Are Diamonds Forever?
January 25, 2011 3 Comments
It is far too often that we talk of football as a money rich industry based on greed. The likes of Manchester City and Chelsea don’t even batter an eye lid at spending 30million pounds on a single player. But how often is the small club considered when talking about football and wealth? Some teams in the lower realms of English football struggle to even pay their players wages.
It is not unfamiliar for clubs in the Blue Square Premier (we will call the league its rightful name, the Conference) to hit rock bottom. Established clubs such as Chester and Boston have had huge financial problems which have led to administration and multiple relegations over the last few season. However the Conference is full of teams that have catastrophically fallen from grace, lost nearly everything but have just about survived! Luton Town, Grimsby, Cambridge, Darlington …. Rushden & Diamonds!
Rushden & Diamonds story is well-known throughout the lower reaches of the football pyramid. Created in 1992 The Diamonds were formed by a merger of small time local clubs Rushden Town and Irthlingborough Diamonds. Funded by one of Britain’s richest men, Max Griggs (who is the president of Dr. Martens) and with the ambition of being a Football league club in 10 years, Diamonds quickly worked their way up the non league ladder and in 1996 were promoted to the Conference.
Between 1996 and 2000 Rushden were involved in title battle after title battle in an attempt to reach the promised land, finishing 4th twice and 2nd once, the one up one down exchange between the Conference and the Football league meant that the Diamonds always just missed out. However in the 2000/2001 season lead by manager and exArsenal player Brian Talbot, a squad full of talented non league ability and BIG money transfers from the football league meant the Diamonds finally stepped up to the mark pipping Yeovil to the Conference title.
The following season saw Rushden show as much ambition in the Football league as they had in the Conference. As well as using talented players including Billy Turley, Paul Underwood and Duane Darby from their successful non league days, they added big money signings to strengthen the squad; Paul Hall, Stuart Gray and Barry Hunter were all added from big clubs in the football league and Jamaican international Onandi Lowe was loaned from Kansas City Wizards. Lowe’s form for the Diamonds was sensational, scoring 20 goals he spurred the side on to reach the league two 2001/2002 play off finals, narrowly missing out on promotion to Cheltenham.
The following season Diamonds were again inspired by Onandi Lowe (who they signed on a full time contract) and his Jamaican compatriot Paul Hall. The Reggae boys tore apart the league and catapulting the Diamonds into a thrilling title race with Hartlepool. Fittingly the last game of the season was to be played between the two title rivals at Nene Park. That game ended in a draw meaning that Diamonds won the league title and did the unthinkable in reaching England’s third division.
Diamonds time in League One (the then Division2) was short-lived though. Maybe League One was a step to far for a club from a small town in Northamptonshire. The likes of Sheffield Wednesday and QPR swamped Nene Park with their fan base and home support was often overwhelmed by away fans. For the first time in their short history Diamonds also seemed to feel the burden of financial pressures. Despite having the smallest squad in the league Rushden had the largest wage bill and when it was evident Max Griggs had run out of money the top names had to go! Talbot resigned as manager and star players Lowe, Bignot, Hall and Underwood all went to Championship clubs. The same season Diamonds were relegated. The following season Max Griggs sold the club for £1 to the supporters trust and Diamonds were notably relegated back to the Conference in 2005.
Diamonds have had to adjust both on and off the pitch since the early 2000’s. Since their fall from wealth the club has had to come to terms with surviving on a shoe string budget. Serious cut backs have been made and like any club (or business for that matter) in financial trouble the Directors have had to make hard and controversial decisions.
Most notably the clubs current saga with Leon Knight emphasises what a club fighting for financial survival will do to make money. Signed in August 08, Knight was sacked for ‘continual breaches of conduct’ in December the same year. Despite being sacked Rushden retained Knight’s contract preventing him from joining another English club unless £30,000 in compensation was paid. Knight played abroad for two years but Diamonds extended his contract in December 2010, thus preventing him from joining Darlington. Knight has publicly slammed Diamonds (see his Twitter account here, scroll back until December to see his Tweets) accusing Chairman, Keith Cousins and funder Colin Hill of physically threatening him. Whatever your take on the situation, it shows that Rushden will do anything to try to get some extra money through their books.
But there is a lot more behind Diamonds survival and stability than a potential transfer fee from Leon Knight. Like all clubs in the conference part of surviving is accommodating talent from the football league. Cost effective with quick rewards, loan signings have proved a valuable way for a financially restricted club such as Diamonds to survive. Big names such as Billy Sharp, Jamie Ashdown and Caleb Folan have all been on loan at Nene Park and the Northamptonshire club has certainly contributed in the development of these players careers.
Although Max Griggs over investment was the eventual undoing of Griggs’ Diamonds, the money which he put into the clubs facilities has undoubtedly saved the club. The high-class training facilities and youth set-up at Rushden has meant that the club has been able to bring through player after player from the youth system. Players such as Simeon Jackson(Norwich), David Bell(Coventry) and Lee Tomlin(Peterborough) have all come through the Diamonds youth system and their performances and consequent big money moves have helped to keep the club alive.
Like every fan I want to see Diamonds go on to have promotion after promotion climbing their way up the footballing ladder. With promotion there will obviously come financial benefits, but as seen in Diamond’s past promotion comes hand in hand with higher wages and increased expectation. Realistically the conference is where Diamonds belong, their fan base and money-making potential is too small to be facing the likes of QPR and Sheffield Wednsesday and for that reason this is the league where they are financially stable. What I would say is Rushden and Diamonds story is one that can be learnt from, Chelsea and Manchester City be careful because when that financial bubble bursts (and it will do one day) things won’t be so rosey.