Twilight Of The Bones

“All the culture that is most truly native centres round things which even when they are communal are not official – the pub, the football match, the back garden, the fireside and the ‘nice cup of tea’.” G. Orwell – England, Your England

Since the football club that I support moved to a ground that is inaccessible by public transport, I have been spending my Saturday afternoons watching a mixture of sides in the United Counties League – Harborough, Desborough, the Rothwell Corinthians, but mostly Rothwell Town (“the Bones”).

But, as the sign above illustrates, it looks like I shall have one less option for next season – or, at least, if the club survives, they won’t be playing at their long-time home at Cecil Street.

The club was founded (as “The Swifts”) in 1895, and have spent time in the Northamptonshire League, the Leicestershire League and the Kettering League, as well as the U.C.L.. Their highest point was achieved between 1997 and 2000, when they played in the Premier Division of the Southern League.

The financing of football clubs (like the naming of cats) is a mysterious business, and I’m not sure of the precise reasons for Rothwell’s decline.  There are suggestions of extravagence and over-ambition during the boom years – as the manager wrote in the programme notes recently –

“It’s well known we have been struggling of late, but all those players of the past who earned good money from £40-£150 a week at times at Rothwell FC in a high standard not one as said I will come and help you after all you did give me the chance to play Southern League football.  Apart from one – Mick Tolton.” 

More generally, the decision to allow Sky to broadcast live football has, as predicted, hit attendances at matches hard.  Not at the level of the Premier League, of course, but lower down the leagues.  (The ban on the televising of live matches now seems to belong to the era of Retail Price Maintenance and half-day early closing – and none the worse for that, in my view.)

Clubs at this level are very much clubs (in the sense of social clubs) with any revenue generated at the gate as a bonus, and have been hit by the same blights that have affected other Working Men’s Clubs (including the smoking ban). What’s done for the Bones is ultimately that Rothwell folk no longer want to spend their evenings in the Rowellian or the Top of the Town Ballroom, given the more exotic attractions elsewhere in the town, or the consolations of supermarket booze.

It’s not so much a club that’s going under, but a way of life.

Watching football at Cecil St. this season has been a bit like watching it in the aftermath of some natural disaster, as essential facilities are cut off and the ground disintegrates.  Thieves have stolen the copper cable from the floodlights, so all games have to begin at 2.30.  They’ve had the electricity cut off anyway, because they can’t afford to pay the bill (£1,800).

Are the local community rallying round?  Not all of them.  The bumper takings from the Bones Tea Bar from their Boxing Day derby (about £90.00) were stolen, and the last time I went there was no Bovril, because the thieves had stolen that as well.

As I imagine the ground will be well on its way to becoming a housing estate by the beginning of next season (though I hope the club will find another home), I thought I’d publish some kind of photographic record to preserve what it was like in its last days.

Or perhaps there’s a Corby bus driver out there who fancies reviving a local football club?

The club flag – which seems to have taken on a different significance this season

The Press Box and the Directors’ Box (from the days when they had such things)

A floodlight, minus its cable …

and overgrown with ivy …

the roof of the cowshed behind one goal …

an old turnstile, long locked and abandoned …

a stanchion, peeling to reveal several layers of paint

the ransacked tea bar

and – saddest of all – the Rowellian and the Talk of the Town, leaving behind only the ghostly clacking of stilleto heels, the faint scent of hairsprayed beehives and the distant sounds of Matt Monro 

and this – one of the oddest things I’ve seen at a football ground – a squirrel’s tail left on one of the seats in the stand.  Presumably one of the fans – goaded past breaking point by the unkindness of fate – had grabbed a passing squirrel and ripped its tail off.

I wonder if this is what it will be like at Ibrox soon?

A Fund Raising Idea From 1903

From the Club History page of yesterday’s programme for the Rothwell Town v Olney Town match –

Evidence exists today of a signed balance sheet from 1903, one interesting item on the balance sheet gives the information that just over £1 was credited as proceeds from a smoking competition.”

Perhaps Andrew Flintoff should consider trying this for Sport Relief – after he’s finished eating hot dogs and catching lemons blindfolded.  How long do we have to wait, I wonder, before he boxes a kangaroo?

Can These Dry Bones Live? (Ezekiel 37:1-14)

From one of the world’s great sporting arenas  to another.  Today found me at Cecil Street, the home of Rothwell Town F.C., on the first day of what is, of course, one of the most significant days in the sporting calendar – the Extra Preliminary Round of the F.A. Cup.  The luck of the draw meant that the Bones (so called after the ossuary in the crypt of the Church of the Holy Trinity) took on their near neighbours Desborough.

Both these clubs have experienced difficult times recently.  Rothwell almost went out of business earlier in the year, and now find themselves wholly amateur and in the same division as Harborough Town.  Desborough’s club house was burned down a couple of years ago, and they have just had the copper cabling in their floodlights stolen.

Cecil Street does suffer slightly in comparsion with Lord’s.  The state of the lavatories –


would have been the cause of raised eyebrows in a field latrine at the Battle of the Somme.  One of the turnstiles –

is abandoned and overgrown with weeds. 

But only a churl could complain, for the price of admission – £4.50 – about a lack of incident.  We saw a virtuoso display of handshaking

two sendings off, followed, in the first case, by a fracas

a tumultuous thunderstorm

a last minute penalty, tipped over the bar by the ‘keeper

and eight goals in all – the final score 5-3 to Desborough.

What more could you want?  And congratulations to Blackpool, who were, I believe, briefly top of the league in some other competition today.