From Diamonds to Darlo: When the Phoenix Rises Part One
Dave Burin, a northwest non league football fan, writes his first article for Under The League, looking at five clubs who have risen from the ashes. In this first part, Dave looks at two clubs that came about through mergers, and then had to rise from the ashes, with their new iterations coming into being in 2011.
The phenomenon of the footballing ‘Phoenix Club’ – a club which has dissolved, only to be replaced further down the football pyramid – is still a fairly rare one. In fact, a quick Google search of the term ‘Phoenix Club’ leads me to reviews for an upmarket Basildon eatery, before I come across any reference to AFC Wimbledon or F.C. Halifax Town.
The image of the rising phoenix is a poignant one – here, it serves as a reminder that every village, town and city will always need a football club, and that financial mismanagement, dwindling crowds or waking up to find your club in Milton Keynes are no barrier to seeing a side take to the field representing your community – even if they have to start in more modest surroundings, and against less illustrious opposition.
Sometimes, as with the recently departed Hereford United, the original club gradually buckled under the strain of financial pressures. At other times, such as in the case of Darlington F.C., one incident – in this case the construction of the preposterously large and ill-planned Darlington Arena – sent the original club into a spiral. But out of darkness, cometh light…
The next five football clubs all had proud and unique histories at numerous levels of the game – from Rushden & Diamonds’ meteoric rise through the leagues, to Windsor & Eton F.C.’s royal fanbase. But their collective endings have not led to the disappearance of football for their town, their fans, and sometimes even for their stadium.
Rushden & Diamonds / AFC Rushden & Diamonds
1992 is widely regarded as the year English football changed forever. And if you lived in the small Northamptonshire town of Irthlingborough, it certainly would be for you. In April of that year, Dr. Martens owner Max Grigg bought and merged Southern league Rushden Town and Irthlingborough Diamonds, to form Rushden & Diamonds, and within four years, the Diamonds were shining in the GM Vauxhall Conference. Grigg’s club seemed a shoe-in (sorry!) for promotion to the Football League.
In 1997, the Diamonds made the step-up to league football, making Irthlingborough – with its population of barely 6,000 inhabitants – the smallest place to have hosted league football; and less populous than the capacity of R&D’s Nene Park stadium! Despite reaching the old Division Two, the heady days were not to last for the Diamonds, and Grigg sold the club for just £1 in 2005, before a slow decline ended in the Conference giving the club the boot in 2011, bringing an end to a club which, in its 19-year existence, saw more drama than many clubs experience in a century.
The same year, AFC Rushden & Diamonds were created from the ashes of the original club. Though only allowed to enter the Northants Senior Youth League with an u-18 team initially, AFC R&D eventually got their wish of a senior side, and they took to the field for the first time in the 2012-13 season. Currently top of the table in the 2014-15 United Counties Football League – beating off competition from wonderfully named opponents like Thurnby Nirvana and Peterborough North Star – the future is bright for the side now playing at Wellingborough Town’s Dog & Duck Ground. Whilst they may not be as expensive as the R&D of the mid-1990s, the re-emergence of this exciting Northants club proves that Diamonds are indeed forever.
Windsor & Eton / Windsor F.C.
Windsor & Eton F.C. may have been kitted out in the red & green of Christmas, but once January 2011 rolled around, they had more concerns than the usual post-festive hangovers to deal with. ‘The Royalists’ announced they were on the verge of dissolving, and the club suffered its final defeated at the hands of a high court hearing on 2nd February 2011. But non-league football would continue to be played in this affluent corner of Berkshire, just as it had since for over a century.
Exactly 100 years before Max Grigg was bringing together two of Northants. proudest non-league sides, the same was going on in Windsor – as Windsor St. Albans merged with Windsor Phoenix. In 1893, the year that the Labour Party had their first meeting, HMS Victoria sank, and Jamie Cureton made his professional debut – Windsor & Eton joined the Southern Alliance in 1893. The Berkshire club faced little-known sides like Hotspur FC – whatever happened to them! – and throughout their early years, were renowned for their royal support, with Prince Christian, George V and George VI all involved as patrons and fans of the club, in its early years.
Having featured in a huge range of predominantly Greek-named divisions, from the Spartan League to the Athenian League, the Windsor club won the latter division in the early 1980s, leading to the most successful period in their history. Serving up top-quality football under manager Brian Caterer, the Royalists reached the Isthmian Premier, before reaching the FA Cup’s Second Round in 1983-84, bowing out to Harry Redknapp’s Bournemouth.
Sadly, the club’s fortunes gradually faded, and after financial pressures became too much, Windsor & Eton F.C. were consigned to memory. However, Windsor F.C. were established just a day after the dissolution of their predecessor, and the Phoenix club – still at their traditional home of Stag’s Meadow, Windsor – are currently chasing the summit in the Combined Counties Premier Division. King George V would indeed be proud.
Coming up in Part Two of this exploration of Phoenix Clubs. An empty arena in County Durham, a failed stadium shift on the North Yorkshire coast, and swapping England’s most successful club for away days in Frickley and Buxton…