FEATURE: Former skipper Marc Richards helping to nurture the next Cobblers generation
Last Saturday afternoon saw Marc Richards doing his best to help Cambridge United beat the Cobblers... Sunday saw him doing his bit to ensure a bright future for Northampton Town FC
That’s because although Richards is still very much a professional footballer, and hopes to be for some time yet, he is also a coach in the Cobblers’ highly-rated academy.
And once the 37-year-old had left the pitch at the PTS Academy Stadium following Cambidge’s 2-0 defeat to the Cobblers on Saturday, his thoughts would have quickly turned to Sunday’s match day, and his stint helping to take charge of one of his Cobblers youth teams.
Richards is keen to take up coaching once his playing days are over, and he has been involved with the Cobblers academy since before he left the club in January, 2018.
Town’s 2016 title-winning skipper started doing his coaching badges well before taking up what his first coaching role with the club, and he admits he is enjoying the challenge.
“I work with the age-groups between the under-13s, 14s, 15s and 16s, so it’s Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights, and then match day on a Sunday,” explained Richards when asked what his coaching role with the Cobblers entails.
“So that tends to take up a lot of my spare time at the moment, and the rest days have certainly gone out of the window! But it is part of my learning curve as a coach, and it is something I am looking to do when I retire from playing, although hopefully that is not any time soon.
“I am thankful to the club for giving me the opportunity to work with such good coaches as we have in the academy, the likes of Gary Mills, Mark Collier, Shaun Carey and Jon Brady.
“They have been coaching for a number of years, I have been involved for a couple of seasons, and it is a completely different ball game.
“But it is a part of learning, it’s a great experience, and I really enjoy it.”
The academy coaching unit was strengthened recently with the appointment of two of Richards’ former Cobblers team-mates from his first stint at the club between 2003-2005.
Steve Morison joined as a development phase coach to work under Brady with the Under-18s, while Ian Sampson is now effectively Richards’ boss, having been appointed as the club’s new academy manager.
They are both appointments that are welcomed by Richards, who said: “It just goes to show the attraction that the club has.
“Ian Sampson is now the academy manager, and Steve Morison, an ex-Premier League player, wants to come and work with Northampton Town.
“It goes to show as well how the academy teams are doing, with the under-18s doing so well, and bringing players from there into the first-team squad.
“Gary Mills has also won the league with the under-16s, so it just shows that as well as there being good, youthful coaches at the club, they have a good crop of players as well.
“For them to be gaining success in the little leagues that they play in, shows that the club can attract players, and the coaching staff can bring those players through.”
In recent seasons, the club has made a habit of promotion from within.
For years and years, a player coming through the youth set-up to play for the Cobblers first team was a rarity.
Luke Chambers paved the way by making that step up under Colin Calderwood back in the early 2000s, and since him there has been Michael Jacobs, Ivan Toney and Shaun McWilliams who all broke into the senior ranks.
In the past couple of years it has even become something of a conveyor belt, with the likes of Scott Pollock, Jay Williams and Morgan Roberts all making a real impression on the first-team scene.
And Richards is of the belief there are more on the way who have a real chance of making a name for themselves.
“There are certainly other players there,” he said. “In each of the age-groups that I work with there are a couple of little gems.
“You just hope that they knuckle down and keep working hard, and not get too above themselves.”
And the man who began his career at a Premier League club in Blackburn Rovers, believes they are at the perfect club to help them realise their dreams.
“I think a lot of young players these days, who come through academies, don’t realise how tough it is to play in the Football League,” said Richards.
“It is okay for players to be playing nice, tippy tappy football with their academies and then going into under-23s games, but that is not like a real league game.
“It’s not like a game where it is a bit nitty-gritty, and there is a bit of meat at the end of a challenge, and not conceding a goal means something, or scoring a goal really means something.
“To score a winner to get you three points at the end of a game, there is no feeling like that, and that is a part of the game that I think some academy players don’t understand, and don’t realise.
“I think the players coming through at Northampton have got a great opportunity to learn that at a young age.”
And Richards believes that is down to the coaches, in the academy, and the fact they have been there, seen it and done it.
The likes of Mills, Carey, Sampson, Brady and Morison all have enjoyed professional careers, and Richards - who is closing in on 700 senior appearances - said: “I think that is a big aspect in why the club looks to bring in ex-players.
“Not only for that experience of being in the game, but the experience of knowing what it means to win, and what it means to lose.
“We can show players that it actually means something.
“It is not just a game to some people, it is a part of life, and while they have a great opportunity to make a living through playing football, it is a career at the end of the day.
“And the fact is there could be some serious money for some young players out there who could potentially go on to bigger and better things.”