Craig Hinton and Dean Bennett recall memories from the club’s promotion-winning season…
By KHFC Online - 08/04/2020
Posted 6 months ago
CRAIG Hinton and Dean Bennett have been on similar journeys, writes Harry Taylor.
From sitting next to each other at Bilbrook Middle School, they went on to win the Conference with Harriers, started against the Wolves at Molineux and made more than 500 appearances for the club between them having arrived within months of each other in 1998-1999.
“I carried him through life,” jokes Craig, speaking exclusively to The Harrier. “Dean used to sit next to me at school and copy my work. I used to pick him up for training because he didn’t drive, I’d be outside beeping my horn for him!”
“He was like my chauffeur,” added Dean, laughing.
Craig joined Harriers after spending time with Birmingham City’s Academy. He recalls: “It was a brilliant learning curve for me. I’d been at Blues since school and asked to leave because I wanted to play football. Graham Allner got in touch and said ‘do you fancy coming down?’
“What he said was what I liked to hear. I had been on trial at Lincoln City. John Beck had just left, and it was a bit more long-ball football and I didn’t enjoy it. Graham liked to play football and it wasn’t far from my house in Pattingham, which was perfect.”
Months later, Dean joined Craig at the club from rivals Bromsgrove Rovers at the same time as striker Stuart Payne. “I didn’t know much about Kiddy at the time,” he said. “I hadn’t been before so went there and signed that day. It looked like a really well-run club.”
In a rocky first term at the club which saw Graham Allner leave partway through, Harriers finished 15th. Despite not pulling up any trees, it gave the Harriers defender a good platform to build on.
After a turbulent season, the appointment of Jan Molby was met with surprise. Dean was on holiday in Kavos that summer, when he got a call from his dad telling him about the new manager. When pre-season training started weeks later, it was clear there was going to be a big change.
“It was just different,” Craig goes on to say. “I grew up watching Liverpool, being at that age and watching them, there was an automatic respect. He had an aura around him because of what he had done. He was still the best player in training. Gary Barnett [Jan’s assistant] was the bouncy character around him, they would almost be good-cop and bad-cop.”
Despite the hype of Jan’s appointment, a clutch of new signings and a full pre-season, Harriers had a faltering start. Three successive defeats on the bounce left them in 21st, with Dean yet to kick a ball competitively for the club. After goals as a substitute against Woking and Forest Green in the following weeks, he started for the first time against Stevenage Borough, scoring again in a 2-0 home win. His campaign was underway.
“I wasn’t really in the team at the start,” he laments. “I was like the young lad in the team, and we had a lot of experienced players who had played a lot of games. I came off the bench and we started to win games and I started scoring. I had come back from the summer really fit and ready to go.”
As the team gelled together, results started to pick up. Ian Clarkson had joined at the start of November after an injury-hit spell at Northampton Town. His arrival meant Craig was moved to centre back alongside Adie Smith, which is where he mostly spent the rest of his career at the club. He speaks highly of his former team mates.
“I always loved playing with Ian, in that the winger was never going to beat him. You knew they would never get a cross in. You had confidence playing around him.
“Adie was a good player when you could get him out of the pub! He was Mr Consistent, you knew he had your back. If you slipped up, he was there. Then even if they got through, we had Tim Clarke and Stuart Brock behind us.”
The team spirit among the players that season was legendary. Journeys back from away games were often accompanied by a crate of beer; so much so that when returning from one trip, on-loan striker Neil Midgeley, bottle of Budweiser in hand, apparently waved at his parent club’s team mates as the Ipswich Town bus drove past. Another team bonding session in Kidderminster ended up with one player allegedly having a few too many drinks, falling over in the men’s toilets and needing stitches.
It was another signing that changed the season. By late November, Harriers had moved up the table and were in fifth place for a trip to Northwich Victoria. Jan had spoken to Mike Marsh, a former team mate at Liverpool and managed to persuade him to join. His arrival proved to be pivotal, and his presence was felt by his team mates as well as the opposition.
“I always look at Mike; he played in first gear and was making people look silly in the end,” said Craig, now 42. “He just used to make people laugh in a game. He could make something out of nothing and had unbelievable quality.” Dean agrees: “He was the missing piece of the jigsaw. I would always try and run forward, and he would pick anyone out. It made my job really enjoyable.”
As the end of the season approached, Harriers topped the table but were being pursued by wealthy Rushden and Diamonds. The Northamptonshire side came to Aggborough at the start of April for an apparent title decider.
“I remember the crowd was packed and it being quite a hot day,” said Craig, who now works for the FA. “We still had the Cowshed back then, and you knew it was a big game when you had the TV scaffolding above the stand. You could feel he nervousness from the crowd looking back but we settled into it.
“Rushden were a new club and had massive load of investment in them. We played them away one game and they were turning up in Mercs and it was nice to be the underdogs. We knew it was the final nail in the coffin if we won this.”
Harriers’ 2-0 victory all-but sealed the destination of the title. Three weeks later, they lost 1-0 against Woking at the Kingfield Stadium, but Rushden’s 0-0 draw against Scarborough guaranteed promotion to the Football League.
“I remember us celebrating above the dugouts after the pitch invasion. It still gives me goosebumps now,” said Craig. “We had some beers on the coach, and when we got back to the ground people were waiting for us. We went in the Harriers Arms and had a few and went out to Mirage – I remember Adie Smith on a platform here spraying a bottle of champagne!”
Dean had similar memories, including of the open top bus parade through Kidderminster town centre, finishing at the town hall. Yet while his team mates tucked into food and drink at the civic reception, he was off to play for England C team and wasn’t able to take full part in the festivities.
The best time of my life
The duo joined the Harriers in the Football League, and both left at the end of the 2003-2004 season, after the FA Cup Third Round tie against Wolverhampton Wanderers, a big game for Wolverhampton-boy Craig.
Dean re-signed under Mark Yates later in his career, while the former Blues man did have some conversations about returning to his stomping ground – but a knee injury at Northampton meant he retired and started coaching.“It was the best time of my life,” said Dean, now 42. The shop fitter added: “Every day was playing with my best mates, the changing room as brilliant. Great memories.”
“It’s weird when you go back and go in the changing room,” said Craig, who now lives in Northampton. “It’s exactly the same, like you’ve never left. The bath’s gone but the lads are back together and that’s it.”
This article appears as printed in the match day programme for the game against York City
This article is about: Club News