As published on the Connah’s Quay Nomads Football Club website

Following his recent departure from the club, Gareth Richards spoke to Adam Angerer to reflect on a fantastic period at the club.

When Richards was appointed Manager of our Under 19ss squad at the start of the 2019/20 Season, he brought in Richard Cusato from Flint Town as his Assistant Manager and António Magãlhaes as Coach Analyst. The team were top of the table when Covid hit which caused the season to be paused with only a handful of games remaining. Following a period of uncertainty, The Nomads were deservedly crowned JD Cymru Premier League North Champions on a points-per-game basis handing Richards his first trophy in his maiden season as Manager. Off the pitch just prior to the first Covid lockdown, Richards added Reverend Sally Baird to his backroom team as Scholars Chaplain to aid with the holistic care of the players – notably when the boys attended Coleg Cambria for their studies. Richards would widely regard Sally as one of the most influential figures behind the scenes during his time at the club.

“Sally has been so valuable to me, the staff and most importantly the players. As a player and coach when I was younger, I was fortunate to be able to have access to Chaplains at various football clubs, so when I was appointed Scholarship Lead on the programme which ultimately came with the responsibility of looking after the wellbeing of 30+ scholars on a day-to-day basis in all areas including over at Coleg Cambria, appointing someone skilled in this area was a priority. One day over at the college, I sought out Sally who was the college chaplain and after we discussed the vision I had for the role, I eventually wore her down and she agreed to become our Chaplain. The respect the boys have for Sally and how they initially welcomed her into our scholar’s family when she first came on board is something that will never leave my mind. I am so grateful for what Sally has done for all of us. I couldn’t have done the job without her and even now, the level of care she gives extends beyond the end of the football season. She’s still in regular contact with me and the boys as she is fully immersed in the whole process to the extent where she took it upon herself last year to train to become an accredited Sports Chaplain. She’s just an incredible human being and we wouldn’t have had this success we did without her. Thank you Sally!”

Richards added current Wrexham AFC Ladies number one Del Morgan to his staff as Goalkeeper Coach prior to the start of the 2020/21 season however the pandemic put paid to the domestic league before a ball was kicked and months of friendly fixtures and ‘fire breaks’ became the new normal. After Covid restrictions were finally lifted, Richards went into his third full season as manager with his eyes once again set on the league title. With new Assistant manager Jordan Jackson by his side and Jared Bieber added to the coaching team, after 21 games the title race went down to the final day. The stage was set with TNS sat in second and Nomads in first going into the last game at home against Aberystwyth. With the Scholars knowing that only a win would secure the title it was destined to be a dramatic afternoon. After going behind twice in the first half, Nomads scored four second half goals to clinch the title and could finally celebrate a proper trophy lift.

“We actually found ourselves behind in the league for a large portion of the season and were seven points behind TNS at Christmas. We knew we pretty much had to win every league game to stand any chance. Prior to the Aberystwyth game our captain Iwan Roberts who had been hugely influential over the course of the season picked up an injury so he was unable to be out there from the start which was a bit of a blow, but we still felt we had more than enough to get us over the line, so we were confident going into the game. We went behind twice in the first half, and as you can imagine the mood at half time was a mixture of nerves and frustration. The talk at the break was just about trying to keep the focus on what problems we needed to solve in order to get ourselves a foothold in the game. We always expected to win our home games and deal with whatever problems we had faced by being aggressive and on the front-foot so essentially that was the tone of the conversation at half time. We came out stronger in the second half and arguably produced our most complete performance of the entire season which says a lot about the boys’ character and underlined to us how they had developed their ability to respond accordingly when challenged. When Jack Hitchen scored to make it 3-2, the scenes in the dugout were special. Jonny Sodhi came on in the closing stages and wrapped it all up which was probably when the relief set in. To witness and be a part of the scenes after the final whistle and see how much it meant to the boys and their families; knowing that their hard work had paid off and we had won the title was amazing. Relief will always be the overriding feeling as a coach but ecstatic at the same time knowing that we had our hands on the trophy.”

Another league title was in the sights the following season with Jord Jackson and Aaron Bennett alongside Richards – a new group of players would emerge, and new players signed up to the Coleg Cambria Scholarship. Some thought Nomads might struggle to hit anywhere near the heights of the season before but it transpired that Richards led a very talented team to an astonishing record of 21 consecutive league wins which would result in another Under 19s league title. The Cymru Development League National title soon followed after a dramatic penalty shootout victory against South Champions Briton Ferry and less than 48 hours later The Nomads also captured the British Colleges title for the first time after Luca Hogan netted the winner against South Devon who had beaten Nomads in the previous season’s semi final.

“I was excited at the prospect of what the boys could achieve going into the season; and we mustn’t forget that there is always an expectation that at the very least we would be competitive given we are a full time programme, I’d be lying if I said I thought the boys would do as well as they ultimately did. They exceeded all expectations. The key to any kind of success probably lay in whether the second and third-year players could draw on their experiences of the season before and take any lessons learned from the challenges and successes we had and use them to guide the younger boys and it did help that had a number of players who had stepped up from the Under 18’s to feature quite heavily in the previous seasons title success. Ben Farley, Jack Burman, Joe Lawlor and Charlie Davies in particular all featured in the majority of games during the title run-in that season and we wanted them to use their know-how to help those boys in their first year on the programme. Luca Hogan had the season of his life this year and our older boys Jord Pownall, Toby Gallagher-Keenan, Jack Wissett and Josh Watkin stayed on for an extra season which proved to be vital for our success and seemed to help harness the collectiveness and togetherness of this group that has always been an important quality of past successes. Upon reflection it felt amazing to win three consecutive league titles and even though our first title win was disrupted due to Covid, I felt we were deservedly awarded the trophy and to then do it twice more with essentially two different squads was just an unforgettable moment for me as a coach.”

Gareth Richards bids farewell to The Nomads with six trophies including those three league titles during his reign as Under 19s manager. Here is one final message from Gaz, thanking everyone involved at the club, the Scholarship Programme, the players and his matchday staff.

“There are so many people to thank for what they have contributed over the course of my time at the club. I always tried to stress that everything we have achieved and accomplished was because of the people involved on and off the pitch. It was a proper group effort, a proper team endeavour and that is something we set out to achieve from day one. It was nothing but an honour to see these lads flourish and pursue their passion and I had the privileged job of making sure I provided them with a platform to go and do just that. There are loads of Thank You’s to give and one that goes under the radar a lot is a thanks for the support I received from the players’ families. With this programme being 24/7, it is a massive commitment and I hope they know that this incredible experience wouldn’t have been possible without them. Additionally, I want to thank the club for providing me with the opportunity, for supporting me and having faith in me to do a job which has probably been the greatest adventure of my life.

“Our Scholarship Programme is one-of-a-kind, and we are fortunate that the location of the college and what they can offer affords our boys the opportunity to pursue their preferred academic pathway alongside playing the game they love. To combine their chosen college course and football in this bespoke fashion is unique and that in my opinion makes it one of the best in Wales and across Britain. It’s been an honour to lead these lads and be able to celebrate and share their accomplishments. More than anything it’s been a privilege to be able to play a small part in their lives at an important stage. Not only did the job afford me the privileged position of being able to coach these incredible young men, what is even more special is that the scholarship allowed me to get to know the boys and their families on a human level.”

“I’m so pleased to see so many of the lads I’ve been fortunate to coach during my time here now making an impact within the first team setup. I have an overwhelming sense of pride every time I see Josh Williams play for the first team and establish himself in the first team the way he has. There’ll be many more who will come up and shine for our first team in the future, I’m sure. Their journeys may be varied, and some may leave our academy and maybe return further down the line just like Ben Nash, who is now arguably one of the best defenders in the Cymru Premier. Some of the lads who have been a part of the scholarship programme over the last 2-3 years have already utilised the senior pathways below the Cymru Premier and have now returned to the club intent on making an imprint within the first team setup. Jordan Pownall at Ruthin, Toby Gallagher-Keenan at Gresford and Joe Lawlor at Brickfield to name a few did enough during their loan moves to earn a shot with the first team this season so that in-itself is further cause for optimism in my opinion.

“Ultimately, I’m proud of the work we put into this project from the very beginning – it was a very person-centred approach, fully intent on enhancing the lives of the lads as much as we could and creating some memorable moments for them along the way, all of which hopefully sets them up for the next step in their lives whether that be on a football pitch or not. For the most part I think we succeeded in creating a challenging but ultimately rewarding programme where the boys could be their authentic selves and form friendships that will hopefully last a lifetime. On top of that we had our successes on the pitch where the boys were able to create memories we can all cherish and which I hope and believe will inspire them to further achieve moving forwards. I obviously want to express my good luck and best wishes to the club for the future and for the young boys in particular the club have a first team manager in Neil Gibson that is invested in giving young talent a chance. I think it’s important to remember that we’re not just trying to develop players capable of playing in the Cymru Premier for Nomads, we’re trying to produce players who are good enough to represent the club in European competition. Of course, the first team has done incredibly well over recent years so it’s arguably harder to break into the team at present but that’s the challenge and we shouldn’t make any apologies for it. That’s football at its most competitive and hopefully we have helped in some way to prepare these boys to relish and navigate these types of challenges. It’s a good time to be a young player at the football club in my opinion and with the support of the coaches it’s up to the lads to show the gaffer their capabilities and if they’re able to do that then I’m sure their time will come. I wish nothing but the best of luck to every single player in the academy and the whole club going forward. I’ll be supporting from afar and I’ll miss being there in the dugout, but such is life, change and moving on is inevitable. Thank you for everything, Gaz”