Toolstation NCEL Premier Division
New Penistone Church manager Brett Lovell felt the opportunity to build on the incredible legacy left by Ian Richards was one he could not turn down.
Lovell had the chance to follow Richards to Stocksbridge Park Steels as one of his assistants but he has stayed behind to succeed the man who took Penistone from the lower depths of the Sheffield & Hallamshire County Senior League to the brink of the Northern Premier League in 12 years.
Lovell ends his long and successful playing career to take on the role and he says the magnitude of what Richards has achieved for Penistone is huge.
“It is unbelievable (his legacy),” Lovell told Non League Yorkshire.
“He set off as a manager at a club that is in the County Senior League and the idea of where he has taken the club was unthought of then.
“When I first signed for Penistone the club has just gone into Northern Counties Division One which was a massive thing for the club at the time.
“It was like ‘bloody hell this is ridiculous’.
“They had done all the work to the ground and finally they had just got their just rewards of getting promoted to the NCEL.
“We laughed about this the other day because I said ‘oh come on we do something special’.
“There was 200 people watching and it was a good family club.
“I signed, Ringy (Andy Ring) signed and people saw that and we managed to get a couple of players off the back of that.
“We went into that play-offs (in 2017) and we won them.
“I said to (Richo) that he owes Penistone nothing.
“It has been an hand in hand relationship and he’ll be welcome back at the club at any time.
“His performance as a manager and that includes his brother Duncan, will probably never be beaten.
“He’ll be never forgotten at the club.
“Stocksbridge have got a diamond.
“He’s so meticulous in his preparation and in my eyes they really have appointed the best man for the job.
“Thats’s no disrespect to Lee Thompson who did a grand job but I don’t think Stocksbridge will regret it.
“I think it is a top appointment for them.”
As soon as Chris Hilton resigned from Stocksbridge in August, former Steels midfielder Richards was always seen as one of the front-runners.
Once as Stocksbridge approached Penistone to speak to Richards, Church began making succession plans and they identified Lovell as the heir to the throne.
“The club wanted to react quickly (if Richards left) and make it as seamless as possible to keep the core group together,” he said.
“I went away thinking about it because Richo wanted me to go to Stocksbridge with him.
“So I had two offers for myself on the table.
“I’ve been an admirer of Richo of how he conducts himself as manager and learnt a lot from him.
“An opportunity at a club like Penistone; I’d have kicked myself if I hadn’t had taken the opportunity.
“I didn’t think I could turn it down.
“That’s not because I didn’t want to go with Richo.
“I thought for the club to approach me and ask me if I wanted to take over from Richo should he leave, I thought was that nice of the club and showed the club thought a lot of me.
“That swayed my decision.
“We (Lovell and Non League Yorkshire) spoke a few weeks ago and I said I’d always wanted to get into (the management) side of the game, I just never thought it would be as quick as it has been.”
Richards made his final bow as Penistone in Wednesday’s defeat to Athersley Rec but Lovell says “it was business as usual” when everyone left the ground.
Lovell received a phone call on Thursday morning from Richards who told him the news.
That triggered a whirlwind day as Richards’ departure and Lovell’s subsequent appointment broke the internet.
“Thursday was crazy, that’s the only way I can put it,” he said.
“I think my phone was broke at the end of the day.
“There was a really positive reaction (to my appointment).
“I’m known in the Non League cycle and people know I’ve played the game for many years.
“The good luck messages have really filled me with warmth.
“It does mean a lot to me because I’m taking a job that someone has been highly successful in and he’s a difficult act to follow.”
Lovell recently returned from injury and in August he told Non League Yorkshire that he felt he had a lot to give as a player.
However, the sudden change in circumstances has led to the curtain coming down on the playing career.
“I can’t do both jobs,” he said.
“I was assistant to Darren Schofield at Stocksbridge for two years and even as assistant manager, it is difficult to manage that process on a match-day.
“It is difficult to get in a playing mode to then bring yourself out of it for 15 minutes at half-time to be in a management mode.
“I think it is the right moment (to hang my boots up).
“If I’d gone to Stocksbridge with Richo the decision on my playing career would have still been the same.
“I don’t think I could have played at that level anyway, the strikers are a bit better and I’m not getting any younger.
“The thing with Penistone is I could still play but the mental side and the preparation side (of being a manager) takes a lot of time and is a big thought process and I can’t be doing two things at once.”
The immediate priority for Lovell and assistants Steve Lenthall and Connor Johnson is to engineer an upturn in results.
Church were hoping to mount a promotion bid this season but after one win in seven league games, they found themselves in no man’s land.
Lovell accepts Church have lost major ground but he is not writing the campaign off just yet.
“I’m going to go in with an open mind and I’m honest person so people will get honesty from me,” he said.
“I’m a man of my word so I have already said to the lads that I’m not going skirt round the edges with things.
“I’ve said ‘if you’re not played well, you’ll know you’ve not played well’.
“It is about getting the dressing room back to it being fun and get people playing with smiles on their faces.
“If we do that, performances will come.
“The players have been fantastic with me.
“We may lose a couple and it mine, Lenny and Ryan Johnson’s job to replace them with quality that will keep us competitive.
“First thing first we need to turn our form around and get some belief back in the players.
“We’re going through a sticky patch, there’s no doubt about that.
“You look at (the table) and (the promotion race) is too far to get back (into) and it probably is to be fair.
“So we are going to have a transition year but we are still going to have a good go at it because a few wins may change it.
“We’re not going to write anything off, it is too early to do that.”
Lovell’s playing debut for Penistone was the disastrous 4-0 FA Vase defeat to NPL bound Atherton Collieries in 2014.
Ironically his first game as a manager is the FA Vase trip to Bacup – he just hopes it doesn’t go as badly!
“You’re absolutely right (it can’t go any worse),” he said.
“If we lose put your money on Bacup getting to the NPL Premier in a couple of years!
“That’s what seems to happen.
“I don’t want it to go like my first game with Penistone but it is quite strange that my first game in management with Penistone is an FA Vase game.
“I have a bit of information on them.
“They are North West Counties Division One but that’s doesn’t mean a thing.
“I’m not taking them as a league below.
“We’ll go over there with an open mind and we know if we’re going over the Pennines that we’re in for a battle.
“You always are.
“The lads can’t be hanging up on what has happened over the last few days.
“We have to erase that from our memories.
“We can remember the memories but we can’t roll back time and we need to move forward now.
“We need to get the players back to liking football again and winning games and if we do that we’ll see where it takes us.”
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