An interview with the former FA Vase Trophy winner gives insight into his journey into management, life behind the scenes and his future at St Helens Football Club 

Michael Smith, originally from Liverpool, previously managed non league sides Skelmersdale United, Ramsbottom and Warrington Rylands FC before joining FC St Helens in May 2023.

Working alongside Jack Graham in a joint management role to begin with,  Michael was able to introduce himself to the club and players at his own pace.

He said: “The manager from last season, who was still playing, got an opportunity to move away with work so after three weeks or so, it just became me.”

“It was a little bit difficult because obviously he knew all the players and everyone around the club. I was the first person from outside to go into the club, normally a new manager would come from within the club; lads that have been around the club for years and years.

“Pre-season was a little difficult, obviously as pre-seasons always are but as I was going in as a new manager in my first job, it was difficult but a good challenge at the same time.”

Having had a successful playing career himself, it was clear that Michael’s passion for the game was deeply rooted. Injuries however forced him to take an alternative pathway to stay involved within football. 

“I coached kids’ sides when I was younger, and that was something that I had always enjoyed. I carried on playing myself, just with my mates, and I was getting loads of injuries, knocks and niggles. I’ve done my ligaments in my ankles a few times and it was getting to the point where I started helping out with coaching more, and I enjoyed it, I enjoyed doing it. 

“I always enjoyed speaking to the player side of it, managing the players, and always building relationships with players. I think when I was at Rylands, I was thinking to myself that I’d like to try to go into management. I’d applied for loads of jobs over the last couple of years, I wasn’t even getting interviews to be honest, I’d applied for jobs over and over, same clubs, just didn’t get a look in, and St Helens was the first club that actually spoke to me.”

Having won the FA Vase Trophy with Warrington Rylands FC in 2021, his experience at the club was invaluable going into the opportunity at St Helens, picking up ideas and methods as he managed more, developing his current managerial style.

Working under current Bury FC manager, David McNabb, was a standout moment for him. 

“Seeing how he (David McNabb) does things and how he approaches players, approaches match days, approaches training, how honoured he is, working with him gave me a lot. I learnt a lot from working with him, to be able to take into my own managing career now hopefully.”

The FA Vase Trophy, dubbed the FA Cup for the non-league, was an acolaid giving Michael experience above others. Winning during a time when covid-19 restrictions were in place however did not dampen his spirits. 

“It was unbelievable, we were just playing FA Vase games, we weren’t playing league games. Everyone was looking forward to the games all the time and when we were able to get together and train it was always good and fun. The experience, the run up to it was unbelievable and the whole weekend, with what the club did for us was special.”

Michael currently works two jobs alongside the management of the team, but believes he is able to organise his life well. The lifestyle of him and his family has had to adapt, six months into his term however, still taking everything in his stride. 

“Well to be honest, I only own my own companies, so I generally work from home most of the time, but recently I have taken up another job so I’ve got two jobs as well as football. I am able to manage it well, I’ve got a good family, and I’ve coached for a long time and my wife gets it, she knows that I love it. I still always make time for the family.”

Michael’s Division One North club side, FC St Helens currently sit at the top of the table with a 13 point lead over second place, Atherton LR. Getting the balance between dedication to the team and managing the players personal life can become challenging as teams progress. 

“I think we just try and make everything good and fun, we don’t want to make training be like a bit of chore turning up, lads are working all day, the last thing they want to do is to turn up to training to be stood around doing loads of shape work.

“Sometimes at this level you can look far to much into shape, once we step up we can look into it, but for now its about getting them there, making sure they get a bit of a sweat on, they are getting shots off at goal, they are having some fun within the session, we make sure everyone is constantly on the move.

“On a Tuesday we will have a cup of tea, coffee, biscuits, just to make sure the group is sticking together and we are all nice and tight.”

Coming off the back of a strong 2022/23 season, just missing out on the playoff final, FC St Helens are looking to get promoted into the Premier Division. With a strong side having remained, it is on Michael’s mind they will want to achieve more this season. 

“The players are great! I think there was probably a little bit of worry within them, thinking the old managers left, the new managers going to come in and we are going to be out of a squad and breaking up, 

 “I sat down with the players and spoke to them. It was more for me just assuring them that it’s not going to be breaking the squad up, I will be adding to it of course but it will be about putting my stamp on things in a different style than what they played last season.”

January fixtures for the side include matches against AFC Blackpool and Colne. The manager is looking to keep key players fit going into the second half of the season. Josh Hall who scored a hattrick against Shelley two games ago is definitely a player to be monitored. 

“He’s (Josh Hall) been great for us since he came in around the beginning of November time. He’s come in and every single game that he’s come on in, he’s had an impact. One game he was on the bench because he had picked up a bit of a knock, think it was his second game, he’s come off the bench and scored a penalty and he had an impact on that game, but every other game he’s started and he’s got goals and assists, so he’s been huge.”

So much of non league football is community based and growing this foundation is at the heart of every club around the country. With 1,500 followers on twitter alone, Michael uses his social media following to encourage more people to get involved with the non league pyramid.

“Give your local non league club a try because it will not disappoint. For the £5 you will pay to get in and the pint you’ll go and buy, the pie you’ll go and buy, it means a lot to the club. It puts money into the club, it’s how the clubs keep going.

“The games are always good, there’s always a little bit of controversy, there’s no VAR, the decisions are decisions, you get frustrated at decisions that are made against you at times, but at the same time you make decisions for yourself. 

“From the referees there’s no second guessing, you’ve just got to get on with it. Every game is full of passion, there will be a little bit of handbags throughout the game, but as soon as the whistle blows at the end, everyone shakes hands and gets on with it and then goes into the clubhouse. You mix with fans and the other team, it’s brilliant.”

Looking towards the future, with Michaels term at the club only having just begun he is keen to keep bringing success to the club. 

“To be honest I don’t get too far ahead of myself. I still think  I’m just focused on this season, trying to get promotion, possibly win the league this season, that’s it, that’s all I’m looking at. Beyond that, I will focus then on next season with St Helens.  They have given me my opportunity and I hope I can stay here for as long as I possibly can.”