Harriers hungry for fresh adventure

Nationwide League build-up: Webb and Horne lead a gelling of the generations as Kidderminster prepare to make Third Division debut
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The Independent Online

One is a former warehouse manager preparing for his full-time debut as his 33rd birthday beckons, the other an ex-international who will turn 39 during the new season. Meet the late starter and even later finisher who are about to collaborate in the fledgling Football League career of Kidderminster Harriers.

One is a former warehouse manager preparing for his full-time debut as his 33rd birthday beckons, the other an ex-international who will turn 39 during the new season. Meet the late starter and even later finisher who are about to collaborate in the fledgling Football League career of Kidderminster Harriers.

Paul Webb and Barry Horne, who are likely to be in midfield tandem for the Worcestershire club when Torquay United initiate Aggborough as a Third Division venue on Saturday, come from opposite sides of the sporting track.

Webb has spent half his life in the semi-professional game, working for a Wolverhampton firm while turning out for Bilston, Bromsgrove and "Kiddy". Horne, who will be Jan Molby's player-coach, won 59 caps for Wales, was Southampton's record buy, captained both Everton and his country and is chairman of the Professional Footballers' Association.

Last spring, Webb helped the Conference champions-elect through their run-in against Forest Green, Sutton and Altrincham. At the same time, Horne was tangling with the Euro 2000-bound Vieira, Bakke and Deschamps against Arsenal, Leeds and Chelsea in an ultimately vain attempt to preserve Sheffield Wednesday's Premiership status.

Molby, Kidderminster's charismatic manager, tried to unite them in March, only for Horne, an old Merseyside derby adversary who was out of favour at Huddersfield, to receive an offer he could not refuse from Peter Shreeves at Hillsborough. Webb then told the Dane he could not give up his day job and, with a heavy heart, began pondering fresh part-time pastures.

So it is to Molby's considerable satisfaction that both are on board for the great adventure. "Until we clinched promotion, it was always a hypothetical situation," said the long-serving Webb. "Once it became reality, and Jan made it clear he wanted me to stay, I started thinking: 'This is what I've wanted to do all my life, or at least since I was four and started supporting Wolves'.

"I'd always been with the same company, worked my way up, and in January I got the job I'd striven for for 15 years. Six months later I give it up! I'll never get another chance to play League football, but I can always be a warehouse manager again. I can work until I'm 65. My employers were very understanding and left the door open for me if things don't go to plan."

Horne did not set studs on the League ladder himself until he was 22 and had completed a university degree. While tempted by Molby's offer earlier this year, he found a final fling in the top flight too hard to resist.

"I had been away from the highest level a few years but I don't believe I let anyone down at Wednesday," Horne said. "I loved my time there - I started the last seven games and felt I did well - so I was deeply disappointed we didn't stay up after giving ourselves a great chance by beating Wimbledon and Chelsea."

But why drop down to Kidderminster, after proving you can still compete with the best? "Football is an ageist business and I'd be lying if I said I'd been deluged with offers. I'll play on as long as I feel I've got something to offer. You're a long time retired.

"I also know Jan and his teams play the right way, like he did. I'm impressed with the way he talks about football and conducts himself. He is going to be a top manager"

For Webb, an old-fashioned schemer, the change in lifestyle has been both gruelling and gratifying. "I've always struggled with my weight and my fitness is something that may have let me down. It's hard keeping in shape when you're only training a couple of nights a week. But I'm enjoying it immensely. I've got a two-year deal with the option of a further 12 months and I intend to see it through."

His new ball-winning ally is also adjusting to a change of footballing culture. "Although I started in the old Fourth Division at Wrexham, I've spent most of my career at reasonably big clubs," said Horne. "It's going to be odd for me, especially with my new responsibility as coach, but the pitch, the ball and the goals are still the same size. If you focus on your job you don't notice the surroundings, even at somewhere like Highbury."

Coincidentally, Horne's last away game was at Arsenal. His next will be at Scunthorpe, though even that sounds exotic to Webb, who is excited about Kidderminster's potential. "When I was with Bromsgrove we finished runners-up to Wycombe and they soon climbed into the Second Division. Cheltenham almost reached the play-offs at the first attempt and I'm convinced we can go a step further.

"Anything's possible with Jan. The chairman [Lionel Newton] brought him in to get us into the League but no one expected it in his first season, especially after the disastrous start we had. We've got some great young players - it's not just oldies like me and Barry."

The generations are gelling promisingly according to Horne, who is actually older than Molby. "People always say this, but the spirit within this club is tremendous. There's fantastic togetherness, from when we start at 7.50 in the morning through to four o'clock when we finish. The best managers I've had, like Joe Royle and Terry Yorath, have always placed great importance on unity. Jan's the same."

As well as his Welsh honours, Horne has an FA Cup winner's medal from Everton's 1995 triumph. Yet Webb senses his best days are still to come. "People ask the highlight of my career and it keeps changing: from playing at Wembley to skippering England's semi-pro team to getting promoted to the League.

"I've often thought 'I can't surpass that', but now we're only two divisions away from Wolves. If they have a bad season - which I hope they don't - and we do as well as I expect, who knows, I could end up playing at Molineux." Forget the warehouse; the dream factory is on overtime.

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