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NLP columnist Russ Penn is writing his own chapter now… as gaffer!

The Non-League Paper Russ Penn

NLP columnist Russ Penn reveals all about his rapid rise to the top as interim manager of Kidderminster Harriers in this week’s paper after succeeding new Solihull Moors boss Jimmy Shan at Aggborough.

Manager of Kidderminster Harriers? It’s not something I thought I’d be doing at the age of 34!

When I started taking my coaching badges in my mid-20s – which is quite early – managing was always something I wanted to do in the long term. Players and friends I’ve played with will vouch for that. I like the responsibility. I like the pressure.

For now, I’m in charge of Kiddy until the end of the season. I’m not saying I will get the job long-term, but being a manager is definitely something I want to do whether it’s now or in the future.

DIRECTION: Kidderminster are on the up

ONE DIRECTION: Kidderminster are on the up

When you go on your coaching courses, you have to think about your final goal? Is it to be an assistant, coach in the academies or grass-roots?

For me it’s always been about managing – I want to be a Football League manager. That’s my goal.

I thought more about that when I came out of the Football League, having just turned 30, and returned to Non-League. I thought, ‘It’s time to open up a few options now’. When you come out of the League you’ve got to open your mind up and that’s where I’ve been for the last few years.

As a full-time player, until 28 or 29, you have tunnel vision. You wake-up, go to training, home by 1.30pm.

Challenge

As you get older, have kids and have more responsibility, you think about the end of playing. What am I going to do?

It’s a challenge. When I took the role of assistant manager at Kiddy last year, I never thought I’d be manager nine months later. That wasn’t in the script. I’m still an apprentice.

But for my 15-20 years in the game I’ve learnt an awful lot. People might say I’ve got no experience but what does experience mean? I played 650 career games, worked under some top managers and played at a good level. I’ve got my coaching badges. So what is experience? Do you have to be 55 years old?

The game has changed now. There are a lot of younger coaches coming into it. The way the world is now, things have moved forward.

Conversations aren’t as brutal as they used to be. You heard everything back in the day if you didn’t get those three points!

The influx of foreign players at the top and managers like Pep Guardiola have had a big impact. People want to play the Pep way six levels below the Premier League. That’s the way it is going.

I’ve listened to hundreds of team-talks throughout my career. On Tuesday night at Farsley Celtic, it was my turn to stand up and deliver it. I did have a two-game caretaker spell earlier in the season, and it is nerve-wracking.

TRADITION: Kidderminster’s Aggborough Stadium

But I’ve been captain at a lot of my clubs and I’ve always tried to show good leadership skills.

So team-talks aren’t a problem. It’s more when you’re standing on the side of the pitch and you think, ‘This is it now’.

Players come up with all sorts of excuses as to why they’ve lost. But you go home, have your tea and wake up the next day having moved on.

You take everything home as a manager. It stays until that next game. It consumes your life. I’ve felt that the whole of this season anyway because if you want to do things right you’ve got to work hard.

The club and fans need stability and I hope this is the start of it. Kiddy have had seven managers in the last two-and-a-half years and a club just can’t go forward when it’s like that.

The same goes for the players – to get the best out of them, they need structure and stability. The new owners have a vision and direction to where they want the club to go and that excites me.

Random call

Starting this journey at a club like Kidderminster has helped me massively. People who helped me come through as a player are still here now. I’ve got their full support and that relationship means more to them and more to me.

When I look back at the photos of when I first walked through the door in 2005, I look like a baby!

Three months before I’d signed, I’d completely lost interest in football. I’d just been released by Scunthorpe and I went to work in my mate’s bar. That’s it. Football’s done.

Then I got a random call from the Kidderminster manager, Stuart Watkiss, to go on trial. They’d just been relegated from League Two. The captain of Kiddy was Mark Jackson, who had signed from Scunthorpe the previous January. He recommended me.

It seems an age ago. I’ve moved homes, had kids, from Burton to York to Cheltenham to Wrexham to Gateshead, FA Cup third rounds, scored against Premier League teams, play-off finals, FA Trophy finals, England C caps.

I’m proud of what I’ve done. Could I have played higher? Yes – I lost in the play-offs three times for a spot in League One. But now it’s the next chapter. I feel I’ve got a level head on me. I’m ready for it.

Make sure you get your copy of The Non-League Paper on Sunday for the latest news and action from across Non-League over the last seven days, whatever the weather brings!

As well as exclusive match reports and pictures from all of Saturday’s fixtures in the Vanarama National League, the BetVictor-Sponsored Isthmian League, Southern League and Northern Premier League, The Non-League Paper’s live coverage extends all the way to Steps 5 and 6.

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