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 since the club was formed by the merger of Rushden Town & Irthlingborough Diamonds, 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 the fans, 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.”
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, and another open fans’ meeting decided that the club would play its home games at Kiln Park, home of Raunds Town FC.
On July 18th 2011, 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.
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, and is referenced in the club’s Mission Statement.
The commercial side of the club was now developing as sponsors were sought and acquired in good numbers. 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. 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 meant AFC Rushden & Diamonds would play at the Dog and Duck from the 2012-13 season onwards.
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 (Step 6 of the Non-League Pyramid). 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 brought extensive non-league 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.
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.
On Saturday 18th August 2012 AFC Rushden & Diamonds played their first ever senior fixture when a crowd of 784 saw them defeat Thrapston Town 3-0 at the Dog & Duck.
That inaugural 2012-13 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 in 2012-13, 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 in 2012/13, although they were unable to defend their League KO Cup crown as the poor weather meant the competition was not held in 2012/13.
The 2013-14 season started with a meeting of the Diamonds members, where it was agreed that a top six finish in the UCL Premier as well as a good run in the FA Cup and FA Vase were the targets for the season. These targets were delivered, as the side finished third in their first season at non-league Step 5, as well as having excellent runs in both cup competitions. In the FA Vase they won five ties to reach the fourth round proper. In their debut season in the premier Cup competition they won four ties to reach the third qualifying round of the FA Cup, including a victory over step 3 side Cambridge City. Diamonds player Russ Dunkley won the FA Player of the round award for the first qualifying round.
Despite all of these achievements Diamonds’ Manager Mark Starmer resigned in March 2014, with his assistant Andy Peaks being appointed to replace him shortly afterwards.
The 2014-15 Season was the club’s most successful to date. The club clinched the United Counties Premier Division title and promotion to Step 4 football, with an unbeaten run of 17 league games at the end of the campaign ensuring they kept ahead of their rivals.
The unbeaten run was stretched to 20 games in all competitions as the Diamonds clinched the UCL League and Cup double in early May 2015 with a 3-0 victory over Potton United in the UCL Knock-Out Cup.
Further success came from the newly formed partnership at U18 level, as the link with the Malcolm Arnold Academy brought the English Colleges Football Association East Midlands Category 2B League Title for the 2014/15 season. The scholars also reached the final of the NFA David Joyce U18 Cup.
A successful start to the Diamonds first season in the Southern League Division One Central saw them extend their unbeaten run to 32 games. They also had their best season to date in the FA Cup, reaching the Fourth Qualifying Round.
The aim of reaching the end-of-season playoffs was achieved at the end of the first season at Step 4, with the Diamonds reaching the playoff final before losing at St Ives Town in front of 1523 fans.
The 2015-16 season ended with silverware as the Diamonds lifted the Northants FA Hillier Senior County Cup with a 2-1 victory over Kettering Town.
(Pictures courtesy of Malcolm Swinden Photography )