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The Conference Years: Rushden & Diamonds

8 June 2014

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Remembering where we once were.

Encounters between Doncaster Rovers and Rushden & Diamonds were fascinating battles while they lasted. The former Football League Club with a new multimillion pound owner in John Ryan against the Northamptonshire upstart, formed as a merger, owned by Max Griggs.

The teams first met in September ’98 at Belle Vue and, after a 1-1 draw would go on to face each other a further three times that season.

After Rovers’ FA Cup heroics – knocking out league opposition in Southend United – they faced the Diamonds at Belle Vue. Again the sides couldn’t be separated and would go to a replay.

Over 5,500 packed in to Rushden’s plush Nene Park home to see the hosts triumph 4-2 over Ian Snodin’s men who had it all to do as early as the fourth minute when they were a goal and, more crucially, a man down after Mark Hume’s red card.

Diamonds were duly rewarded with a plum televised tie against then Premier League side Leeds United.

Revenge was sweet for Rovers; however, Ian Duerden’s scintillating second half hat-trick just a month later arguably avenged the cup heartache.

The two heavyweights went at it again the following year and though Rushden ran out 1-0 winners at Belle Vue in February 2000, their season was to end in disappointment as they finished runners up to KIDDERMINSTER HARRIERS and finished their campaign with a stalemate against Rovers.

A resurgent Rushden were rampant the following season under Brian Talbot and won the division by six points. Only one of their total of 86 was gained against Rovers though as Steve Wignall’s men, courtesy of Jamie Paterson, Tris Whitman and Dave Penney helped secure a 3-2 win at Belle Vue, whilst the return yielded another 0-0 draw where the hosts had Rovers players past and future in their ranks with Duane Derby and Justin Jackson and Tarkan Mustafa respectively.

That was the last Rovers ever saw of Rushden & Diamonds, a club from which a healthy rivalry had developed.

After they acquired yet more success by winning the Division 3 title in 2003, they only lasted one season in the third tier before a rapid decline saw them relegated twice in just three seasons – passing Rovers as they went.

It was very much a case of ‘boom and bust’ for Diamonds as they went back to the Conference and worse was to follow as they were expelled from the Conference in 2011 due to uncertainty regarding their ability to fulfil fixtures.

A ‘phoenix’ club was born and named AFC Rushden & Diamonds, however their history has been equally as colourful, as they started by initially having just a youth side to concentrate on which played in the Northants Senior Youth League for their inaugural (2011/12) season.

The Club currently competes in the United Counties League Premier Division, which is the ninth level on the English football pyramid and plays at the Dog and Duck Stadium.

The impressive Nene Park, which was built at a cost of £30M and once held 6,500 for the FA Cup tie with Leeds United, remains unused.

*Dean Walling leaps highest in the game at Belle Vue on February 19th 2000 where the hosts lost 1-0 to Miquel De Souza’s late strike in front of over 4,000 in South Yorkshire*

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