Northern Counties East Football League club Penistone Church have thrived under the stewardship of Ian Richards and brother Duncan, who are in their first such roles.
With Penistone at level 11 of the pyramid system, the Sheffield and Hallamshire Senior League, as recently as 2014 another promotion, this time to the Northern Premier League, may be on the cards with their side sitting top of the league after 15 games.
It would take them to level 8, just two away from National League North status.
“Ideally, we’d like to go up as league champions, but anywhere in the top three is as big a success,” said manager Ian.
“The season before last, three teams went up, last season only one went up and we finished second, five points clear of third.”
It is not only on the pitch where things have improved, Richards having initially focused on becoming more professional off it.
“We changed the culture and ambition of the club, very much focused on the community to raise attendances and improve the infrastructure. Young players not want to join the junior sides,” explained Richards.
The club boasted a crowd of 493 for an FA Vase match against Bridlington Town in October.
Manager Ian and assistant Duncan have overseen an impressive turnaround, making their side competitive across different competitions.
“We’ve won the NCEL League Cup before and reached the Sheffield and Hallamshire County Senior Cup final, it would be nice to get to the final of those two as well because we’ve got a really good squad this season,” said Richards.
Penistone lost in the final of the 2017-18 Sheffield and Hallamshire County Senior Cup to Shaw Lane 4-3 at Bramall Lane.
Of their partnership, Ian says: “He’s my brother but he’s also my best friend as well. While I may have the final say on the team selection, tactics and substitutions, behind the scenes we’re collaborative, working together on areas we think we can improve, and he is important to our success.”
The two also share the workload in training which Ian believes to be a significant factor in the team’s improvement on the pitch.
“My brother starts and finishes the sessions and I’ll do the main part so the dynamic works well between us.”
At Penistone’s current level, the club is very much part-time, meaning players have full-time jobs and other commitments to deal with aside from football.
“You have got to get the balance right, the players have full-time jobs and some have young families so we make sure training is fresh. We don’t do the same thing week in, week out because the players need to want to come to training and enjoy it,” added Ian.
Throughout his managerial career, Richards has seen some of his best talents rewarded for their performances and move on to higher level clubs.
As recently as the summer, striker Sam Scrivens, who scored over 30 goals for Penistone last season, moved to National League North club Guiseley.
“The biggest driver for me is helping players improve which will help us get better but also let them play higher up so it works well. That’s where I get my enjoyment from, seeing players progress and making them into the best player they can be,” said Ian.
Having previously seen youngster Jordan Barnett join the Barnsley academy and goalkeeper Joe Green play for League Two Newport County, the club is producing many success stories.
While only a semi-professional manager, Ian Richards works as vice-principal at secondary school Penistone Grammar.
“The knowledge and skills you learn in a school and being a leader, you can transfer that across to football,” continued Ian.
“The way you treat people, how you conduct yourself and the way you deliver instructions all helps, so having that background in education has been a positive help in football management.
“But it goes the other way, too. The skills you learn in football you can use in education, so they complement each other really well,” he explained.
Richards wants to go as high as possible and his drive to manage at a higher level is understandable given his achievements with Penistone. He would not be the first to start a management career at this level and progress to the professional game, Sheffield United Premier League manager Chris Wilder being the best example.
“I’ve put no restrictions on where I want to manage, the ambition now being to be a full-time football manager in the National League or National League North. There are full-time managers there and I’d love to have that opportunity.”
However, Richards is focused on the immediate task of gaining promotion to the Northern Premier League with Church. With spirits high, there is no reason why the Richards brothers can not put a third promotion on their blossoming Curriculum Vitae.
Ian Richards said: “This season, we’ve got a squad of 17 or 18 players who are really strong whereas last season we had the best 13 players we’ve ever had at the club though beyond that we weren’t as strong.
“I think if we went up this season, the majority of this squad would be able to cope with the demands of playing at a higher level.”