The end of the 2010/11 football season saw the sudden and cruel demise of Rushden & Diamonds football club. After nineteen years of numerous highs and lows, a small group of the club’s supporters decided to take it upon themselves to try and ensure that those memories survived, that the friendships built up during that period could continue and prosper, and that the name Rushden & Diamonds would not be condemned to the footballing annals of yesteryear. The result was the birth of AFC Rushden & Diamonds.
A huge amount of work had already begun behind the scenes, but the inauguration of the ‘Phoenix’ club really took place on July 1st 2011 following a meeting of approximately 170 supporters at the Pemberton Centre in Rushden. Those in attendance voted overwhelmingly in favour of creating a new club, and decided upon the name AFC Rushden & Diamonds.
The ethos right from the outset was to create a community club controlled by thefans, for the fans, with no one person having a definitive say in how it is run. Hence the slogan “One fan, one vote, one community, one club.” An acting committee was quickly assembled, consisting of a number of willing volunteers, in order to manage the day to day running of the new club.
The creation of AFC R&D came too late to feasibly put together a senior side for the 2011/12 season, so it was decided that the club would run only an under 18s side for the first year of its existence. The aim would then be to assemble a senior side for the 2012/13 season with a view to competing in the United Counties League. The club successfully applied to enter the Northants Senior Youth League Western Division for 2011/12.
Another open fans’ meeting ensued where it was decided that AFC Rushden & Diamonds would play its home games at Kiln Park, home of Raunds Town FC. The next issue to be voted upon was the playing colours, with the white and blue home kit and yellow and black away kit that had become synonymous with the name Rushden & Diamonds being adopted by the fledgling club.
On July 18th, less than three weeks on since the inception of AFC Rushden & Diamonds, the club announced a major coup with the appointment of Mark Starmer as manager for the club’s inaugural season. Starmer brought with him a terrific pedigree in youth football, having just led the Rushden & Diamonds U18s side to a league and cup double.
With things taking shape off the field, work began in earnest to put together a competitive team on the pitch. Things kicked off with a 5-4 victory in a training game against Rothwell Corinthians, where more than 30 players were given the opportunity to impress the new manager. 3-0 defeats to Raunds Reserves and Wellingborough Whitworth U18s followed as the club played its first games in public,before the showpiece game of pre-season; the inaugural Dale Roberts Memorial Cup.
It was a great desire of everyone involved in the formation of AFC R&D that something be done to honour the memory of Dale Roberts, the popular Rushden & Diamonds goalkeeper who tragically passed away in December 2010. A memorial cup was arranged in his name and will be played every year between AFC R&D U18s and Cleveland Juniors, Dale’s first club. Cleveland Juniors won the first ever game 3-2, but the result was immaterial as around £3000 was raised for the Dale Roberts Memorial Fund. As a further tribute to Dale, the number 1 shirt was retired indefinitely and presented to his parents, George and Isabel Roberts, prior to the game.
By the time the new club played their first competitive game on August 25th 2011, around 40 enthusiastic volunteers were assisting the Acting Committee run the club. The NYSL game against Daventry Town was attended by 470 supporters, a record attendance for the league.
As things began to come together on the pitch, the hard work continued behind the scenes. With the help of Supporters’ Direct, a Club constitution was drafted and the club became a Community Benefit Society. A membership scheme was then launched, with members receiving one ordinary share in the club and giving each member one vote in future club decisions.
The commercial side of the club was now developing as sponsors were sought and acquired in good numbers. “Playfish” (a leader in the social gaming industry) became the club’s main sponsor. Locally, fundraising events were planned and held, helping the club to engage with the community. Links were formed with other local football clubs and businesses. A Business Partner scheme was thus established in order to give additional benefits to club members whilst providing more custom to local companies.
Soon after the first members meeting, plans to hold Board elections were announced. Using online voting as well as the traditional ballot paper, eight Board members were duly elected on March 1st 2012. The new Board at the time of writing represents 438 members (including 38 under 16 ‘junior’ members), with plans to grow this number in the coming months.
The development as a Community Club was now progressing quicker than expected; the club agreeing to closely cooperate with South Rushden Junior Football Club. This significant step ensures a clear pathway for young players from age 5 through to senior level.
During that first season the U18 side entertained and surprised most supporters by their increasing maturity and development. After a slow start the team reached the Northants Senior Youth League Knockout Cup Final, against AFC Kempston Rovers at the neutral venue of Corby FC which they won 4-1 in front of almost 500 fans.
After enjoying the midweek hospitality at Kiln Park, home of Raunds Town FC for the youth team games during 2011-12, there was a need to find a ground where games could be played at the weekend, and after a fans vote on the options they overwhelmingly supported a partnership with Wellingborough Town which means AFC Rushden & Diamonds will play at the Dog and Duck for the 2012-13 season.
In May 2012 the FA League Committee gave approval for the AFC Rushden & Diamonds Senior team to play in Division One of the United Counties League in the 2012-13 season. By this time the club had appointed Mark Starmer as the manager of their senior team, and he had brought in Andy Peaks as his assistant (who has extensive UCL experience as well as being a former player at R&DFC). He then added Scott (Biff) Carlin as first team coach.
The club also announced to formation of a ladies team, a multi-disability team, and the continuation of the Under-18 team in the Northants Senior Youth League for the 2012-13 season, with Mark Walsh as their manager.
The club also announced that for the 2012-13 season EA Sports will be their official First Team and Under 18s major sponsor, with Tempest Sports as the club’s official shirt manufacturer and sports clothing provider.
Work over the summer by the Diamonds team of volunteers, in partnership with the efforts of Wellingborough Town volunteers helped to upgrade a number of facilities at the Dog and Duck, including the introduction of an additional matchday bar, known as Dale’s Bar in memory of Dale Roberts.
Following a series of trials, Mark Starmer and his management team put together a senior squad for the 2012-13 campaign in the ChromaSport and Trophies United Counties League Division One. That season saw the Diamonds only lose two league games as they achieved promotion by finishing as runners-up in the League. They also had a good run in the FA Vase, reaching the third round proper before losing to Ashington FC.
As well as the Senior Team achieving success in their first season, the AFC R&D Ladies team won their league, the Northants Women’s Football League Division 2, and they also won the NWFL KO Cup Plate.
The Diamonds Under-18 team continued their good record, with Mark Walsh leading the team to the Northants Senior Youth League West Division title, although they were unable to defend their League KO Cup crown as the poor weather meant the competition was not held in 2012/13.