THE POPPIES AND THE CUP (ISBN 978-0-9567327-1-2) by Bob Brown & Mel Hopkins. A4-format softback, comprising 220 pages sprinkled with black & white and colour illustrations. Priced at £20.
On 16 March 1872, Wanderers beat the Royal Engineers by a goal to nil to win the first FA Cup final. Some eight months later, a football club was founded in Kettering. Although it would be another 16 years before that club entered the competition, and a further four years before it recorded its first victory, it is the FA Cup which has, over the past 130 years, provided some of the greatest days in the history of Kettering Town Football Club.
Building on a quarter of a century’s research by Mel Hopkins, and with reference to hundreds of match reports in the local Evening Telegraph (more latterly Northants Telegraph), THE POPPIES AND THE CUP is an account of Kettering’s FA Cup odyssey across thirteen decades, beginning with the first match to be played in connection with the national knockout competition anywhere in Northamptonshire: Kettering v Newark, 6 October 1888.
Since that day, the club has hosted Cup-ties - from the preliminary round, through six qualifying rounds and an intermediate round, to the fourth round proper - at five different home grounds: Eldred’s Field, North Park, Rockingham Road, Nene Park and Latimer Park. There have been county derbies aplenty (occasions when local pride and a settling of old scores is as much at stake as a place in the next round) as well as lengthy and sometimes arduous journeys to villages, towns and cities the length and breadth of the land.
Occasionally, glory has beckoned, and the national spotlight has illuminated the town. Eighteen times a Football League team has been humbled; five top-flight clubs have been played; on six occasions Kettering’s name has gone into the hat as one of the last 32 clubs remaining in the competition; and on 23 February 1901, when the Ketts (as they were then known) lined up to face Second Division Middlesbrough on a poor pitch on Teesside, they were one of only 16 clubs left standing, with a place in the quarter-finals the prize.
Home and away, in fair weather and foul, matches have been contested against some of the smallest clubs in domestic football, and some of the biggest. From an afternoon amid the greenery of rural Cogenhoe, to a day beneath the belching chimneys of Victorian Cottonopolis, home of the club now known as Manchester United; from welcoming the amateurs of Gedling Grove to North Park, to rolling out the red carpet at Rockingham Road for the arrival of Premier League Fulham; from the genteel surroundings of Cambridge University, to a raucous night at Leeds United’s Elland Road; from gatherings of barely 200 hardy souls, to crowds in excess of 18,000; from slinking home from Spalding, tail between legs, to the glory of slaying the Leicester Fosse giant; from an 8-0 defeat, to a 16-0 victory; from AFC Bournemouth to Yaxley, via Blackburn, Charlton, Derby, etc. . . .