‘We could be on the cusp of something special’ – Warrington Rylands not feeling pressure in Northern Premier League playoffs battle

Warrington Rylands are in the Northern Premier League Premier Division.

It would be expected that there would be nerves and some concerns at the club during the end-of-season run-in while on course to a historic season.

However, it is the complete opposite at Warrington Rylands.

Michael Clegg was on course to guide the Blues to second in the Northern Premier League Premier Division table, in just their second season, until his shock move to playoff rivals Macclesfield. 

Social media forums speculated that the wheels would come off and all their good, hard work would unravel – however, the adversity has proved to be the biggest inspiration at Gorsey Lane.

With just three matches remaining, a playoff semi-final beckons and there is a chance to secure it with a win over Lancaster City at the Hive Stadium on Saturday.

Not only are the club thriving on the pitch, under the guise of Sam Wilson and Dean Furman, two senior players in the dressing room, on an interim basis but off it too. 

Chairman Mark Pye told Off The Park: “When I come in as chairman, I wanted to create a youth section, that’s one thing Warrington has lacked. There’s lads travelling from all around town, travelling out to academies when we’re trying to offer it to them on their door step and our U16s, 17s, 18s have been great this season. 

“We’ve got some great players coming through and we’d like to put them under the umbrella of the first-team and look after them, get them out on loans into adult football. 

“It’s a big part of what we do and a big part of what our managers buy into all the way to the junior managers. It’s a club ethos we want that players will get opportunities.

“We work well with our managers, we’ve had coaches come in, mums and dads, we’ve got a mixture of everything,” he continued. 

“We get them on their Level One (FA Coaching Badges), try to get them on their Level Two – we have a few on there at the moment – we are striving to get them improving as coaches which improves the kids. 

“We run loads of tournaments over the summer, we’re constantly trying to improve the grounds they play football on but we totally buy into it. Facilities are an issue in this town, they’re over subscribed so we’re pushing to try offer a good, genuine pathway.”

Co-owner Andrew Hibbert added: “We’ve proved it this year, we’ve had our under 16s and 17s win a national competition, lads from them teams have made first-team appearances in the league and cup. We had a friendly here against Salford, at one point we had five or six 16, 17-year-old’s playing and they didn’t look out of place. 

“For lads who are joining the club now, there’s a genuine pathway to play semi-professional and NPL football, there’s nothing better than seeing Warrington lads play for a Warrington club. 

“With our centre of excellence and the introduction to football, we’ve got over 600 kids playing football across 34 teams, it’s something that we can be really proud of. There’s a list of lads that you can see from Warrington that have played Premier League football but they’ve always gone out, it’s always been an ambition of Mark and now the club to provide that pathway. 

“We may be a stepping stone along the way but if you look at the lads who’ve played here on loan or go on to play professionally in League One, Two and Scottish Premiership, we’ve been part of that journey. It’s something the kids here that can aspire to.”

Rylands have been the story around non-league in recent years. Their dramatic FA Vase win, thanks to heroics from Elliott Nevitt, the ownership of sports agent Paul Stretford and a sense of free-spending around the club fired the club under the microscope. 

A shock departure from long-serving manager David McNabb sparked a change within the club which saw Jody Banim appointed temporarily, before Michael Clegg subsequently replaced him.

Big players came and went, a conception of the financially eye-catching aspect of playing for the club remained. However, it is a notion that the club have worked to eradicate.

Starting with the appointment of Banim, cost-saving measures began with Clegg’s work adding a different calibre of player to the squad – something the club are now reaping the rewards of. 

“Cleggy coming in at the time gave him and the club an advantage, in the sense he brought lads in who he knew he could rely on,” Hibbert explains. “They’ve turned out to be cracking lads, here for the right reasons, here because they like the club and wanted to play for the badge. 

“When we met with them, we’ve been here before where there’s lads coming for money so it was important getting the right attitude in, as well as, ability, I’d put my money on that dressing room being one of the best in the division and that’s why where we are now.”

Pye continued: “It has (been a stick to beat them with) and we might’ve done that in the past, but it’s not what we’ve been doing or in the last couple of years. It’s taken a big review at the club and the people we are bringing are the ones we want and it’s not ran around money anymore.”

Last season, Clegg steered Rylands to narrowly missing out on the playoffs after a late surge for the top five. The 40-year-old’s shock departure to Macclesfield in February rocked the club but by that time, the foundations had already been laid.

And the Blues have not looked back. As history beckons, in the form of a highest ever Northern Premier League finish and the possibility of promotion to the National League North, there is a surprising calmness from the boardroom but on the pitch, it has only provided a boost to the players. 

Pye adds: “The thing is, we are relaxed about it. There are teams in the playoffs or going for the playoffs that are putting pressure on themselves but we’re not – we’ll just enjoy it – that passes across the players and they don’t have that worry going into it, it’s lets go and enjoy it. 

“Cleggy going was a shock to us, he did a brilliant job for us – we’ll be forever thankful for what he did,” Hibbert continues. 

“But that’s football, there’s no one person bigger than the club so we have to rally, fortunately we have some great, experienced lads in Dean (Furman) and Sam (Wilson) who can step in, they’ve got a lot of respect in the dressing room. 

“Although we had that blip with the first game against Gainsborough, a lot had go on with illness, injuries, a sending off, the manager leaving, it was almost the perfect storm. Since then, the way the team have knuckled down, we couldn’t be prouder. 

“We’ve gone through losing managers before but this time, there’s been no panic or throwing their toys out of the pram and we’re genuinely excited. If you can’t enjoy this time in football, you’re in the wrong game.

“There’s no need to panic. It’s just keep calm and enjoy it because you can get too embroiled in it then forget why you’re doing it and love. We love it because we could be on the cusp of something special, this season will be one of the best in the club’s history.”

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