STEVE Wilkes is a purposeful and sincere man.

And when I ask him to describe himself, he laughs out loud.

“I never give up the fight, that’s my motto,” he said.

“I don’t ever quit – the only way I’ll leave Padiham is if they sack me.”


There’s so much more to him than that, though, and if a few of our world-weary professional managers think they have a fight on their hands, they should listen to Padiham’s workaholic boss.

“Last week I got asked by a local club to take over in the summer, and I said no.

“This is my home.

“I left Padiham to be the manager of Runcorn seven years ago.

“It was a great job, but the wrong decision.

“I came back and won the league in my first year at Padiham and nobody expected that.

“If we can survive this season, it will be my best achievement as a manager.

“I will not walk away. Never.”

Still, constant defeat this term must be hard to deal with for a man more used to plotting promotion campaigns at The Arbories.

The Storks have one leg in the North-West Counties League, having won just three league games this term, and leaking nearly 100 goals.

They are also 10 points from safety ahead of this weekend’s Roses joust at Harrogate Railway.

“I’ve never had such a tough season as this one,” added Wilkes who knows the odds are stacked against them.

“We went to Burscough last month, conceded an equaliser in added time – Tom Murphy headed a cross past his own keeper – and that summed up our season.

“It was a horrible moment.

“Brett Ormerod sank to the floor and said it was worse than seeing Blackpool lose the Championship Play-Off final against West Ham United at Wembley.”

Ormerod is playing for nothing.

The pair met at a football dinner last season and Wilkes persuaded Ormerod, now 38, to lend his vast experience to the Padiham cause.

Ormerod was on the mark again in last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Brighouse Town.

“You only have to see the lads’ reaction in the dressing room when Brett speaks, you can hear a pin drop.

“The players have so much respect for Brett, a guy who has played in all four divisions of the league.

“He still has that boyish, raw enthusiasm he had when he was 17 at Accrington Stanley.

“Brett points to his big toe and says, ‘See that pal, it is worth £92 million. It fired Blackpool into the Premier League in 2010.”

Even in the foothills of non-league, the game has changed beyond recognition.

Salford City, who cruised to a 6-0 win at Padiham last month, have former Manchester United stars Gary Neville and Paul Scholes bankrolling their dream.

And Darlington, a Football League club five years ago, command gates of 1,000.

Instead, Wilkes has to make do with one of the smallest budgets in the Northern Premier League.

“That’s the way it is, and you just to have to deal with it. I’m not complaining.”

We meet in Padiham’s tidy clubhouse, while outside a few hardy souls watch The Lancashire Sunday Football League semi-final Amateur Cup tie between New Gardeners and AFC Ingol.

“I’m up at 4am most mornings, doing a six to two shift at the post office, and then I’m off to see games like this.

“It is no use watching players at our level, we can’t afford them.

“I tried to bring a lad in from Nelson, but when I told him what he’d be on, he joined a NWCL Second Division club because he could get four times the money.

“I have to go and find raw talent, maybe pick a nugget that somebody else has missed and that’s the reality of life at Padiham.”