Hull born… Smales was perhaps destined for success in the sporting world from a young age, after a passion for football and the wider sporting world encapsulated that man we now know today. Richard’s journey began by simply attending a few games at Warrington Town and he soon realised the world of opportunity that existed outside of the professional game, it was perhaps then, the fire was lit to one day own and run a football club of his own. 

Coincidentally, it was at Warrington that Richard soon found himself engaged in the sports industry and he has not looked back since. Now a decade later and having worked for clubs within football and rugby league, both professional and semi-professional; Richards journey has come full circle after gaining a wealth of knowledge and guidance from some exceptional people in both sports. It was that wealth and his own passion that saw Richard channel this experience into a project of his own, and little over a year ago one Richard Smales became Owner and Chairman of the then, East Hull. 

Picking up the story after a year in charge, Rich shared his thoughts on the day he took the helm and the plans/direction he had planned moving forward: “It was the middle of the global pandemic when I took over the club, there is never a good time to take on a club never mind in the middle of a pandemic. This was a little different as ultimately it was a blank canvas to rebuild and create something different for football in Hull and the wider region. Success on the pitch is what we all strive for however here we can measure success in different ways too, one area would be through the launch of our Community Foundation in the summer this year. The work we do with our Tiny Tots sessions and now U6’s allows for children to begin the pathway into football, we have plans in place to expand this to as many different areas as possible. This will take time to generate the right level of numbers and venues which is a struggle to find in Hull.

I wanted to rebuild from the very beginning and the pandemic allowed for this to happen, the club needed a brand identity, a structure in place and of course a plan to offer opportunities for players to play at a higher level and compete against well known and respected football clubs. With this model it has been tough however we have certainly unearthed a number of young, hungry and high potential players. We just need a few more than we have now however this, as with all non-league clubs, is a continuous work in progress.

My background in the commercial sector allowed for me to once again build a strong portfolio of sponsors and partners, we are all proud to showcase the local and regional partners we have on board with the club and this area continues to grow. I did set myself the goal to secure a big name sponsor for the club, a brand that will allow for outsiders looking in to respect us more as a club and ultimately you can’t get much bigger than Aon.”

Rich added comment on the rebrand to FC Humber United: “Brand identity is key to attracting supporters, players and sponsors. The club needed a fresh identity, something more aligned to the region for which we represent. Alongside the need for our own ground the club name needed to reflect any future location we might find. Hull offers nothing in terms of locations for football clubs at Step 6 to play within the City boundaries, both myself and fellow Director Marc Brown searched high and low to find a suitable venue however nothing was forthcoming and a number of venues simply didn’t understand the positive impact we can bring to them. We are of course very grateful to Selby Town for allowing us to play our games at the FPH Stadium for this season and our partnership is growing all the time.

Given the fact we could ultimately end up having a home anywhere within the East Yorkshire and Humber region, our club name needed to be relevant should the eventuality happen that we find our own venue. Football Club Humber United was best suited to this scenario.

Also the name of the club we felt needed to reflect on our long term plans to conduct work anywhere within the full region of the Humber. We can now situate our Community Foundation to work anywhere throughout the whole region and ultimately the name of the club is still relevant to the location.”

Now little over a year since taking charge at Humber, Rich added a comment on how the past year has gone: “It’s been tough, not going to lie on this one. At first we didn’t have any football due to the pandemic which looking back was probably a help for us to rebuild, plan and not rush into things. Once the 2021/22 season got closer it was important we had enough time to prepare and build a team capable of competing at this level.

We have only played 21 competitive games of football in 12 months. Since Boxing Day 2020 we have made some huge strides forward as a club and also a few steps backwards too, it’s a learning curve for us all as each week passes however ultimately as a new ‘business’ the first 12 to 24 months are the hardest and tweaks & changes have to be made to find the best way forward. We as a club haven’t moved away from our ultimate end goal and business plan, sometimes it seems like we might do but this season is all about survival and staying up in NCEL Division 1.

Non-league football brings up many challenges and people at clubs come and go, players, managers and volunteers and we are no different to any other club at our level and above. Some decisions are made from myself which are always aimed at achieving this season’s ambition – staying up. To achieve this we need results, performances on the pitch have been ok in spells, we have had some memorable games however more so than not it has also been highly embarrassing too.

On the plus side it is great to see the club continue to grow and progress, we continue to build the business off the pitch. With an importance towards our digital and social media outlet this has achieved huge success so far in the first 4 months of the season. We live in a digital world and we wanted the club to reflect this so we decided to implement as much as possible towards this focus, the launch of our digital and interactive e-programme has been greatly received and very cost effective over printed editions. The beauty of this is it is constantly available online for free to anyone to read and see editions 24 hours a day.

Commercially we also continue to grow, yes we are tied with what we can sell packages wise however we are having conversations with businesses across the region on a weekly basis to attract more sponsors/partners and ultimately revenue into the club. I expect this to continue to grow over the next 12 months upon the club achieving our goal of staying up this season.”

In continuation, Richard added what he felt has succeeded at the club: “Plenty has been achieved at the club so far, you only need to look at the sponsors we have on board with us. No club at our level can match a brand like Aon. Our Community Foundation continues to grow each week and more children are taking part in our sessions now. The digital side continues to grow so we must be doing something right even if on the pitch doesn’t seem to match this right now.

The other side is that both myself and Marc have knocked down more brick walls than we can care to remember. As every block that has been put in our place we have always found a solution, this is what we both have in abundance to continue this journey and build a football club from nothing even when we both look at each other and wonder why we bother sometimes. We both have the same passion and desire to achieve something special, we are both young enough to understand and learn from situations but also smart enough to seek a way around and always find a solution to everything that is thrown at us.” 

Upon conversing about the success of the club, Richard added his take on any aspects that could have been improved and any regrets that may have emerged: “It is always good to look back and reflect on things that happen, I have no regrets on any decisions made. What I do like to do is take some time to reflect on situations and see how things can be done better next time. In all walks of life we make decisions and only those that reflect will become stronger going forwards, it’s the same in business. Mistakes is probably the wrong term to use however it is how you learn from situations that create a much stronger and brighter future for the business and of course personal ongoing development.

We cannot control what happens on the football pitch for 90 minutes, we can only control the controllable. Preparation is key and I feel we are learning this as each week passes, match days are becoming smoother to run and the players are buying into what we want to achieve.

Can we do things better? Of course we can but we are only human and our instinct is to win and be the best we can be. As a club I will surround myself with people who believe in this and ultimately make the changes needed until we find the right blend of people to match and meet our ambitions.”

From a development standpoint at the club, Richard added: “From a blank piece of paper 12 months ago to what we have today is something everyone associated with the club can be very proud of achieving. It is a team on the pitch and off the pitch too, not everything goes smoothly however it is again an ongoing development. We have a very strong team off the pitch and the support group we have at match days is amazing, relationships take time to build and now we feel everyone understands each other and they all want to be part of something special long term.

We have been through a lot over the last twelve months but are still here and competing, decisions will be made but ultimately the club will continue for years to come (contrary to a number of social media comments) given the platform we have built in just twelve months.”

Concluding discussions on the past year at FC Humber, Richard shared his thoughts on the coming twelve months and what the future holds:“The next twelve months can be split into two sections, the immediate six months is all about survival and staying in this league. That is the ultimate aim and all focus will be put towards achieving this for the club to prosper going into the future.

The second six months will ultimately be determined on what happens first however we have a plan in place for both eventualities. We will take it week by week and look to take what we can from games. It’s a tough league and a continuous building process for players to show they are capable of competing and being good enough at this level of football.

The future is looking very bright, conversations are taking place all the time with locations to build a home. Apart from on the pitch this is top of the list for priorities to look at finding a place to call home and lay foundations for years to come, it will happen and we are determined to make it happen one way or another. We know we can’t just walk into a facility that ticks all the boxes required or we will be playing there now, so a time frame for when we can move in will be set but this is all in the discussions with our friends at Selby and conversations with various locations are ongoing all the time.

We will be here and continue to be here as a club, learning and progressing as each week passes. Football is a funny game and everyone thinks they know best on how to be a manager and more recently (at all levels of the game) how best to run and own a football club however those that pass comment on situations wouldn’t know where to start if they even wanted to get involved in a club let alone run one themselves.”

It would be suffice to say that the journey Richard Smales began is far from extinguished, or perhaps history would suggest it is all but beginning with his tenure at FC Humber United. With the wealth of knowledge and passion providing the driving force behind the club, there is plenty to look forward to at FC Humber United over the next twelve months. One thing is a certainty, an ever present and increasing positivity to succeed. 

Tom Devereux | Media Executive | FC Humber United

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November 9, 2021