Just four years ago, Ryan Smith was one of several young pretenders driving Athersley Rec’s attack during a great start to the 2016/17 Toolstation NCEL Premier Division season. Speed sorcerers Smith, Liam Owen and Kai Hancock were ripping opposition defenders to shreds and were all seen as ‘ones for the future’.
Smith even hit the headlines the same summer after scoring a winning penalty in a friendly against a Barnsley X1.
Now at the age of just 23, Barnsley-based Smith – possibly the youngest coach in the NCEL – has thrown his shin-pads away and is “loving” his roles as first team coach at Nostell Miners Welfare and the under 19s boss at Wombwell Town.
Retiring from playing is by choice and not injury so it is an unusual move, but Smith sees as a decision one for the long term gain. Although he does agree that days as an attacker had run their course.
“My playing career fizzled out, that’s exactly the term,” Smith tells Non League Yorkshire.
“I worked hard as a player. I trained a lot and it just didn’t quite work out. I’m really lucky that I’ve found Nostell, a great club that have brought me in at such a young age and welcomed me in (as a coach).
“I was getting a lot of good reviews (at the beginning of my playing career at Athersley), but it didn’t work out. That’s football, it happens. You can make a good start and it just didn’t work out.
“Other players came in and I moved to Worsbrough Bridge and played under Josh Wright for a bit before moving to Penistone.
“I wouldn’t say my playing career was going nowhere. I was at Penistone playing under Ian Richards who is another great manager who I have taken a lot of things from and still speak to. I just felt I wanted a change and I got out of playing what I needed to.
“I made my debut at 16 for Athersley Rec in the NCEL. Now I’ve found something I love doing.
“I’ve played some games for Wombwell Town (in the past two years in the Sheffield & Hallamshire Senior League) and I may end up signing for Nostell if need be. I might play again, but it depends how the coaching goes and how far it goes because I’m really enjoying my coaching and I have a lot on.”
The transition from playing to coaching in the NCEL was completed early this year. Smith answered the advert for a first team coach that Nostell put out in the final few months of Jason Dodsworth and Simon Houghton’s reign.
The pair gave him his chance of a lifetime and he has stayed on during Ian Walker’s brave new era at Crofton Community Centre.
Smith is obsessed with coaching and considering he spends six days on a training pitch – alongside his day job teaching PE – his partnership with Walker is quite some marriage made in heaven.
“I saw the advert they put out and I spoke to Jason because I didn’t really know Simon at the time,” he says.
“I’d played for Jason at Athersley and they were happy for me to come in. I have to say a massive thanks to Simon and Jason for bringing me in at 22. I wish them all the best for the future because they are two great guys.
“As soon as I had a chat with Ian about staying on, I knew we were on the same page. I knew it was the right decision to stay as soon as I attended the first training session.
“The players have been great and Ian certainly knows his stuff. He has a vast knowledge of the game. Tactically he is brilliant and his training sessions are really good. He definitely gets the best out of his players and he’s great for me to learn off.
“He’s obsessed with coaching and he loves the game. He has great understanding of all parts of the game and he’s a great mentor for me. Because he’s never worked at this level he’s underrated and I’ve loved working with him.
“He’s got a clear ambition for this club and the players and hopefully he can pull off it and I think he will.”
Dodsworth, Houghton and Walker are just three names on an endless list of influences/mentors. Wombwell Town manager Karl Rose and Smith’s under 19s assistant Doug O’Connor, the former Barnsley player, stand out. As does Wombwell first team number two James Dudgeon as Smith used to work for his coaching company in the early years of his coaching career which began three or four years ago.
Throughout his playing days, Smith played for many highly-rated coaches/managers from Dodsworth to Ian Richards to Sean Margison (Athersley Rec), Pete Goodlad (Athersley Rec), Josh Wright (Worsbrough Bridge).
Away from Non League, working with Jimmy Whitehead and Craig Goodyear at Barnsley Schools FA and Worsbrough Bridge’s under 21s adds them to the list too.
“Training is vital in the modern game as you get your points across to players,” he says.
“You get your philosophy across to players and when you see it coming together on the pitch it makes you feel proud that they have taken their information in.
“I listen to everyone’s opinion, I’ll have a chat with anyone about football and I believe coaching is about taking bits and pieces from people who have played a lot and putting their own little spin on things.
“I’d probably say Steve Gates has been a big influence in my life because he got me into coaching. He was an assistant headteacher for many years and he’s the chairman for Barnsley Schools FA. He puts in a lot of hard work for that.
“I went to play for him when I was 16 when I think he was running a Sunday team and I ended up having a good chat with him and it went from there and he asked me to help out with a Barnsley Boys team and I did that with Jimmy Whitehead.”
Smith’s current hectic weekly schedule is something out of the Boston United boss Craig Elliott and new Worsbrough Bridge manager Luke Forgione textbook.
Elliott devoted his life during his early managerial career to putting “down a deposit” to reach the top as a manager and he is now a full-time gaffer with Boston. Forgione’s routine is well known as he’s out nearly every day, coaching, managing and scouting and that has paid dividends with his appointment at Worsbrough.
“When I’m not coaching, I’m going to watch sessions by other people to see what I can pick up from them and put into my own practice,” he says.
“I put a lot of hard work in and I’m out coaching five nights away coaching after work. Then I do a session on a Saturday morning to help (Nostell chairman) Kevin (Allsop) out. Then I go straight to Nostell’s game after that.
“But I have my Sunday with my missus. She understands how much it means to me. It is obviously not easy when you’re not getting paid for it. But I’m trying my best to get up the pyramid and that’s why I’m doing it.
“You have to put in the hard work and I’m lucky lad to be where I am at the minute.
“There’s not actually many roles around because people don’t leave them because they enjoy doing them. You have got to work hard to get known and put the effort in to get yourself out there and I feel that hopefully I’m doing that.”
Smith wants to complete the UEFA B Licence when the world calms down and continue the hard work he is doing now – developing his coaching skills with Nostell and coaching and management with Wombwell under 19s.
He’s not publicly setting any goals for the future, but he knows age is on his side.
“I want to create as many pathways as I can with the coaching,” he says.
“I would like to learn the management part too as I think it is important that you get the balance between them both.
“I want to go up the pyramid and why can’t I have ambitions to go higher at this age? There is a lot of years I can spend coaching and managing and from doing it from an early age, I only see it as a bonus.”
If you have enjoyed reading Non League Yorkshire over the past few months, please consider making a donation to the not-for-profit organisation NLY Community Sport which provides sport for children and adults with disabilities and learning difficulties. CLICK HERE to visit the JustGiving page. There is a video at the bottom of the page showing our work.
NLY Community Sport, run by James Grayson and Connor Rollinson, has always had combatting social isolation at the top of our objectives when running our Disability Football teams. As we slowly return to ‘action’, our work will play an important role in reintroducing our players, who have disabilities and learning difficulties, back into society.
We have six teams, a mixture of Junior and Adult teams – Nostell MW DFC, Pontefract Pirates, Selby Disability Football Club and the South Yorkshire Superheroes (Barnsley) – across Yorkshire.
We have enjoyed great success over the past three years. Several of our players have represented Mencap GB in Geneva, including Billy Hobson from Selby and Greg Smith, whose story is quite inspiring.
Like most organisations, we have been affected financially by the Coronavirus and because of the cancelled Lucille Rollinson Memorial Tournament, we are down on projected income for the year and we have incurred losses in the last few months.
We have not been hit as badly as other organisations, but we do need raise £2000 to put us back at the level we were at in mid-March and enable us to make a difference once again to our players’ lives in the future, without having financial worries. Several of our players are suffering from effects of the lockdown and we are determined to be in the strongest position possible to provide services for them.
Any amount raised above £2000 will be put towards new projects (when the world returns to normal) designed to further benefit people with disabilities and learning difficulties. You can learn more about the organisation HERE and on our Facebook page.
Watch the video below to see highlights from our three years as an organisation. The video was produced for our players at the end of March to remind them of good memories from the last three years.