A Decade of Diamonds

The 2022/23 season is set to be the Club’s 10th year as a Senior side. Radio Diamonds volunteer Ollie Mortimer looks back over the last 11 years, when our only team was the U18s side playing on a Thursday night at Raunds Town’s Kiln Park

Achievements. Memories. Adaptability. Strength. Spirit. Togetherness.

These are just some of the words that spring to mind when I think of Diamonds’ journey since the birth of our phoenix club in 2011.

What we’ve experienced on this remarkable rollercoaster so far, in less than 11 years, are moments and drama that many clubs wouldn’t have had in a much longer period of time. Multiple trophies, three promotions, two play-off campaigns, memorable FA Cup runs along with several upsets, countless late, great winners and heroes aplenty from down the years – this only scratches the surface of what has been an unbelievable ride so far.

We’ve understandably had our fair share of adversity too, but it’s how you react to such times that define who you are and shape your future. Those moments have always seen the club rally round, pull together and become even stronger to help move forward and achieve the successes we have. The low times have undoubtedly made the high points even more memorable and made us be even more grateful for them after everything we’ve been through.

Irrespective of all we’ve achieved so far, to even have a club after everything that led to the demise of the old RDFC is a privilege and an honour in itself. To still have that shared love, that escape from the difficulties of life for 90 minutes each week, those friendships, that family and community feeling – you cannot underestimate its importance when it looked like we may never have something like this ever again.

To look back at just some individual moments from each season:

2011/12 – Winning the Northants Senior Youth League Knockout Cup at Steel Park, to hair-raising chants of “We’ve got our club back”, in our first season. Louis Smith’s late winner in the semi-final, the scenes that followed and the overwhelming success that the under-18 side achieved before we began senior football in 2012, laid the foundations for more unforgettable years to come.

2012/13 – Achieving promotion at the first time of asking from Step 6 (United Counties League Division One) after a final-day success in front of over 800 fans and following a 22-game unbeaten run to seal the runners-up spot. A record league attendance of 1,157 for the 4-0 victory over Rushden & Higham at Hayden Road, the performance and result at champions Northampton Sileby Rangers, the late drama against promotion rivals Eynesbury, and the FA Vase run which took us up to the north-east only to be cruelly beaten at the death, were just some of the stand-out memories.

2013/14 – Finishing third in our first season at Step 5, with a never-to-be forgotten FA Cup run in our first foray into the competition. Defeating Cambridge City (Step 3) courtesy of a last-minute Alfie Taylor winner to incredible scenes at the Dog & Duck before reaching the Third Qualifying Round where we faced Conference South side Dover Athletic. Another memorable Taylor strike levelled matters going into the break before we ended up losing 3-1. Also winning five ties to reach the FA Vase Fourth Round was a terrific achievement so early in the club’s history.

2014/15 – Winning the league and cup (UCL Knockout Cup) double in Andy Peaks’ first full season in charge, featuring a streak of 20 matches unbeaten in all competitions at the end of the campaign. Stoppage-time equalisers at then runaway leaders Holbeach and at home to Wisbech (after winning 3-1 away there ending the game with eight men) not only proved two crucial turning points in the promotion race but also typified the never-say-die attitude that is ingrained within the club.

2015/16 – Reaching the FA Cup Fourth Qualifying Round, and Liam Dolman’s 95th minute equaliser at Barwell to force a replay only to then bow out. It looked like we might win the title only to suffer a bad run of form which we then bounced back from to reach the play-offs. This resulted in one of the best team performances we’ve seen in defeating Royston 2-1 in the semi-final in a game full of drama and tension. It wasn’t meant to be though as, despite taking the lead in the final ten minutes of the final, we ended up losing 2-1 to St Ives after extra-time. Four days later, we beat arch-rivals Kettering in the first meeting of the sides since we reformed to claim the Hillier Cup, with Jack Ashton thundering home a 93rd minute winner to end the season on a high and to once again demonstrate our capability to respond to adversity.

2016/17 – Our first (and so far only) season in a Northern Premier League saw us again reach the play-offs following a final-day victory, only to narrowly lose to Witton Albion in the semi-final. Moments such as playing at the oldest football club in the world, Sheffield FC, and Nabil Shariff’s late winner at Leek to maintain the play-off charge, will always live long in the memory, and another strong FA Cup run included taking a 3-0 lead away to Step 2 side Concord Rangers after less than 30 minutes before winning 3-1. 

2017/18 – Promotion from Step 4 was secured as we finished runners-up in the Southern League Division One East. A run of seven games without a victory looked like it may derail our top-two hopes, but we again bounced back in style with a run of five consecutive wins to seal second place. The success was built on a watertight defence that only conceded 25 goals in the 42-game season, and it meant three promotions in just six seasons of senior football. Another memorable FA Cup encounter saw us take a 2-0 lead at Alfreton (Step 2) before being pegged back to draw a frenetic match, with a closely-fought replay seeing us narrowly edged out.

2018/19 – The first foray into Step 3 saw us close to the play-offs for the majority of the season. Abiding memories include the opening-day 5-2 win over Redditch at Hayden Road, Tom Lorraine’s last-gasp equaliser against Tamworth, taking the lead over eventual title-winners Kettering on New Year’s Day in front of 2,147 spectators amidst a cracking atmosphere, and responding to that last-minute defeat less than a week later by scoring a stoppage-time winner of our own to win at Hitchin in a thrilling contest.

The two seasons thereafter were cut short by the Coronavirus pandemic, but again everybody associated with the club pulled together when times were toughest to support those in need, plus raise money through a series of initiatives, fundraising efforts and grants, to ensure the club could continue.

The three grounds we have ground-shared at so far – Kiln Park (Raunds), Dog & Duck (Wellingborough Town) and Hayden Road (Rushden & Higham) – all hold individual and collective memories that will last a lifetime. Having our own facilities is a key focus for the future, and so securing a plot of land to build upon is a big step forward for the club that will no doubt see us do what we do best – working together and supporting one another – to achieve this aim.

It’s not just the first-team and on-the-pitch successes either – it’s the vast array of teams that we have for a range of age groups, the continuous striving to make a difference within the community, and the fact that we as fans can help shape the club’s destiny, that helps to make up the club’s DNA.

The adaptability we’ve also shown throughout our time so far is one of our core strengths – whether that be the level we’ve played at, the opposition we’ve faced, changes in players and staff, the climate of the last two years and its impact, and the overarching factors that contribute to the creation, running and development of a football club for the community run solely by the fans. This is a journey where we’re always learning, always looking forward, always embracing any challenge rather than shying away from it. 

All of us – members, fans, the Board, players, staff – together have been a crucial part of this journey so far, and will continue to be as the future chapters of our exciting and dramatic story are written.

From nothing to everything – thanks to the dedication, commitment and devotion from so many people along the way. Here’s to the next ten years and plenty more to come.

Ollie Mortimer

Pictures courtesy of Malcolm Swinden Photography and Hawkins Images. Copyright Mal Swinden ©2011-19 and Hawkins Images 2019.

AFC Rushden & Diamonds

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