(Credit: Peter Short/@NorthantsLegend on X)

In a competition dominated by titans of the English game, somehow, Kettering Town in the seventh tier of English football currently have their name in the FA Cup record books as the competition’s top scorers. Semi-Professional explores the Poppies’ unexpected place in football history.

Everyone knows that the beauty of the FA Cup is that it always finds a way to hand the players and clubs you’d least expect an incredible slice of footballing history.

Even though the competition always has fans anticipating surprises, the idea that Kettering Town have found the net in the cup’s history more often than anyone else, including the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal, is almost unfathomable.

In September, Kettering headed to Hitchin in the third qualifying round of the tournament looking to build on that record, where Tyrone Lewthwaite bundled home a historic 912th goal in the FA Cup for the Poppies in a 0-1 win.

Lewthwaite, a 23-year-old part time delivery driver and 6’5 physical striker, initially had no idea he had scored the decisive goal in securing the record for the year, but now says it will be something he’ll treasure forever.

“When you think about it like that, it is something where I hope next season the goal tally can be added to so we can try and keep the record.

“There aren’t many players that can say they’ve scored a historic FA Cup goal, and that’s what makes it so special.”

Reclaiming the record

For a club in Step 3, Kettering undoubtedly have a huge reputation, and whilst their FA Cup successes may not be the reason why Lewthwaite says he chose them as his next team in 2022, it certainly adds to the magic of the club.

“It’s a club with a rich history, especially within non-league.

“When a club stands out and has a fanbase like Kettering do, it’s always an appealing option, because there’s a lot of history there.

“When I got here and I heard about the FA Cup record, it definitely felt like an amazing thing to be a part of, especially this season when we went on a little run.”

At the end of the last campaign, Tottenham Hotspur stood between Kettering and the highest goal tally in FA Cup history, which left the Poppies needing to outscore the North Londoners to retake control of the record which has become a significant part of the club’s history. 

Having seen off Hullbridge Sports and Sporting Khalsa with 1-0 wins in the first two qualifying rounds, the Poppies headed to Hitchin having been thrashed 0-4 by them in the Southern League Premier Central just four days before their FA Cup game.

After the disappointing defeat, Lewthwaite went about assessing his performance, which he knew would need to be much better if they were to be the team to face Vanarama National League side Chesterfield in the next round.

“It was a case of resetting myself and looking at the things that went wrong in the last game.

“To go from being battered 4-0 and it could’ve been more, to keeping a clean sheet, getting that 1-0 win and making it a really tough game for them was excellent.

“To go to their turf and take that result from them, when it would’ve been massive for them to play at Chesterfield too, it meant a lot, and it was a great team performance, from the goalkeeper to me and the subs.”

Tyrone Lewthwaite celebrates scoring for Kettering Town
(Credit: Peter Short/@NorthantsLegend on X)

A difficult 5-0 loss against a superb Chesterfield side knocked the Poppies out of the cup, but as the final whistle blew in Spurs’ fifth round tie in February this year, Kettering breathed a collective sigh of relief as Spurs bowed out the competition, losing 0-1 to Manchester City.

That meant Kettering had found the net enough times to hold the record by a singular goal, scored by Lewthwaite, a supporter of Spurs’ arch-rivals, Arsenal.

A rich history

Despite a very respectful cup run this season, Kettering have fallen from the heights they reached in the 2008/09 season, where they defied the odds to reach the fourth round of the FA Cup, only to be knocked out by Fulham.

At the time, the Poppies were playing in the Conference National, now known as the Vanarama National League, two divisions above the level they play at today. 

Guy Branston, 45, was the captain at the time, who ranks the unexpected journey in the competition amongst the biggest successes in his career.

Having been signed by too many professional clubs to feature in England’s top four leagues until the end of the season, an issue he had after a month-long deal with Notts County ended, Branston dropped down to the fifth tier with Kettering to stay fit and revive his career.

“The FA Cup run is right up there in terms of my career achievements because of what I did within a short period of time.

“The shit that was happening off the pitch was driving me as I needed to make money, and I ended up making money and doing really well out of it and doing well in terms of my own performance levels.

“I had a really good time there with a good bunch of lads, I remember it fondly.”

It was a side packed with talent, many of them had played at levels way above the division Kettering found themselves in at the time, including Branston himself, who played as high as the second tier of English football with Rotherham.

The likes of Craig Westcarr, who played for Nottingham Forest, and former Wycombe midfielder Andre Boucaud combined with club legend Brett Solkhon to create a team that saw off Lincoln City, Notts County and even held Premier League Fulham until the Cottagers scored late twice to win 2-4.

Whilst Branston admits the money at the club was enticing, it was a squad of players joined together mostly by a collective desire to prove the professional clubs who let them go, or wrote them off, wrong.

“I was up for the Notts County game for example because of the way I was treated by the fans, who hammered me after playing one game for them where I wasn’t fully fit.

“There’s a photo from the game where I point at my name on my shirt to indicate ‘I’ve got one over you’.”

(Credit: PA Images/Alamy Stock Photo)

Kettering also made the FA Cup fourth round in the 1988/89 season.

Ownership chaos

Nowadays, even by Lewthwaite’s own admission, Kettering have had a challenging last few seasons, as three managers have been at the helm this term alone and former owner Ritchie Jeune stepped away from the club last May.

Lewthwaite says there is plenty of uncertainty both on and off the pitch for the Poppies.

“We’re much better than we look on paper, but I just feel like our own performances on the pitch plus a few changes around the club have combined, and it’s not been the season we wanted.

“A club like Kettering shouldn’t be in Step 3 in the first place, it should be in the National League North or the National League, it’s a big club.

“But when there’s different factors at play and you don’t know what’s happening in the future, it can throw you off you a little bit, it’s a bit like in work if your two favourite co-workers and your boss are leaving, you don’t know whether you’re going to stay.

“You also don’t know who’s coming in to manage, and you don’t know what will happen, and your mind is in a different place.”

But this isn’t the first time they’ve faced adversity off the pitch.

Whilst they may be searching for someone to run the club in the present day, the impact of former Kettering owner Imraan Ladak’s mismanagement of the Poppies is arguably still felt today over 10 years on from his departure.

After spending big to try and push the club into the Football League and make the team professional, plans backfired, leaving Kettering away from Rockingham Lane, their old home, and many of their best players scrambled to secure deals elsewhere as the club were relegated down two divisions. 

Branston was one of the players who left the club for Burton Albion in a turbulent period for Kettering, which still leaves questions over whether the cost of trying to live the FA Cup and Football League dream was worth it.

“It’s sad in a sense, but clubs need to keep that momentum going when things go well, and when they have ownership groups like Kettering had at the time, unsustainable ones, you have to ask was it as good for the club as it ought to have been?

“Did they shoot themselves in the foot to get to where they got? I think they should’ve built off the back of it and created a football club that probably would have got into the Football League off all the money it earned from the cup run.”

Whilst Kettering fans dream of a return to their former glory in a way which can be maintained for years to come, Branston wants to make it a reality.

“Hopefully one day I’ll be able to buy Kettering and take them to where they need to be.

“I f***ing care about the club because I had a great time there, and I was passionate about wearing the shirt, I went back for a day out recently and I was amazed that there was 1500 people there, all good genuine people.”

Like many clubs around them, Kettering have experienced extreme highs and lows, which the FA Cup has played a huge part in, but whilst form varies and owners come and go, it’s the fans who have stopped at nothing to support their team irrespective of the situation the Poppies find themselves in.

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