Russell Penn is proud of the progression his Kidderminster Harriers side have made, but the 36-year-old believes there’s more to give if they’re to continue challenging in 2022.
By Amos Murphy
Kidderminster in strong position with promising Penn
Finishing the calendar year in strong fashion, there are few sides in the National League North who have enjoyed a better start to the campaign than Kidderminster Harriers.
Losers in just three of their league matches so far this season, the club will enter the new year with promotion to the fifth-tier a real possibility, with a landmark FA Cup Third Round tie to look forward to.
The man behind the magic? Russell Penn. A forward-thinking, charismatic and tenacious young boss, who has taken well to life in the dugout at Aggborough.
With the halfway point of the campaign already having come and gone, Penn is excited about what 2022 can offer for a Kidderminster side that continues to smash all expectations put in front of them.
Proud Penn pleased with progress at Kidderminster
Speaking exclusively to Non League Daily, Penn’s West Midlands twang punctuated every word, as the Kidderminster boss openly assessed his side’s season so far:
“I’m a realist. We’re under new ownership and we do have a clear plan, but what I do know is we’ve started the season really well. There’s real excitement around the place”.
Following a brief spell as interim boss in 2019, Penn was appointed as first-team manager in February 2020, but he was one of many vibrant coaches in the National League North left frustrated with the decision to null and void the 2019/20 season.
Having since had time to mould the team to how he sees fit, Penn explained the steps he’s taken to bring success back to the Aggborough Stadium:
“Firstly we needed to recruit well, but also realistically. That comes in the form of experienced players, young players, but also some exciting players on loan too".
Full-time outfit presents challenges for Penn
As the landscape across England’s non-league pyramid begins to shift, numerous teams in Step 1 and 2 have taken the decision in recent years to move towards a full-time professional model.
Kidderminster are one of those teams operating like such, with Penn aware of the pressures being a full-time club bring about:
“Listen, we are a full-time club, I would never shy away from that. But there are clubs at our level who pay big money, bigger money than us, that aren’t full-time”.
An approach that has yielded contrasting results for clubs in the past, Penn broke down some of the challenges surrounding being a full-time club in the sixth-tier:
“If you’re signing players as a full-time club, you have to be telling them they can’t be doing anything else throughout the week, unless it is a little hobby on the side. Some players have been part-time for a while and it's a big decision to step away from that.
“We run things as if we’re a Football League club, but without the major finances they’ve got. We’ve got a competitive budget, but by no means is it the biggest. Nowhere near”.
FA Cup run a dream, but frustrations with no TV picks
Stunning National League high-flyers FC Halifax Town at the previous stage of the FA Cup, Kidderminster were rewarded with a home tie against Championship side Reading in the competitions’ Third Round.
“We’re really excited. We sold out against Halifax and we’re going to sell out against Reading. The buzz around the place is great, but the financial reward could’ve been better”.
Kidderminster, along with Chesterfield, Yeovil Town and Boreham Wood, were one of four non-league sides shunted for television coverage, when the picks were made last month. Such a decision has left a bitter taste in the mouth of Penn:
“We were the lowest-ranked team going into the draw, so we thought that would work in our favour. Am I frustrated with the decision? Yes. Am I surprised? No.
“The magic has gone from the cup a little bit. That’s not the case for us, but we’ve had to win five games to get here and you want to be rewarded a little bit more.
Encouraging conversations around the ‘C-word’
Whilst things are going well for Kidderminster at the moment, there always lies the threat of Covid cancelling yet another season, but Penn remains confident that the National League North will come to a natural conclusion in spring:
“The increase in cases makes everyone a little bit anxious, but that’s the whole nation, not just football. Compared to last time, everyone has now had the opportunity to get three jabs and going into the new year”.
On the topic of vaccinations, Penn spoke frankly about his views, and the way Kidderminster as a club have handled the situation:
“It’s been hard to get some players jabbed. You’re talking to footballers between 16 and 30, who are on social media constantly, listening to their heroes and stars about who has been vaccinated, who hasn’t been vaccinated.
“Granted, we aren’t 100% vaccinated, but I don’t think there are any clubs who are. There are however a lot of players and staff who are vaccinated and boosted, me included.
“Until it is made mandatory, there’s not a lot the club can do apart from offering encouragement. We’ve had doctors come into the club to give their advice, letters from the FA, the PFA and the National League too.
Future bright for Kidderminster with Penn at the helm
Covid has presented yet another challenge for non-league managers to contend with, but just like he has done with every task thrown at him already, the ever-impressive Penn has dealt with it superbly.
A role model off the pitch, an elder-statesmen in the dressing room and an exceptional coach on the touchline, Kidderminster should remain in good hands whilst Penn is at the helm.
Not even a global pandemic has been able to knock the Harriers boss off his stride, and with a promising 2022 lined up, who knows what Penn and Kidderminster will be able to achieve in the coming months?