Monday, 31 March 2014

A graveyard of football dreams

The deserted Rushden & Diamonds stadium
Irthlingborough is a routine stop-over for Nene boaters, with nearly 400 yards of quality, bollarded moorings. Once there were showers, toilet facilities and rubbish disposal but all those are long gone.
It's a sad story – and not just for smelly boaters desperate for a washroom! It's a sorry tale of football dreams dissolving into nightmare. The moorings were built alongside the new stadium complex for Rushden & Diamonds football club all financed by Max Griggs, the man behind Doc Martens Airwear boots, also then made in an adjoining factory. For a while all went swimmingly; the club was promoted up through the non-league ranks and into Div2 of the Football League.
But then, as so often, the money started to run out. Griggs couldn't afford to keep financing the club, it changed hands a couple of times, slipped back out of the Football League and finally out of existence altogether in 2011. The huge modern site, of stadium, sports centre, restaurants and car parks now sits idle and deserted. It's like a football graveyard – the grounds immaculately maintained yet not a sight or sound of football life.
We'd stopped there after a short run from Ditchford to make the short uphill walk to the town for supplies at the local Tesco Local. It's never been the most desirable of towns but like the football club seems to be sliding into the relegation zone from even mid-table respectability.
Swans enjoying dinner on a farmer's wheatfield
All the way along, the river is shadowed by old gravel pit lakes – one of which near Ringstead has become a new 60 boat marina since our last trip but beyond Irthlingborough the scenery becomes increasingly rural and pretty and on another warm, sunny day we spotted a kingfisher, shelduck and several oyster catchers to join the swallows we spotted yesterday. We also saw numerous swans – most of them grazing riverside farm fields. Is it my imagination or has there been a huge swell of swan numbers? I recall a Thameside farmer telling me that swans had stripped his fields of crops worth several hundred thousand pounds one winter. I can't imagine society tolerating a cull of these beautiful birds but will something have to be done at some point to limit their numbers?
Hard work: the dreaded manual Nene lock
To end on a happier note, after sweating over the first two of the Nene's dreaded manual turnwheel lock, we finished the day by tieing up on a traditional river boating mooring - against a rough bank with our pins hammered into the earth and looking across to the attractive (and affluent) little village of Denford. The Nene runs tantalisingly close to so many such places; close but rarely close enough, especially with mooring often so tricky. But here at Denford we've found a perfect little one-boat size slot and around us is total silence. Perfect.

Moored on the bankside overlooking Denford village


  1. So the 'Stealth Tug' Harry is on the move again. Whilst it does look good moored at Denford perhaps a name, at long last, would not go amiss! Looking forward to hearing more of Brian's adventures along the Nene....though I hate to say it, but since you decided that BST was the start of your summer cruising, the weather has changed for the worse. Enjoy

  2. I once had to go to an inquest that was held at that football ground. At some point during the day's evidence, the rather solemn proceedings were punctuated by footballs flying past the windows as the side practiced on the pitch below.

    1. I remember doing inquests Adam in my early days as a local paper hack. And council meetings – the very height of boredom!

  3. Strange isn't it ..3 of us, all different career backgrounds yet all of us have endured the boredom of Council and the guy with the camera I was of course the one outside in the rain whilst you pencil guys were in the dry and warmth....Happy days!!!