Football / FA Cup Countdown: Harriers in search of historic achievement: West Ham provide tempting target as Kidderminster prepare to advance non-League honour. Jon Culley reports

Click to follow
The Independent Online
HISTORY awaits Kidderminster Harriers. Around 8,000 people will crowd into their tiny Aggborough stadium on Saturday, filling every space in its condemned main grandstand. If West Ham go the way of Birmingham and Preston, they will have seen a non-League team reach the quarter-finals of the FA Cup.

It is a feat yet to be achieved in the modern era. Since 1925, four others have travelled as far as Kidderminster: Colchester and Yeovil in the 1940s, Blyth in 1978, Telford in 1985. By rights, the Hammers should consign the Harriers to the same line of the record books. Then again, after the last round, perhaps the Premiership is braced for a shock.

Already the town is celebrating. Win or lose, the team is back on a pedestal last occupied when Kidderminster won the FA Trophy in a replay at West Bromwich in 1987. The club secretary, Ray Mercer, one of life's busier 70-year-olds, ushered the players into a hangar-like sports hall to meet eager young fans at the start of their big week. He could recall smaller crowds for home games.

Clubs outside the League are the habitat of the never-quite-made-its among footballers. Kidderminster, the GM Vauxhall Conference leaders, are no different. For one player, Saturday represents an extraordinary, unexpected dream; for another, a tantalising glimpse of what ought to have been reality.

Paul Davies scored both the goals that beat Burton Albion in the 1987 replay, two among 243 in 513 games for his home-town club, in whose folklore his place is assured. 'I didn't think I'd have a moment to beat that, but this is starting to outstrip even the Trophy,' he said. 'I'm 33 now and I consider that I've had a good career, but I had never gone a long way in the Cup or won the Conference. If we are still in the same position at the end of the season, I could retire happily.'

Once with Cardiff City, briefly a professional in the Netherlands, Davies settled for the minor stage a decade ago and now combines the life of local hero with a steady job in the club chairman's clothing business. 'As a part-timer, you can approach football in a more relaxed way, free from professional pressures.'

Jon Purdie, the left winger, also appreciates the merits of the lifestyle. Wind back his career 10 years, however, and such a fate seemed unthinkable.

An England youth international, an Arsenal junior alongside Rocastle, Merson and Adams, he was a prodigiously gifted ball-player with a future at the very top. But be became a mistrusted talent, unreliable on and off the field. Though he played more than 100 times for Wolves, his career largely has drifted, unfulfilled.

'He still has the ability he had when he began,' his manager, Graham Allner, said. Davies concurs. 'He has had a lot of clubs and a lot of managers but I don't think there is one that has got more from him than Graham. Ability-wise, he should be in the Premier.'

Purdie, 27 next Tuesday, married with two children, a telephone systems salesman, tries not to regret the past. 'I'm a bit disappointed things did not work out better. I know I did not make the most of my chances and you cannot look back.' Sharing a field with Lee Chapman, a familiar face from Highbury days and nights, might, though, bring a pang or two.

'I'm playing as well now as when I was 17 or 18,' he said. 'I've grown up as a person and I'd love to have another go as a professional if someone wanted me. But I'm happy with a mortgage and responsibilities. It is not just about me anymore.'

Purdie scored a breath-taking winner at Birmingham in the third round and laid on the goal for Delwyn Humphreys, of the Beagrie back-flips, that did for Preston. Davies missed St Andrew's through injury. He has no fitness problem this time, and no fears either.

'We are a passing team and the space West Ham will give us will suit us. Potentially it is the best Kidderminster team ever.'

Allner will prepare as for any other match; a couple of hours' training, a 10-minute briefing on the opposition, report to Aggborough after lunch as usual. But there is that matter of making history. 'No one expects us to win, really,' Allner said. 'But it is not often at any level that you get the chance to be first at anything. We've got that chance on 90 minutes of football and, albeit pounds 5m-worth against pounds 40,000, 11 against 11. It's an exciting thought. We'll have a little dream about it.'

(Photograph omitted)

Comments