Faithful Blue, Kerys Harrop talks about the season so far for Birmingham City, how she’s keeping busy during the current pandemic as well as her proudest day.
On the sidelines
Fortunate with injuries throughout her career, Harrop found herself stuck on the sidelines earlier in the season. Only able to cheer from the stands as her club struggled to get going at the start of the campaign and she admits, with so many changes to the squad, her lack of presence on the pitch only hampered the team.
“It was hard when I was injured, I haven’t really been injured (other than 10 years ago), so it’s not familiar place to me but it happens; it’s part of the game isn’t it? So I was very diligent with my recovery and I just wanted to try and get back on as soon as possible you know… not just for myself but for the team as well. Being captain and being at the back in defence, I’ve always been the one to organise and instruct the girls and I could probably see that was missing a little bit.”
Harrop’s loud and commanding nature almost getting her into trouble too, “And when I was in the stands, I’d try my best to shout from the sidelines, but then I was told not to do that, haha. But that’s just me, it’s just the natural thing for me to do.”
Floating in and around the drop-zone, the powers that be at Birmingham City opted to part ways with manager Marta Tejedor at the start of March and promote Charlie Baxter to the role of interim coach.
As for the Chilean manager?
“I think all of the girls will say as well, she didn’t really… coming from Spain and not knowing anything about the league or about the team; it that was difficult for her to know what we’re all about. And I think that’s why it was a little bit disappointing it for me that they didn’t actually recruit from within Blues,” Harrop admits.
But with Baxter, the team is returning to a more recognisable one for Harrop with that certain Blue je ne sais quoi.
“If you look at the managers we’ve in the past, they’ve always been people who have worked within the club for a long time and I think that with knowing what our identity is and what kind of philosophy we have, so I think [with Marta] we lost that a little bit. But now, obviously, with Charlie coming in, you know, he’s been at Blues for eight or nine years, so he knows what Blues is all about. The hard work: you play for the shirt, nothing given to you on a plate and he’s been instilling that back into us over the last few weeks,” the defender explains.
Between the storms at the end of February, the international window in March and forced hiatus, the team have been away from the pitch for the best part of eight weeks. And although Baxter has fast been putting his stamp on the team, they’ve had no chance of showing their progress under their new manager.
“It’s a bit of a shame that we’ve worked hard with Charlie then we’ve not been able to show ourselves with all our games cancelled so we haven’t had much of chance to kind of test ourselves and our new manager.” She continued,“So yeah, really, really strange scene season for me really, especially with the injury… I just feel haven’t really played or got going yet.”
For those new to women’s football and the Women’s Super League, it’s easy to see Birmingham City as a smaller team, constrained by their budget in a world of accelerated professionalism. But, in the early days of the newly branded league, the Blues were one of the pace-setters, at home and abroad.
“Yeah, I think back when it [WSL] first started in 2011, there probably wasn’t as much money in the league. And we had a lot of good local players, you know like Laura Bassett Karen Carney, Chelsea Weston and Rachel Unitt. And so because of that, we were, you know, we’re really successful. I’ll always remember… those were probably the best days of my career, we got to the Champions League semi-finals and won the FA Cup.”
During the early years of the league, it was the team of Bignot and Parker that really propelled the Midlands side to great heights and Harrop explains.
“And I think you know, there’s the managers as well effect things, I think everyone respected Marcus Bignot and David Parker, we hit a bit of a low for a bit and then Marc Skinner came in and that was really good.”
As the league as evolved so has Birmingham been forced to, “I think just the nature of the club and the fact we can’t offer players loads of money. So, people come to our club because they like the managers or they like the kind of hard working nature to just get on with it. You know you’re not going to be privileged at Blues but you’re here for the right reasons.”
As for the notion that Blues are a feeder club?
“Sometimes we have been called a feeder club for the likes of Chelsea and Man’ City but that’s not the way to see it, we still want to be competing, and we’ve shown that in previous years in WSL,” the captain said.
With so many recognisable players having left the Midlands in recent years to join teams that have usurped Birmingham’s place higher up the table, Harrop admits there have been offers for her signature too.
“I’ve had interest in previous years,” the defender started, “But if it’s come, it’s come form clubs that like I wouldn’t want to move away from Birmingham for. I’d only really move if it was a club that’s going to be better than Blues and is more likely to compete and win trophies. So if those kinds of teams don’t come in then I’m not as likely to be interested…”
She continued, “but never say never, I’ve been at the club for 20 years now and think as a footballer, you do have to challenge yourself and ultimately I want to win things. But I think that’s why I stuck with Blues; we were so close to winning things with Marcus and Marc coming in: yeah, we lost those FA Cup final at Wembley and we had good prospects under him.”
Off the pitch
With life and football on hold for the foreseeable future, Harrop has been keeping herself busy and, like many in her sport, has looked to ways she can utilise the break to improve herself (and the area around her).
“I’ve going out to the field by me trying to do a bit of technical work but there’s only so much crossbar challenge you can play on your own before you decide to come back inside. But I’ve been there’s been a little bit… decide to do things that I wouldn’t normally do. So, I’ve got some puzzles and colouring books and I’ve been doing a bit of litter-picking. So just things that are a bit more productive that I wouldn’t normally have time to do. So, I’m just trying to kind of stay positive and see if there’s an opportunity to do new things.”
As she had already touched on, there was no bigger or prouder day for Harrop than when Birmingham City lifted the FA Cup in 2012 – and not just because of the weather.
“It’s got to be winning the FA Cup Final in 2012 by that point I’ve been at the club 12 years and that was the first time we’ve kind of won a major trophy. And I think just the whole team was just brilliant. We had some really big, funny personalities in the team and the likes of Jodie Taylor, Eni Aluko, you know, just great players. And the whole occasion itself, it was a beautiful sunny day and all my friends and family come down to watch and the celebrations after… Definitely the FA Cup win that was my best moment.”
Over the years, the Blues have had their fair share of talented footballers, in defence as well as attack, but the best player the 29-year-old has played alongside?
“It’s a tough one but at Blues… probably Ellen White, I think she’s so professional in everything she does and in training, she was always wanting to be the best and putting in the work rate. She’s the only player I’ve known who’s been like that, a real true, true professional. I just think she’s quality and a nice person.”
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