by | Feb 3, 2024

It was 1997 when a former professional footballer with Wigan Athletic and Preston North End took his first tentative steps into management.

Some 27 years later from putting his first team out with Darwen FC, Stephen Brian Wilkes today celebrates his 1,200th match as a manager in the match against Litherland REMYCA.

56-year-old Steve, who joined Ramsbottom United at the start of the current season, has earned the respect of the local footballing fraternity through his longevity in a role which has seen him manage six different club, all with successes along the way.

The former midfielder in the Football League with Preston, where he played just three games before switching to Southport and Morecambe having started out in the youth ranks at Wigan Athletic, his pro career was cut short in 1989 when he was involved in a car crash, breaking his right femur.

He did recover and enjoyed for spells at Bamber Bridge and Darwen before deciding to hang up his boots and take on the managerial role at the Anchor Ground.

With former Ramsbottom United defender Phil Rose as his captain at Darwen, Steve would spend seven years with the club before moving down the M65 and taking over at Padiham for the first of two spells at The Arbories.

He left to take on the position at Runcorn Linnets for some two and a half years and then had a short time at Ashton Athletic before going back to Padiham once more, where he would enjoy his most successful period of his managerial career.

He guided the Storks to the NWCFL Premier Division title in 2013 and taking them into the Northern Premier League for the first time in their history.

Working with a decidedly small budget, they escaped relegation in their first season, finishing in 19th place and would stay with the Well Street outfit for some 500 games until 2017 and then he would move to Northwich Victoria.

A club with a mixed recent history, Steve spent six years with them, offering them a little bit of stability on the field even if on it, there were considerable hurdles.

But he would lead the supporter-led club with great aplomb including a historical run in the FA Vase where he took the Vics to a memorable semi-final and a heart-breaking penalty shootout defeat at eventual winners Chertsey Town having held the Surrey side to a 0-0 second leg scoreline – the game finishing 1-1 on aggregate.

The club also finished fourth in that season and a fifth-place ending in 2022/23 season was more than acceptable for the club but he decided to call time on his time with them, aiming for a break from the game and take time with his wife and family.

However, a phone call from his former skipper at Darwen and lead sponsor at Ramsbottom United came and he was very happy to take on the Rammy mantle with the aim to take them back to the great times again.

Of course, such a long and very proud career wouldn’t have happened without his very supportive family and Steve paid tribute to them as he looked forward to celebrating the significant milestone.

“I am really proud to have reached the 1,200-game mark,” said Steve – who was still on a high from the result on Tuesday night but also from Manchester United’s last gasp win over Wolverhampton Wanderers on Thursday night.

“When I became a manager in 1997, I never thought I would reach this milestone.  There has been many up’s and down’s in the last 27 years but I love doing this job and hopefully, I still have got a few years left in me yet.

“But none of this would have been possible or for me to carry on as long as I have done without the support of my family – my wife Alison and my children Louis, Zack and Olivia.  I will always be grateful to them for the support that they have given me to allow me to do what I enjoy.

“Hopefully we can get three points today to make it an even more memorable day.”