Friday, January 17, 2014

Giant Killers on the March...Again!

Andy Greeves

In 1993-94, English Conference side Kidderminster Harriers made a number for themselves by becoming only the fifth club to make it to the fifth round of the FA Cup. Ten years on, 'Kiddy' are making waves again, having beaten two Football League teams to set-up a Fourth Round trip to Barclays Premier League side Sunderland. Andy Greeves talks to Jon Purdie, one of Kidderminster's class of 1994, about giant killing memories and chances of an upset at the Stadium of Light.

"I can't quite get over the fact it was 20 years ago," smiles Jon Purdie, scorer of one of the most famous goals in the history of Kidderminster Harriers Football Club. It was 64 minutes into an FA Cup Third Round tie at St Andrews between Birmingham City of the old Division One (now SkyBet Championship) and 'Kiddy' of the Football Conference with the scores level at 1-1 when visiting forward Purdie has the chance to get a shot in on the Blues goal.

"The second half was very open and goals could have gone in at either end," recalls Purdie on his big moment. "I had a good strike on goal and also got brought down in the box, for what I thought should have been a penalty. For my goal, I cut in off the left-wing and tried to work an opening to hit it a few times before I finally put my boot through it. It flew in and obviously it was an amazing feeling."

Kidderminster goalkeeper Kevin Rose saved a penalty late on to secure a 2-1 victory for the non-league club, whose performance and victory belied the two sides' league standings. "We had a very good side and were top of the Conference at the time, while Birmingham were struggling in the old Division One (now SkyBet Championship),"says Purdie. "Barry Fry had recently come in and was trying to rebuild a squad and sell on players too, so it was like a revolving door at St Andrews. I guess it was a good time to be playing them. Birmingham were odds-in favourites to win of course, but we quietly fancied our chances.

"Birmingham started much the brighter and went 1-0 up after about 20 minutes. We got an important equaliser just before the break though and I can remember the manager saying to us 'they (Birmingham) are nothing fantastic… just go out and play your normal game second half.' He obviously sensed the win and we managed to achieve it."

To get to the Third Round and set-up that trip to Birmingham, Kidderminster had to win three matches. They dispatched fellow non-league sides Chesham United, Kettering and Woking in the Fourth Qualifying Round and First and Second Roads proper to get there.

"When you start out at the forth qualifying round of the competition, you're certainly not thinking of going on a big run in the FA Cup," reflects Purdie. "Just getting to the third round, when big boys enter seems a long, long way away. You're just trying to win each came as it comes and see where it takes you.

"We won pretty convincingly at Chesham United (4-1 to Kidderminster) but I actually got sent off that day, so a day of mixed emotions. We then drew Kettering at home in the first round proper and saw them off with a good performance (winning 3-0). I won the penalty against Woking which we subsequently scored from in the second round. That had been a tough game and one of those where one goal was likely to win it for either side."

After beating Birmingham City, Kidderminster's fans and players alike dreamt of a trip to one of the Premier League big-boys. Instead, they drew Preston North End at home. The Lilywhites are one of English football's giants of yesteryear for sure, twice winners of the FA Cup in 1889 and 1939. During the 1993-94 season though they languished in the bottom division of the Football League. So they were hardly a Manchester United, Arsenal or Liverpool.

"Having got to the fourth round, I guess then we were disappointed not to get Premier League opposition," laments Purdie. "At least it was a home draw and a winnable tie against Preston as we saw it. I remember that David Moyes was in Preston's starting line-up that day and they were managed by John Beck, who I hadn't always seen eye-to-eye with during our time at Cambridge. Years later it was satisfying for me to play a good game against a team managed by him and get one over on him. I supplied the ball for Delwyn Humphreys to score the winner." The 1-0 victory over Preston on January 29, 1994 finally saw Kidderminster land a Premier League club in the FA Cup and a Fifth Round visit from West Ham United on February 19, 1994. Tickets for the game sold out within hours of going on sale and 7,850 fans packed into Kiddy's Aggborough ground for the eagerly anticipated tie. 'Cup fever' had officially hit that part of the West Midlands!

"Most people that were at the game against West Ham would have agreed that it was a pretty even affair," says Purdie, looking back on the Fifth Round match. "Towards the end, both teams would have been happy with the replay I think. Certainly they'd have fancied their chances of finishing the job at Upton Park and for us, it would have been a massive away game for us and another good pay day. Unfortunately, Kevin Rose our goalkeeper, who had been fantastic throughout the cup run, made an error of judgement coming for a cross and Lee Chapman was able to score a header to win it for them.

"We'd had a fantastic run and we didn't have any complaints. The only disappointment was matched West Ham on the day and then were beaten by a late goal."

Since Kidderminster's antics of 1994, only two other non-league clubs have since made it to the Fifth Round of the FA Cup - Crawley Town in 2011 and Luton Town last season. "The difference between matches between non-league and league clubs now compared to twenty years ago is most Conference clubs (both Crawley and Luton were professional during the aforementioned cup runs - Crawley are now in the Football League) are professional now. That wasn't the case in my days and most players had main professions outside of football and trained part-time, usually twice a week. Certainly there was a bigger gulf fitness-wise then as there is now."

Kidderminster's run to the Fourth Round this season has captured the imagination of football folk across the UK, with Kiddy the only remaining non-league club left in the competition. They face a visit to Barclays Premier League side Sunderland next in the tournament and despite the Black Cats' poor form this season, a Kidderminster win would still rank as one of the biggest upsets in FA Cup history if it were to happen.

"Sunderland will be red hot favourites and you can't see beyond them winning," says Purdie. "The main thing for the Kidderminster fans is for their team to have a big day out and for the club, they will have generated a good sum of money. I just hope the team can give a good account of themselves and indeed non-league football.

"Kidderminster play a 4-3-3 system usually and they have some very good front men. They'll certainly have a good go."

The match will certainly be of real interest to Purdie, who champions non-league clubs having played for the likes of Cheltenham Town (before they were in the Football League), Telford United and Worcester City during his career. Having begun his career as an apprentice at Arsenal, he also played professionally for the likes of Wolverhampton Wanderers, Cambridge United (loan), Oxford United, Brentford and Shrewsbury Town.

"After hanging up the boots (in 2000), I took some time out of the game with my young lads growing up," says one-time FA Cup hero Purdie. "When they were aged about 16/17, I got involved again, took my coaching badges and worked at Wolverhampton Wanderers' academy for a few years. Since then, I managed a non-league side called AFC Wulfrunians for a few years and nowadays I coach part-time at Stourport Swfits and work as a business consultant."

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