English quartet gives club stocks a boost
Richmond Athletic's push for Nelson football glory is set to have a distinctly English flavour this season.
Joe Green and Jordan Yong, two of last season's standout players, have returned to the club for another year, and will have two fellow countrymen join them.
The two new recruits have interesting backgrounds, with one having played league football in England and Norway and in European competition and the other has trained with Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
Ben Wright, 30, played for Kettering Town and Bristol City, before spending over six years playing top level football in Norway. On his return to England he played for Lincoln City, followed by an injury-plagued spell at Macclesfield Town last season.
Among his achievements was scoring a goal for Norwegian club Viking against English Premier League club Chelsea in the Uefa Cup in 2002.
Sam Mason-Smith, 19, who can play up front or on the wing, had played for Soham Town Rangers in the Zamaretto Southern League, and for a conference side.
He also won a competition for a weeks training at Manchester United, which included working with Sir Alex Ferguson, and was part of a Nike academy for a season, which saw him play the Barcelona youth team.
"Although we lost 7-0, it was a great experience."
Both have come to Richmond thanks to Green, who returned to England for a couple of months at the end of last season.
Green and Wright were introduced by a mutual friend, while Mason-Smith is a good friend of Yong.
Wright has been playing professionally for 11 years, and after suffering serious knee trouble was looking for a new opportunity to do something a little different, and develop his coaching.
"I'll hopefully work with the kids.
"Pass on some of my experience, talk to them, help them in anyway I can, do some coaching sessions, and hopefully, as long as my knee's okay, go and play a little bit as well.
"It's just a great experience for me to come over here and meet new people and see your country."
Mason-Smith also said coming to Nelson and playing for Richmond was an opportunity not to be missed.
"I've been playing semi-professionally in England, at an OK standard ... but I was given an opportunity to come out here and I didn't think I could pass really.
"I just want to prove my ability and enjoy my football, and where I'm playing."
Both said they had been warmly welcomed to the region and were pleased to escape the biting cold of the English winter.
"It seems everywhere we go someone's got something to do with Richmond Athletic," Mason-Smith said.
The team's manager, Rick Gower, had also managed to capture the services of a number of promising players for 2011 as it looks to gain promotion back up to the Mainland Premier Football League, including goalkeeper Daniel Cooper, who has previous Mainland experience with Nelson Suburbs.
They have signed two Chileans – Jorge Donoso and Jose Sabugal – both of whom have spent time with Christchurch side Woolston Technical, while Brazilian Davi Goncalves Maciel has been playing in Marlborough.
The signings come soon after the club confirmed the experienced Steve Bignall will coach the team for the next two seasons.
Green, a rock in the defensive line last year, thought Richmond had a good chance of winning the Nelson Bays division one competition for a second consecutive year.
"I don't know what other sides have done in our league, but I think if we perform as we are expecting, then, being honest, we should win the league."