Rough guide to
About this rough guide
How our predictions went
Rough guide to...Rushden & Diamonds
7 May 2003
Relationship with Division Two
New, giddy and exciting. After reaching the League two years ago Diamonds are playing at this level for the first time in 2003–04.
Reaching Division Two, really – although cup runs in the late 90s saw them take Leeds and Sheffield United to replays while still a Conference side.
Northamptonshire is not exactly noted as a hotbed of footballing passion, but on their rise through the leagues Diamonds fans have variously despised Corby, Kettering and finally Northampton Town. Division Two provides further opportunity for antagonism in the form of Peterborough.
The impressive thing about the Rushden squad is that its core has altered little since the club's non-league days. Fifteen-and-a-half stone keeper Billy Turley has been at Nene Park since 1999, while Paul Underwood – described by Diamonds' official site as an "attacking defender" – joined two years earlier. In midfield, David Bell, Gary Mills and Andy Burgess have all come through the youth system, with Burgess allegedly attracting scouts from the big clubs.
The squad nutcase appears to be former Reading and Northern Ireland defender Barry Hunter, who received his third red card of last season in the first week of October and was booked 11 times in all during the campaign. Player most likely to score against Town is probably the prolific ex-Hull striker Duane Darby, apparently a cult hero among supporters. Darby is joined up front by Jamaican internationals Onandi Lowe and Paul Hall, who made his name with Portsmouth in the 1990s. Both bagged 16 goals as Diamonds raced to the third division title.
Andy Tillson, who in 1988 was one of the first players to join the Alan Buckley revolution at Grimsby, spent a year at Nene Park before retiring last season with a long-term injury. The classy centre-half became Town's record sale when he moved to QPR in 1990 for a truly incredible £400,000.
After suffering knockbacks from Kettering and Northampton in his bid to invest in a local football club, multi-millionaire Max Griggs – successive outfitter to skinheads and students as owner of the Dr Marten's footwear operation – was forced to look further down the leagues. Initially buying into Irthlingborough Diamonds of the United Counties League, Griggs later hit on the idea to merge with Rushden Town from the Southern League Midland Division. A decade down the line Rushden & Diamonds' small but perfectly formed Nene Park stadium – built with £4m of Griggs's cash – has fulfilled its potential with the club kicking off in Division Two as the leading club in Northamptonshire. But with so small a catchment area (see below), can the fairytale continue?
With a population of about 7,000 Irthlingborough is the smallest town in England to host a professional football club.
How will they do?
Division Two is where former Conference clubs who hit the league running start coming down to earth. Diamonds will plateau and finish – oooh – 9th. Mind you, that's nearly good enough for the play-offs now...
Diamonds' online presence comprises an official site, the bog-standard commercial network things (Rivals, SportNetwork, FootyMad), some badly out-of-date fan sites, and a hell of a lot of dead links. The overcrowded, ad-ridden FootyMad one is probably the pick, but that isn't saying much. My advice? Forget the footy sites altogether and hit this photography page with some images of Nene Park and a pretty church in Irthlingborough village.