Ian Foster on promotion with Harriers, memorable moments and more…
By Matty Paddock - 29/07/2020
Posted 2 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.
Les Battersby, Arthur C Clarke and Efan Ekoku walk into a reception.
The gathering of a Coronation Street character, a Sci-Fi writer, and former Wimbledon hitman is neither the result of an acid trip, nor the start of a one-liner. Instead it’s the scene that seemed to greet the master of ceremonies at the civic reception at Kidderminster Town Hall to celebrate the Harriers winning the conference in 2000.
It was the result of banter between Harriers’ top scorer that season Ian Foster, fellow Liverpudlian Mike Marsh and defensive stalwart Adie Smith, and was typical of the team spirit among the squad.
Foster recalled: “Obviously Scousers like me and Marshy and people like Adie Smith who is just a ragamuffin, we’d never been to a civic reception before. For some reason they don’t invite us.
“The fella asks for your name, and then he announces you to everybody. Marshy is behind me, and says: ‘Give a different name.’ ‘Who shall I say,’ I reply. ‘Whoever you want,’ he tells me. We’re laughing like schoolboys. I didn’t realise that Smudger (Smith) had heard what me and Marshy were up to, so as we walked in, I just heard: ‘Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Efan Ekoku.’ That was what we were like.”
It’s one of many funny memories for the 43-year-old. After leading the Harriers to the Conference title with 17 goals, he was the only player to play in the side’s first and last games in the Football League; a victory against Torquay United, and an away defeat to Northampton Town. The baby-faced, pacey striker netted 40 times in 160 games for the club across two spells.
He was one of manager Jan Molby’s first signings, finally linking up with his former Liverpool reserves team mate after nearly joining him at Swansea City. The current head coach of England’s youth sides doesn’t try and dress up the poor performances at the start of that season, which saw the club languish one place off bottom of the table after three successive defeats.
“We were ****. Double ****! I remember the Rushden and Diamonds away game that we lost 5-3. I think I scored. I knew from training that we had good players, but from that game I thought we might struggle athletically. They looked stronger and fitter than us.
“The 3-2 defeat to Forest Green Rovers, Craig Hinton had a shocker. I am sure Jan took him off in the first half, he could have taken him off earlier. We hadn’t got the ability to keep the ball and Jan wanted us to dominate possession.”
As the team gelled, results started to pick up. The side were fifth when his friend from Liverpool, Marsh signed. The midfielder had taken an insurance payout after a career ending knee injury at Southend United. Foster mentioned him to Molby during a meeting in the manager’s office.
“Jan was frustrated with us and I just threw it out, he was someone I was close to,” he said. “I played with him in loads of games and training. Jan asked if I thought he’d do it. I spoke to Marshy and the main thing was just getting him in the car and down the M6. I knew once he’d come into the club and saw the environment, he would like it.”
The duo would car share and drive down to games from the north west. Once success looked within reach later in the season and the celebrations became more regular, they would end up parking at junction 15 of the M40 at Warwick and would blag a lift back on a Sunday to be able to drive home after some drinks after the match.
Foster looks back fondly on the journeys, which had a comedic and more serious side too. “Some of the funniest memories of that season are in the car,” he said. “I haven’t seen that Peter Kay show but we were funny. He’d buy some of the worst music you’ve ever heard in your life. £2 from the bargain bin at the motorway services, we’d be listening to some rubbish Irish folk music.
“We’d talk on the way down and probably get each other in a headlock about the game. I’ve worked with him recently at the FA, we always have these challenging conversations, we’ve played together, trained together, coached together. I can imagine people driving past on the motorway looking at us arguing saying ‘What’s going on in there?!’
“He definitely got the best out of me. He’s the biggest moaner I’ve ever heard in my life. Cantankerous, grey haired, he was going grey then, moaning all the time, but it’s said with affection. He came into the dressing room, someone who had played at the highest level for Liverpool, West Ham, Coventry, experience of playing overseas in Galatasary, loads of experience, but with no airs or graces. He is what he is, a lad from Kirby, a lovely guy and he just fitted in perfectly well.”
With Marsh pulling the strings, and Foster grabbing the goals, the Harriers continued climbing the league. The striker netted a hat-trick against Nuneaton Borough early in January to take them top of the table, a haul that he describes as “one of the worst hat-tricks [he’s] ever seen.” However, it wasn’t until a last gasp 2-1 win against Doncaster Rovers on a Tuesday night in March that he started to believe the squad could win the league.
He continued: “That Doncaster game was pivotal for me. It was a game we should never ever have won. Absolute daylight robbery. We got beat up, we were second to everything. But it goes back to that point about player belief, that we just found a way. That was the night I came away thinking we’re going to win the league.”
On the scorching day of the key top-of-the-table clash with Rushden and Diamonds in early April, Foster was picked up by his friend on the day of the game for the drive down. Telling his more experienced team mate that he was nervous, he was surprised to hear that Marsh say the same. Despite his accolades he hadn’t been promoted in his career, saying: “It was really humbling to hear it from him. Even when he’s played in huge Merseyside derbies or Liverpool against United, or in the cauldron of Istanbul, it’s humbling to hear that he’s going to Kidderminster thinking ‘I’ve never experienced this before.’
“There was a hell of a lot more punters than normal. I don’t remember much about the first half, but then I scored the penalty and we scored quickly afterwards with Andy Brownrigg and I felt them come off us.”
He then scored the decisive goal in a 1-0 away win at Dover Athletic to all but seal the title. As someone who by his own admission, doesn’t always hit the target when it comes to remembering his own strikes, he remembers his almost botched penalty very clearly.
“We’d played well that day, just couldn’t get near the goal. Marshy killed me. I’m about to take the penalty, and as I put the ball on the spot, he comes up and says: ‘Are you sure you don’t want me to take it?’ So that tells me he’s got absolutely no faith in my ability to score that penalty. I told him to do something, the second word being off.
“It was a shocking penalty. I wanted it to go straight down the middle. I don’t think the ball hit the net; the divot went into the top corner. I remember going towards our fans and celebrating, we piled on top of one another in the corner, and I saw the staff going berserk. ‘This is incredible, I think we’ve done it.’ That was bizarre, the atmosphere on the way back was incredible.”
A defeat at Woking saw the Harriers win the league as Rushden failed to beat Scarborough. However, as Harriers trailed, the players didn’t know the scores elsewhere. Foster, then 23, remembers hoping that they hadn’t thrown it away.
“All we had to do was pick up a point. What are we doing? Why are we losing this game? Then I heard the roar go up from our supporters because [Rushden] hadn’t won. The mindset just changes. The last few minutes were farcical, because we’d done it. I remember nagging the ref, saying just blow your whistle and let us get off the pitch. We were just desperate to celebrate together.”
The team decamped to the dressing room, where Sky Sports’ Chris Kamara collared him and Smith for an interview, which the England man describes as “the worst possible thing. Smudger was probably just desperate for a cigarette and a can of Carling.”
Harriers were presented the trophy on Bank Holiday Monday after the game against a relegation-threatened Forest Green Rovers, with Harriers squandering a 3-0 lead. He fondly recalled: “There was 5,000 at Aggborough that night but we had a party afterwards and it was nice to see how much it meant for the supporters and the staff. It was nice for people like my mother-in-law Pat, who worked on reception, the gentlemen who worked in the office and the bar, the people who would be tidying up on a Sunday, the ground staff.
“Until then I don’t think I appreciated how much it meant for the town and the area in terms of actually having a club from the Wyre Forest in the Football League. It’s a shame from a fans’ perspective that if we’d had a great start to the season and dominated the league, more would have come to games. But I think the story is better the way it is, the roller coaster that we were on. We did have a togetherness, I know I did. I loved playing for the Kiddy fans. Every time I scored, I would be straight in behind the goal with the fans.”
Foster was one of the players who made the step up into the Football League, ending up as top scorer in the club’s second season. He jointly topped the charts for the club in the relegation season in 2004/05. He left the Harriers briefly to join Chester in 2003, before re-joining when Molby did after Ian Britton’s departure.
One of the more memorable moments from his second spell was the fracas with Huddersfield Town defender Efe Sodje. Foster got sent off. “I tried to rip his bandana off!” said Foster. “He was just trying to be your rough, tough centre half and I wasn’t having any of it. I said ‘come here, let’s take that off’, so I tried to pull it off and nearly pulled his neck off!’ I thought it was a bit harsh to be honest!”
He retired after the Harriers’ relegation from League Two, and made a substitute appearance in the club’s, to-date, last game in the Football League. He later joined the Harriers as a physio, before joining former Harriers’ captain Jeff Kenna when he went to Ireland to manage, and then struck out on his own managerial and coaching career. After taking in Coventry and Portsmouth, he has been involved with the England set up since 2019.
Yet despite being one of the most highly rated English coaches in football, he still lives in Kidderminster and has ties to the area. He takes his son up to Aggborough, and was in the stands for the win against Hereford United on Boxing Day.
“I like my son to see both sides of football, he has been a mascot for England, I took him to the Champions League final last year, but he needs a dose of reality, which is standing in the Town End.”
“I can’t get out of here, I’m locked In!” he jokes. “Twenty years on and I still live in the area. Jude’s in the academy and plays for the U10s, my mum lives down here now too. Despite the accent, I’m a Kidderminster boy now.”