AFC Rushden & Diamonds: A New Hope.

Many things have happened on June 11.

Many things have happened on June 11.

In 1509 King Henry VIII married Catherine of Aragon, his first of six wives. Captain James Cook discovered the Great Barrier Reef in 1770. Steven Spielberg, in 1982, gave us E.T.

But in 2011, the director of the Rushden & Diamonds epic, after 19 years, leant back in his chair, and sighed: ‘Cut’.

Yet you would have been branded a moron, a visitor from outer space, if you had gatecrashed the 2003 promotion party and explained to the fans how they, in only two years from now, would be forced into buying their own club from their chairman for £1 and endure the humiliation of handing over the keys to Nene Park to local rivals Kettering Town in six more.

Such flannel would have elicited scores of incredulous grumbles and disapproving shakes of the head.

“We have just won our second promotion in three years and are now in Division Two (League One),” they would have retorted.

And with good reason.

They had a comparatively affluent and determined owner, a progressive fan base that frequently filled all 6,441 seats in the £30 million stadium, and state-of-the-art training facilities, including four training pitches (two floodlit) and a Sports and Exhibition Centre, all in which impressed enough the likes of Dean Holdsworth and Brett Angel to come and join the fun in Northamptonshire at the tail-ends of their careers.

Similarly, the England C team often took advantage of the pristine and streamlined pitch, as did Arsenal who popped over for a pre-season friendly in the early 2000’s.

“The facilities at Nene Park were Championship level,” remembers Roger Ashby, Rushden and Diamond’s first manager.

Speaking to the BBC, he added: “It was like fantasy world really. Before we knew where we were, we had won one or two leagues and found ourselves in the Football League.”

To the uninitiated, Max Griggs, owner of shoe manufacturer Dr Martens, bought both Rushden Town, of the Southern League, and Irthlingborough Diamonds, from the United Counties League, and amalgamated the clubs in 1992.

A meteoric rise saw the club reach the National Conference after just four years.

In 1998, under the leadership of former Arsenal and Ipswich midfielder Brian Talbot, who had taken over from Ashby a year previously, the Diamonds famously held Leeds United to a 0-0 FA Cup Third Round home draw.

They won the National Conference in 2001 and were at the Millennium Stadium a year later, losing 3-1 in the Division Three Play-Off final to Cheltenham Town, who three years earlier had secured promotion from the Conference at Rushden’s expense.

Not to be deterred, they eked out promotion ahead of Hartlepool in winning the league the following season.

These were the halcyon days. The days when the Rushden followers were satiated with footballing pleasure and players such as Justin Jackson were on £120,00 grand-a-year (and not per week as Jeff Stelling once blundered).

Yet others harboured resentment. The RUFC supporters were stigmatized as ‘Glory Hunters’, but the Nene Park faithful were caught up in a whirlpool of adventure, and so had a callous lack of concern, a blithe disregard for the ‘jealous outsiders’.

So what happened?

In 2005, with money oozing out of the club annually, and Rushden back in Division Three having failed to survive the rigours of Division Two for more than a year, Griggs decided he had done enough.

His dream had become reality, and now that reality had become a financial nightmare.

Unable to sell the club, he moved his premises, many on site at Nene Park, to China, in a bid to lower rising wage costs, and bestowed the rights to the club to the Supporters Trust.

Other businessmen tried to at least halt the Rushden nosedive, but it was already too late.

A telling moment came in April this year when a five point deduction was sanctioned by the Football Conference when the club tendered incorrect financial information in their quarterly financial reports.

Like a fourth official flaunting an injury time notification board, it knelled the end of the game.

Time was almost up.

Just like Scarborough four years ago, the Diamonds could not pay off their mounting debt and the club was wound up at the end of the season, having dodged Conference relegation quite comfortably.

Nearly 20 years has passed since Aldershot FC went bust and were jettisoned from the football league.

But that spawned Aldershot Town FC, who won promotion back into the league in 2008 – 17 years after the toll of their bells. AFC Wimbledon only took nine seasons to abscond from the confusing mire of Combined Counties and Isthmian divisions.

Is there still a gleam of hope in the Diamond?

In neighbouring Raunds, phoenix club AFC Rushden & Diamonds was created in July. They have a team entered in the Northants Senior Youth League and aspire to submit a senior side into the 2012/13 English Football league system.

Will the tearaway white and blue flag bearers be on the verge of something special next June 11?