Liverpool Loanee Loves Life with Kidderminster Harriers

“It was a horrible night, the pitch wasn’t great and we came away with the three points”.

A visit to Farsley Celtic on a wet and windy February midweek evening isn’t for most 19-year-olds making their way in the game.

It proved to be a memorable acid test for youngster Rhys Williams, currently on a season-long from Liverpool with National League North side Kidderminster Harriers.

Less than a year earlier, the centre-half formed a vital cog in a side crowned FA Youth Cup winners.

Instead of progressing into the under-23 set-up at Melwood, Williams opted for something different than the more comfortable nature of age group football.

“The plan was always for me to go out on loan in the first year of my professional contract,” explained the England under-19 international.

“I was open to the opportunity, but I was a little nervous about stepping into men’s football.

“I knew it would be very different to playing in the under-18s and 23s at Liverpool, but there was excitement in taking on this challenge”.

Kidderminster Harriers- one of the few full-time outfits in the sixth-tier with a clear academy pathway- are closer than most National League clubs to providing Williams’ accustomed football surroundings.

The opening months provided a daunting test of 10 matches in the space of 36 days.

It is a period that can be a difficult ask of any seasoned pro, let alone a youngster arriving at a new club just four days before the season got underway.

“It was so tough for us because we had such a small squad at the start of the season,” he admits.

“One thing it did mean was we knew we would all be playing each game.

“I didn’t feel as nervous as I might have been going into matches because of that. I was able to play my natural game without the fear of being dropped.

“Dealing with the change of intensity in the football was what I found hardest to adapt to”.

“I remember my first game against Leamington, where I made a mistake, the gaffer (John Pemberton) came over to me afterwards and told me he still trusted me.”

“Those types of assurance paid off as I’ve gained experience with every match I’ve played”.

‘Change’ may be a good word to sum up Kidderminster’s campaign so far.

The defender has had as many managers in nine months at Aggborough as he has had in a decade of time on the books of the European champions.

Following a change of ownership, Pemberton (pictured above) was replaced by Jimmy Shan (pictured below). But his reign lasted just two months, heading east to take charge at Solihull Moors.

Club legend Russell Penn (pictured below) has stepped up into the interim position, with Harriers currently 16th in Vanarama National League North.

While the changes have been far from ideal, they have provided a platform for Williams’ game to develop further.

The 19-year-old said: “If you want to survive at a club and keep playing, you have to be able to alter your game to the way a new manager wants you to.

“Being able to have done that is one of the things I’ve been most pleased about.

“Pemberton’s style was more cautious than Shan’s, and we became more expansive with three instead of four at the back. Penners (Russell Penn) has merged the two styles together.

“Coming through at Liverpool, I’ve always played in a four at the back.

“Playing in a three for the majority of the season has been a great learning curve. I like having the licence to go forward.

“It suits my style to be able to take the ball into risky areas of the pitch for a centre-half to be in possession”.

In a time where recent statistics have shown less than 15% of Premier League squads include home-grown players, having first-team experience could be crucial to the youngster moving forwards.

The teen has been a sensation in Worcestershire, and he is a favourite of many amongst the club’s supporters.

“When I eventually go back to Liverpool,” he said, “I will have developed into a better player for the experience.

“My basic defending has improved so much.

“Liverpool knew I had the attributes to play with the ball at my feet, but now this will have proven to them that I’m capable in defensive situations too.

“A lot of the players in my age group have asked what it is like to play at this level.

“Every time I’ve been asked I’ve always spoken highly of the level of competition, the club and have recommended going out on loan to them, if the opportunity comes”.

Highlights? He will return with a bag full.

As well as their underdog victory at then-table toppers King’s Lynn Town, the centre-half also represented England under-19s in the Marbella International Cup.

“They hadn’t been beaten at home for nearly two years,” Williams proudly mentioned when asked about the win over King’s Lynn.

“It was a great achievement, particularly with it being a result that really turned around our form.

“We defended so well that I doubt they’d have scored if we were still playing now!

“The atmosphere in our win against Hereford on Boxing Day was the best I have played in front of.

“Representing my country is the best moment of my career so far.

“It’s interesting that I’ve still been noticed playing in National League North by my international side”.

Where next?

Two New Jobs And A Baby - Robbie Is Loving His New Life For someone who told his chairman there was no way he was stepping into management, Robbie Simpson didn’t take long to change his tune.
Fan Power! Clubs' Supporters Really Show Their Worth There may not be any football at the moment but fans are continuing to show their support when it really matters.