FA Cup fever has well and truly gripped the town of Kidderminster. Today, Friday the 7th of January, 24 hours before Reading arrive for their third-round tie with Kidderminster Harriers, the excitement is palpable.

But that’s been the case for weeks.

A jaunt through the town centre in the month since the draw was made would have sent you past stalls already selling half and half scarves while the club’s 6,444-capacity Aggborough Stadium is long sold out.

Veljko Paunovic and his team aren’t just travelling north to face a team of eleven players. They’re heading to the Midlands to face an entire town. And that power should not be understated. 

“There is a lot more excitement around than we’ve had in years,” Scott Jones, Kidderminster fan and the club’s PA announcer tells the Reading Chronicle. “There’s a great buzz around the town at the moment. Even people who aren’t really football supporters are all getting behind the team and supporting them. It’s great to see.

Reading Chronicle: The Kidderminster faithful watch on as their team make an unlikely FA Cup run. Image by: PAThe Kidderminster faithful watch on as their team make an unlikely FA Cup run. Image by: PA

“So far this season the average attendance has been about 1,700-2,000 and all of a sudden we’ve sold 5,000 tickets a week and a half before the game takes place. There are still loads of people out there who want tickets who haven’t been able to get them. It just shows that excitement - people are getting behind them and coming out to support them.”

Playing in the National League North, the sixth level of the football period, the Harriers have already punched above their weight to earn their big tie with Reading. Saturday will mark the sixth round of the FA Cup Kidderminster have faced so far this season, beating Grimsby Town and Halifax Town - both in the division above them - to reach the third round proper.

Led by club legend player turned manager Russell Penn, Harriers are flying in the playoff places of the National League North alongside their impressive cup run. Top scorer Ashley Hemmings has notched 11 goals so far this campaign including one against each of Grimsby and Halifax.

Belief amongst the team and belief in the town is certainly not lacking.

“The team have been in great form recently as it shows getting to the third round," Jones continues. "I think the attitude of the team is very much; ‘it doesn’t matter who we’re playing, we just need to go out there and do what we do.’

Reading Chronicle: Kidderminster manager Russell Penn. Image by: PAKidderminster manager Russell Penn. Image by: PA

“For the first time in years, a lot of the fans have belief in the team. That helps. Everyone’s going to be grounded in the fact that we’re a National League North side playing a Championship side. But I think a lot of the supporters do have a lot of belief that if anybody can pull off the upset, it’s this team.”

One could certainly forgive Kidderminster for believing this is the perfect time to face Reading. Struggles in recent months were punctuated by Monday’s 2-2 draw with Derby while injuries, Covid recoverees, and AFCON misses, means that Veljko Paunovoc doesn’t have a lot to work with. On Thursday he promised to put out a “competitive” team but also acknowledged that the league campaign has to be Reading's priority.

“It’s going to put quite a lot of pressure on Reading," Jones adds. "I know they’re used to it but it’s different coming to a non-league team where the ground’s a little bit more intimate. These are fans who are experiencing something that doesn’t come around too often. It’s been eight years since we’ve made it to the third round of the FA Cup and at that point, we were in the league above. To get into it from our league position…the fans are there and it puts a lot of pressure on teams like Reading who are coming to us.

“I suppose you could say all the pressure’s on them really. If Harriers went out and did their best but didn’t get through it's okay, it’s what you’d expect. So I think there’s a lot of pressure on Reading more than Harriers. For this Kidderminster side, it’s just a case of doing what we can and enjoying the day.”

Reading Chronicle: Kidderminster forward Ashley Hemmings. Image by: PAKidderminster forward Ashley Hemmings. Image by: PA

Reading will have a force of their own backing them in the form of the sold-out allocation of 1470 Royals making the trip to the Midlands. It should just further help incubate the incredible atmosphere this occasion promises to be.

Kidderminster last reached the third round of the FA Cup in 2014 while they made it all the way to the fifth round in 1994. Jones, a lifelong Harriers supporter puts this cup run right up there with the club’s biggest achievements.

“I’ve been kind of self-isolating this past week cause I don’t want to risk catching anything and not being able to attend the game!” he says laughing loudly.

Whatever happens on Saturday, it will be an incredibly special occasion for Kidderminster supporters who almost never see the heights this team has reached. Reading’s job is to ensure the day is only memorable for the occasion and not the result. But it won’t be easy. After all, they’ll have an entire town to contend with.

“It’s the whole town, not just the supporters. The town has really gripped it and taken it on board. Even the mayor of Kidderminster has wished the team good luck. It really is that the whole town is getting behind us. It’s great to see and it’s great to be a part of on the day.”

Kidderminster Harriers Factfile

Founded: 1886

Ground: Aggborough Stadium (6,444 capacity)

Highest league position: 10th in Third Division (2002)

Current league position: 5th in National League North

Manager: Russell Penn

Top Scorer: Ashley Hemmings (11 goals)