect his material at intervals so that news of the match could be relayed back to Kettering. He was not the only Ketteringite to make the journey, among the crowd of around 6,000 were some three to four hundred supporters who had travelled by special train to cheer on the Reds. (Newton Heath were most likely wearing green jerseys.)
The Heathens eleven - somewhat weakened through suspension and injury - comprised: Joe Ridgway, John Dow, James Collinson, David Fitzsimmons, George Perrins, Walter Cartwright, William Kennedy, Bob Donaldson, Joe Cassidy, Dick Smith and James Peters. Kettering, who only the previous Saturday had lost this season’s hitherto unbeaten record, were represented by William Perkins, Sammy Wallis, William Draper, William Pell, Alf Heskin, William Mablestone, Jackie Whitehouse, Edward Panter, Joe McMain, William Miller and Harry Dixon.
McMain kicked off for the visitors, the opening exchanges occurring close to the Newton Heath goal. The hosts then enjoyed a period of possession before the Ketts were back on the offensive. Despite the visitors’ good start, it was the Manchester club who took an early lead, a swift counterattack leading to Donaldson finding the net. Kettering put everything into seeking an equaliser but the woodwork was as close as they came to beating Ridgway, who was playing a capital game between the sticks, before half-time.
A man down after the break (Cassidy being the casualty), Newton Heath began well, but the Ketts matched them at every turn. The pace of the game was quick, both teams giving their all. An almighty scramble ensued in the Heathens’ goalmouth following a corner, and the ball somehow made its way into the net, only for the goal to be disallowed on account of Ridgway having been obstructed. Another potential equaliser was struck off when a free-kick passed between the posts undeflected (other than the award of a penalty, direct free-kicks were not permitted).
Having emerged unscathed from these scares, the hosts doubled their lead through Smith. It was a bitter pill to swallow; yet still Kettering refused to lie down, and their reward came when William Pell registered a legitimate goal to set up a grandstand finish. Dixon came close to equalising with a tremendous shot which Ridgway hurt himself in saving, but save it he did, and shortly after the final whistle blew.
In its summing up, the Manchester Evening News was complimentary of the Reds’ performance:
The defeat of Loughborough and Leicester at the hands of Kettering in the qualifying stages
is not to be wondered at. They play a good game, and have plenty of dash. The only fault is
that they use their weight rather too freely. Back in Northamptonshire, the consensus was
that their heroes had been decidedly unlucky, with the referee, Mr Byr, of Sheffield,
receiving stick for not having allowed at least one other goal, it even being suggested he
could learn a thing or two from officials in the Kettering Combination!
What everyone could agree on was the excellence of Heathens keeper Joe Ridgway,
whose performance more than made up for his team playing much of the game a man short (there
were no substitutes in those days).
The 1895-96 season stands out as one of the best in Kettering’s history, capped in fine style with the Midland League championship, and forever remembered for the run announcing the club as a name to be reckoned with in the Cup.
Remarkably, given that the dream today of all non-League clubs is surely to be drawn to face Manchester United, it was to happen twice in successive years to Kettering! A different name and a bygone era, certainly, and the rewards were nothing to what they would be nowadays . . . nevertheless, Kettering would make their second journey to Newton Heath in 1897. But that is another story.