.....Premier Division promotion race, having returned to the club in the summer from Ashton Athletic.
Since Wilkes began his second spell at the club, they have hit the ground running in the League and five wins in their last six games has kept them well in contention at the top of the Premier Division. For Wilkes, it’s confirmation that the decision to return to the club was the correct one for him.
“I was here for four and a half years previously and left to go to Runcorn Linnets, and in hindsight I should never have left, but I’m glad I’m back. It’s well documented what happened at Runcorn, but I had a great year at Ashton Athletic last year with the resources we had, and finishing where we did in the league although we were disappointed not to finish in the top ten.
“I wouldn’t have left Ashton Athletic for any other club, but the pull of coming back to Padiham was too strong. When I was here the first time there were in the First Division and they got promoted after I left, but I knew the people at the club, I knew how they worked and what they wanted and how far they wanted to take the club.
“Alan Smith (Padiham Secretary) is one of the best blokes in non-League football, people know what he is about and what he does for the club, and it’s great to work with him again. We stayed friends, we never fell out and hopefully he is enjoying me being back as I much as I am enjoying being back.”
One of Wilkes’ first targets was to recruit more locally-based players, and in a short space of time he has not only managed to achieve that but has seen pay back in other areas than just on the field on match days.
“There are only four players in the squad that don’t live in the Padiham or Burnley area, and we have three lads who can walk to the ground, they live that close. That has benefitted us on training nights, because we train late at Burnley’s Gawthorpe training ground. The facilities we have down there are second to none, and it is on everyone’s doorstep so with it being easy to get to, we can put good sessions on because we have so many players able to come down every week.
“The players have to take a lot of credit for the way they have responded. We played against Stockport Sports last Saturday on a pitch that was heavy, but we had three reserve team players up at the ground at half past eight in the morning working on the pitch. Things like that go unseen and it’s what makes the club what it is – a family club.
“We also have a Sportsmans Dinner tonight and there is something like thirty-eight players going from the first-team and reserves. I have a great bunch of lads and a great backroom staff, everyone is in it together, and it’s a good place to be at the moment.”
On-the-field, Wilkes and his backroom team are now focussing on keeping the momentum going for the second half of the season, after their good start.
“If you had said to me at the start of the season that we’d have played seventeen league games and lost just two, I would probably have laughed, because there are only two or three players that are here from last year, we have completely revamped the squad.
“We’ve dropped some silly points this season although I’m sure every other manager will say the same. We drew 1-1 at home to Bootle and missed a penalty with the last kick of the game, we were 3-1 up against Winsford United with 8 minutes to go and got beaten 4-3, and in the game against Alsager (Padiham’s only defeat in their last six games) we lost 2-1 and we should have been out of sight in the first half hour. Credit to Alsager, for the remainder of the game they were the better side but we should have been out of sight by then.
“We are not getting carried away, because this season the Premier Division is probably the best it’s been for a long time. No-one is running away with it, everyone seems to be beating everyone else, and there are a clutch of about six or seven teams who will all think they are in with a chance and we are one of those.
“The rest of the season is going to be competitive, but we're looking forward to the challenge ahead.”
Credit: Ian Templeman