Saturday, 18 August 2012

Like a Diamond from the Ashes

And so, after a few dark seasons, a strange new creature called AFC Rushden + Diamonds crawls into being, blinks a few times in the unaccustomed light, and begins its new existence on a football field behind a pub called the Dog and Duck in Wellingborough.

They call them "phoenix" clubs. There was once - long and merry ago now - a club called Rushden and Diamonds. Formed with ambition and money from the Dr Martens boot and shoe empire, they climbed from the United Counties League, through the Southern League, then after all the tricky years in the Conference they got as high as League One. And then the shoe industry, like that on the Frogstar planet, went into a decline. And, over a few short years, the club descended and then folded.

Now tumbleweed blows across the pitch at Nene Park, former home of the Diamonds. Football is seen no more. The pass-and-move, passion and fire of the old days is as a memory. Or, to put it another way, Kettering Town play there.

But somewhere in those muddy fen-edge Nene water-meadows, hope was already stirring. A sense that something even as artificial as welding Rushden Town and Irthlingborough Diamonds together had produced something special. Could they not start again - produce something organic, something new, something that could thrive?

And so today it all starts again. Diamonds v Thrapston on a borrowed pitch with just one stand with about 100 seats, and that will probably be sufficient. A light year from the millionaires who will also be kicking off their season today. But this is a field of dreams, this will be a new theatre of hope and anguish. This is a community club, whose owners are the fans and whose visionairies thought they could start again from the bottom.

Burton's happy. He's seen the fixture list, and AFCRD are going to be playing a couple of our local clubs - Olney and Buckingham - though it may be a few years before they once again play Bedford or even Luton. But he says this is a sign that the hope of resurrection is in every human spirit. I tell him not to use concepts he doesn't understand, and get a move on learning that rude song about MK Dons. One day he'll need it. One day.

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