We recently caught up with the new Malcolm Arnold Academy (MAA) Head coach and Youth Team manager Darren Purse to see how he was settling in to his new role and how it all came about.
Appointed as the MAA Head Coach in July this year, Darren is also manager of Diamonds Youth team. The 37 year-old has Premier League experience after playing for West Bromwich Albion and Birmingham City. He will be most remembered for his longest playing stints at the Blues and Cardiff City.
The defender still plays football for Chesham United in the Southern League, two leagues higher than Diamonds. He combines playing with coaching the first team. He said: “I started doing my coaching badges when I was 28/29 whilst I was playing for Cardiff City and I was a fully qualified A license coach when I was 32. It was hard to get the coaching experience I needed to forge a career as a coach as I was still playing full-time. I still enjoy playing, so I want to carry on playing for as long as I can.”
As Chesham United are part-time, it means Darren now has time to coach during the week rather than train for his club. So during the week, he wanted to get started on his coaching career and use his coaching badges he had gained whilst playing for Cardiff. He explained how the job with the MAA and AFC Rushden & Diamonds came about: “A friend of a friend introduced me to Paul Lamb. Obviously he’s already involved in the MAA and is assistant manager to the first team. He said; ‘this is the situation that’s happened, this is what’s come up, do you fancy it?’ I wasn’t doing anything other than one evening [Chesham training] and a Saturday afternoon [Chesham matches], so it was a too good of an opportunity to turn down. It’s a good way of getting experience on my CV and I think it’s going to work well for both parties. It’s ideal because when the job came up, it ticked every box for me. It allows me to coach in the day and carry on playing on Saturday afternoons and train one evening with Chesham United.” He continued: “I prefer man-management to coaching but I’m getting my teeth into coaching at the minute. I’ll be honest, I don’t particularly enjoy the coaching side of it, but it’s something I have to do for my aspirations to manage in the Football League. But you need a bit of experience behind you, and this job does that for me and we’ll see how the next few years go. Hopefully it will go really well and onwards and upwards for my career.”
We asked Darren whether he had any interest in Rushden & Diamonds during his playing career; “I played at Nene Park in a pre-season friendly for Birmingham City, so I’ve played against the club before. I know about the football club, and obviously the turmoil over the last few years.”
When time allows, he tries to get to the first team games. He attended Diamonds’ Friday night match in The FA Cup. “I watched the first team play in the FA Cup game (vs Oxhey Jets). We scored a couple of great goals and I’m sure over the course of the season, I’ll watch the first team play a bit more. The standard was ok. There was only one side in the match, one side that wanted to go on and win the game; and I think that’s what it’s going to be like for the next year or two until the club gets to a level where it can start to sustain itself. It’s too much of a bigger club to stay where it is at the moment. But you have to win football matches to get out of the league you’re in and try to get up sooner rather than later.”
He also thinks that fan owned clubs are the future of football if the clubs want to be sustainable. “It’s the way lower league clubs are going to have to go, so they can keep their heads above the water and survive. The lower down the levels you go, the less money there is. It’s becoming tougher and tougher. If you look at League Two and the Conference now, they’re tough leagues and it’s all about whoever has the most money will go and get promoted so it’s hard. I’m hoping that the club have gone through the last of the turmoil they’ve gone through over the last few years and the fans deserve a good run up the leagues and enjoy it while they can.”
Now Darren has got his hand in management, he is excited for the future and push forward on his ambitions. “I have aspirations to manage in the Football League.” Then when asked, if he had the opportunity to manage one of his former clubs, particularly Birmingham or Cardiff he replied: “Whoever really, obviously I’ve got a good affiliation with most of the fans I’ve played for. Birmingham and Cardiff were probably two of my longest stints at football clubs so I’ve got a great affiliation with the fans and that there. Who knows? It’s something I’m really looking forward too because they’re both fantastic football clubs. I’ve got ambitions to manage at that level and higher so we’ll see where it goes over the next few years but you need to gain experience first.”
He also believes that AFC Rushden & Diamonds have a bright future. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel and there’s going to be a bright future for the football club. It’s a club that’s going to be going places in the next couple of years with the fan-base it has got. It’s a club that will be looking to rise up the leagues sooner rather than later.”
He also had one final thing to say to the volunteer coaches at the club: “Make training as enjoying as possible for the players that you’re coaching. The more enjoyable it is and the more you can teach them and help them learn, the more they’ll want to come back and ask you questions and want to better themselves. So make it exciting.”
We’d like to thank Darren Purse for giving up his time. We wish him well for his Youth Team for the upcoming season. You can see their fixtures here, and with a victory over AFC Dunstable U18 in the FA Youth Cup they will now face Bugbrooke St Michaels U18 on Thursday 25th September (KO 7:30 at Bugbrooke). We also look forward in welcoming him to first team matches in the future.
By Hayden Pott.