AFC Rushden & Diamonds Supporter Hayden Pott, who also contributes on Radio Diamonds, has written a review of the season to date for the club.
AFC Rushden & Diamonds
2012/13 Season Review… The Story So Far!
The season of 2012/13 was the start of an era for every former Rushden & Diamonds FC fan. The ground share with Wellingborough Town enabled AFC Rushden & Diamonds to commence their debut season in United Counties League Division 1. After watching the very successful AFC Rushden & Diamonds youth team in the Northants Senior Youth League last year at Kiln Park (the home of Raunds Town), fans had high expectations of the potential successful First Team.
Former U18s manager Mark Starmer was appointed the new 1st team manager and Starmer decided to bring in his own backroom staff, who he knew very well. Andy Peaks and Scott “Biff” Carlin were appointed Assistant Manager and First Team Coach respectively. U18s assistant manager Dean Thomas was promoted to First Team Coach too (whilst continuing being Youth Team assistant manager), while Physio Colin Hodsden, who had worked with Starmer with the U18s the previous season and with the old Rushden & Diamonds, stepped up to become Physio for the senior side.
In regard to players, some of the team was formed around players who Mark Starmer and Andy Peaks already knew from their time within the UCL. The squad was also made up of former Rushden & Diamonds players; Aynsley McDonald, George Cox, Chris Hope, Sam Brown, Elliot Dent and Jake Gillingwater, to give the squad togetherness and quality. Manager Mark Starmer signed striker Alfie Taylor, who already had a wealth of experience after playing for Kettering Town, Wellingborough Town, Northampton Spencer and Brackley Town to mention a few clubs. Alfie would soon go on to become an instant fans’ favourite. About signing for AFC Rushden and Diamonds, Taylor said “when I had a call from the management and sat down and listened to what they had to offer, it was interesting and sounded very ambitious and professional. Also as AFC Rushden and Diamonds is already a big club, I had no doubts in signing.” Having had experience in leagues above what The Diamonds were to be in, Alfie is an ambitious player and he always sets himself targets before every season, although he wasn’t going to say what his goal target was; “Put it this way, I have scored 30 goals in the league above UCL Division 1.” So it was well known that Alfie was the player who would get the club goals. Chairman Ralph Burditt commented on the signings. “As a board, we certainly recognised that the club’s inaugural season of senior football would be a crucial one. With the status and fanbase that are associated with the club and the expectation that comes with that, it was always going to be a case of the management team needing to recruit players that bought into our vision and who were excited by the prospect of being part of what we are trying to do here. I’m delighted to say that they have executed this task with aplomb and the squad which we now have contains all of the elements that I envisaged it would; i.e. a mixture of youth and experience with the focus being on young, talented local players who can develop along with the club, but with a backbone of players who have already “walked the walk” at higher levels.”
The Diamonds played a total of 8 pre-season matches home and away against a variety of different ability sides. Games against St Neots, Peterborough XI and Luton Town XI were the stand out games. Of these 8 matches, The Diamonds won 4, drew 3 and lost 1, to the expense of former Rushden and Diamonds assistant manager Paul Driver’s well drilled Luton side. A total of 18 goals were scored whilst 8 were conceded. Judging by pre-season, it looked as though, the fans would see a lot of goals this season. Striker Alfie Taylor was on target for 4 of these, which resulted in the remaining 14 goals being scored from a variety of different players, which showed the club already has great depth, and the ability to score goals anywhere in the team. The highest attendance at the Dog and Duck during pre-season came against a Peterborough XI on Friday 22nd July when 441 spectators saw AFC Rushden and Diamonds’ first home pre-season match, running out 4-0 winners. A good crowd considering the match coincided with the official opening of the Olympic Ceremony. The match also marked the opening of Dale’s Bar at the Dog and Duck, after retiring the Number 1 shirt at the start of the season.
After playing the remaining 2 pre-season matches, August was the month when AFC Rushden & Diamonds stepped out for their first ever competitive First Team match. Thrapston Town were the visitors for this special occasion and 784 fans watched The Diamonds secure a 3-0 victory. Alfie Taylor scored The Diamonds’ first ever competitive goal in front of the newly opened Peter De Banke Terrace. This turned out to be the first of many goals to come. Upon scoring the opening goal of the season and for The Diamonds, Alfie said “it was my most memorable goal I’ve ever scored; it was an amazing feeling.” The second ever competitive match was Diamonds’ first trip away from the Dog and Duck, to Wootton Blue Cross. The game finished 1-1 which was to be one of many frustrating games in the UCL this season. Nevertheless, Rushden finished August being unbeaten in their opening 2 matches.
September was to be a busy month for Diamonds as 6 matches were to be played, 3 league games and 3 cup matches. The Diamonds were to carry on their unbeaten start to the campaign in the league after 3 league victories away to Harrowby United, Olney Town and Rothwell Corinthians. The game away to Olney was perhaps the most difficult and also frustrating. A last minute goal from Alfie Taylor was enough to secure all 3 points on the day. The Diamonds signed central midfielder Jamie Gilsenan from Thrapston Town, who started against The Diamonds on the opening day of the season, and striker Jake Newman from Northampton Sileby Rangers. Gilsenan went on to appear in every match that month, but Newman had to wait until mid-October to get his first start due to other commitments. September brought the start of the cup competitions; The Les Underwood Junior Cup, UCL Knockout Cup and The FA Carlsberg Vase. The Vase match was first and The Diamonds were drawn at home to Fakenham Town in the 2nd Qualifying Round. The Diamonds ran out comfortable 4-1 winners in the end. The following week, The Diamonds were drawn once again at home to neighbours Wellingborough Whitworth. Extra-Time was needed to separate the two sides with Diamonds winning 5-3 in a match which was to be the start of a rivalry between the two clubs. The final cup match of the month was in the Les Underwood Junior Cup against Wellingborough Whitworth for the second time in 11 days. Starmer started with some younger players in order to rest key players after a busy month. Former youth teamers Ashley Foulger and Louis Smith started, joined by current youth teamers Liam Bond and Alex McDonald. A feisty affair finished with Whitworths winning 3-1 after extra time. Diamonds completed the month winning 5 of their 6 games in all competitions.
Chairman Ralph Burditt said about what the youngsters can bring to the 1st team. “It’s great to see the likes of Louis Smith and Ashley Foulger mixing with the senior squad, not simply because they were part of our youth team last year, but because they are genuinely good enough to play at this level and indeed higher. For me, these players represent the positive contribution that we are already making to local football and there is even more to come in the future – Alex McDonald and Liam Bond travelled up to Ashington with us for the FA Vase match, and this is just reward for the commitment and desire that they’ve shown to be part of the senior side. “Bondy” plays with a maturity beyond his years and looking at the way that he uses his strength and physical presence against opponents, you would never guess that he is only 17. Alex, meanwhile, is a versatile player who can tackle, pass and head the ball and has come on in leaps and bounds in the eighteen months he’s been at the club, playing in both midfield and defence for the Under 18s. I know that Starms would have no qualms in throwing either of these two into a big game should the need arise and rightly so.”
The local derby against Rushden and Higham United was the defining memory for many fans from October, or perhaps the season so far. A UCL record attendance of 1,157 saw The Diamonds comfortably beat The Lankies 4-0. However during the match, in-form striker Alfie Taylor picked up an accidental shoulder injury, which would put him out until December. Alfie said; “I was devastated. I’ve nevet been injured throughout my career, so it’s been hard, but I’ve stayed positive whilst I was sidelined and I’d like to thank the fans for their continued support throughout my injury.” The match which followed the derby clash at Hayden Road was an important one – The FA Vase 1st Round Proper. Diamonds were drawn away to Yaxley who are in the league above them. However Diamonds managed to get their name in the hat for the next round draw after beating Yaxley 2-1. Ben Morgan, who had been waiting patiently for his chance in the team took Alfie’s place up front, partnering Deven Ellwood, managed to get himself a goal in the 90th minute. However after this victory, Rushden struggled without their leading scorer. Consecutive 1-1 draws, at home to Burton Park Wanderers and Bugbrooke St.Michaels, were followed by Diamonds’ first loss of the season at the hands of Eynesbury Rovers. Captain-to-be Chris Hope described the 4-1 loss as “embarrassing” and “the worst we’ve defended all season” but insisted that the side would “stay strong and push on from here.” However the month didn’t finish there, the club announced the shock news that captain Aynsley McDonald had left the club with immediate effect for “personal reasons and a breach of discipline which saw him left out of the squad away to Eynesbury.” and Chris Hope was to be named captain on a permanent basis.
November was the month when every single game was played at the Dog and Duck. Following on from the loss to Eynesbury and the departure of Aynsley McDonald, manager Mark Starmer felt that the squad needed a shake-up. “Bringing in new players is a must.” Starmer said after the loss to Eynesbury, and he did exactly that, with the signings of winger Matt Gearing and striker Lance Allen from Cogenhoe and Bugbrooke St Michaels respectively. Neither player played during The Diamonds next match which was the UCL Knockout Cup 1st Round against struggling UCL Premier Side and ground tenants Wellingborough Town. Mark Starmer fielded a strong XI, but The Diamonds once again lacked that instinct in front of goal. Diamonds lost the game on penalties (4-3) after a 2-2 draw after extra time. Alex Deakin got his first start at centre-back in replacement of departing McDonald. Deven Ellwood picked up an injury in this game, one which would keep him out until the New Year. The visit from Raunds Town was next, and it was the first opportunity to see the two new Diamonds play for the first time. Lance Allen got a place on the bench whilst Matt Gearing inspired a great team performance from the left wing. The debutant got The Whites to a great start which was followed up by goals from Jake Newman and Captain Chris Hope. The 3 goals in the first half were enough to get the Diamonds their first victory in 5 games. The Diamonds quickly followed the victory up with a narrow win for the second time this season against Harrowby United. The Diamonds then had another tough test in The Vase. Basford United were the opponents for Diamonds in the FA Vase 2nd round. However a very attacking display meant that The Diamonds once again progressed in this competition winning 5-3. The partnership of frontmen Jake Newman and Ben Morgan, (who scored 9 goals between them in November, with Jake Newman scoring in every game) finally clicked, and impressed the fans. The addition of Matt Gearing to the team, and the partnership of Morgan and Newman beginning to look very strong, resulted in a change of fortunes from the end of the previous month, and the 3 wins at the Dog and Duck earned Mark Starmer the November Manager of the Month award. With the Diamonds’ form improving, Ralph explained what he believed to be the reason why. “Those last-ditch block tackles, throwing bodies in front of the ball have become as common from our players as they were from opposition teams at the start of the season and it’s my belief that this is what has made us turn the corner following that brief “blip” of poor form in October.” Another positive factor from November was that Alfie Taylor and in form defender Joe Merrill both signed new contracts until the end of the 2013/14 season. On signing the new contract, Alfie said; “I’m chuffed to have signed a new contract. I wanted to show the club, management, chairman and of course the fans that I was committed to AFC Rushden and Diamonds for years to come, and I’m looking forward to being part of it.”
November was a very key month that got the Diamonds back to winning ways.
When Ralph was asked to give his highlights on the season so far, after the Basford game in the FA Vase, he replied; “We’ve had some great highlights; the first ever game, the big crowd at Rushden & Higham and the recent excellent performance against Basford, the key now is to use our current achievements as a platform to push on. I was overjoyed watching the lads in that last game, something that was helped by the Basford chairman and I declaring an amnesty on not celebrating our teams’ goals, something that is usually frowned on in the hospitality area. Due to the hard work, application and effort put in by our boys on that day, I had more cause to jump around than he did and I think that’s a reflection of how far we’ve come in recent weeks.”
The final month of 2012 started with a second postponed game on consecutive Saturdays, meaning that the Diamonds had not played for three weeks when they made the 250 mile trip up to the North East to face Ashington in the FA Vase. With an impressive travelling support the Diamonds more than matched their higher level opponents in the first-half, but after going down to 10 men early in the second period they bravely held on to a 1-1 scoreline only to concede an injury-time winner.
The general concensus was that, despite the result, the weekend away had cemented an even stronger team bond, and there was an expectation this would help the team to “kick on” for the remainder of the league season. The first test of this was the game against Buckingham Town on December 15th, and the 9-0 victory that afternoon was the first step on the long journey ahead.
With Jake Newman having hit a rich vein of form meaning that he has scored in his last seven starts for the club, and Alfie Taylor having had a couple of substitute appearances as he looks to return to the starting line up to try to extend his own personal run of scoring in each of his seven starts for the club, the competition to be top scorer in the Diamonds historic first season is really hotting up.
What about the future?
With The Diamonds sitting in 4th place, 10 points behind leaders Northampton Sileby Rangers but with two games in hand, now is the time that all the fans hope the team can continue their recent run of form in the league. As a result of being knocked out of the FA Vase to Ashington recently, there is no reason why the team cannot push for promotion this season. The Diamonds still have some tough games to play in the league with fixtures against high-flying Bugbrooke St Michaels and Northampton Spencer, plus neighbours Wellingborough Whitworth over the festive period, and then tough fixtures against Northampton Sileby Rangers and Oadby Town during a six-game January (with return fixtures against all of the rest of top six in the league apart from Bugbrooke to follow in the second-half of the season), so everyone involved with the club hopes that Starmer’s men can maintain their momentum. And as for top scorer Alfie Taylor, he can’t wait to be on the pitch again, he said; “I wouldn’t be in the game if I didn’t want to be successful and win things. On a personal note, I want to help this club be successful in every way possible, and of course hopefully there will be a lot more memorable goals to come from me in an AFC Rushden & Diamonds shirt.”
I think it’s fair to say, the future looks bright for our new phoenix club.
Special thanks to Alfie Taylor and Ralph Burditt who spent time talking about the highlights of the season so far.
All information correct at the time of writing.
By Hayden Pott.
Note that the Diamonds Shop will be open on Wednesday and Friday this week (19th and 21st) for those who want to make pre-Christmas purchases, and there is the option to buy Christmas Gift Packs (allowing entry into 4 league matches of the cardholders choice) which are now available in various designs and for both Adult and Concessions. Also available are Gift Vouchers for various amounts, and these are redeemable in the club shop. Both of these make ideal Christmas presents for an AFCR&D fan and are available here and in the club shop. The online club shop is accessible here.
Match Action Images courtesy of Mal Swinden ©2012 Malcolm Swinden Photography .