The story of Kidderminster Harriers
As one of the most prestigious and widely-recognised names in all of non-league football, Kidderminster Harriers is rightly proud of its past – the ‘Harriers’ name still paying homage to the club’s early years in athletics and rugby before football as we know it began in 1886 with the birth of the club that still does the town proud.
The Birmingham and District League was formed in 1889; Kidderminster Olympic pipping Harriers to the title before the two clubs merged in 1890 under the Harriers banner. Harriers continued in the Birmingham League until 1939, winning the Championship in consecutive seasons (1938 and 1939), clinching a league and cup double in the latter campaign.
The club’s move to the Southern League for 1939-40 proved short-lived as the Second World War intervened after only three games. Immediately after the war Harriers played in the Birmingham League and Birmingham Combination before re-joining The Southern League in 1948-49. That Season the record attendance was registered for a game at Aggborough, when 9,155 spectators saw Harriers lose 0-3 to local rivals Hereford United in an FA Cup tie.
A FLOODLIGHT FIRST
In 1951-52 the revolutionary use of floodlights by the club gave Harriers the distinction of staging the first floodlit games in the history of the FA Cup at Aggborough. Harriers’ next championship was the Birmingham Senior Cup in 1964, and a further 23 trophies – including four League Championships – were won before Harriers re-joined the Southern League in 1972. Promotion to the Alliance Premier League (Football Conference) was clinched at the end of 1982-83.
TO THE TOP FLIGHT, WITH TROPHY JOY
The club’s elevation to the Alliance Premier League (Conference) ushered in a quarter of a century of unprecedented success for the Harriers that would see them win every major honour in the Non-League game and ultimately become the 21st Century’s first newcomers to the Football League.
Away from league action, 1987 saw Harriers qualify for a Final at Wembley Stadium for the first time. The fixture was the FA Trophy against Burton Albion. After a 0-0 draw, Kidderminster went on to win the replay 2-1 (after extra time) at the Hawthorns. Harriers have since graced the Wembley turf on three further, heart-breaking occasions; losing to Wycombe (1991), Woking (1995) and Stevenage (2007) in finals, the latter in front of a record crowd of 53,000 at the newly-rebuilt national arena.
AN FA CUP CHAMPION OF THE UNDERDOG
In the FA Cup, Harriers remain perennial headline makers. The team’s most memorable cup run was perhaps that of the 1993/94 season when giants aplenty came head to head with Worcestershire’s premier side. Chesham United, Kettering and Woking were all downed as Harriers entered the Third Round draw – paired with Birmingham City. The reds secured one of the most memorable victories in its history at St Andrew’s, winning 2-1 in front of almost 20,000 fans thanks to Jon Purdie’s clincher. More joy followed in the Fourth Round and Preston North End were duly dispatched at a packed Aggborough, the mazy run only coming to an end at the hands of top-flight West Ham United, who sneaked an agonising 1-0 victory on the day.
Further runs since have kept Harriers up there as a true giant killers – they gave a true fright to then Premier League neighbours Wolves in 2003 before being knocked out in a Molineux replay, while Darren Ferguson’s Peterborough were beaten on a memorable night at London Road ten years later, setting up a plum tie at Premier League Sunderland, where Harriers were beaten by a single goal in front of more than 4,000 travelling fans.
FOOTBALL LEAGUE DREAMS
The turn of the millennium signalled undoubtedly one of the most memorable periods in the club’s illustrious history. Under the stewardship of former Liverpool legend Jan Molby, Harriers clinched promotion to the Football League for the first time in 2000, where they enjoyed five seasons.
Memorable victories over mainstays of the Premier League like Swansea City and Football League big-hitters like Hull City were each in their own way a significant milestone as Harriers created a very brief but very memorable history in the highest echelons of professional football in the country.
BACK TO NON LEAGUE
Harriers returned to a very different non-league scene in 2005 after hard times on and off the pitch ended in relegation to a then Nationwide Conference that saw Harriers as far from the giant fish they once were.
Under various managers, including former Captain Mark Yates and ex-Macclessfield Town legend Steve Burr, there were plenty of memorable moments for Harriers fans to enjoy but, despite one shot at the play-offs in 2013, the team never quite managed to recapture the glory days of old – leaving the club to suffer off the field as just as many Chairman and Directors came and departed, ultimately resulting in the 2016 relegation to the National League North – the second step of non-league football.
But under the management of former Derby County favourite John Eustace, a carefully-crafted, youthful team rallied well and carried the charge for Kidderminster Harriers to get back on an upward curve, finishing inside the playoffs during two consecutive seasons. The attractive style of football and highly placed finishes caught the eye of QPR, who appointed Eustace amongst their management team, a huge endorsement of his terrific work during his time at Aggborough.
The club endured a turbulent period in the following few years – unsuccessful management tenures, instability off the field and the devastating impacts of the COVID pandemic leaving their mark. Amongst it all, though, hugely popular former Captain and Assistant boss Russ Penn was handed the managerial reigns. While Russ and his number two, Jimmy O’Connor, helped re-shape the club’s playing fortunes, so a new ownership set about stabilising the club off the field and building for success.
The 2021-22 season would turn out to be a memorable one. A 52-match campaign saw Harriers reach the play-offs once again before falling just short of promotion, while an iconic FA Cup win saw the Reds knock out three higher-graded teams, including Championship outfit Reading, before losing to Premier League giants West Ham in the dying seconds of extra time.
With the club’s fanbase reenergised and the club’s fortunes reversed, the team went one better in 2022-23, shrugging off some below-par form in the middle part of the campaign to storm to an incredible promotion at the climax of the term. The Reds surged into the play-offs on the final day, winning promotion via the play-offs thanks to an incredible nine-match winning run.