The Kidderminster Harriers players went to town last Thursday. In keeping with a tradition that has served them well in this season’s FA Cup, the team dined at a local restaurant and raised a glass to what will be the biggest games of many of their playing careers.
The players have gone out for a team-bonding meal before each round of the cup and it was no different ahead of their highly-anticipated fourth-round tie with West Ham United. The National League North club will be the focus of English football at Saturday lunchtime. All eyes will be on Kidderminster’s characterful ground, Aggborough, and with the game live on BBC1.
The odds may be stacked against Russell Penn’s team, who have reached this stage of the competition for only the second time, but since knocking Reading out in the last round, they have won five of their seven league games in England’s sixth tier. Winning promotion to the National League was the outright aim at the start of the season, and sitting third, just four points off the top, it remains achievable.
It was only once Tuesday’s league victory against Leamington was over that focus could fully turn to the glitz and the glamour of West Ham; although manager Penn visited the London Stadium with assistant Jimmy O’Connor to watch their Premier League opponents play Leeds United three weeks ago. Training has also had a special feeling during the past few weeks and the anticipation in the town is palpable.
“Getting the community and fanbase together has been the easiest part,” Penn says of the momentum that the Harriers have picked up from their run in the cup. “The crowds have gone up unbelievably and we’ve got to ride this wave. To get success you need to tick every box at the end of the season. So far it’s been great but I don’t get too carried away. I know how quickly it can change.”
Penn played for Kidderminster as a midfielder and knew the club inside-out before moving from pitch to dugout. Veteran centre back Keith Lowe has had three spells at the club but the 36-year-old had not experienced anything similar to the journey that this team is on currently. “It’s great for us as players,” he explains, “but the Kiddy fans have suffered in recent years. I really hope they can enjoy, not just the FA Cup, but what we are doing as a squad and a club.”
Kidderminster have been through tough times of late. When current owner Richard Lane took over in 2019, he discovered debts that no one had told him about. And even now on a stable financial footing, this cup run hasn’t seen money rain down on the lowest ranked team left in the competition. Much of the £110,000 in TV money received for Saturday’s game will go on hiring four or five times the usual security numbers and other extra staffing. While extra beer has been ordered so they don’t run out like during one of the earlier rounds.
Aggborough, which has a pub inside it and the Severn Valley Steam Railway running behind one of the stands, will be full come 12.30pm — tickets were sold out nine days before kick-off. The tie will also bring back memories of Kidderminster’s historic run to the fifth round in 1994 when they were knocked out by West Ham who won 1-0 courtesy of a Lee Chapman goal.
The symmetry from then to now doesn’t end there either. Kidderminster edged past Preston North End in the previous round that year and the visitors’ team featured current West Ham manager David Moyes. What’s more, Birmingham City were the team who the Harriers disposed of in the third round and they were then owned by David Sullivan and David Gold, the current West Ham owners.
“We got together recently, the lads from that team, and I have to say our memories are tinged with a little bit of disappointment because we had the opportunity to win the game,” says Richard Forsyth, who played in Kidderminster’s midfield against West Ham 28 years ago. “Looking back if we had performed as well as we could have, we might have got something more out of it. We gave a good account of ourselves but we still wonder whether we might have got a bit more from it.”
The current crop aim to have no regrets. Amari Morgan-Smith, the scorer of the winner against Reading, will lead the home side’s attack with influential captain Sam Austin deployed in the No 10 position behind. The hope is that West Ham put out as strong a team as possible to garner the proper David-vs-Goliath experience, although Michail Antonio is a doubt through injury.
It was with such star names in mind that the Kidderminster players dined out last week in anticipation. What usually follows Kidderminster’s now infamous meals is another cup round ticked off. The aim will be for tradition — and revenge — to come to the fore.