Chester City 1 Rushden & Diamonds 2

Match Report courtesy of Unofficial Rushden & Diamonds Website (1997-2001)

5th May 2001 – Deva Stadium (Attendance: 4,040)

Diamonds Scorers: Peters, Brady

Webmaster’s MoM: Butterworth

Match Report by Andrew

It had all started 259 days earlier, coincidentally against their last-day opponents Chester City, and at the Deva Stadium on Saturday, after 3780 minutes of Conference football, Rushden & Diamonds were officially confirmed as champions for the 2000/2001 season after a 2-1 win. They now face the prospect of league football for the first time in the club’s short history, the fulfilment of Max Griggs’ dream when he suggested at the end of the 1991/92 season that Rushden Town and Irthlingborough Diamonds should merge into one club.

Nothing, of course, is certain in football, but it would have taken the most unlikeliest of scoreline combinations for Diamonds to have been denied their moment of destiny. Yeovil Town, their closest rivals for the entire campaign, had finally been undone in dramatic circumstances against Hereford United last Tuesday, and the goal difference of +17 was never going to be altered enough to change the final standings.

On the field, and despite the championship title race being all over bar the shouting, it was soon clear that the home side were not content to roll over and let Diamonds stroll the afternoon’s proceedings. They were sharp in the tackle and Tarkan Mustafa was soon in need of attention from physio Simon Parsell. One of the major reasons that can be given for Diamonds’ success this season is the goals of Justin Jackson and Duane Darby, and it was that partnership which combined to create the first chance of the game, Darby just failing to connect with a low Jackson cross across the face of goal.

The home side quickly responded and there was a nervy moment for Diamonds when they had to clear their lines following a goalmouth scramble. Diamonds thought they had taken the lead on 17 minutes but Jon Brady’s effort was ruled offside by the assistant referee. Two other chances of note came within 60 seconds of each other at the end of the first half. First, Andy Burgess shot from distance and Brown saved easily, and then Mark Beesley’s curling effort was comfortably gathered by Billy Turley although the flag had been raised on the far side.

Chester took the lead just before the hour mark when Craig Gaunt rose unmarked to head home a corner past Turley, but the lead lasted just a minute. Brady floated a free-kick in from the left and Mark Peters rose to direct a deft header just inside the left-hand post. It was the centre-half’s second goal of the season having got off the mark last week against Dover.

Chester thought they had retaken the lead on 73 minutes when an almighty goalmouth scramble saw Diamonds clear their lines although the home side claimed that a shot had gone over the line. Burgess then went close when he skipped past two defenders but couldn’t get his shot on target. But the Champions clinched the win two minutes from time when a 35-yard screamer from Brady beat Brown at his near post.

Off the field, the most enthusiastic celebrations seen among the club’s supporters. They had travelled to the North West in their hundreds, many bedecked in the yellow and black colours worn by their heroes on the historic day, but all displaying some form of visible allegiance. They waved flags, released balloons, sang themselves hoarse…and in years to come will be able to say “I was there.”

In the Deva Stadium Directors’ Box, and then on the pitch when captain Ray Warburton lifted the Conference trophy, Max Griggs looked on, no doubt filled with an enormous sense of pride at a job well done. Without him there would be no Rushden & Diamonds, and it can only be left to speculation as to what the current state of Rushden Town and Irthlingborough Diamonds would be if he hadn’t made the decision he did back in 1991/92. The inscription in his greetings card to the players during the week deserves another mention. A picture of Clint Eastwood on the front, inside the words…”Congratulations. You went ahead and “made my day”, for which I thank you all. Max.”

This season has seen a lot of “days made”. From the flying start in August, through the doom and gloom of November, to the springtime afternoon in lofty Cheshire.

And now there is the prospect of Nationwide League football to look forward to at Nene Park in August. It can’t come quickly enough!

Diamonds: Turley, Mustafa, Underwood, Carey, Peters, Rodwell, Butterworth, Brady, Jackson, Darby, Burgess. Subs: Sigere (for Jackson), Gray (for Butterworth), Mills (for Carey), Wormull, Bossu.

See here for Video Highlights of the game.

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