Between the Wars: 1919-20 to 1938-39

Travel details to Selhurst Park

Travel details for supporters journeying to Selhurst Park in 1937 - the second of Kettering’s three visits to the ground in the Cup. Although they would lose the replay, a 2-2 draw away to Third Division South club Crystal Palace represents one of the finest results achieved by the Poppies during their United Counties League days. Indeed, at one point Kettering led 2-0, and The Rev O.F.M. Campbell, minister of Fuller Baptist Church, later confessed his wild exuberance at the feat in an address to members of the Kettering Rotary Club: It is true that I was in the directors’ box, and that when the first goal was scored I threw both my arms in the air and cheered for about five minutes. When the second goal was scored I hit Mr. Frank Summerly so hard on the back that he nearly fell out. Beyond that, I think I behaved with the dignity of a parson.

Football League opponents during the period: Grimsby Town, Gillingham, Coventry City, Charlton Athletic, Crystal Palace, Newport County, Queen’s Park Rangers.

Classic Cup-ties: Scunthorpe United v Kettering, 1926-27

It was a case of into the unknown when the Poppies were drawn to play at Scunthorpe United (technically known at the time as Scunthorpe & Lindsay United, the club would be admitted to the Football League in 1950 and drop Lindsay from their title eight years later). That they were members of the Midland League was a matter of fact, but their footballing merits divided opinion among Kettering supporters. As one correspondent put it: Some looked upon it almost as a ‘cakewalk’ . . . knowing ones kept silent with a ‘wait and see’ demeanour; and of course there were others, pessimistic to the marrow, who always predict disaster until success is actually achieved. Even the size of Scunthorpe itself called for clarification, the Evening Telegraph confirming:

[it] is not a village, as some people were under the impression locally, but an important commercial town made up of about 33,000 inhabitants [that] played an important part in iron and steel products during the Great War. To-day, like all other iron and steel areas it is under a cloud, and is badly hit by the lengthy dispute in the coal industry . . . Scunthorponians are Scunthorpe to the backbone . . . whole-hoggers for their team, whom they familiarly call the Nuts, but at the same time they show their appreciation of good play on the part of opposing teams.

Having cleared up any misconceptions regarding the town, the piece continued with a description of the tedious journey into deepest Lincolnshire:

[The team] left Kettering light-hearted and confident about 2.30 on Friday afternoon, their motor coach reaching Lincoln about 7 p.m. The journey of about 30 miles was resumed about 9 o’clock the following morning, and an hour and a half later they were at Scunthorpe in readiness for what proved to be a great struggle. The only damp squib, and that a rather large one, was the inclement and windy weather and the greasy nature of the ground.

While the players were getting ready for the fray, several motor coaches brought contingents of supporters from Kettering. These had left the town about eight o’clock, and arrived on the ground in good time. There was no mistaking that they were supporters of the Poppies. They all wore the bright red flower. Some carried bright red balloons, the motor coaches were festooned with red, and several of the bright sparks wore bright red tam-o’-shanter hats, which caused some of the crowd to regard them as Poppy Heads.

. . . Everyone who went from Kettering must have been impressed with the splendid ground, with its level pitch, and two spacious stands, one on either side. It had rained during the morning, and the ground was treacherously slippery. Twenty minutes before the time announced to commence play, a gusty wind was blowing at a complete angle across the ground; but when the whistle blew this had veered round, and was blowing from goal to goal . . .

This condition rendered the winning of the toss of great importance, and when it was found that Bill Collier had called head instead of tail, or vice versa, the happy band of pilgrims from the Holy City showed some perceivable signs of despondency. This despondency quickly vanished when the Poppies immediately made tracks for the Scunthorpe goal. This lead-off was but a flash, for, with the knowledge of the ground and aided by the wind, the home side set up what may be described as shock tactics. In these they introduced tremendous earnestness, and although they continued for some time to threaten the Kettering trenches, in their over-eagerness a great deal of their barrage went over the top [images of the Western Front remained strong in the national psyche]. Several times it looked impossible for the gallant Poppy defenders to withstand the onslaught, but steady and solid work by the half-backs, a good understanding between the backs, and splendid work and anticipation on the part of [goalkeeper Bert] Blake, enabled them to keep the raiders from a successful penetration. It was a gruelling time, and only a team which had been well trained could have come out of it scathless.

Eventually the Scunthorpe forwards began to falter, and a different complexion came over the game. The Poppies played as a team, and put in steady, forceful, solid methods. There was no individuality on the part of any of the players. Control the ball, and part with it to the best advantage at once, was the basis of their tactics. Almost midway through the first half Kettering were awarded a free-kick. Collier thumped the ball into the area, Andy Chalmers flicked on, and Fred Harris dashed in to score with his head.

The second period had barely begun when heavy rain began to fall, and both sets of players were soon covered in mud. With Kettering mastering the conditions better, much of the second half was conducted in Scunthorpe territory. The hosts, however, were always dangerous on the break, and it was from a swift counterattack that United equalised.

But the Poppies refused to be knocked out of their stride; and in the 80th minute Harris’s cross was met by Jack Starsmore who gleefully thumped the ball into the net. It was a splendid goal, concluded the Evening Telegraph’s report, well worked for and scored.

Kettering had beaten Scunthorpe, and earned themselves a home tie against Coventry City in the competition proper.

Chapters to Explore . . .

BBD&P 2020