The Long Read: Andy Harris

February 14, 2021

There are many routes to becoming the proverbial ‘fans favourite’ and for centre back’s that route usually takes the form of ‘commitment’.  Putting their body on the line, and their head in places the rest of us can only wince at. All the whilst not giving an inch to the opposition. Nobody personified that better at the Avenue than Andy Harris. Though, the man himself puts it a little more crudely: "I loved smashing people. I was quick, tall, and loved hitting people on the pitch."

But his love of a tackle didn’t just make him stand out as a player but as a captain too. A leader who led by example and set the standards for those around him. It’s no surprise that he is one of four Magpies captains to lift a league trophy. Now running his family-owned Folke Golf Course in his hometown of Sherborne, Andy looks back on his time at the Avenue with fond memories – but it wasn’t always easy to do so.

It was a Dorchester career that would see him win the league, have FA Cup and Trophy success, a League Trophy win, an infamous yellow card that saw him feature on Match of the Day, and a couple of notable wayward clearances. And it all started thanks to a former Magpie, Graham Roberts.

"I was at Yeovil under Graham and got put in versus Boreham Wood in the ICIS Cup for the last 20 minutes as I was a local lad. Stuart Morgan (then Dorchester manager) knew me through my brother and he asked if I fancied it at Dorchester. Graham Roberts told me I could go, so off I went. When I joined the club, Mark Lisk had just gone down with glandular fever, so I ended up filling in for him and starting at left back. My first game was against Newport IoW in the cup and we lost. It was a much quicker pace and it took time to get used to, but I'm 6'3 and didn't mind running into people."

Not on a contract originally, he settled into his new surrounds both at the club in general and his new position, and it wouldn't be long before Stuart Morgan had him sign a deal to ensure his stay at the club.

"I was non-contract to start with but once I got in the team and Stuart saw me play a bit, he put me on a contract. I used to pay £3 to play a game growing up, but now I was getting paid to play? Brilliant! I didn't care about work, I was only worried about three o'clock on a Saturday and the night out after. As long as I had a new shirt to wear Saturday night, I was happy."

“I didn't care about work, I was only worried about three o'clock on a Saturday and the night out after. As long as I had a new shirt to wear Saturday night, I was happy."

Andy's first season at the club, the 1996-97 season, would prove to be an eventful one. Although a 15th place finish in the league wouldn't set the world alight, the run in the FA Trophy would provide plenty of memories.

"We played Slough three times in that run and it was soaking the night we went through after the second replay. The Woking game in the last 16 was unbelievable. We felt we were in with a chance and thought we had them at one point. I remember Tommy Killick waving his arms about when he won the penalty and at 2-1, we were there. Late goals cost us though. We thought we'd at least got the replay when they made it 2-2, but Toby Redwood let the ball bounce and one of their lot forced it in.

“I had a new velvet suit for that game but I didn't even go out afterwards I was that annoyed. The Avenue was rocking that day though. The game was awesome."

The Woking game sticks out in many fans' memories and Stuart Morgan still has that cup run as one of his favourite memories of his time in charge. Morgan was a man and a manager that Andy had a lot of time for.

"Stuart Morgan lived, breathed, ate, slept and drank Dorchester Town FC. Him and Benji (Brian Benjafield) were brilliant. Benji was a big joker and was always up for a laugh. He also knew when you needed a cuddle and when you needed a kick up the arse. As for Stuart, I've never known a man so passionate about the club. We used to turn up at away games and he'd be out on the pitch pacing out the number of steps from box to box and things like that. He'd pick a team to suit that. He'd say to us; "It's 88 paces between boxes today lads", and would pick his team based on the pitch size.

“We played at Hastings one time and he measured the pitch out and decided he'd put me up front with Tommy Killick and Owen Pickard! I'd gone up top and got a couple of goals when we were chasing a game, but never started up there. Anyway, I lasted about 35 minutes before he took me off and I didn't start up front again.”

"If it wasn't for him though, I wouldn't have had the chance to play for the club, so I thank him for that."

Tommy Killick was a man that Andy enjoyed having on his side, a nightmare to play against, he was also somewhat of a nightmare on the team bus.

"Tommy at his best was unplayable. He was always shouting, always falling over, would unsettle defenders and get right under their skin. He was such a nice guy but such an idiot! Him and Taffy (Steve Richardson) used to try and pin me down on the bus and try and give me a dead leg or pinch my nipples. Then Shep (Martin Shepherd) would come from behind and put the pair of them in headlocks and totally immobilise them. Shep was on my side."

After a club-high fourth place finish in the 1997-98 Dr Martens League, times would become a bit harder at the club. Despite some indifferent results and battling to stay clear of relegation, goals were never that far away. It wasn't just Tommy killick who would be a problem for opposing defences, with a high-quality number of strikers coming to the club in this time, all with their own merits.

"We had Owen Pickard playing with Tommy and he wasn't the most physical but he just scored. He wasn't going to be clattering players but give him a sniff and he'd be in. He was class. Shep is the strongest bloke on a pitch I've ever known. We played one game at Bromsgrove where he had three 50/50's in quick succession and left three of their players in a heap. He got a red card but was stood there asking what he'd done wrong. Their physio was with one player, our physio (Geoff Dine) was with another, and there was just one bloke laying there with no one helping him.“

“Shep always wanted an overhead kick or a volley, Danny O'Hagan loved a cross. Across them four we had it covered. Between Shep, Danny, Owen and Tommy, I wouldn't want to pick it."

Although still with a good core of players still, victories became harder to come by. One particularly miserable night was an in October 1998, a 5-1 drubbing away at the hands of Boston United, as Andy was left bloodied. But not by the way you might expect...

"It was cold, wet and horrible up there and I was having a shocker and I knew it. I was getting loads from their fans as well and although I usually give a bit back, I'd had enough that day. So, when the ball was near the touchline on that side, I thought I'd whack it at them. The problem was, the wall there was about a foot and a half higher than usual. So, I've whacked this ball at them, it's hit the top of the wall and bounced back and hit me straight in the face. So now I'm getting even more from them, we're getting slaughtered and I've bust my own nose. I couldn't wait to get out of there."

Poor results would eventually see manager Stuart Morgan depart the club, and his replacement was Mark Morris, who had been signed by Morgan as a player. Originally becoming player/manager before taking the managerial role full-time, Morris was quite a contrast to Morgan, but would eventually prove to be a successful appointment.

"Mark one-on-one wasn't the best but in terms of getting the team going, he was great. He wasn't everyone's favourite, but he was straight talking and made it a lot simpler. When we went down, he kept that spine and that solid nature of the team, and in the team meetings you could see it was all there. Training was simple. Attackers would be off doing shooting or whatever, and defenders would be two-touch. One to control, one to clear. Any more than that and he'd stop the session, tear into us and tell us we weren't good enough to do all that and start again. It wasn't always the best to watch, I'd imagine, but it worked."

Mark Morris' first full season in 2000-01 would ultimately end in relegation but it wasn't without events. The FA Cup run that season is still etched in the minds of players and fans alike. Andy has more than just memories of those games.

"Danny O'Hagan got the winner at Weymouth and Elmo (David Elm) saved a David Laws penalty. That day was brilliant. I hated Weymouth with a passion. I remember the Welling game in the FA Cup run the round before Wigan. We were 1-0 down and down to 10 men and I got a late header to get us a replay and we won the replay at their place.

“Then we got the big tie against Wigan and went 1-0 up. I've still got the video of me getting booked for celebrating in the empty stand that day. It was brilliant seeing myself on Match of the Day. I've still got the match ball from that game, a Mitre Delta. No one minded me taking that."

League success would be the main priority in the seasons that followed, and after near miss in 01-02 as the club finished third, success would come the following season as we'd be crowned Dr Martens Eastern Division champions.

We had a young Matt Tubbs with us for a while and he was prancing about in training and nutmegging players. I said to Browner that "either you stop him doing that or I will".

With a close knit and experienced squad back in the Premier Division, the soon-to-be formed Conference South was aim. There was a certain level of discipline and commitment that was expected of the squad, with Andy closely monitoring other players standards.

"You wore black boots and there were no ponytails. We had a young Matt Tubbs with us for a while and he was prancing about in training and nutmegging players. I said to Browner that either you stop him doing that or I will. Needless to say, he stopped doing it soon after. You had to earn your respect in training and everyone wanted to beat each other in training. I used to love playing against Groover in training, and you could have it with Shep, but he was so strong I just had to let him get on with it sometimes. We had such a good bunch of lads and when we won the league that year, the bonuses were great. It was basically £20 a point."

The club would become founding members of the Conference South following the play-off victory over Tiverton at Exeter, but the road there wasn’t straight forward and the season's success was in part due to an unlikely signing. "David Laws was horrible to play against. All arms and elbows, nasty with it. And Northern.”

“When we started signing Weymouth players, I wanted to leave the club. I hated them. Back then you had settled squads and not many players moved from one to the other, I couldn't stand them. But when Lawsy came in, he was the perfect fit. Him and Woody (Paul Wood) made hell of a difference. We had a late season game away at Dover and a load of their players had blonde highlighted hair like David Beckham had at the time. I got booked for smashing one of them after about 10 minutes. Lawsy got a late goal and then Jem got a winner with the worst goal I have ever seen. He picked the ball up after we'd cleared a corner, ran with it and when he went to shoot, it just trickled. People seemed to just watch it and it barely made it over the line the end. Awful goal but a great win."

"I don't care what anyone says, we were never favourites for that play-off semi-final at Bath. I think I might have preferred that win to the final. It was such a big performance from all the players that night and then in the final, Woody and Matty Holmes were brilliant. I remember that Exeter's changing rooms were tiny and thinking; ‘Bloody hell, league teams play here?’ The Avenue was better". I also had bet a pint on the outcome of the game with my mate Steve Winter, one of their players. Brilliant day."

And Andy was in no doubt as to how vital Matty Holmes was to the success of the club.

"Matty Holmes was the best player I have ever played with. He was the best thing that happened to the club. He could lose a man, pick a pass and just made everything look so simple. Give him the ball and he wouldn't lose it; he knew what he was going to do before he got ball. You'd have to protect him though as other teams would put a man on him or try and kick him out the game. So if someone put one on him, myself, Browner or Jem would be on them and make sure they didn't do it again, let’s say."

After the elation of winning the playoff final, Andy would endure bad luck with injuries, restricting him to only 15 appearances in the 2004-05 campaign following a metatarsal break tackling ex-Magpie Matty Hann then with St Albans City.

But it wasn’t all bleak. Now with a decade at The Avenue, Andy's service to the club had seen him awarded a testimonial. The opposition for this game would be none other than Chelsea. Thanks to the help of a close friend, then Chelsea physio, Andy Rolls.

“Andy rung me and said ‘I’ve got you Chelsea’s Youth team’. I wasn’t too sure to be honest, but then he told me “Don’t call it Chelsea youth, call it a Chelsea XI.” So I did and it was the best thing I ever did!  It was a brilliant night with so many familiar faces. I loved it."

A bumper crowd of 2,877 turned out at a sodden Avenue Stadium to see Andy’s Magpies XI loose to a youthful Chelsea side featuring many who’d go on to play in the Premier League.  Andy would also hand over the captain's armband to his brother, Steve, in the later stages of the game and it is a night that will live long in the memory. Sadly, this marked one of the final highlights for Andy as things begun to go downhill on the injury front.

"I can see why a lot of young pros and kids in academies struggle when they're let go these days - and older players too. It has been your life and such a big part of who you are that when it goes, it hurts”

“I was desperate to get back playing so I came back too soon and wasn't really fit. Then I did my ACL when I accidently kicked the floor against Newport IoW, so I was out for ages with that. It was horrible, I couldn't really do anything about it."

“But I got myself fit again and forced my way back into the team, but then we played Eastbourne Borough. One of their players was running at me and rather than just planting my foot and turning, I did a little run around in a little circle. I knew right then it was up. I took myself off at half-time and I just knew it was over.

“I played reserves for a few games and didn’t enjoy it. We played Welling away and they had this defender I always used to bully at set pieces. But this game he just bullied me. I spoke to Mark Morris and said I was done.”

“As soon as I started going in a little circle rather than just turning, that was it.”

It was a bitter pill to swallow and for Andy it meant a lot more than just giving up something he enjoyed doing, as he candidly explains:

"When I retired, I got presented with a tankard and a laptop by the club for 10 years' service. I've still got the photo somewhere of Dave Martin presenting it to me on the pitch before the game. But I didn't stay to watch the game. I couldn’t. I just left the ground. As I was walking to the car, we scored and I could hear the crowd roar and Groover’s name being chanted. I knew I'd never go back there. It hurt and it felt horrible. I remember thinking that's it, that chapter’s gone. For ten years it had been Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, for 10 months. Two months off and then back to it: Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday again.

“I went to the end-of-season do and as soon as I started talking to some of the lads and they ask how I was, I realised I didn't really have anything. For all that time it had been about the game, the dressing room, the laughs, the nights out, but I was away from that all now and felt outside of it. I can see why a lot of young pros and kids in academies struggle when they're let go these days - and older players too. It has been your life and such a big part of who you are that when it goes, it hurts. Looking back at it now, it was horrendous, that feeling of not being part of it anymore. It was horrible. Someone really needs to make sure players are given more help when it's over for them, it's easy to see why so many have problems."

But that's not to say such a career is one he regrets anything from, and being recognised by the fans and having his named honoured in the main stand makes up for any low points.

"I wouldn't change any of it. All the reds, all the tackles, all the goals, I'd do it all over again.”

“It's nice to know you're remembered. My mum and Dad are still fans now and watch games along with my uncle. Mum and Dad were big influences on me and would go to every game – home and away. I’d always go over and thank them. Fans want you to care. To show, that it means something to you. I gave a lot to the club and they in turn gave a lot of time to me, so it’s nice to be remembered.

And when it comes to summing up a decade at the Avenue, Andy's own words speak for themselves.

“I gave everything at 3 o'clock on a Saturday for the club. I was passionate about Dorchester, passionate about winning, I hated losing and I hated Weymouth."

And who can argue with that? We look forward to welcoming Andy back to the Avenue for a well overdue visit, when we can.

Words: Stuart Voss

Editor: Cameron Marett

Image: Idris Martin

Andy has kindly been sponsored by Dev Ward. You can sponsor a legend as part of our Sponsor a Seat campaign by clicking here.

< Back