Football: Molby's back and upwardly mobile

Grahame Lloyd meets the Dane getting his kicks at Kidderminster

FOUR DEFEATS in Kidderminster Harriers' first five Nationwide Conference games was hardly the most impressive way for Jan Molby to relaunch his managerial career.

Nearly two years after his sacking by Swansea City, the Dane had aroused great expectations when he arrived at Aggborough Stadium. Having been denied entry into the Football League in 1994 because of the condition of their ground, the Harriers were still chasing that solitary promotion place. August's results did not bode well, but the former Ajax, Liverpool and Denmark playmaker had seen it all before, most recently with the Swans, whom he transformed from relegation fodder into near-promotion winners via the 1997 Wembley play-offs.

"There wasn't any logic to us losing those early games," recalls Molby. "I felt it was only a matter of time before things improved, we just needed a couple of wins, and we got one of them in our sixth game, away at leaders Stevenage."

Now, with just one defeat in their last six games, Kidderminster are handily placed behind the three teams Molby considers the main title contenders: Nuneaton, Kingstonian and Rushden & Diamonds. Next Saturday, a crowd of nearly 3,000 is expected at Aggborough when the Harriers meet Kingstonian.

"After our poor start, we can't afford to lose any more ground on the top teams," says Molby. "Kingstonian have Geoff Chapple, Mr Non-League, in charge; he always produces solid sides who like to play good football, so it'll be a real yardstick to see how far we've come."

Substantial progress has been made since Kidderminster were denied in 1994. Under their retired multi-millionaire chairman Lionel Newton, Aggborough has emerged as a ground to rival several in the Second Division.

Many chairmen might have shied away from employing such a high-profile personality as Molby, but Newton says: "All of us - the board, the fans and the community - are desperate to get into the Football League. Jan is like a breath of fresh air here. He came across as honest, sincere and hard-working, with a passion for the game. I wasn't worried about him being sacked by Swansea or when we lost all those matches in August. I've given him a budget, he has to balance the books, and although he's brought in quite a few players, only one - Rene Petersen from St Truiden in Belgium - has cost us anything."

After appointing the former Barry Town player-manager Gary Barnett as his assistant, Molby began to make use of his extensive Football League contacts. The defenders Andy Brownrigg (Rotherham) and Phil King (Aston, Villa, Sheffield Wednesday and Brighton) and goalkeeper Tim Clarke (Scunthorpe) joined two Danish forwards, Petersen and Thomas Skovbjerg, from Esbjerg, while the former Liverpool striker Ian Foster arrived at Aggborough via Hereford and Barrow.

"We've only been together since early July," says the part-time manager, who travels from his Merseyside home twice a week to take training. "We're still waiting to settle down, but the squad have shown a great attitude and appetite for hard work. I'm not having to prove to anyone that Swansea were wrong to sack me. It's a case of proving to myself that I can do it."

"Jan's had a massive influence," says Paul Webb, the club captain, a former England semi-professional international and Kidderminster's longest- serving player. "He preaches the passing game but he realises that in this league you have to battle to win the right to play."

Seven years after winning his last major honour with Liverpool, Molby still retains his cult following. Kidderminster's website generates huge interest in Denmark, where one fan has even set up his own club site, and a group of Danish supporters are coming over for the Kingstonian match.

Having cashed in his pension policies, the 36-year-old Molby can never play football for a living again. But, like many former pros, he still enjoys the competitiveness of training, especially the youngsters- versus- veterans games. "The lads always think they can beat the old ones, but a recent final score was 18-6 to us, with the manager getting 11 of them, so that tells its own story, doesn't it?"

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