|The Observer, 12th December 1999, transcribed by Kay Collins
Jon Henderson recalls the days at Rushden when they could only have dreamed of a match such as today's at Sheffield.
Too big for their Doc Martens
THIRTY-FIVE YEARS ago I was The Russian. No, not a Russian, who had Anglicised his name after fleeing the Evil Empire, but The Russian, the man who reported on Rushden Town for the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph.
Alas, The Russian and Rushden Town are no more. The former has been stripped of the wonderfully incongruous nom de plume that provided essential cover in sticky situations. 'Did you see that crap in the ET about Rushden Town?' 'Yes,' I'd say. 'Appalling wasn't it.' 'And the dipstick doesn't have the courage to use his proper name.'
My identity was further protected by a splendid picture byline, a drawing of a fearsome-looking Cossack. Every Saturday evening, The Pink 'Un, the special sporting edition of the paper that carried local and national football scores and reports, would have a row of these drawings. The Friar covered Kettering Town (was too busy being The Russian to wonder what the link was here), The Doughboy wrote on Wellingborough (there was a flour mill adjacent to the ground, I recall), Corby's scribe was The Steelman (iron ore was mined locally), and there were many more.
Each character would appear with one of two expressions, either looking eased that his team had won, or looking downcast to indicate a draw or defeat. The scowling Cossack instantly reduced small children to tears and gave me a feeling of even greater security, certainly compared to The Doughboy, who never looked particularly fierce in his tall white hat.
And what of Rushden Town? Subsumed into Rushden and Diamonds, an amalgam of Rushden Town and Irthlingborough Diamonds. Once sworn enemies struggling to survive in minor leagues, the A6 neighbours were brought together in the early Nineties by the wealth of Max Griggs, the head of a local shoe manufacturers who were made mega-rich when their Doc Martens boots became an international fashion statement.
Good for Mr Griggs, but do we really need Rushden and Diamonds? Or rather, does Northamptonshire need Rushden and Diamonds, a club that serves a largely rural community and yet has facilities of which a big-city club would be proud? Their aim, apparently, is the Premiership, but shouldn't a Premiership club receive a substantial part of their backing from a large, urban community rather than a benevolent plutocrat?
In the Sixties, Rushden (current population 23,000) and Irthlingborough (6,000) got the support they deserved - a few hundred - rather than the bloated attendances that now gather at Mr Griggs's complex on the banks of the not particularly mighty River Nene.
And The Russian got the accommodation he deserved. The two-seat press box at Rushden's old Hayden Road ground, isolated on the opposite touchline from the Victorian, gable-ended 'grandstand', was like a towering, wooden chicken coop, accessed from the rear by vertiginous steps. In a stiffish breeze, it bucked like a rodeo horse and I feared a prosaic end as the whole structure pitched forward into the mud.
In my time, the secretary of the football club was a lovely man called Ken Ambridge, and it was a thrill to discover last week that he is still going strong at nearly 80. He recalled his first major signing for Rushden in the early Fifties when he bought Ted Duckhouse, a battling centre-half. Duckhouse had been with Walsall and Birmingham, and Rushden learnt that he was being released by his latest club, Northampton. A deal was done, including a house in Rushden that the supporters club secured for £900.
Duckhouse duly gave sterling service, but the club lost money on him. The house they bought him was condemned by the local council and they got only £500 for it. 'I think a Polish bloke bought the site,' says Ambridge. 'He built a hairdresser’s on it and made a packet.' In those days the players were paid £1.10 a week, taxed at 33.3 per cent, with a win bonus of £1 and 10 shillings for a draw.
All of which may sound like an unnecessary outpouring of nostalgic trivia, but the point is Rushden was that sort of footballing town. It enjoyed football but knew instinctively it was not the natural home of a Football League club. Goodness knows what scowl the Cossack would summoned at such pretensions.
But I'd still love to see them stuff Sheffield United at Bramall Lane today.
|On the same page: Team News Rushden have been beaten just once in 10 games, scoring eight goals in their last two.