As the 2022/23 football season kicks off, Stocksbridge Park Steels FC are hoping to fortify their position as South Yorkshire’s highest ranking non-league football team.
Football is the national sport of our country, but the heart of the beautiful game exists beyond the 92 clubs in the EFL and Premier League. Semi-professional, non-league football is a vital part of the association football eco-system and Steels’ chairman Graham Furness and manager Ian Richards are hoping to drum up more support at Bracken Moor Stadium this season.
The Steels are starting their ninth season in the Northern Premier League East Division, having played at the third and fourth level of non-league football for the last 25 years.
And they have ambitions to finish in the top half of the division and bring home some silverware now that club legends Ian Richards and Andy Ring are at the helm as manager and assistant manager twenty years after first signing for the club as players.
Ian and Andy made the move from Penistone Church FC five games into last season to reignite a long affiliation with a club they collectively made over 500 appearances for. They both signed for Stocksbridge in 2002 where they went on to be part of a team that won the play offs and Senior County Cup in the 2008/09 season.
Due to injury, Ian hung up his boots and went into management at Penistone Church FC 12 years ago. He was joined by Andy six seasons later, but not before he’d racked up many club records at Stocksbridge including most appearances (330) and the third-highest goal record (110).
Together they had a lot of success at Penistone, getting the club from local level to a high non-league level, increasing the crowd and winning trophies. But the management opening at Stocksbridge would clinch their move back across the valley.
“I always said I would only ever leave for one or two clubs and I’d gone as far as I could with Penistone so this felt like the right opportunity to move on. I have a lot of respect for Graham and the committee; they do things right with the right ethos and values. Moving to a higher level of football had different challenges and opportunities but we have the potential to have a similar route of progression here at Stocksbridge with improvements on and off the pitch,” Ian says.
Last season the Steels finished eleventh in a division that boasts Sheffield FC and Worksop Town. Ian says that this forthcoming season the squad will be pushing to finish with more points as well as improve their performance in the FA Cup and Sheffield and Hallamshire county cup programme with a view to bringing home silverware for the first time in ten years.
“We had our eye on Ian for years so we were very pleased when he applied for the manager’s position. We knew how he worked, how he conducts himself on and off the pitch. You’ve got to let managers manage and I have a lot of trust in him to get it right. We’re all fishing in the same pond for players, but our bait isn’t as big as some of the clubs. We try to cut our cloth accordingly but we compete and Ian is definitely good at competing. We’ll do our best to make it as easy as we can for him with the resources we have,” Graham says.
Graham has been involved with the club for 25 years in various roles from coach to assistant manager. He took over as chairman in 2018 and is keen to build on the Stocksbridge name.
The club was formed in 1986 following the merger of Stocksbridge Works FC and neighbouring club Oxley Park Sports FC. Stocksbridge Works FC dated back to 1949 when workers from the steelworks formed a team that played in the now defunct Yorkshire League. But while they had a ground, player numbers dwindled. Oxley Park, on the other hand, had a team full of players but no ground to play at.
Since the merger, the Steels have continued to thrive and improve, helped by developments to the ground at Bracken Moor. Along with the first team, they also have a reserve team who play in the Sheffield and Hallamshire County Senior League, as well as two under 18 development teams and over 200 junior players ranging from under-eights to under 16s.
Ian is hoping to close the gap between the junior players and first team by creating a pathway that he hopes will see more lads from the Stocksbridge area make up the senior sides.
The Steels’ most famous product, Jamie Vardy, has become the poster boy of non-league football, going from playing in the reserves squad at a ground once owned by Samuel Fox’s Steelworks to becoming a Foxes hero at Leicester City.
The standard of non-league football has improved in the last 25 years that the Steels have been in the Northern Premier League. Players at semi-professional level have often been released by professional academies or wind up their careers there.
Stocksbridge have had some success in getting players through to the EFL, such as Lee Mills who was bought from the club by Wolves for £15,000 in 1992, and more recently Harrison Biggins who plays for Doncaster Rovers.
“Most footballers will want to play at the highest level they can for the most money they can. We don’t have the same budgets other clubs do so there will always be player who move on to more lucrative deals. But the current squad we have are here to play for footballing reasons. We’ve got a strong nucleus of players from last season but have also got some new signings with young players who are hungry to play at this level,” Ian says.
Let’s face it, football is best enjoyed live – you can’t recreate the atmosphere on the terraces at home on the sofa. With sports TV packages and season ticket prices rising, many football fans are throwing their support – and turnstile money – to lower league clubs. Since the pandemic, attendance at non-league games have been on the rise with record crowds seen at some clubs.
Ticket prices might be considerably less than at professional clubs, but another big draw is that fans are close to the action right by the touchline.
Graham says: “We’ve got some good lads at this club who play to a good standard of football in good surroundings. It’s promising to see non-league crowd attendances up across the region, helped on by the pandemic, as that support makes a massive difference to clubs like ours.”
Running a football club isn’t a walk in the park. Graham tells us how transport costs, maintenance of two pitches, plus training costs for all four teams are reaching £40,000 a year. If commercial and sponsorship revenues drop, as they have done for a lot of clubs since the pandemic, a far greater proportion of club revenue has to come from match-day ticket sales and catering.
It’s thanks to a hardworking team of committee members and volunteers that Stocksbridge Park Steels have been able to retain their position within non-league football. The Steels are a family, first and foremost, with many of the volunteers having an affinity with the club. Secretary Mick Grimmer, now 75, is also the groundsman but played for the club in the 1970s. President Pete Kenney, 87, is also a past player.
Graham says one of their main goals moving forward is to strengthen relations within the community and encourage families and younger people to get involved with the club. Bracken Moor Sports and Social Club has a clubhouse on-site where they work with local suppliers and businesses for catering and real ales.
Home game tickets are £8 for adults and £5 for concessions, with under twelves getting in free with a paying adult. But they also offer a season ticket and membership package to cut costs down even further.
The 2022/23 season starts on 13th August with home games played at Bracken Moor Lane, Stocksbridge, Sheffield, S36 2AN
For more information or to see the full fixtures and results, visit www.stocksbridgeps.co.uk