In my article previewing the FA Cup Third Round tie against Leeds last month I wrote a brief history of West Ham in the FA Cup covering the last 60 years. It didn’t make for particularly good reading apart from the three occasions when we lifted the trophy or reached the final and the odd season when we went some distance before falling to a top-flight opponent. There have been far too many occasions when we have been eliminated from the competition by teams from a lower division or even by sides from our own division who were performing poorly in the league and about to be relegated that season. And that is exactly why we were prime candidates for a TV slot this weekend.
We breezed past Leeds into the fourth round relatively comfortably but were unable to repeat the feat in the Premier League game at the London Stadium seven days later. The draw for Round Four has paired us with the lowest ranked club still left in the competition, Kidderminster Harriers, and a trip to the West Midlands where the average crowd of under 2000 will be increased four-fold for a visit from a team challenging at the top of the Premier League.
Our opponents are currently in the sixth tier of the English football pyramid and play at the Aggborough Stadium in the (Vanarama) National League North. They are currently enjoying an excellent season and sit in third place in their table just four points off the top and well placed to challenge for promotion into the (Vanarama) National League, which is the level immediately below the Football League. They attracted over 5000 spectators to their third round tie where they disposed of Championship side Reading.
They haven’t always been a non-league side; they won the Conference (as the National League was called previously) in 1999/2000 with Jan Molby (remember him from Liverpool?) as their manager and were promoted into the Football League where they remained for five seasons. Their highest finishing position was tenth in 2001/02, but they were relegated from the League three seasons later and have never returned, falling still further in the pyramid following relegation in 2015/16. They have reached the play-offs twice since then but didn’t manage to achieve promotion either time.
If you are old enough you’ll remember that we have faced them before in the FA Cup when they had their best ever run in the competition. It was Round Five in 1993/4 when we travelled to Worcestershire and came away with a 1-0 win. We then went out to (lower league side) Luton after a replay in the Quarter Final!
Kidderminster were a formidable non-league side at the time and were crowned the Conference champions that season. However they were denied a place in the Football League due to the Aggborough Stadium facilities being deemed not up to the standard required. After being champions again six years later they did successfully go up.
In that Round Five tie 28 years ago we scraped through thanks to a Lee Chapman header around 20 minutes from the end of the game. The West Ham line-up that day was Miklosko; Breacker, Potts, Martin, Rowland; (Martin) Allen, Bishop, Holmes, Marsh; Chapman, (Clive) Allen (sub Morley). After a poor start to that season our fortunes improved after Julian Dicks joined Liverpool in September in a swap deal that involved full back David Burrows and midfielder Mike Marsh coming to West Ham. To add more forward power Lee Chapman was bought from Portsmouth. It was a very different Premier League at the time with Blackburn, Newcastle, Leeds, Wimbledon, Sheffield Wednesday, QPR, Coventry and Norwich all finishing higher in the table than our 13th, with Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City all below us.
Of course none of our new recruits from this transfer window will be appearing because we didn’t sign anybody! My colleague Geoff covered our failure to improve the squad very clearly in his recent article. The FA Cup competition is almost certainly our best chance of winning a trophy this season so I hope that the manager puts out a strong side and takes it more than seriously. A lot of negative things have been written about West Ham in this transfer window and failure to beat Kidderminster will increase the levels of disappointment amongst the fans for a season that was going so well. But I’m sure we’ll be fine. We are not the West Ham of old and I’m confident that we’ll overcome our National League opponents comfortably and our ball will be in the cloth bag when the draw is made for Round Five.