Before I look back over last season let's look to next season and a little omen that may or may not come true. As Harriers fans, some of us liked to think of our club as one of the Conference's big guns in the 90's. Whilst it was fair to say we were as famous as any other non-league side, due to our league titles and cup exploits, our league performances didn't always reflect our perception of ourselves. We were inconsistent.
Let's just look at our league finishes in the 90's (bear with me):
Looking down that list you can hardly say we were consistently at the top of the non-league game, great one season, mediocre or worst the next. But I'm going to use those numbers to cast a little hope for next season.
The more observant amongst you will note that in 98/99 we finished 15th - exactly the same position as this season. Following 98/99 we won the league under Jan Molby - maybe history can repeat itself and we'll follow this season's 15th with a title next campaign? Okay, maybe that's a little optimistic, but the point is that Kidderminster Harriers have a history of building good sides quickly. That is what Mark Yates will want to do but, obviously, it's a lot easier to say it than do it. Over to you Yatesie.
The 2005-2006 season started at home to Woking. We snatched a win and some (probably me at the time) could have deluded themselves this meant we would be okay. The more critical would have noticed that Woking outplayed us and deserved a point at the very least but a win was a win and we seemed to have a lively strike force in the shape of Iyseden Christie and the on-loan Taiwo Atieno.
Things did seem to go okay to begin with. Harriers played well at Exeter City and were unlucky to lose one-nil to one of the title favourites. Then we travelled to Scarborough and picked up a point against a terrible Seadogs side. This game should have come as another warning sign of our season's shortcomings as Harriers' forwards contrived to miss a hatful of chances and, despite having 14 shots to Boro's 3, we conceded an injury time equaliser.
Another four games came and went (I said I'd keep this short!) and Harriers hadn't been beaten. Draws at home versus Southport and at the impressive Grays sandwiched wins at Cambridge and versus Canvey. Okay, the performances weren't always dominant but at least we weren't losing games. Suddenly we did start to lose games and the performances began to put Stuart Watkiss under pressure.
After two disastrous performances and defeats at home to Forest Green (3-1) and Halifax (1-0) Watkiss spoke out in the press and said that he was struggling to remember us playing worse than that in back to back games but that no teacups were thrown. He went on: I'm the manager. Ultimately I'm responsible and must face the music and I don't need telling that it was unacceptable, but I have been told.
At this point one hoped that such frank words would shake up the players and see performances improve but, for me certainly, the season never seemed to get going. The excitement of having new players was wearing off and the side was already chopping and changing. The fans had their scapegoats - Atieno was 'lazy', Danby was a 'liability' and Hatswell was 'rubbish' but none of the players were covering themselves in glory except, perhaps, skipper Mark Jackson.
The experienced Martin O'Connor did look to be an asset in the middle of the park, but his inability to last beyond 60 minutes of the game, Harriers subsequent tendency to self-destruct was not nice to watch and Terry Fleming, Gareth Sheldon, Simon Russell, Michael Blackwood and Lawrie Wilson, who the optimists had all predicted to be our stars of the season, were turning out to be decidedly average at best or, in Lawrie Wilson's case, complete crap.
Hero worshipping was bestowed upon the enigma that was Iyseden Christie. Debates raged as to his commitment to the cause but the player who had been injured for what seemed like forever knew where the back of the net was. Christie made things happen, whether it was winning penalties, winding up centre-halves or scoring goals. Despite the two poor home defeats their was lots of football to go and, at least, in Iyseden Christie we had a goalscorer.
The rest of September and October was indifferent as Harriers won two just games, one at Gravesend and one at home to Morecambe (in front of just over 1400). However, this wasn't enough to stem the increasing anger amongst the Aggborough faithful and in four games the Harriers lost no less than three times to sides occupying bottom spot in the table. Included in this was a home defeat to Tamworth who included ex-players Scott Stamps, Adie Smith and Graham Ward in their starting eleven. The irony that these players were very recently considered not good enough for Kidderminster and yet they were showing the current group how it was done was not lost on Harriers fans.
Harriers' youngster Russ Penn was sent out on-loan to Alvechurch in October but would return to the club later on to provide one of the few bright spots for the season.
Despite overcoming a relaxed Darlington 2-1 at Aggborough in the LDV Trophy, Harriers fans had to endure more dross at Southport in the FA Cup 4th Qualifying Round as a gutless one-nil defeat at Haig Avenue heaped more pressure on Watkiss. Harriers' tight financial budget was revealed by Watkiss when he said: It's a blow to the club, a big blow, that's for sure. We were dependant on this result and a run in the cup to bring in some extra revenue. This will definitely have an effect on the club and things will now be that little bit more difficult for us.
It was suggested afterwards that the club had 'budgeted' on reaching the first round of the cup and the Southport defeat had put pressure on Watkiss to make cuts in the squad.
There was some cause for cheer when Johnny Mullins came in on-loan from Reading towards the end of October. Mullins had been on-loan to us the previous season and Harriers fans were looking forward to seeing the talented defender in a Harriers' shirt again. He came into the side at right-back to replace Wayne Evans who hadn't overly impressed and going out the door was Steve Burton who, despite being a left-back, could not depose Wayne Hatswell, a centre-back, from the left-back position. Burton's contract was cancelled.
Hereford came to Aggborough to end the month of October and all Harriers fans feared the worst. Just 2200 Harriers fans turned up for the game but they were rewarded with a better performance and a point against one of the Conference's favourites for promotion. The frustrating Taiwo Atieno got the goal with a well-taken header.
The Hereford result proved to be a false dawn as defeats to Exeter (2-1), Stevenage (3-1) and Burton (1-0) followed in November. Harriers were not terrible in defeat but seemed far too easy to breach in defence and short on attacking ideas up front. A 0-0 draw at Aggborough versus York was Harriers only league point of the month however, the LDV Trophy was proving to Harriers liking and another League 2 scalp was taken in the form of Boston United. Harriers won 3-0 at York Street with goals from Christie (2) and Blackwood to set up a Northern Quarter Final with Bradford City.
November saw Russ Penn make his debut versus York, (O'Connor's legs were giving up), and Marc Pugh was brought in on a work experience deal from Burnley. Forward Pugh went on to make seven starts scoring one goal for Harriers but at the same time the young centre-back Chris McHale was sent out on loan and defender Patrick Flynn arrived on non-contract terms (he also made just seven starts before leaving again through the revolving door).
At the end of November the Harriers occupied 16th place in the Conference - a position that we would more or less occupy for the rest of the season. Life back in the Conference had been very disappointing and, whilst no-one had expected a league title, fans felt they had the right to expect more despite the constant speculation about low playing budgets and financial restrictions.
The football on the pitch had been poor, Harriers fans were struggling to bond with new players and scant entertainment on the pitch had seen home crowds fall to levels not seen for 6 years. Things needed changing and change they did!
Part 2 never came