This week we will be posting interviews with club officials so that everyone can get to know more about us and who runs the club. The first is from our Chairman – Richard Smales who was interviewed by First Team Manager – Mark Maspero.
How would you describe yourself in 3 words?
Determined, Ambitious & Passionate
What is your background, work wise and within football?
I’ve worked in sport for over 10 years now, starting out at Warrington Town then Woodley Sports/Stockport Sports before getting my break in the professional game at Sheffield United. Since then I have had spells at Hull KR, Bradford Bulls and York City Knights in rugby league alongside a spell at Doncaster Rovers and prior to FC Humber United I was back in non league football at Winterton Rangers.
My working background has been in the business side of things, commercial & sponsorship manager, business development and senior club positions too.
I have experienced many different sides to working in sport, of course the best times were at Sheffield United when they were in League 1 under Nigel Clough, I was fortunate enough to experience an FA Cup run to the semi final against Hull City at Wembley and League Cup run to the semi final against Tottenham Hotspur. Working at games with 30,000+ sell out crowds, breaking commercial sales records and it’s pleasing to see some sponsors I helped bring in still visible today with the club in the Premier League.
I have also experienced some very tough times too, whilst at Bradford Bulls the club was placed in administration and eventually the club folded. Being one of the most senior club officials alongside the General Manager with everything going on was a tough time but an experience I will never forget and I learnt a lot about how not to run a sports club during this period.
One thing I will always take from any job I have had is to learn from the good and the bad experiences, learn about why situations happen and how to avoid the bad ones in the future. I have had the pleasure to work under some fantastic Managing Directors and Owners and now with over 10 years experience in the sports industry I feel I have enough knowledge to put all this into the running of FC Humber United.
What has been the hardest thing you’ve encountered since taking over the role of Chairman?
December was the hardest period at the club for me, when it was purely just myself left I had a decision to either carry on or fold the club. I had to think long and hard about what to do for the best, I read over the long term plan many times to understand if it would actually be worthwhile putting the effort in and of course building a football club from absolutely nothing is a difficult and thankless task at times. Looking back I am glad I made the right decision and working with Mark Maspero & Marc Brown has been fantastic and here we are today with a bright future ahead of us and a fantastic team to work with.
What has given you the most pleasure, to date, since taking over the role?
The fact we put a brand new team together in 5 days over Christmas to fulfil a fixture on Boxing Day, this will always be a huge achievement. An element that tops that now would be the rebrand of the club, working with both Marc Brown & Adam Shire to get this finished and published has been a big task but an enjoyable one. It’s certainly kept us busy throughout lockdown and completing this around existing business & work commitments has been a fantastic achievement. Again building something from a blank piece of paper is hard work but very pleasing when you see the end product and my thanks goes to everyone who has made this become a reality over the last few months.
What does success look like for you in the short term and in the long term?
Success can be shown in a number of areas, not just out on the pitch. Success short term is something we have already achieved. We have a football club full of forward thinking people and a fantastic set of lads who will represent the club this coming season. It’s easy to say we want to win the league, win cups and get through a few rounds in FA competitions but the biggest success the club can achieve is by building a sustainable football club off the pitch. I would measure the clubs success on how we grow the commercial areas, media coverage, academy and community foundation – that is success to me. What happens out on the pitch is something I can’t control, what I can control is everything off the pitch and I will measure the clubs success on a yearly basis depending on the annual accounts and meeting set budgets.
Long term success is hard to predict, of course we have a plan to progress up a few leagues and compete at a higher level. Again that’s easy to say, we don’t know what is going to happen in the world and another global pandemic or whatever drastically changes your long term plans. We have to be flexible, react to change, make decisions based on short term goals but also factor in long term implications. Continued growth year on year is how I will measure long term success, as long as we do better than the previous year we have made good strides going forward as a club.
What’s your opinion on the impact of COVID on non league football and what could the long term effects be?
COVID has played a huge part in the shake up of football at all levels, it has actually been a blessing to clubs from the Championship down to our level given the fact they should now fully accept and respect the role in which supporters play within each club. It’s been tough watching football with no fans present, I just hope that this impact on club budgets will have a positive spin that supporters are actually supporters and not referred to as ‘customers’ going forward.
I think we will see a big change in the way clubs operate for the next few seasons at least, budgets will become more level across the leagues (you will always have your big spenders of course) but generally I think the leagues will become more competitive given a lot of clubs will look to keep some cash reserves just in case rather than go out and bring a few new players in which increases the weekly budget in the attempt to finish one or two places higher in the table. Time will tell of course with this, we have a plan here and that will be aimed at progression of all areas at the club. We start with nothing and whatever we achieve is a massive step forward but both Mark and the players know what the main aim is for the 2021/22 season and that will hopefully be shown on the pitch.
Is there a non league team you admire for the ways it’s run?
All clubs have their own pros and cons, one club that stands out to me is South Shields. I really like the long term plan they have in place which is not purely based on the first team and football, it’s the community foundation, academy and ground developments. We all know the owner at South Shields is a rich man, which of course helps massively, but when you read the long term plan and the club blueprint it’s very interesting and a model we are looking to follow here and adapt with our own style.
What is your favourite thing about non league football?
The camaraderie between players, club officials and supporters on a match day. It’s a completely different buzz to that of going to a EFL game or Premier League game. Everyone fully understands that it’s a game of football played between players who work full time and make big commitments to play on a weekend and midweek for a bit of extra cash but every one of them puts in 110% effort. I’ve worked at some big, big clubs and worked at huge fixtures with 30,000+ fans and of course the atmosphere is electric but you can’t beat the match day feeling of a non league game – when you get that bug of non league it’s hard to let go.
Is there anything you would change about non league football?
There is a lot of good stuff about non league football, sometimes what goes on in non league eclipses the professional game. There is of course a number of elements which require a change of mindset in the way things operate and are run. Mainly the biggest factor being the lack of the younger generation being in senior positions at clubs, non league is commonly associated with the older generation and the ‘committee’ element which has had its time. The common fact is not everyone likes change at non league clubs, this is where the concerns start. The world was turned on its head just over 12 months ago with the pandemic and we have had to adapt to a new way of life, it’s the same with football clubs. What worked 20 or 30 years ago simply doesn’t fit the modern, fast, ever changing way of the world these days, as clubs we have to adapt and be open to changes. Those clubs that embrace the changes will prosper, those that don’t will stand still. You only have to look at Sunderland, the new Chairman is 23 years of age! Okay, his father is an experienced club owner from one of the biggest French clubs and he will always have that to fall back on for knowledge and guidance however I am positive his younger influence will have a huge impact on the club in the coming months and years ahead.
The model we have here at FC Humber United is something not seen at our level of football, the average age of the senior club officials is mid 30 years of age. We’ve a young, enthusiastic and ambitious group of football people who want to achieve something special and I am positive we will do. What we also bring is experience, all of us associated with the club have worked or spent time with professional football clubs so we can take this knowledge, professionalism and experience into our club.