Inside the Stadium
Inside a new away ground, I get my bearings. The toilet, the programme seller, and the snack bar. Usually in that order. During these transactions, I chat amiably with some of the locals, and exchange stories of how our clubs are doing, and what the outcome of today’s game could possibly be. Our players appear to have come in several cars, as do a smattering of our fans. The supporters’ coach from Kettering arrives, and the toilets and the bar get busy.
The large number - and the equally large appetite - of Kettering fans arriving at away grounds usually catches ‘she who prepares the burgers’ on the hop. It has been known for our fans to travel hundreds of miles to the game, only to miss most of the first half due to their determination to remain in the queue for the simple acquisition of a burger. So, it’s best to order your burger before the coach arrives.
I chat with some of the one hundred or so regular Kettering away fans. We know each other really well by now, but bizarrely, we still don’t know each other’s names. It’s a very specific, football-focused, type of relationship. “How was your journey?” they ask me. I’m a bit of a novelty, or freak maybe, as most Kettering fans live in or at least somewhere near the town. I live exactly 100 miles away, in Ipswich. Needham Market, Leiston and Lowestoft were happy exceptions in recent years, but rarely is my journey of fewer miles than that of my fellow fans.
Whilst picking inedible pieces of burger out of our teeth, we debate our chances with one another. Mind you, we can’t hear one another very well, because the aging public address system is addressing its aging public with raucous dance songs that are of a totally different genre from the songs we usually listen to. Very few of the mostly concession-paying customers will be frequenting Kettering’s nightclubs when they get home later this evening. We sigh with relief when the music eventually stops, but reach for the Paracetamol once more as the line-ups are enthusiastically announced by someone who has quite obviously had little or no training in the use of amplified equipment and, on the basis of his muffled incoherence, is presumably wearing a large woollen sock over his head, stuffed with crackling crisp packets.
As for the toilets. Well, there’s an art to queuing for non-league stadium toilets, particularly at half time. You can anticipate the referee’s whistle, and make a discrete dash for the dilapidation in advance of the rush. Or you can wait till just before the players come out again for the second half, by which time most of the crowd are relieved. Arrive anytime in between, and you are jostling for places at urinals that are usually impossibly too close to one another. Almost inevitably, in the background, the dance music will have given way to some classic rock. As we stand, elbow to elbow and staring stoically ahead, the sound of Chrissie Hynde's ‘I’ll stand by you’, or The Police's ‘Don’t stand so close to me’ become particularly pertinent. There’s usually a wash hand basin, and occasionally the cold tap will work. But never in the history of non-league football grounds has the hot tap produced anything but a dry squeak. Don’t expect any soap, or a lock on the door. In some non-league grounds, there is no door. Hand driers are probably another couple of decades away. But sometimes there is a mat on the floor. Handy for wiping your feet – on the way out.
...watched Ipswich Town home and away until moving to Kettering in 1983, since when I have followed Kettering Town. If I'm not watching KTFC, I tend to seek out a game on a ground I have not previously visited.
...featured in the Kettering Town match-day programmes in the 2021-22 season.
Kettering; verb. The present continuous tense of the verb 'to ketter', as in "I know I am, I'm sure I am, I'm Kettering till I die". Or, as our fans sang once on a rain-soaked open terrace in Charlton, "I'm Kettering till I dry".
We are required to be pessimists. Being a pessimist is a large part of the enjoyment.