Kidderminster Harriers boss Andy Thorn eyes another FA Cup shock

By Ged ScottBBC Sport
Kidderminster Harriers manager Andy Thorn

When Kidderminster trot out at the Stadium of Light on Saturday afternoon for their FA Cup fourth round tie against Sunderland, they will be rated rank outsiders.

With the League Cup finalists enjoying home advantage, not to mention the massive gulf of 79 places between the two clubs in English football's league ladders, the odds on an away win were already long.

The Black Cats head into Saturday's tie on the crest of a wave following Wednesday's penalty shoot-out win against Manchester United, leaving Harriers' hopes as the only non-league side left in the competition seeming even more forlorn.

Add in the poor performance they put in against Dartford 24 hours earlier, in their first game since the six-figure departure of prize asset Joe Lolley, and those bookies' odds of 9/1 to win actually seem on the skinny side.

But they have, in new boss Andy Thorn, a man who knows all about FA Cup upsets.

Thorn was an FA Cup winner with unfancied Wimbledon in 1988 before reaching the final two years later, again in unexpected circumstances, with Crystal Palace.

And, roared on by 4,000 Harriers fans, the manager's past experiences will help Thorn get his message across to his players that, in the Cup, anything can happen.

"Any one-off game can go any way as long as you prepare properly, believe in what you do and go there with determination," the 47-year-old Londoner told BBC Sport.

"In that run with Wimbledon. we were favourites to get knocked out in every game we played.

"But if you go with belief and desire, once you get out there, with your supporters right behind you in their numbers, anything can happen."

Thorn was a young centre-half, just 21 years old and making his way in the game with Wimbledon in 1988, when Bobby Gould's 'Crazy Gang' pulled off one of the shocks of all time by beating league champions Liverpool 1-0 in the final at Wembley.

As upsets go, it was not, in pure statistical terms, actually that big a surprise.

Wimbledon, sixth under Dave Bassett a year earlier had, after all, finished high up again that season in seventh under Gould - just six places below Liverpool.

But this was no ordinary Liverpool side.

This was Kenny Dalglish's magnificent Mighty Reds, the Anfield Rappers, the almost all-conquering Liverpool of Hansen and Lawrenson, Whelan and McMahon, and Barnes and Beardsley, who had lost just twice in the league all season, netting 87 goals in 40 matches.

Then, two years later, with Liverpool en route to winning the title again under Dalglish, the Reds came up against the same Thorn in their side.

Having left Wimbledon for Newcastle after their Cup win, Thorn had stayed just a season on Tyneside before returning to South London to play for Crystal Palace.

And it was with Palace that he helped do another job on the Scousers.

Having been annihilated 9-0 at Anfield earlier that season, Palace too were on their way to a top-10 league finish when the two sides met again in the FA Cup semi-final at Villa Park. And the Eagles this time turned the tables, winning a 4-3 extra-time thriller.

That earned them a final against Manchester United, who they took to a replay largely thanks to Ian Wright's late goalscoring heroics in a 3-3 draw.

As luck would have it, Lee Martin's winner proved enough to settle the replay and earn Alex Ferguson his first trophy as United manager.

Thorn remembers all too well just how close Palace came to doing a Wimbledon though.

And, in only his second game in charge at Kidderminster, following the surprise sacking of Steve Burr, he has already proved that he has not lost his touch by supervising his new side to an FA Cup third round replay win at Peterborough.

Now, having been at Old Trafford to watch Sunderland's players go through the gruelling mental and physical strains of that extra half hour and penalties in midweek, less than 72 hours before Saturday's Cup tie, Thorn will head for the north east full of hope of more glory.

In the last round, they had 600 away fans following them in the replay at London Road. On Saturday, as chairman Mark Serrell had hoped, for a journey more than double the distance, 50 coachloads of fans - plus many more travelling independently - will watch their team take to the field in Cup special commemorative purple away shirts, with amber trim.

With gate receipts added to the £125,000 they have banked in prize money, the Cup run has so far raised over £300,000. Harriers would also earn a further £90,000 if they see off Sunderland.

"I'm sure it's going to be a fantastic day," said Thorn. "The supporters were incredible the way they got behind us at Peterborough.

"It was typical magic of the Cup stuff. And it was just nice to come out on the winning side.

"It's incredible the amount of tickets that have been sold for this one. And everyone can go and enjoy themselves.

"They're four leagues above us, so we've got to be realistic," he told BBC Hereford & Worcester, "but we'll go there with a game plan and we won't fail for lack of preparation."

Harriers' trip to Sunderland will mark only Thorn's 18th day in the job at Aggborough, but this will be the fifth match he has had to prepare for, including one wasted trip to Aldershot for a postponement last Saturday. He has also had to deal with the sale of star player, and third-round match-winner, Lolley to Huddersfield and sorting out the incoming transfer of two others.

That was no more than he expected when he answered Serrell's summons earlier this month.

Having scouted for both Roy Hodgson at Fulham and David Moyes at Everton before joining Coventry as chief scout, Thorn's first managerial position came at the Ricoh Arena when he was asked to fill the breach following Aidy Boothroyd's departure from the Sky Blues.

It was under Thorn's watch that the Sky Blues finally suffered relegation back to the third tier of English football in 2012 - following several seasons of financial restraints.

His experience at Coventry - which he described as "like swimming the Channel with an oven on your back" - did not end amicably.

Summoned by text to the boardroom meeting that had been set up to mark the end of his time in charge, he finally parted company at a time when the Sky Blues were unbeaten at their new level in League One, having drawn their first three matches of the season.

He has since worked for the Football Association, assisting England manager Hodgson on his scouting team ahead of this summer's World Cup, before taking the call from Serrell that returned him to management.

Andy Thorn applauds the Harriers fans at London Road
Thorn applauds the Harriers fans after his side's 3-2 third-round replay win at Peterborough

"I'd known about Andy and his qualities for quite some time," Serrell told BBC Sport. "His contacts within the game are exceptional.

"And, once we were presented with the challenge of finding a new manager, he was at the forefront of my mind.

"The entire board were simply blown away by his enthusiasm and desire to succeed."

As befits a man who once shared the same dressing room as Vinnie Jones, with the manner and the gravelly cockney voice that would not look out of place in a South London gangster movie, Thorn does not look a man to be messed with.

"I felt I could do something with this club," he growls gently. "It gave me a buzz.

"I've got a good set of boys who all want to play higher and improve. And I haven't really been tasked with anything other than to take the club forward.

"We've now got the chance to go and play at the Stadium of Light, one of the best grounds in the country. And I hope we can go and do ourselves justice. But there's so much more to do with this team. I've hardly got started yet."