Mike Marsh on his time as a Harrier, missing out on our EFL stint and more…
By Matty Paddock - 13/07/2020
Posted 4 weeks ago
In an exclusive series of interviews to commemorate the club’s first Football League season on the back of promotion in 2000, Harry Taylor speaks to heroes of the period to get their take on a memorable period in Harriers history.
Kidderminster Harriers had made their mark on Mike Marsh years before he left his impression on the club.
Marsh, halfway through his season at West Ham United, was one of the players who dumped Harriers out of the FA Cup in the Fifth Round in 1994. Lee Chapman’s header won the day for the Premier League side, but the future Harriers player remembers it for different reasons.
He recalls: “I got a nasty knock to my knee that day from some aggressive Harriers midfielder. The doctor had to put about six stitches in my knees after that, I’ve still got the scars to this day!
“It was a difficult game and Kidderminster had a tough side. They put a temporary stand up and the place was bouncing.”
The FA Cup winner’s knees also played a big role in him joining the club in the November of the title-winning season. The ex-Liverpool man had suffered from problems with the joint between his thigh bone and knee, his condyle. It had flared up during his time in Southend and forced him out of the professional game.
“They drilled a hole in it with a view to getting regrowth that never happened,” he explained. “It meant I could play games but not train. Whenever I loaded it, it would swell up to twice the size.”
Before his injury, Marsh had been a regular in the Southend sides that had played in the First and Second Divisions after a spell in the Premier League with Coventry City.
Following his unsuccessful treatment, he had dropped into semi-professional football with Southport and Barrow near his native Merseyside. It was a fellow Scouser who helped tempt him down to Aggborough, as well as Harriers manager Jan Molby, who Marsh replaced as a substitute when he made his Liverpool debut in 1989.
He said: “The big connection was Ian Foster. I’d known him from Liverpool and Barrow. He gave me a phone call and asked me if I was interested in coming down to play and train and see how it is. I was due to go on a family holiday, so I went and thought about it.
“It suited me; I didn’t have to come down every day. We trained twice a week if we didn’t have a midweek game, and I still couldn’t train on a full-time basis because of my knee.”
By the time Marsh made his debut as a substitute in a 1-1 draw against Northwich Victoria, the team had recovered from their initially rocky start. Speaking two decades on, given the upturn in form he says he struggled to understand why Molby was trying to sign him.
“I was looking at the form of the team, and saw the squad and how they had been doing and I was wondering why Jan Molby was trying to sign me. It was a good team. I was impressed,” he said.
Despite his knee problems, he only missed a handful of games during the rest of the season as the Harriers midfielder played a pivotal role in the side’s surge to the top of the table. In the run, which took in a dominant performance in the 3-2 win over Nuneaton Borough in early January, he only tasted defeat once in 20 games.
Yet despite claims by former team mates that such was as his ability, the opposition struggled to deal with him, he tells reveals that didn’t feel like the case and praised his former midfield team mates.
“I didn’t find it easy playing at that level at all. There were times that season where I was playing on one leg. I just had to find other ways to compensate with that disability. I had a lot of legs around me with Webby (Paul Webb) and Benno (Dean Bennett).
“It was a real team effort. My skills complimented their skills and vice versa. I could pass it. Webby doesn’t get the credit he deserved for that season. He was a real fit lad. He maybe didn’t look it from the outside but he was.
“He [Webb], was a good footballer and knew the game so well at that level. He played it simple. He won the ball and tried to give it to me and I would try and find the next pass. The players around us could all play.”
Reminiscing, he said the last-minute win against Doncaster in March stood out. Under the floodlights at Belle Vue he helped pull the game back from the brink. The Rushden and Diamonds victory also sticks in his mind.
“Doncaster away when we won late on,” he recalled. “They were in the lead and scored twice late on. It gave us a real belief. That’s the defining moment in that season for me.
“It was nice to see Aggborough sold out for the Rushden game. There was a lot of nerves and it wasn’t really a good game, a very scrappy affair. We had a couple of chances. Brownrigg scored a decent goal, but there wasn’t much in it.
“They [Rushden] were a really experienced side. They had a lot of players who had played in the Football League and we tried to play football. We just carried on playing the way that we did.”
That victory at home left Harriers within touching distance of lifting the league title. Harriers’ top scorer that season, Ian Foster popped up with the goal to beat Dover away to spark celebrations as it looked like the side were almost certain to win the league.
“It was a case of they couldn’t really catch us anymore,” the now Swansea City assistant manager said. “Fozzie scored to win it. All I can remember is his penalty, he didn’t hit it the hardest, I don’t even think it hit the back of the net!”
Celebrations got under way on the team bus, but another night out is one that Harriers players have always remembered. Molby got the team together for a team bonding exercise on a rare Saturday off for the Harriers. Rushden drew against Nuneaton, dropping points, and the drinks started flowing.
Marsh, who continued living on Merseyside during his spell, had joined the team for the festivities that day. He tried to do so the sensible thing by heading back to the Gainsborough Hotel early. With disastrous effect.
“We had a couple of celebrations that season that were really good,” he went on to say. “One of the occasions I lost my keys, the other I ended up with a couple of stitches to my eye. Drank too much on both nights out!
“We’d gone out and been to a few bars! I’d gone back to the hotel as the lads cracked on with the rest of the night. I slipped in the bathroom on the bit between the tiles and the carpet and banged my head on the cistern which opened my eye up.
“When I came back from Kidderminster Hospital at 5am, they were all coming back in from the club. The team spirit was brilliant. Everyone was pulling in the same direction and there were no bad eggs really. Most of them lived in the local area, it was a really good group.”
That season the midfielder had gone from playing alongside Molby seasons before to the Dane managing him. He said it’s a “crying shame” that the former Harriers gaffer is no longer involved in football.
“I’ve got nothing but respect for Jan as a manager. Playing for him was a treat,” said Marsh. “The way he motivated the team was great. I thought he was a excellent manager, as a communicator he was first class and he cared about his side.”
After defeat against Woking meant the side became the first, and only Worcestershire football team to play in the Football League, the then 30-year-old had to watch from afar as they made the step up. Unlike Ian Clarkson, the club wasn’t able to repay the insurance payout that Marsh had received. Looking back, he admits it was a painful process.
“I’m a realist at the end of the day. I would be telling lies if I said I wasn’t gutted. I felt a real part of that side and it was the first time that a team from that part of the country had gone up.
“I would be telling lies if I said it didn’t hurt when I saw them playing in the Football League.”
Today he’s remembered by fans as one of the finest players to pull on the Harriers red and white. Mention his name to those who watched him at the time, and it brings a smile to their faces as they remember him running the midfield as Harriers made their way into the Football League. This comes as a surprise to the 50-year-old.
“I didn’t know, not really, no,” he admitted. “I loved playing for Kiddy. The three quarters of the season was one of the happiest periods of my playing career.”