Crunch time for Poppies' appeal
Kettering Town have scored more FA Cup goals - 843 of them - than any other club. They were also the first British team to carry a sponsor's name on their shirts and the first to have their initials spelled out in their floodlights.
But hopes of scoring an 844th cup goal, providing a national stage for another local firm or seeing their name in lights again are teetering on a precipice called debt.
With only nine league games to play, the Poppies are facing relegation from the Blue Square Bet Premier - the national division of the Conference - but the prospect of sixth-tier football is the least of their concerns.
Already this season, they have been fined, docked points, prevented from signing new players and narrowly avoided being forced to play behind closed doors. That particular threat passed when a £17,000 police bill was settled - they now just have the £42,000 tax bill to worry about.
I have written about HM Revenue & Customs' royal hump with football so many times I am tempted to ask for a rebate but Kettering Town's tax difficulties do not require much in the way of additional explanation.
Like far too many clubs - at every level - they have existed at the margins of their means for a long time. Financial brinksmanship is fine when you have a friendly bank manager and patient tax authority but football has not seen those for some time.
Kettering took over Rushden & Diamond's Nene Park ground when their Northamptonshire neighbours went bust last season. Photo: Getty Images
There is one slightly unusual, although not unique, element to this story and it is one that underlines the follies of "the football industry".
Last summer, after a breakdown in negotiations with their landlord, Kettering Town decided to leave their Rockingham Road base and move 10 miles to Nene Park, the former home of Rushden & Diamonds. Younger readers might now be mouthing "Rushden & who?"
Well, the Diamonds were an artificial construct that marched up the league pyramid around the turn of the millennium. They did this on the bouncing soles of Max Griggs's money only to fall apart when the Doc Martens magnate withdrew his support.
The 2003 Division Three (League Two in new money) champions went bust in the Conference last year and a phoenix club, AFC R&D, currently play at Raunds Town's ground in the Northants Senior Youth League.
Which brings me back to Kettering Town: nobody will ever know now if a deal could have been reached to stay at Rockingham Road (it seems destined to become a housing estate) but what we do know for certain is Nene Park's impressive car park, comfy corporate boxes and other trimmings cost more to maintain than the Poppies can generate.
Kettering Town's 25-year lease at the £30m house that Max built gave them the "security of tenure" they needed but brought cash-flow issues that could kill them.
In a move that is reminiscent of the possibly apocryphal story about the pricing of the original Mini, Kettering's board reduced prices and sold 1,000 season tickets. Gates at Nene Park have held up but they are barely paying the utility bills.
Given all of this, it is no surprise that a team pushing for promotion to the Football League and forcing a cup replay against Leeds United only two seasons ago is now on the brink.
And with total debts climbing past the £300k mark, players unpaid and the board in turmoil, the taxman decided enough was enough and lodged a winding-up petition in February.
A timely cheque from the club's main sponsor granted the Poppies eight weeks' grace. Those eight weeks are up on 2 April and if the former Cambridge United and Weymouth chairman George Rolls has not completed his takeover by then, they are probably kaput.
There are fans of Cambridge and Weymouth who will say this represents a rock-or-a-hard-place choice. But there are others who might point out that Rolls's time at Cambridge was cut short by club politics and that he saved Weymouth from ruin.
Either way, it does not really matter. The 37-year-old has been running Kettering for some time now and with owner Imraan Ladak desperate to get out - and fans desperate for him to go - it is Rolls or roll over.
To be fair, the former Leyton Orient reserve goalkeeper knows he has an image problem. He might have made a mint in the recruitment business but football has yet to experience his Midas touch.
So it was with this in mind that Rolls agreed to face a gathering of Poppies fans on Wednesday. Assurances were sought and granted and he has managed to convince people who matter - people like former director Ken Samuel, who has been working all season to save his club on a voluntary basis.
Samuel and his colleagues on Kettering's emergency board have performed minor miracles but they know fans throwing change into buckets and fundraising friendlies can only go so far. The club needs real cash and it needs it soon.
Like Rangers, Kettering Town were founded in 1872 and now face an existential threat. Unlike Rangers, nobody outside of the immediate area seems to care that much.
Football, and life, can be cruel like that but I, for one, am wishing the Poppies well and hope other clubs look on and learn.
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