A good year for Steve and Vics

Tue 18th December 2018 | Northwich Victoria
By Ian Templeman

As he approaches the end of his first calendar year in charge, Northwich Victoria manager Steve Wilkes says he is very happy with the progress being made at the club.

Steve joined Vics at the end of September 2017, with the club struggling after relegation from the Evo-Stik League.

After a slow start, results began to improve and after eventually finishing 16th last year, Vics have been in the top half of the table all of this season, and are still in three cup competitions, including the FA Vase.

It's been a turnaround in fortunes both for the club and for Steve himself, who admits that he wasn't looking for another job in football when he was approached by the Vics committee.

"It's been a very good 12 months for me personally", said Steve.

"After I left Padiham (in August 2017), I said to my family and friends that was me done with football. I didn't want to go back in, and turned down three jobs in the first two weeks after I left there.

"But then Northwich Victoria got in touch and asked if I would be interested in going there, and when a club like that comes knocking on your door, it becomes hard to turn down.

"So myself and Steve Pickup went down and had a chat, liked what we saw and heard, and to try and get Northwich Victoria back to where the club belongs is definitely a passion of mine.

"It's not going to happen overnight, but slowly and surely we are getting people back watching and there is a feel good factor around the place at the minute".

A turnover in the playing squad has been one feature of Steve's reign as manager, which he began working on as soon as he arrived.

"When I took over at the end of September last year, the Chairman said to me 'just come in and steady the ship, and just keep us in the league', which we did quite comfortably in the end.

"It's certainly completely different to when we went in, I think there's probably only a couple of players left at the club now from when we took over.

"I think by the end of October I had moved on about six or seven players, and slowly we brought new people in, players who had played for me before but weren't playing at the time, and the likes of Allen Weston from AFC Liverpool in defence, because defensively we weren't good enough.

"All of a sudden, the whole back four and goalkeeper had changed, and we started getting results.

"I think it took us four or five games before we got our first win, and then we lost one in seven, so we had changed it round by Christmas time.

"We managed to get to safety quite early, and were able to relax with about five or six games to go, and then in summer completely changed the squad again".

The work that Steve undertook in summer is something that he feels played a key part in the progress made this season, although he admits it was hard going at times.

"In the last few weeks of last season I started identifying players I was going to speak to in the summer, and by the end of May I had got everyone I wanted, we had done all our business by then.

"During two weeks in May I was out every night, I never saw my wife for two weeks. Every night I'd come home from work, and she'd say 'who are you going to meet tonight'.

"The main ones we wanted to bring in, Brad Cooke as captain, and Joel Brownhill were the first two I spoke to, along with Dominic Craig who played for me at Padiham, and Rob Doran, who was available.

"I think what was also massive for me in the summer was I brought in Scott Campbell as first team coach and Rob Sadler as goalkeeping coach on board, both from Ramsbottom United.

"The quality of the four of us now is very experienced and knowledgeable, and got them in place quickly.

"In addition, moving to Witton was massive for the club too, not just for the club but on the playing side. It gives me the chance to bring better players to the football club then I would have been able to do otherwise".

So far, this season has been one of continued improvement, although Steve still looks back at games where points were dropped earlier in the campaign as opportunities missed.

"I think if you look at our results early in the season, we lost away at Burscough, Winsford United and Whitchurch Alport when those teams hadn't won many games", he said.

"Our downfall also is that we got beaten at home by City of Liverpool and Congleton Town, and if we could have won maybe just two of those games, six points would have put us a lot nearer the top and right in the mix.

"But there's still half a season to go yet. We are in the last 32 of the Vase and the last eight in the Macron Cup, and we are focussed on doing well in the league as well.

"We were disappointed not to get three points on Saturday against Bootle, we hadn't lost since November, and we feel like it's an opportunity lost.

"If we had won on Saturday it would have put us in fourth place, so it was a little bit disappointing".

None the less, Steve is upbeat about the club's prospects as the New Year approaches.

"When we took over in 2017, if someone had said to us we'd be in this position at Christmas 2018 we'd have probably laughed at them. But with hard work, on and off the pitch we've got there.

"It's been a breath of fresh air for me coming to the club, I'm loving it at the minute. It's my 21st season as a manager, which is a long time, but I don't think I've enjoyed my football as much as I am now.

"Games can't come quick enough for me.

"I'm looking forward to facing Charnock Richard on Saturday, and that will be our 20th home game this season, which is mad, it's a full season already.

"I love the club, the committee are great, the fans are so enthusiastic and we are slowly starting to claw people back, and if we can get through to the last 16 of the Vase I'm sure we will get more people back.

"The place is buzzing, we're taking coaches up to Newcastle in the Vase and I think they are all nearly sold out, which is great, but we have three important league matches before then with Charnock Richard, Irlam and Barnoldswick, before we can even think about the Vase".

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