Trying to find the single adjective to describe someone in a headline is often difficult, but in the case of Kettering Town’s Imraan Ladak ‘enigmatic’ readily springs to mind.
The club has a long history and, for many years, slowly but surely, clawed their way up the pyramid. In 1974 they applied to the Football league but in the predictable election the four existing clubs were re-elected. Kettering came fifth, ahead of, among others, Yeovil Town and Wigan Athletic (1). Their manager from 1971 to 1974 was one Ron Atkinson in his first managerial appointment.
The club certainly had a dynamic approach – in 1976 they were the first club to breach the then ban on sponsored shirts, a defiance which led directly to the lifting of the ban.
On the field they continued to be successful, being runners-up in the Conference on three occasions between 1989 and 1999. Off the pitch, things were not going so well for them – in 1983 they had been wound up by the Inland Revenue.
In 1992 they were bought by a London property developer, Mark English. Investment did not materialsie, and by October they were in Administration. Peter Mallinger then bought them. The club continued to struggle financially, and in 2005 they were sold, to a consortium backed by 27 year-old Milton Keynes-based businessman Imraan Ladak and including Paul Gascoine. At this point the club had made a loss for the previous 11 years, although Mallinger had managed to bring the annual loss down from £120,000 to £30,000 a year, having injected £1 million personally (2). Incumbant Manager Kevin Wilson promptly declines a change to being Director of Football and departed (3). Gascoine’s role as manager was to last just 39 days, and ended for predictable reasons (4), although these were disputed by Gascoine (5). Wilson was re-appointed as Manager (6).
Ladak seems to have taken this inglorious start in his stride, and continued to make his mark by sacking Wilson two months later (7), replacing him with someone who would, later in his career, achieve a notoriety which will be familiar to readers of this blog (8), first at Halesowen Town and now at Chester City.
Ladak had bought a club with a ticking time-bomb – the lease on the Rockingham Road stadium was only for another seven years. By June 2006 his priority was to find a site for a new stadium (9).
Unchastened by his experience with Gascoine, Ladak ‘brought Big Ron home’ in January 2007 (10). Atkinson had been out of football since his racist remark about Marcel Desailly in 2004. The diverse mix of Ladak, Maison and Atkinson does not seem to have been one of total harmony. In April Ladak sacked Maison (11) and then a few days later Atkinson left ‘by mutual consent’ (12). Ladak meanwhile had not lost sight of the need to get the club’s finances balanced, and in May negotiated a stadium naming deal with A-Line (13). He also recognised the importance of communicating with the fans and gave an encouragingly open interview on the club website in January 2008 (14).
Next month came his first major confrontation with the authorities – he was charged with disrepute (15), a relatively unusual charge to be brought against a Chairman. His response was, to say the least, unambiguous:
“There is a case of looking after your own but we at Kettering will never be part of that club.
“How can it be fair that chairmen with a vested interest should be making all the decisions – it is ludicrous.
“The system lets a club like Burton Albion decide how much money they get and how much they give a team like Nuneaton Borough. I am not the sort of person who will toe the line just to make more money for my football club.
“What they do is not fair or right. Even if we get promoted my argument will be the same and I will be bringing this up at the next AGM.“
He had a point.
He is not a man to take the easy way. Instead of following Villa in sponsoring a local children’s hospice on the team shirts, he chose to sponsor Interpal, a charitable organisation which distributes aid in the Palestinian territories.
He is not a man to fail to speak up when he thinks something is wrong. A year ago Kettering were on a Cup run, and had drawn Premier League Fulham. ITV decided not to broadcast the tie (16). Ladak did not mince his words:
“It is unprecedented for a non-league team to be drawn to a Premiership team and it not to be screened on TV.
“We are reeling from the shock of it. It’s unbelievable.
“As a neutral football fan I would always want to watch a non-league team taking on a Premier League side.
“I am disappointed for the manager and the players that they don’t have the chance to have the whole nation watching them.“
He even offered, to no avail, to waive the broadcasting fee if ITV would show the match (17). Could the Kettering shirt sponsorship have influenced ITV to make a ‘safe’ decision?
The game itself was to prove contentious. An 88th minute penalty against Fulham deserved a red card in Ladak’s opinion. He is reported as saying “I hate to say it, but if [referee] Mike Riley hadn’t bottled it we wouldn’t have lost the game… I don’t mean to sound negative but everyone knows that’s a penalty and a red card” (18).
This was to set one of two threads in motion for the whole of last year, the other being Ladak’s attempts to resolve the stadium problem.
In June Ladak announced new plans (19) for a stadium at Kettering Business Park. By September however, he reported them as on hold, blaming the Council’s lack of support for the project (20), complaining “Nobody from the council has come out and said ‘this is a great idea, let’s make it happen‘… Things are a little bit in the balance but what we would really like is some out-and-out support from the council“. The Council however hold a different view, and in early December were prompted to publish a timeline of events as they saw them (21). It can be inferred that they thought the problem was the club’s reluctance to supply details of what was proposed, and they complained that Ladak had made ‘inaccurate statements on national TV‘.
Along side this thread, the saga of Ladak’s brush with the football authorities had been unfolding. On 24 December the FA published the following statement (22):
Commission reach decision on Kettering Town FC Chairman, Imraan Ladak
At a Regulatory Commission earlier this week (22 December) Kettering Town Chairman, Imraan Ladak, was suspended from all football and football activities with immediate effect.
Following previous Regulatory Commission and Appeal Board decisions Imraan Ladak has failed to pay an FA fine and costs of £3,500, and will remain suspended until which time the amount is paid in full.
During the period of the suspension Ladak will be unable to manage, coach, referee, play or undertake administrative duties and he will not be permitted to be in the Director’s Box or hospitality areas.
Failure to comply with this suspension will result in Kettering Town FC, as well as Mr Ladak, himself being in breach of FA rules.
For the full written reasons of The FA Appeal Board please click here.
The full written reasons reveal a saga of repeated confrontation, and that Ladak had on a number of occasions failed to respond to the FA in writing.
On 8th January Ladak announced that he was to stand down as Chairman of Kettering but would remain as the owner of the club (23). He also said that “his plans for a new stadium are dead and he feels there is no real future for the club following a meeting with Kettering Council“. In an interview with the BBC the same day (24) he said “I’m not pulling the plug. But I’m not going to be putting as much money into the playing squad, because it’s illogical to do so.“
The remaining (volunteer) directors vowed to fight on (25), as has the Supporters Trust (26). Let us hope they are successful with the search for a new stadium, and perhaps the fact that the Council will now not presumably be dealing with Ladak will encourage a new impetus.
What next for Ladak? He has stated that he will not be going to Chester City to join Morell Maison, and he has major developments in his own business to occupy him. One thing is for sure – the football scene will be less colourful in his absence. I suspect that it may not be long before he is back in the football headlines.