High-stakes game helps Diamonds

Kidderminster Harriers 0 Rushden & Diamonds 0
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Remember when Halifax Town and Hartlepools (with the "s" in those days) went cap in hand to their Football League brethren begging for re-election? And Altrincham, Stafford Rangers and Enfield were frustrated at the closed-shop policy barring entry to the Fourth Division? Get rid of the dead wood, many said, and replace it with the better run non-League élite - a cry that became louder with the Conference's advent in the 1980s.

Now they are allowed in, two at a time belatedly, but some must doubt whether the adventure is all it was cracked up to be.

For every Wigan Athletic, who have taken 27 years to progress from the Northern Premier League to the edge of the Premiership, and Wimbledon, there are a clutch of Scarboroughs and Maidstones; clubs who have their hour in the sun then retreat again to the shadows.

Kidderminster Harriers had to win the Conference twice. Having controversially fallen down on stadium requirements despite a glowing CV containing FA Trophy and Welsh Cup success and FA Cup giant-killings, they finally made it in 2000, with nine points to spare.

That spring, 6,250 packed Aggborough to see them beat Rushden & Diamonds, who followed them up 12 months later. Only 3,860 bothered to turn up on Saturday to see the same two clubs struggling to preserve their feverishly earned status.

Harriers officials were pleased with the attendance (their second biggest of 2004-05), having launched a PR offensive in which the manager, Stuart Watkiss, called this both the biggest game in the club's history and the biggest anywhere over the weekend.

Whatever the stakes at Stamford Bridge and Anfield, his point was: "What could be bigger than staying in the Football League?" Of the traditional non-League stock, Scarborough, Maidstone and Barnet have come up and gone down again, with Barnet now sure to return. Wycombe Wanderers, Macclesfield Town, Cheltenham Town and Rushden have not only reached the Football League but enjoyed a promotion within it before being relegated again. And Yeovil Town should reach League One this spring.

At the same time, many old lower-division names, like Doncaster Rovers, Colchester United, Darlington, Lincoln City, Chester City and Halifax, have dropped into the Conference and quickly bounced back.

"People speak about the gap between the Premiership and the rest but there's also a big gap between the bottom division and the Conference," said the Kidderminster chairman, Colin Youngjohns. "Kidderminster is a suburb of Birmingham and Wolverhampton in football terms; 20 minutes from Blues, Villa, Albion and Wolves. We've punched above our weight to get where we are.

"A lot of promoted clubs are like that. They go up knowing they can't be major players because of their fan base. The strength of the Conference now, with many traditional names at the top, would make it hard for us to bounce back. But, whatever happens, the experience of this five years has been terrific."

Watkiss and Rushden's Barry Hunter agreed that a draw was fair, Billy Sharp missing two decent chances for the visitors and Lee Jenkins and the substitute Mark Rawle doing likewise for Harriers.

It remains advantage Rushden in this particular head-to-head, but results elsewhere suited neither - and the Diamonds have additional long-term worries. They are being handed over to a supporters trust in the summer after Max Griggs called time on £30m of backing while also dealing East Northamptonshire an economic blow by shutting his factories and switching production to China.

Crusty past chairmen of Hartlepools and Halifax would probably regard it all as a case of getting too big for your Dr Marten's.

Kidderminster Harriers (4-4-2): Danby; Weaver, Mullins, Jackson, Hatswell; Cozic, Jenkins (Russell, 61), Keates, McGrath; Sturrock

(Rawle, 64), Beardsley (Christie, 77). Substitutes not used: Lewis, Jones.

Rushden & Diamonds (4-4-2): Shearer; Connelly, Gier, Williams, Burgess; Hay, McCafferty, Gray, Dove (Kelly, 81); Sharp (Littlejohn, 89), Broughton. Substitutes not used: Dempster, Worgan, Gulliver.

Referee: S Dunn (Gloucestershire).

Man of the match: Keates.

Attendance: 3,860.