There’s nobody that understands the challenge of progressing from the North West Counties Football League better than Storks boss Steve Wilkes.
The 47-year-old, former Preston North End midfielder, has been part of the furniture in the ninth tier of the English football pyramid for some time with tenures at Runcorn Linnets, Ashton Athletic and, of course, Padiham.
We should be challenging for the league title next year!Steve Wilkes
In his second spell at the Arbories, having ended a three-year affiliation with the club previously in 2007,
Wilkes guided the Storks to an unprecedented promotion to the Evo-Stik First Division North having beaten off competition from Maine Road to claim the NWC Premier Division title.
However, after two seasons alongside rivals Clitheroe, the club has returned to the tier that sparked one of the most remarkable achievements in its history.
With one game remaining, against Prescot Cables on home soil tomorrow, relegation has been mathematically confirmed.
Wilkes said: “We got relegated while I was away which wasn’t very nice. We got mullered by a good side in Scarborough and now we’ve mathematically finished bottom.
“It’s been a disappointing season. I’ve made mistakes this year, otherwise we wouldn’t be bottom. But the football club has made mistakes as well and that needs to be addressed. We need to regroup in the summer and rebuild if we’re to move this club forward as best we can.
“I agree that sometimes you have to take a step back to progress. My concern, however, is that we’ve taken a step back and we may struggle to take a step forward again. The North West Counties League is the toughest one to progress from.”
Regardless of how competitive the division is likely to be next season, though, Wilkes is targeting another ambitious quest for the championship crown.
“There’s reward for one team out of 24,” he said. “There’s no automatic promotion for the runner-up and there’s no play-offs. The number of teams that have thrown money at that league in the last few years is frightening.
“Even so, I would like to think that we can be competitive again at that level. We should be challenging for the league title next year. That’s got to be the ambition anyway.”